Pond and water feature professionals across the country often find that work is seasonal. Spring provides ample work as homeowners are coming out of their dreary, winter state-of-mind and looking forward to long, warm days in their yards and outdoor havens. Then summer comes around and thoughts turn to vacations and keeping the kids busy during their break before the next school year begins while the focus on improving their outdoor living space dwindles. Even though this is very normal for our industry, current economic conditions further diminish the amount of work opportunities that seem to be out there and make the competition feel fiercer.
Another factor that has come into play is the rise in retail sales and the increase of those who have become Do-It-Yourselfers. Investing in their own homes because selling is not an option, they also are more hesitant to spend the money with a professional if they feel they can tackle a project themselves.
I have often thought of this economy as a ‘Darwin Economy,’ survival the fittest. Those who make it through these next couple of years are the ones who, most likely, have worked hard at doing everything right.
Whether you are trying to get through the summer, or just through the year, one thing you may have to do is rethink how you market and brand your business.
While many of us get excited over the prospect of a large project, focusing on smaller entry-level jobs will help make a homeowner more comfortable with spending a little money. If a homeowner can get excited about a small project than there is a good chance they will consider going for a larger feature.
If a homeowner is looking to do a large project but their budget doesn’t allow for it, the option of doing phases will seem more attractive. This also allows you the opportunity to help build a relationship with your customer, which can payoff in the form of referrals to friends. While many professionals offer the option of doing the work in phases, most don’t consider it part of their marketing.
This requires you really doing your homework. You may think you know what makes you different from your competition, but look at how they market their businesses and then determine how you want to differentiate your company from their theirs. When you are perceived as a company that specializes in what you know and the type of work you do, it makes it easier for a consumer to justify spending money with someone who will provide them with a different experience than they would get from anyone else.
Whether it is real or perceived, any consumer wants to feel like there is a value in the products or services they are buying. Extra value comes in many forms from your experience and knowledge base to providing helpful hints on care and maintenance. With an increase in the number of homeowners doing the projects themselves, they also need to see the value in hiring a professional to get the job done. That value may be in the form time, quality, or craftsmanship.
The old saying, ‘it takes money to make money,’ is often true. Spend some time and money putting together high quality, professional looking marketing materials. If this is your potential customer’s first exposure to you, it will make an impression. The level of quality of the materials determines the type of impression it actually makes.
Just Say ‘Hi’
A phone call often makes a difference. While email has become our society’s alternative means of primary communication, it lacks a personal touch and often misses the mark. Picking up the phone and personally talking to a customer will allow you the opportunity to find out if they are enjoying the feature you installed for them and what additional work or services they need. It also provides them an opportunity to ask you questions that they may not find the time to call you to ask.
No, I mean REALLY get involved. Be out there in the community. Support local schools and sports teams. Do not just put the name of the organization on your business card or Web site. If you are going to be a member of a group, participate in the meetings and activities.
Top of Mind
Regular and on-going communications with past and potential customers is one of the best ways to keep your company at the forefront of their memory. When you send them helpful and useful information it helps to establish you as a knowledgeable professional, adds further value to the services you provide, and gives them the information they need to quickly contact you or refer you to friends and family.
Stopping in to visit your customers, checking on their water feature, and providing them with tips and feedback will show that you care beyond the final payment. It also provides you with an opportunity to photograph your work as it matures and add it to your portfolio. It never hurts show up with a gift either–seasonal color, treats for the koi, or a product that will help maintain their pond are all great ideas and special touches.
If you haven’t taken the time to update your Web site, now is the time. By updating your site you make it a greater resource to your customers. When new visitors are on your site, it provides them a current and professional view in the work you do helping to create a higher level of confidence in your abilities. It also provides the Search Engines with extra content that allows them to rank you higher in searches.
My favorite phrase when it comes to marketing is, ‘Failure to plan is a plan to fail.’ The first thing any busy owner needs to do is develop a Marketing Plan. By writing down what you need to do and the objectives for each marketing initiative, it will be easier to determine where the gaps are and how they need to be filled. Additionally, it will help keep you on track. Make yourself accountable for following through on the initiatives you want to do.
Do not think of marketing as an expense but rather as a way to increase revenue in the long run. The summer is a great opportunity to provide maintenance service so plan your marketing in the spring months to focus on summer services. By getting information out now, you are helping homeowners anticipate their maintenance needs for the hottest months of the year.
Marketing also is an opportunity to shape the Brand of your company. Do not make the mistake of thinking that you are able to tell people what your Brand is, but rather know that that your customers are the ones who ultimately decide that. People in our society are flooded every single day with thousands of messages, which they filter and then decide what they want to retain and process, or ignore. Every exposure your customers, and potential customers, have with you is also an opportunity for them to decide if your company is one they want to work with and refer to their friends. Make sure you capitalize on these touch points by providing a way for customers to refer you to their friends and family.
Spring months offer plenty of opportunity to communicate and interact with your customers. When you have these opportunities, view them also as a chance to listen to your customers about their concerns and challenges, ask questions about their vision of their outdoor area, and listen to how you can be a value to the homeowner compared to other professionals.
Overall, right now is the time to start considering the on-going relationships you have with your customers. Often times those relationships can be built by doing simple things such as returning a phone call promptly, showing up on time, being considerate and professional on the job site, and maintaining a clean work environment. When you provide a positive experience, it endears the customer to you. A quality product and service will make the relationship more substantial. However, it is like any other relationship and needs to be nurtured and paid attention to in order to continue. By beginning communications now in the busy months of spring, you will be able to help create a stream of continuous work throughout the summer months.
About the Author
Pam Greiner founded The Green Pen five years ago as the result of a passion for gardening and the environment. Focused on providing online, and off, marketing solutions, our active client list includes several contractors, retailers, and distributors across the country. Our advice is regularly sought by many other contractors and businesses in the Green Industry, as well as other industries. Our services have included developing a variety of marketing materials for our clients including brochures, newsletters, as well as logo design, branding initiatives, and Web design & development. Additionally, we help our clients develop cost-effective marketing and e-marketing plans.
Pam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215.313.0183.