Advertising and First year tips and hints

Discussion in 'Starting a Lawn Care Business' started by topsites, Jun 3, 2005.

  1. topsites

    topsites LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 21,653

    To start out, at LEAST five thousand dollars in cash is crucial, but really you need 10 and 20 is better. In order to do this you need to start saving. Do this by putting aside 10 and 20 dollars a week, 50, 100, whatever you can put away. And learn how to live on next-to-nothing. Do that.
    You NEED to be able to save money because this skill is an absolute requirement if you wish to run an operation without problems. You can get a loan, but the interest and the payments will eat you alive. In the 4-5 years that it will take you to save your money, learn to drive by the rules so that you have a perfect driving record. By perfect, I mean absolutely NO marks on your record for at LEAST 5 years - This will save you on the Insurance.
    Learn to pay off and stay away from credit card balances. Then, learn to pay your auto-insurance in one lump sum: It is cheaper than payments. Learn to buy cars with cash instead of payments, and so on, and so forth. The secret is there is no secret - Get AWAY from the sickness that afflicts 9/10th of Americans who can't see straight because everything they own requires stupid payments and truth be known, the bank owns it all. You need liquid cash without debt, and this takes time but it can be done and the reason I am telling you this is Money is Power!
    So once you have your money and you have no debt (ok, you can have the mortgage payment) and you have a perfect driving record (yeah, I mean, a clean criminal record goes without saying - If you got legal probs, take care of those first, too), now you are ready.

    I'll skip the equipment purchasing lesson and go straight to advertising:
    If you have 20 thousand, it should be no problem spending 2 of that on a nice yellow page ad BUT you may wish to only spend 1 thousand until you get used to dealing with the volume! However you chose to advertise, this is what I found works best:

    Name of business

    3 or 4 Things You do

    Call (your name) at (phone number)

    You can put Licensed and Insured on there, it doesn't really matter but if you put it there, it needs to be true. For example if you do not have insurance, then skip Insured.

    For the things you do, figure out what you really like to do. That is what I do: I ONLY advertise those things I really enjoy doing, in my case it's:
    Grass cutting, Core Aeration / Tilling, Hedge Trimming, and Mulch

    Yes I do some other stuff but it depends on the job and the problem is, if you advertised it and then find out you don't want to do it, you got probs.

    So do NOT put something down you are not sure about especially not in the Yellow pages. If you are not sure, it is better to run a one-week ad in a local newspaper as test. You can run weekly ads sustained for month after month to get you the boost you need, making minor adjustments as you go.
    Some the best papers are Home/Yard Improvement places, also they have some papers sponsored by advertisers, those can be good, too. On average, you should spend at least 50 dollars but not more than 100, per week.

    You need 3 or 4 things you do, that is the best number. Do NOT advertise things you do not like to do, even if you don't have 3 or 4 things yet, don't mess yourself up. Advertising only 1 or 2 things is not enough, your call volume will be less than half. More than 4 is too much, you will be treated like a Jack-of-all-trades (and master of none) and expect to be paid like 10 bucks/hour, too. Yes, it does take some learning to figure it out.

    Do NOT advertise in a cheap location such as the classifieds because you will get little respect. Bluntly speaking, money talks.

    Be ready! If the volume of calls is outrageous AND everybody is saying yes, drive your prices up a little bit ONLY. As an example, if everybody is saying yes to 30 dollars/hour, going up to 35/hour should change the response rate to 50/50 yes/no. And going up to 40/hour should change things to 9 no for 1 yes (1 out of 10). As you can see, if you can maintain a constant volume of incoming calls, you can price things 10 dollars above what you wanted anyway and when you go to work, you get PAID. Of course, if you've already gone up by 10 dollars/hour and everybody is still saying yes, well, you know what that means.

    Gauge as you go: Don't raise your prices too fast, too soon. You want a FULL schedule, I usually raise my prices by 5 dollars when I'm half full, and another 5 right at peak production (100% full).

    When you are new, it is very likely you can only do so much. But if you are willing to work hard, 40 to 50 active accounts should be no problem. As you gain experience, take on more accounts to fill the empty timeslots.

    Personally, I take on accounts even if it means I may NOT be able to finish the work. That way, I really am TOO busy for the baloney and the horsecrap.
    But no, I don't take on accounts beyond say, 110% production.

    To gauge things a bit, peak is 100% and record is more.
    Peak production is what I can sustain while working as hard as I can. It is not the MOST I can do, it is the MOST I can sustain indefinitely. Record is exactly that: It is the most I have ever done beyond peak, and although I can do record production (meaning I do the SAME amount of work I did the last time I hit the record), I am not capable of sustaining it. Of course it is nice to break the record, but once you've done something once, you know you can do it again and breaking the record may not be the solution of choice, either.

    Still, I like to advertise and continue to advertise until I run peak, sustained. Some folk will argue that things slow down during certain times, but in my experience, I can work peak from 1.apr until Xmas, the only exception being in the hottest months I have to break off from around 11p to 2p, when it's just too hot. Still, it's light until 8p minimum, I can get 4-5 yards done by 11, and 4-5 more before dark. You know: 5 in the morning, 5 in the afternoon.

    It gets to the point you might turn your ad OFF to save money and keep the phone a bit quieter, but that can backfire. In my case, the paper needs a 2-week notice before things take effect, and in two weeks, anything could happen - Keep the ad running year-round and don't even think about it is the other choice - That's the same effect (and cost) as running a yellow-pages ad, about 3 thousand dollars/year.

    If you DO get tired of it, by all means turn it off and run on empty for a while.
    You will notice that over time, your accounts slowly disappear one after another, for various reasons. Word of mouth replenishes things a bit but rest assured when I tell you, word of mouth alone is not enough.

    Here is why:
    Everybody I ever spoke to acts like word of mouth is the greatest thing since buttered bread. Don't get me wrong, it is nice to get some work free of advertising, but it's always one here, one there - lalala.
    And customer loyalty is over-rated... I mean, even if you kiss BIG butt you still will lose more customers over time than word of mouth replenishes. And if you're not a good butt-kisser or they're not in the mood for it, well ...
    To be blunt, even with 67 active accounts, how many friends these folk have, 5 or 10 each? Ok, lets say each account has 20 friends, that's 67 times 20 = 1350 households (that is VERY optimistic). The chances of a call out of those households ARE a very high percentage (like 1/10) but you still won't get everyone / can't do every job, which drives the numbers back down. So, you get 135 calls out of all that, maybe over a year's time.

    The paper where I advertised on the other hand gets delivered to 195,000 households for like $75 - $100/week. The percentage is a lot lower, I might get maybe 1/20k but that's every week and how can you argue with those figures? One hundred, ninety five thousand households - that defeats any marketing statistics and garbage hands down, I used to get 3-4 calls/day but since my prices went up, 3-4 week is more like it (so yeah, word of mouth works along with paid advertising - it's even better).

    Lets not discuss the numbers of the yellow book distribution. I think it's a half-a-million, maybe more. Man I love metros.

    The only advantage the paper has over the yellow pages is the flexibility:
    Once your ad goes in the yellow pages and it's printed and delivered, that is the way it looks ALL year! It is there, like it or not.
    The paper lets you change things around so if you are not sure exactly what your ad should be like or you are kinda new, yes, I'd highly recommend a newspaper ad.

    ZZzzzzzzz
     
  2. C&KLawnCare

    C&KLawnCare LawnSite Member
    Posts: 246

    ((((ZZzzzzzzz)))))) LOL even typing his line of crap puts him to sleep
     
  3. daveintoledo

    daveintoledo LawnSite Silver Member
    Posts: 2,587

    just ignore him, he has no clue, ill try and just ignore him from now on
     
  4. charlies

    charlies LawnSite Senior Member
    from earth
    Posts: 587

    word of mouth and customer loyalty are crucial to your success.

    if you build your customer base in the yellow pages, your routes will be 'loose as a goose'. yellow pages = good for general contracting and big landscaping jobs, but useless for developing tight routes. in my opinion, especially these days, tight routes are an important ingredient for success. you build tight routes through direct marketing and customer loyalty and word of mouth.


    by the way, i am sure most of us started out with considerably less than 20k. i don't deny that it would be nice to have 20k to start with. nice, but not at all realistic. at one point in my life, i was mowing 25 properties (in hot north carolina) with a push mower, a weed whacker (i don't care what YOU call them) and a 90 ford mustang, hatchback. i put food on the table and paid the bills for 2 years that way.

    i will say that topsites hit it right on the money when he speaks about credit. credit is the devil in disguise. you need to be fully educated on how credit works before getting a loan. read as much as you can about it. here's a starting point: www.msn.com, go to the column on the left hand side of the page, click on money, start reading about credit card debt. credit will RUIN your business is you are not in control of it.
     
  5. cochino12

    cochino12 LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 319

    You guys forget that every form of advertising works TOGETHER. How many customers have you picked up from simply being on the property, word of mouth etc..... Yellow pages works the same way, it just reaches people with different shopping patterns.

    Topsites I agree with some of the stuff you have to say but shorten it up a bit so I can get through it ha ha. Thanks
     
  6. ups

    ups LawnSite Member
    Posts: 15

    you should remember that this is someone who probably doesn't want to wait 5 years..

    advertising..the most economic way would be flyers weekly to the same neighborhoods..

    dont advertise all at one for everyting.. be specific.. if it is mulch season then advertise mulch special..mention as well of the other professional services available..

    when your in a new neighbor hood advertise to the neighbors weekly of the houses your doing.. possibly drop off estimates for their lawn/bushes/fertilizing/flower....they will jump on something eventually..

    look for new homeowners..advertisie and let them know you take care of the neighbors..go up to the door if you have to. you will be surprised at the results.. and be serious or else they will not take you seriously..

    yellow pages will only spread you out lawn wise. but if you can offer a service that pays for the distance spent doing that lawn.. you spend money on driving, you start getting more accounts in areas that you will eventually dislike

    concentration is the key...
     
  7. ups

    ups LawnSite Member
    Posts: 15

    he has some more interesting points.. go get as much work or more than you can afford to handle. you will find a way to deal with the calls. but remember your time will be worth money so turning down work is not a bad thing when you can realize the time to work somewhere else and make more money..
    customer mouth to mouth is overrated. the paper,if you can afford to take the gamble because that is what it is when you have never done it, is a profitable way to obtain concentrated customers..
    church papers with quality ads work too..give them a reason to call.. not %10 off.. something like free fall clean up with a 1yr signed lawn contract. rational behind this is that you get the customer to call,, they sign for a year and get no freebies untill the end. and even the freebies can be explained as not exactly free.. but you did receive a call and from there your selling will do the rest..
     
  8. topsites

    topsites LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 21,653

    Ok I am with you, I really only had 5k to start out but I worked for a couple years before and put my money aside. Now I wish I had saved 10k, 4 years of work + saving (and 20k is optimal) ... But, we agree: Zero debt.
    I relied on flyers and word of mouth. Yes it works BUT it doesn't give me the volume I want and it is over-rated. Sure I get work from it, a call here, a call there... But real paid advertising gets me 10 to 100 times that volume (depends on season, too). Now don't go broke advertising, either.

    Truth is I got tired of being low-balled and having to bend over backwards and kissing tail just because I didn't have enough work. Having to do it is one thing, but then there are those who KNOW and take advantage of you. It's funny but it's like they can smell it. You can fake being busy and pretend you don't need it but it is much easier when it's true and there is no turning back, no second thoughts.

    You are correct about spread, watch out for that. I found this helps is add the following line to the ad (in my case):
    Serving Chesterfield County
    (yes of course I still get calls from ways out, oh well).
    Now in the first year it is hard to get a lot of volume but if you can do it, I'm all over the County with 50-some accounts, I always have 3 or 4 that are within 5-10 miles of each other. So, you route your accounts the night before to make sure you don't drive all across the county every day - One day do the southend, next day someplace else, and with experience you can get it where you are always where you need to be within 2-3 days or so (so at least twice/week I'm in your area, I like to tell my customers).
    Yes sometimes you catch a yard 1-2 days early, sometimes 1-2 days late. So long everyone is ok with that, no problem (and no you don't charge extra for tall grass if is your fault, lol).
     
  9. topsites

    topsites LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 21,653

    Yes, and no. Likely in a small town where everybody knows each other then make a bad name of yourself around 5000 homes and you have a problem. In a large metro where you have like 200,000 households or more, both those things are over-rated.

    But it does work - people do talk and the more hi-profile your ad AND the more accounts you have, the more they talk. But is it all referrals? NO!
    Word of mouth goes around your prices / work / ethics and it's just so much blablabla around the dinner table. Once all this blablabla has taken place AND a potential customer sees your ad, that's HOT. That's word of mouth + a paid ad and that catches some real attention.

    I'm not saying discount it completely (don't), but I would not rely on it to keep my business alive (NO large corporation survives without it, smaller companies do it, too). It is hard, this is my 4th year and I'm looking at 2,700 dollars in advertising for the year, 1650 of which has not been paid so again, don't go broke doing it. That, and yes start with a smaller amount to MEASURE the effectiveness and tune your ad - I should've put this on TOP of it all and hope nobody runs with their first ad to go all out: That may not be a good idea, go with a small run and be ready to do it again right away - For this, flyers and newspaper ads work great! That's how I tuned mine, nobody's perfect.

    So before you take the Yellow pages plunge (because it's tough - Once committed the ad runs and you owe the money) I will definitely recommend a Newspaper ad because that's easier - Week to week you can decide, if it gets to be too much you can stop it also you can change the contents.

    I've done extremely well with newspaper ads and would highly recommend it.
    Flyers are ok but they SUCK to put out and I got low-balled about 20% more when doing flyers than with the newspaper (maybe I didn't put out enough).
    Money-wise, it costs as much if not more to put out flyers than a newspaper ad. I used to get 4 thousand designed and printed for like 60 bucks but then you still have to put them out and even at a rate of 150 flyers/hour that's 27 hours of hard-core work (I find flyers a serious mental challenge).

    So let's say 27 hours x $10/hour = 270 dollars + 60 print: 330 dollars.
    With the newspaper, it costs me $85/week so 4 weeks = 340 dollars.
    Response rate for flyers? UP to 10 calls per 1000 so 40 calls.
    Response rate for newspaper ad? Varied! 3-4 calls/day to 3-4/week so in the end it averages out to 40+

    Now some people get MUCH better response from flyers but they go door-to-door and with that method you will not be able to put out no 150 flyers/hour per person.
     

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