How This Landscaper Became A Marketer

How I went from desperate for work to a wait list for consultations.

Remember 2012? In my the neck of the woods the recession was still grinding on. Our family landscape company was coming off several bad years and things were not yet looking up. My wife and I had even discussed the possibility that Ross NW Watergardens would go out of business.

And then I had lunch with a competitor.

I didn't know it at the time, but that $25 meal (I paid) was a turning point for us. Here is how that happened:

For a few months I had been on LawnSite, learning as much as I could about running a landscape maintenance company. We were considering buying a company from a friend and it was going to be my job to oversee it. I wanted to be ready.

Marketing lawn care was also on my mind. If we bought the routes I would want to expand them. In fact my first comment on LawnSite was in a thread on flyers. I was considering all the options.

In the forum I came across posts from another Portland area landscaper. He primarily worked in a different part of town, and for a different kind of client. We interacted on the forum and eventually via email.

In February of 2012 we met for lunch. We talked about our companies and realized that we could help each other. In the years since we have referred many clients to each other and we even collaborated on one of their larger projects.

The most important thing we discussed was his website. He had put a ton of work into it and it was paying off huge. Do any search related to landscaping and Portland (or any of the suburbs) and you would see his company in the top few results. Still do.

I had no idea how to do that for Ross NW. We had a website (thanks to my little brother) but NO ONE ever saw it. He didn't tell me what to do, but he did say:

“You can do it yourself. Start reading and start working. I did it and so can you. SEO is not too hard.”

A little encouragement was all I needed.

Over the next 10 months I read everything I could find related to SEO and websites for small businesses. I also got help from some really generous pro's (Thanks Tony and Dave!) As I learned I practiced. I hunted down and built citations, creating a large and consistent list of business listings. Slowly I made changes to the structure of our website. (Don't worry, I will tell you how to do all these things yourself in future posts.)

I learned a lot. By the end of 2012 I had learned 2 big things especially:

1- I needed a new website.

2- I really loved SEO and online marketing.

The winter of 2012/13 was spent building a new website. (A future post will go into why I love Squarespace for this.) Spring of 2013 we had a new website, were showing up in search on Google, and even had a little blog going.

I was a little nervous. Getting to this point had been a ton of work. What if no one called or emailed? It is silly to look back on, but I really questioned the time and resources I had devoted to this whole thing.

As winter (and the Great Recession) started to thaw the calls and emails started to trickle in. I kept blogging, taking pictures at completed projects, and getting reviews from clients. More projects appeared. By late spring I could hardly keep up with all the leads.

2013 was a good year, as good as our last pre-recession year. We were back in business, able to keep our families fed and employees employed. 75% of our work that year came from the website. No longer dependent on designers and previous clients to refer work, I came up with a plan for winter of 2013/14. The website needed more changes.

Why mess with a good thing?

I was happy with the amount of leads we were generating. And my dad and I were happy with the size of our company. But we both desired more revenue. The goal was not more leads, but more of the right kind of leads.

And we changed our minds. No longer would we think of ourselves as the best landscapers in Portland doing projects at a reasonable price (whatever that is). Being low priced was not a virtue we were going to cultivate any more.

That winter I did a minor redesign on the site. Pages that brought in lower cost projects went away. Pages that brought in larger, more complicated projects stayed. Every reference to “reasonable” or “fair” prices went away.

It was a big winter in other ways as well. I kept blogging, won a cruise and industry award (more on that in a later post!), and we purchased landscape design software.

Spring of 2014 saw us armed with new design services, a full portfolio, industry credentials, client reviews, and page 1 rankings. What happened?

2014 was our best year yet. Revenue almost doubled. The average project cost doubled. I got a new truck.

The winter of 2014/15 was the first one in a couple years without major marketing projects. We had relatives stay with us a for a couple months and I worked a light schedule. It was nice.

2015 started with us already booked through spring. I turned away or referred several clients each week, only pursuing the most interesting projects. Being booked so far out allowed me take the family on some nice trips and not worry about filling the schedule.

I was also able to price projects with no fear. There was not a single job all year that I felt pressure to sign. Do not underestimate how much more enjoyable business is when you take the fear out of it.

2015 was, again, a high water mark for Ross NW. Revenue was now 300% over our sad 2012. As of this post we are booked 4 months in advance in 2016, which bodes well for another strong year. In fact, as the picture at the top shows, we have a waiting list for consultations. And yes, people are signing up for that list almost every day.

If you have read all this (or even skimmed) I want to say 'Thanks'. And I want to show my thanks by telling you, not just what I did, but how to do it yourself.

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