Steve Guise launched a new company this past February to provide total landscape maintenance services. He decided to delay setting up a website for a year or so, and is going on Facebook first to promote the business.
Yes, you know precisely how many thousand square feet your 52-inch-cut Z Master G3 can mow in an hour. Your company's a marvel when it comes to installing stacked walls. Your lawn techs can spot a new weed in a client's lawn at 50 paces and knock it out before it has a chance to cry "momma."
But do you tweet? How many colleagues, customers, business associates and friends can you access through LinkedIn? Have you racked up any "likes" on your Facebook page? Enough, right? This is certainly not the communication environment that most of you grew up in, but that doesn't mean you can ignore it. Nor should you. Social media is here to stay, and it is, in some very profound ways, revolutionizing how we communicate and also how we and our companies are perceived.
Social media options
If you want to bet on a sure thing, bet on the use and acceptance of social media as a means to 1) connect and communicate with customers and prospects; 2) share valuable information (how-to's?) and experiences; 3) build brand awareness; and 4) market your products and services. Don't let social media drive you mad. Become familiar with it so you can pick and choose what works best for you and your operation, and what you can reasonably do with it, given the many other tasks you and your employees must perform.
Start by determining if "just" a website and email are enough to keep you connected? What could communication through social media - Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, YouTube - do for your company? Do some research; explore the options.
Many sources attempt to group the various applications within broad categories according to the services they provide, such as messaging or photo sharing. But with advancing technologies, buyouts and mergers, and the highly competitive marketplace, suppliers are continually bundling services, giving users multiple ways to communicate within one venue.
LawnSite: A Place to Learn, Share
The Internet has revolutionized how we share ideas and connect with each other. One of the most powerful online communication and informational tools in the green industry is LawnSite. Thousands of landscape, lawn service and grounds pros members share opinions and experiences on LawnSite each and every day.
Pick a topic related to landscaping, equipment or industry issues (any topic) and, using the site's search function, you'll find a lively discussion. This includes the use of social media in the industry, where there are several active threads.
Recently, LawnSite member Kirkmbrown2001 posted this request:
"Hey Everyone! I just finished my new welcome tab for my Facebook page today and wanted to get your opinion on it. I am going to add a photo gallery to the welcome tab as soon as I get some pictures.
"I designed my Facebook page towards my current customers. I know there are differing views, but I believe Facebook is most effective when used as a way of customer retention. I have never, that I know of, gotten a job from any of my social media sites. Therefore, I made it easy for my fans to learn more about KLC and connect with us rather than posting a sales pitch.
Please give me your feedback!"
To date [as of press time], Kirkmbrown2001 has received 14 responses on LawnSite to his query. By the way, his Facebook page has attracted 43 "likes".
View this and other similar threads about how colleagues are using Facebook, LinkedIn and other new forms of communication by joining (it's free) LawnSite and typing social media or other key words into the search function.
"Consider which elements of communication advance your business plan," suggests Steve Guise, managing partner for SoCal Land Maintenance, based in Anaheim, Calif. Guise developed SoCal, launching it this past February, to provide total landscape maintenance services primarily for commercial accounts, focused on two distinct targeted markets. One is the property managers of private management companies looking to upgrade their sites. The second is the post-grow-in clients of an established commercial landscape contractor that wanted to recommend top-level, long-term maintenance rather than provide it.
SoCal is working with a core group of clients and expanding within their defined markets, so they decided to delay setting up a website for broad exposure for a year or so. Guise says, "We're going on Facebook first, as we've found most of our clients use it for business as well as personal applications. It's also much easier to set up and manipulate. Our clients also prefer email messages over phone contact for the time flexibility and the record of the correspondence. Smartphones for anytime, anywhere communications are key to our business development."
Find out what works for you
Mike McDaniel, owner/ operator of McDaniel's Lawn Care and Landscaping in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., says the majority of his new business comes from the company's website.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF SUZ TRUSTY.
Test a mode of communication on a small scale, track the results and change what isn't working recommends Mike McDaniel, owner/operator of McDaniel's Lawn Care and Landscaping in Jacksonville Beach, Fla.
Ten years ago, when he started his business, print ads in a local shopper worked well. As that became less effective, he tried a Web-based outreach, paying a company to place an ad on Google with minimal results. Considering the quality of his work his top asset, McDaniel collaborated with a tech-smart friend to showcase it in a video.
"I supplied the photos and explained what I wanted to accomplish. She did the production, got my approval, and then submitted it to a video-sharing site. It took little of my time, the cost was reasonable, and it did draw business," he says.
McDaniel launched his website, www.mcdanielslawncare.com, at about the same time to promote all aspects of his business. He blogs, and he and his collaborator develop and post a new video each year, featuring the YouTube playback on the website. He's currently testing Facebook, Twitter and Merchant Circle, adding those icons to the website for easy access, along with icons for LinkedIn and Yelp.
"The majority of my new business now comes from the website, though most people call me rather than filling out the contact form or emailing me. It averages three to four phone calls to one Web-based contact," McDaniel says.
Get your message across
Ashley Brooks sees advantages to incorporating social media links with his Busy Bee Lawn Care website.
Tech-savvy Ashley Brooks, owner/operator of Busy Bee Lawn Care in Columbia, S.C., has taken the hands-on approach to website development and social media marketing since his start-up in 2006. He stresses matching the message to venue.
The basic website is similar to a sales brochure, a method of conveying information you want clients and potential clients to know about your company, including the services you offer (www.busybeelawncare.com). Brooks says, "Make it fresh and interesting and give them a choice of easy ways to contact you. Most of my inquiries are Web-based, and I respond within 24 hours."
Incorporating social media links within the website provides the opportunity for interaction. "Social networking sites like Facebook key on getting to know more about people and inviting them to know more about you," says Brooks. "In a competitive market, you want to have them saying, 'I know this lawn guy and he does good work.'"
Blogging is for digging into a topic, delivering important, fun or newsworthy information while demonstrating your expertise. Brooks suggests writing some of the blogs during winter downtime. You can then review, tweak and post them as they fit during the height of the season.
Twitter may be the most challenging to use effectively, notes Brooks. Like email blasts, tweets can become annoying when they're always about how great the company is or are just trying to sell something. Tweet news they can use to draw followers.
Brooks says, "Though it can be difficult to quantify, whether you pay for the services or do it yourself, you need to balance the investment with the ROI. I estimate I'm getting about a 15 percent boost from the combination of my blog, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. It's definitely worth the time."
Communication is key to gaining customers
Andrea Slonecker, director of marketing and communications for Senske Lawn & Tree Care, believes that incorporating social media into a marketing plan brings a more personal touch to all communications.
Companies grow one customer at a time. "Interactive communication is key to that growth," says Andrea Slonecker, director of marketing and communications for Senske Lawn & Tree Care, based in Kennewick, Wash. Senske, started in 1947 by Bill Senske Sr., now provides full-service lawn, landscape and tree care, pest control, holiday lighting and snow removal to a large segment of the region.
"We're using the website [www.senske.com] and incorporating social media to bring a more personal touch to all our communications," notes Slonecker. "Our alerts by email provide customers with preservice information, making sure it is in sync with their timing. It saves a lot of time for them and for us."
The website also offers customers a password-protected login for direct access to review their account. They are encouraged to complete a four-question, online evaluation survey following each service call. Their feedback is shared with service technicians as well as management.
"We view Facebook as a way to build a relationship, not sell our services," says Slonecker. "We post the Facebook and Twitter icons on the website. We plan to add YouTube and Flickr soon." There's a blog and FAQ section, and the website encourages emailing questions or posting them on Facebook to be answered by blog.
Senske's online request for consultation form asks how they found the company: door hanger, Google search, home show, mailing, newspaper ad, personal referral, phone book, truck ad, Web search or other. The same question is asked of those who call in for a consultation. Slonecker says, "It's our way of tracking the effectiveness of our marketing venues. We do gather the analytics [Web traffic tracking tools that provide detailed reports about visitors to a blog or website], but this lets us know if they were prompted to go to the website by another venue.
"The form also calls for designation of the area of service. Each is routed to a specific person within that department to speed response."
Even a great website has to be seen to attract attention. McDaniel says, "I pay a really good SEO [search engine optimization] guy to set up the website so it appears on the front page of Google in nearly any search related to lawn maintenance or landscaping."
Brooks adds, "If it's done correctly, a reciprocal link of websites with other lawn care services can be a powerful tool in gaining SEO."
Internet-based forums, like LawnSite, invite user content and rely on the interactive exchange of postings to explore industry-specific issues and draw more traffic. Providing quality information to such forums can help establish your level of expertise and increase recognition for you and/or your company. It's all about choices.
Suz Trusty is a partner in Trusty & Associates, a communications and market research firm in Council Bluffs, Iowa. She has been involved in the green industry for over 40 years.