Now we really come to it! All the licenses, mowers, software and sweat means nothing without the life's blood of your business – customers.
I've found that for many folks this is an area where they need the most help or perhaps even have the most fear. That's natural, really.
After all – setting up a bank account and buying a truck, while they do have some tips and tricks, are straight forward. Those are concepts that are easy to understand. When it comes to marketing and customer care, though, that's where a lot of people want to really learn the methods that work – where they're previous experience may not have prepared them.
That's okay, though – because if you're in this group, you've got a huge advantage over people who try to figure it out on their own. This blueprint is going to peel back the veil for you. In fact, with what's in this chapter and the next one, you're already going to have an advantage over 75% of your competition.
It sort of goes with the territory. My experience has shown that a lot of lawn companies have the same problem that a lot
of software engineers and networking people have – they know how to do the job, but aren't really that great with people.
In order to be successful with Mean Green, you have to stick to the 4 cornerstones of customer relations. And these are:
Marketing – letting people know you're out there and ready to serve them.
Closing – how to bid on and get the jobs.
Performing – actually doing the work and doing it right.
Care – the little extras that build profitable relationships.
This chapter is going to primarily focus on the first one. In chapter 4, we'll talk more about doing the work and those things that cement a good customer relationship.
So if you're ready, let's jump right into how to market your business…
In the good old days, before Google conquered the Earth and began to rule with an iron fist, it was possible to put an ad in the phone book or newspaper and get a fairly steady flow of business from it. While there are still phone books and local news papers here and there… we're going to stay away from this outdated advertising strategy.
The biggest reason is your budget. Despite the fact that YP.com doesn't deliver even a fraction of its former results, it can still be pretty pricey to get yourself on there. You'd want to do the extra things to get yourself to the top of the list, and those things cost money. So for now, until you're up and running, we're going to focus on a few simpler and more effective marketing methods.
In business, there are a couple of terms that define how you'll be working. They're called "gorilla" or "grass roots" marketing. These are ways of getting the word out that are kind of outside the box. You've seen plenty of examples of gorilla marketing – flyers on the windshield, people walking around giving out handbills, yard signs and of course the internet.
Would you believe that for less than the cost of setting up your business, you can acquire your first 25 customers? It's true, and in fact, one of the great things about a lawn care business is that it's actually perfect for this.
Yes, you will have to put in some time. Your overhead won't be super high, but you will have to spend some hours each week at it. But hey, if you've got the fortitude to start and run a landscaping business, a few hours a week at the computer and walking around neighborhoods won't be anything you can't handle.
The idea here is to get your business to the point where you can both live off it as well as pump some of your earnings into growing larger as well. That's why the first 20 or 25 customers are critical.
Think about it:
If your expenses and taxes come out to about $500 each month, you're now making $3,000. You can live on that. Maybe not like a millionaire, but you're able to pay your bills, eat and you're only doing this working part-time.
So here are 4 proven methods for starting out with absolutely 0 customers and building up a client list of 25 within your first 30 days of business:
Before we do, though, let me stop for a minute and address some basics. There are two things you're going to want to do right away. As soon as you know that Mean Green LLC is set up and registered as a business. These are getting yourself business cards and getting magnetic signs for your truck.
These are really basic things. A set of a few hundred business cards can be printed using an online printing service such as VistaPrint, PrintRunner or PrintPlace for around $25 including shipping. Keep the card simple – business name, slogan, your name and any contact info you want to put on there.
QUICK TIP: If you sign up on GreenPal you can add your GreenPal website address on your cards so new clients can order from you online directly. Payment is captured for you and everything, it's pretty cool.
The magnetic signs should be the same basic information. Yes, you can pay extra to have your truck and trailer painted or have vinyl graphics put on, but in the beginning, the idea is to save money. A pair of 24" X 18" magnetic door signs will run you less than $100 while a professional paint job or vinyl will run 5 or 6 times that much.
Something simple like this… No need to overthink it
Okay, that's kind of a no brainer, so let's move on to how to use the 4 marketing strategies to get money flowing into your bank account…
Today's World Wide Web really provides us with a lot of options. What's even better is that so many things that have worked for thousands of successful landscapers are free to use.
For starters, you're going to want to set up a Facebook page for your business. Facebook offers you the ability to set up company pages for a variety of types of businesses. It's free and only takes a few minutes.
The idea is to describe what you do and provide images that show it. This is a critical thing and we'll go back to it quite a bit. Provide a few photos of freshly manicured lawns that you've cut. It could even be your own house. Just something nice and trim and neat that looks great.
(if you already have a business page then go to Step 2, keep in mind
you'll need a business page in addition to your personal profile)
First, log into FB with a laptop or desktop computer and then go to: https://www.facebook.com/pages/create
Heads up... You'll need to be logged in first to your personal profile because that's how you'll manage your business page.
Then select "Local Business":
Next enter your business details and select "Landscape Company" as the type of business and click Get Started:
Well that was easy. Now you have your free Facebook business page which will help people find and hire you after you connect your GreenPal store to it.
Heres how to do that:
Why does this matter? Because this is the button homeowners will push to order services from you on your GreenPal store.
Then click "Book with You" to get the "Book Now" button added to your page.
Then click "Next" in the lower right corner:
After that click "Link to Website" to send people to your GreenPal storefront to take their bid request:
Now here is where you enter the address for your GreenPal store (optional if you sign up for a GreenPal account):
You might be wondering… What is the address to my store?
That's easy, head over to your GreenPal dashboard and click the share icon in the header. Then click the green button COPY:
And then go back paste it in the box on your FB account setup and click Save:
And that's it.
GMB is one of those free online business directories that lets you do what Facebook lets you do with some added bonuses. For one, because you set up your profile and attach your services to a specific location, Mean Green Landscaping is more likely to appear in local searches. That's important because when it comes to lawn care, people are looking for local service providers.
The best part... You can also link up your GreenPal store to your Google Page so you can take order from new clients without even having to answer a phone call... But more on that later.
Craigslist is still a powerful FREE tool. You can not only find equipment and even talent on CL, you can find customers too. Here's how to use CL to its fullest potential:
Set up an ad with a great headline and description. Just as you would with Facebook and GMB. Again, you want to put in some really nice photos of lawns to illustrate the benefit to your potential customer. That's what it's all about – you want to show folks that hiring you is so much better than doing it themselves.
At the end of this book, I've added a section with some great copywriting freebees. Some ideas for headlines and ad copy that you can use or alter for your own business.
The trick with CL, though, is that it's not a one and done deal. New ads are being posted every hour of every day. So in order to be seen by the largest number of folks looking for you, you'll want to go in every other day or so and re-post your ad. Keep pushing it to the top. This takes about 20 seconds every other day, or every day if you like. If it only gets you 1 or 2 customers in a given month, it's well worth it!
Think of it like this:
If a single marketing strategy gets you a single customer who
Does a 4 cut contract for a year with you,
And using our numbers of $35 per cut,
You're looking at 48 cuts and $1,680 in revenue.
Now look at it like this:
if it takes you 30 minutes to cut 1 lawn, that means that you're making $70 per hour
(2 lawns X $35), right?
So how many hours of your time is it worth to get a single customer?
I'd think quite a few. If you spent 30 minutes every month posting and re-posting ads on CL and it only got you 1 customer, then it cost you $35 to make $1,260. Where I come from that's a pretty good investment, wouldn't you agree?
There are lots of internet-based options out there, and you may know of or find some that you like. I'd recommend that you avoid paying for now. The yellowPages website, Google Ads, Facebook ads… these might bring in some work, but they're going to cut into your profit margin considerably. And do you know something? Most of the grass roots or gorilla marketing techniques this chapter talks about really do work incredibly well and cost you pennies as compared to what they deliver.
So if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?
Yeah, we're going old school now, right? You know what door hangers are – paper or card stock flyers that you… wait for it… hang on people's front doors.
You can do the same thing in parking lots, but honestly, there's a method to the madness of working in a neighborhood.
One of the things that's going to help you make money and save money too, is what's called your "route density." I've already touched on this a bit but let me expand on the idea a little.
The more time you can spend cutting and the less you can driving the better. You'll save on fuel and you'll maximize the time you're actually earning money. Remember, you're only making money while the equipment is running.
Yes, in the beginning, you may get a few customers who are a few miles apart and will probably spend more time than you'd like driving back and forth in your area. This will fix itself as your list of clients grows, of course.
That's one reason why door hangers are so awesome. Using VistaPrint or another online printer, you can get a few thousand nice paper hangers with your contact info and even a photo you upload for next to nothing.
So now, when you get a customer in XYZ sub-division, for example, you can spend a few hours putting a flyer on all of the homes in that neighborhood. Sooner or later, you'll start getting customers calling you from the same area.
Think about it – we're after your first 25 Mean Green customers. Hell, our long term goal in this blueprint is for you to get 50 or 60. Imagine if you put door hangers on every door in a neighborhood with 300 houses in it. What if 12 of those folks called you and you actually signed up 4 of them.
Maybe that sounds pretty pathetic to you. Well, door hangers like all marketing strategies is a numbers game. I can't say exactly what your return will be.
However, it's not unusual to get a 4% call rate and then you close about ¼ of those. That's pretty conservative, but your own efforts will show you what you can expect.
Yet think of it this way – let's say that you put out 300 door hangers and you get 3 customers from that. A 1% return. Is it worth it? Let's see using our 1 year example from above:
So how long does it take to put out 300 door hangers? Well, if you're doing it right and being respectful of people's property, you can do about 1 per minute in a regular housing development. So figure 50 per hour or about 6 hours of your time.
Okay, it costs you $420 of your time and maybe $30 in flyers. $450 and you earn more than 10 times that much.
And honestly, especially right now, you're not really worth $70 per hour yet because you're still starting. So is it so much to ask for half a dozen hours of your time to make $4 grand?
Seems like a pretty good deal to me.
I mean if you put out 3,000 flyers and it takes you 60 hours total, you've now gotten 30 customers, or 120 cuts… or to put it another way - $42,000 is now flowing into your new business.
Can you dedicate 5 hours a day a couple of times per week when you're getting started to this? I'll bet you can! Heck .. studying this blueprint to take control of your life… So I know you're motivated.
So does this really work? Do people call your door hangers?
You better believe it. You'll be amazed at how many customers you get this way. Once in a while, a jerk will call and try to read you the riot act. Just ignore them – you know how the world works. There's always an asshole in any group.
The absolute best way to build your business is to get your existing customers to talk you up. Let's face it – when people want to try a new restaurant, look for a plumber, find a good mechanic and yes, have their lawns taken care of, what's the first thing they do?
Ask their friends!
This is true both in the real world and online.
This will happen naturally over time as your customers get to know you and you make it a point to take care of them. Customer care is critical, and that's going to be the subject of our next chapter.
Yet you also don't want to be passive here because you don't have to. Don't just wait and hope your customers talk about you – give them a little push.
The best way to get anyone to do anything for you is to give them a reason. Why should somebody talk you up? Aside from doing a good job, you can give them an incentive.
A referral discount:
After you do a few cuts with your new customers, you can simply ask them to pass our cards to a few of their friends. This can be done when you see them in person or if you mail or email a bill. Just tell them that if they refer you to someone they know and that person hires them, you'll give them a reward.
Rewards can be half off their next mow, a free mow or something like that. Don't go too cheap, though. Make it worth their while. $5 bucks off a mow is okay, but if somebody is paying you $140 per month to cut their lawn, they're probably not all that excited about $5.
But a free mow is worth $35, which is significant. Or even half off. Honestly, if somebody throws you $1,260… I'd think that a free mow is more than worth it.
Next... The stake out:
Here's a cool one. You know those bandit signs you see at street corners all the time? You know, "Vote for Joey Numb nuts" or "We buy houses" or "$49 website!"
Well, you can do that too. You can get 100 of these 24" X 18" plastic signs made up for about $3 or $4 each including stakes. Then you place them at street corners with a simple message like, "Expert lawn care – Stop spending Saturday getting sweaty and let us do it for you - $70 for your first month, call XXX"
Something like this...
These do work, but they're also going to piss off code enforcement. So do this sparingly and be ready for them to bust your chops.
However, there's another way to go with signs. You can simply get 5 or 10 of them made up. Instead of a generic message, these are meant to be placed in an existing customer's front lawn for a few months or so.
The signs could read:
"Mean Green is taking care of this lawn, give them a call and find out why we love them so much – XXX"
In other words, people will see that their neighbors like you and might call to get you to cut their lawns, too.
Like asking them to pass out cards, you can offer your neighbor an incentive to allow you to do this. Tell them that if they let you leave this sign near the street until their next cut, you'll give them half off on the next mow or maybe a free mow.
Will they all go for it? Maybe, maybe not – but it's an easy way to get a referral. If the Smiths are okay advertising you on their nicely manicured lawn, then perhaps the Jones' will want to keep up!
There's another option you might want to consider as well. There are apps set up specifically for landscapers that sort of act like a freelance website.
Basically, these companies do the big advertising to acquire customers. Then they allow lawn care companies like Mean Green to sign up and then match them with local customers. Generally, these services are free to join and they take a small percentage of the fee.
GreenPal is one such service. It's our company, and as you might expect… we think it's the best. Here's why:
When you sign up for GreenPal, you pay nothing up front. We also treat you like a valued member and not as a sub-contractor. When our system matches you with a customer, you get to decide whether or not you want the job and how much to charge. When the job is done and paid for through the site, we take a small 5% fee and deposit the remainder into your bank.
When you think about the advantages, both in acquiring new customers with no effort and with the use of our online routing, billing, and customer management tools that have been specifically designed for your business… it's a no brainer. You pay nothing until you get paid and we started as landscapers too.
We know what you're going through and how to help make your journey easier and more profitable.
So check around and visit us at GreenPal and learn how we can put your landscaping business on the fast track.
So far in this book, we've added up startup costs, equipment and marketing material and we're right in the area of $24 - $25K. That's the full 0 to 60 startup cost to get you there fast.
In an upcoming chapter, I'm going to talk more about how to raise this money. You really have more options than you might think.
However, if you're just in a place where it's totally impossible, then you might have to start the hard way.
That might mean using personal equipment and your own vehicle at first.
It might mean that instead of knocking out a dozen lawns a day that you might only be able to do 5 or 6. The good news is... While running the GreenPal platform I have seen first hand many men and women get started with only a push mower and work their way up upgrading equipment along the way. That's the beauty of this business and this country really.
But even if you struggle to get to 30 cuts per week, you're still bringing in over $1,000 a week. You can put your nose to the grindstone and work your way up to a place where you can buy a good used truck and trailer. Where you can get nice new trimming gear and a gently used commercial mower. It's been done before – and you can do it to.
So no matter where you are you absolutely can get off onto a new career and become your own boss.
As important as everything we've talked about so far is, there's something equally if not more important we need to go over. And in the next chapter, I'm going to show you how to be a conscientious business owner and how to take care of your customers from the time the phone first rings to your last cut.
So you've made it this far... Give yourself a pat on the back. Now let's review what we've learned.
It's entirely possible to get to your first 25 customers with a marketing budget of less than $1,000 – even for about $500 or less. You just have to be willing to work your business until it can work for you.
The internet – Facebook, Google My Business, Yelp and Craigslist.
Door hangers – work your neighborhoods and build a solid route density.
Referrals – use clever incentives like discounted or free lawn cuts to get your customers excited about promoting your business.
GreenPal – a freelance service that matches customers with you to help you build your business as well as track your financials.