Do you enjoy marketing your landscape business? Or do you consider it a necessary evil? Love it or hate it, marketing is a critical element for business success. Deciding how to market your landscape business can feel overwhelming, especially for a business owner with little to no background in marketing. What will get you the best bang for your buck? Should you invest in advertising? Hire an agency? If so, how much should you expect to spend? And should your marketing tactics change as your company grows?

The answer to the above questions is: “It depends.” Ask 10 successful landscape marketers about their best marketing strategies, and you’re likely to hear 10 different answers. And to make matters even more confusing, it’s not uncommon for a tactic that one person swears by to make another’s “never again” list.

What works? What doesn’t? How can you market your landscape business to advantage, regardless of budget?

While there are no one-size-fits-all answers when it comes to marketing, let’s explore a few basic principles that will help you stay on track toward choosing marketing strategies in line with your goals, your budget and your brand.

Get clear on your ideal client

Many rookie landscape business owners make the mistake of trying to market to everyone in their area. This can get very expensive and often attracts customers who aren’t well-matched to their business. Instead, and before you even think about tactics and strategies, figure out who your ideal client is.

“Your ideal client is the intersection between where you make money, where you have fun and what’s sustainable,” explains Marty Grunder, president of Grunder Landscaping, Dayton, Ohio. In other words, create a picture in your mind of the client you most love to work with, who can afford your services and whom you can serve profitably and repeatedly. Then, laser-target your marketing efforts to people who match that profile.

Think profits

Ultimately, to stay in business you need to be profitable. That may seem like a self-evident observation, but it’s amazing how common it is for business owners to let profitability fall to the wayside because they are overly focused on traffic or revenue, or because they get caught up in the excitement of the latest, greatest marketing fads.

Have a budget

Run a P&L before you spend anything on marketing. This will give you an idea of what you are already bringing in, and what you can reasonably spend on marketing.

As a rule of thumb, most experts suggest budgeting 10 percent of your revenue for marketing. However, this may not be appropriate for your business. “Determine priorities and growth goals first. What you budget needs to reflect how aggressive your growth goals are. This is where a lot of companies fall short: They want to grow by 25 percent but they’re not prepared to match their aggressive goal with an aggressive marketing budget,” says Chris Heiler, founder and president of Landscape Leadership marketing agency. On the other hand, an established company with a solid base of repeat customers and no plans to expand may do just fine spending 2 percent or less of their revenue on marketing.

Jack Robertson, owner of Robertson Lawn Care in Springfield, Illinois, believes in relationship marketing.

Track your efforts

As much as you can, track your marketing efforts and the results they bring. If you are using an agency, it should be doing this for you. If not, use spreadsheets or other software to track your promotions, responses and sales.

If you are using direct response methods like postcards or pay-per-click advertising, this will be relatively straightforward. Branding and word-of-mouth campaigns can be harder to track, but you should be able to get an idea of how they’re working by asking new customers how they heard of you and keeping track of their answers. Over time, you’ll get a sense for what’s working and what’s not.

Think ROI

Before committing large amounts to any advertising strategy, calculate the potential ROI. High-cost advertising can be profitable, but only if the potential returns warrant it. Run the numbers before you commit. For example, if you would have to sell 5,000 aerations to make your direct mail promotion profitable, perhaps you should find another way to sell aeration – or use the direct mail piece to offer a higher-profit service.

Keep in mind, though, that some of the most effective things you can do to market your business won’t necessarily produce immediate returns. “Do you invest in marketing or spend on marketing?” Heiler asks. “We prefer to invest our time and dollars in marketing that provides a lifetime of value as opposed to one-time value.” Two such tactics include:

  • Content marketing: using blogs, articles, videos and other informational materials to draw prospects to your business. Content marketing is an effective way to steadily build your online presence.
  • Relationship marketing: “People do business with people they know and trust,” says Grunder. “You make friends, you make sales.”

These sorts of tactics take time. “There’s no magical silver bullet. It’s a process,” Grunder says. “Maybe you see a neighbor’s trash cans blown over, they’re not your client, but you can go over and fix it. Develop relationships with your prospects. Do anything you can to make friends. Hopefully, someday trust takes place and you get a chance to work for them. And when you get that shot, you better be sure you get it right for them. Our best strategy is to do a great job. I think people overlook that. We’re worried about a wrap on our truck and fancy things, but at the end of the day, if you do a great job, that’s what will sell the next job,” Grunder adds.

That said, there are times when short-term strategies make sense. For example, a business that is expanding into a new community may do well to run an advertising campaign to win a number of new accounts right away. And seasonal advertising can be a great complement to a long-term relationship or content marketing strategy.

Sowing the seeds of success

In the end, creating the perfect marketing strategy for your landscape business is a lot like putting together the perfect custom wildflower mix. Just as you might hand-select varieties that are likely to work well for your client’s particular climate, soil type and aesthetic tastes, marketing your business successfully is all about finding the right mix of tactics and strategies for your goals, budget, style and audience.

But what if you’re in lawn care and couldn’t care less about wildflowers? Some business owners thrive by doing their marketing in-house, while others prefer to focus on their core competencies and leave the marketing to the experts. Just as the turf care company may refer that wildflower job to a neighboring business, you may prefer to outsource some or all of your marketing to an agency, consultant and/or freelancers.

Either way, understand that it may take some time for your efforts to take root, and you may find you need to adjust what you do and/or whom you work with as your business matures. But with practice and experience you will discover the perfect mix to make your business bloom.