Unless you live in a totally offline world, you’ve probably at least thought about dabbling in the world of digital marketing. Digital marketing is an umbrella term that includes, but is not limited to, email, search engine optimization, Google AdWords, social media, content marketing and reputation management. Basically, digital marketing is any way you can use the Internet to find new customers and it can be effective for lawn care businesses.
If you’re thinking about digital marketing, you’re already ahead of the competition. However, if you don’t have a background in digital marketing, you might find yourself a bit overwhelmed. Not only are many of these digital marketing tactics complex, but you’re also busy running the day-to-day of your business. You certainly can’t stop doing the work and you also can’t afford to ignore the customer service aspect of your business.
How can you ever invest in digital marketing with so little time? Let’s say that you get an unsolicited phone call or email from a local digital marketing agency. You know digital marketing is important, and the sales representative talks a big game about how much business he or she can bring you.
This is perfect. For what seems to be an affordable cost, you can completely outsource all your digital marketing. Leads are going to flow in and you’re going to grow like wildfire.
If only it were that simple.
Why It’s Not So Simple
Unfortunately, the reality is the best marketing agencies or freelancers are out of any small business’ price range. The good agencies work with clients with tens of millions in revenue. It’s just a matter of economics.
But isn’t there some sort of middle ground? Maybe, but experience often proves otherwise.
In fact, some marketing companies don’t have web tracking or analytics set up properly, which is so fundamental to digital marketing that it’s inexcusable. Even worse, some of these firms are losing landscaping businesses’ money. That’s not even accounting for the fees paid to the agency. Some business owners would have been better off never even touching digital marketing in the first place.
Some agencies (the ones you may be able to afford) are bad at best and dishonest at worst. You need to be careful should you decide to dabble in digital marketing.
If You’re Going to Hire an Agency
If you’re going to hire a marketing agency, first and foremost, you need to be able to calculate your total return on investment (ROI). That’s the total amount of profit you make from a customer over a lifetime, divided by the amount you spend on ads, plus the amount you pay the agency. That number should be greater than 100 percent; otherwise you’re losing money.
This is tougher to calculate than you might imagine. It means that, for every new customer who comes in the door, you need to know where that customer came from with reasonably high precision. Frequently, agencies try to claim credit for customers who would have hired you anyway.
When vetting agencies, ask for their reporting template. Be skeptical of any agency that does not report ROI or incremental revenue earned. Many agencies try to get away with reporting traffic numbers (visits to your website). As Johnathan Dane, founder of KlientBoost—a top-tier marketing firm—says, “Small businesses need to understand that marketing is very holistic. It’s not just about traffic. It’s about traffic, conversion and the sale. How is your agency helping you on all of these fronts? It’s easy to get traffic, much harder to get the conversion.”
Before hiring an agency, make sure to learn the basics of what you’re hiring them for.
If you’re hiring an agency to do paid acquisition via Google AdWords or social media ads, the good news is you can start small. Dane suggests, “Have a very small, conservative budget to start—even if you’re going against big competitors.” This gives you a chance to measure your ROI and increase your budget if it’s positive.
For a longer term marketing channel, such as search engine optimization or social media, you must demand full transparency into what the agency is actually doing. Even in this day and age, agencies may do sketchy things like buy fake social media followers or perform search engine tactics that Google could punish.
Be extremely vigilant about whom you hire. A marketing agency can lose you more money than it makes you.
Alternatives to Hiring an Agency
There are other ways to grow your business digitally, too, in cases in which you don’t have time to vet an agency, you can’t afford the fees or you’re terrified of retaining an agency after reading this article.
For starters, some marketing channels are easier to do yourself than others. Getting online reviews, for example, is as simple as filling out an online profile and asking your customers to review your company. You’re not going to make millions just by doing this, but getting online reviews can bring you customers at no cost other than your time.
Email marketing is another easy tactic you can do yourself. Make sure you collect an email address from every customer and lead. Take time once a month to email your list with special deals or even to send out helpful guides that can increase your brand perception.
There are also solutions out there that make digital marketing easy for small business owners. Lead generation sites often get a bad rap, but many lawn care businesses that focus on lead generation and follow up consistently can get a good ROI.
For the lawn maintenance space in particular, there are a handful of on-demand platforms as well. These marketplaces can send you jobs along existing routes, all while handling marketing and customer service, so all you have to do is show up and complete the work.
Finally, providing both great lawn and customer service can be a powerful marketing channel in and of itself. This practice is known as customer advocacy. Answering calls promptly, sending thank-you notes, and going above and beyond with your work, in the long run, is more powerful than any single digital marketing channel.
So, if you’re looking to use digital marketing, you’re thinking the right way. But remember the following things:
- Hiring an agency can lose you money, so you need to be careful about whom you work with.
- If you’re hiring an agency or doing any sort of paid marketing, you must be able to calculate your ROI.
- There are a number of alternatives to hiring an agency, such as getting online reviews, buying leads or joining an on-demand platform.
- Always make sure you’re providing a great experience to your customers.
Ryan Farley is the co-founder of LawnStarter, an online and mobile platform that connects homeowners with lawn care professionals for carefree and efficient services.