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Advertising with a Shoestring Budget

Discussion in 'Starting a Lawn Care Business' started by Whitey4, Mar 3, 2008.

  1. Whitey4

    Whitey4 LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,448

    First, a bit of background to set this thread up.

    Had a good job, got hurt, had spinal fusion surgery, and eventually fully recovered. At the age of 52, found out that age discrimination is alive and well, and living comfortably in America. Started mowing last year, just for some income... completly illegal, but it helped me to get by.

    Having some formal horticultural training, and faced with dismal job prospects, I committed to this buisness. I got my pesticide certification, dropped all but 5 accounts from last year, and boldly went forward.

    No money, no cutomer base, no commercial equipment. No ad budget. Begged, borrowed but did not steal.... and I have a 32 Quick on it's way, and will get a Redmax 8001 blower, a Kawi hedge trimmer, a small open trailer, an Echo 265 trimmer all piled into my Chevy S-10 (8 foot bed) and trailer. A backpack sprayer, a Scotts broadcast and drop spreader... and that's my hardware.

    No fancy signs on my truck, no yellow page ads, no nuthin.

    Put an ad for $10 a week in my church bulletin. Printed up 2000 single color, double sided door hangers for $350. I have about 800 door hangers out now, and I figure I've walked 45 miles putting those out.

    So far, 8 customers with full apps, ferts, herbicides, etc, at about $1,200 to a couple over $2,000 gross billings per season. One more with apps only, no maintenance, which is more profitable than the full maintenance accounts are.

    So, I am closing about 1.1 account per 100 door hangers (actually a tiny bit over 1%). So, including the ad, each new account has cost me about $11 each. That does not include my time when distriuting the door hangers.

    While the church bulletin ad has generated ZERO calls, It has helped me close about 7 of these new accounts. When I have good reason to think the customer attends my church, I ask.... and that ad, while not generating leads, has made closing much easier.

    So, I guess what I'm saying is that with some leg work, I have been able to get my business up and going with an ad budget that so far is less than $500. If I can keep the momentum going, I will get the 20 new customers I was looking for, and at a cost that is MUCH lower than what I've seen people talk about here. The more customers I get form the door hangers, the lower my present $11 per customer will go. I am thinking my cost pre new customer, once I hit my target of 20 will be about $7 each, which does not include my time getting the door hangers out.

    I think for a start up, 7 bucks a customer is a pretty good number. My maintenance charges are in line with my competitiors in my area, but the profit is in the fets and apps.

    Has anyone broken down their ad ROI this way before? $/new customer/profit. I have the new $/customer formula figured out, but am still figuring/tweeking the profit number.

    What I guess I am trying to say, is that fancy color print ads, truck signage, all that expensive stuff is nice for image, but I'm not sure it equates to sales and growth. I think advertising can be done very cheaply with more sweat equity and less money. In the end, it's the quality of service and ability to impart professionalism as far as WHAT I do, the service, as opposed to image that makes both an ad campaign and image far less important to the customer when making a buy decision.

    Free pH testing has so far been my best ad hook! Why pay for lime if you don't need it! Much more effective than a brand new truck with fancy, expensive logo's painted on it. Tru-Green and Scotts have fancy trucks.... but what does THAT get the customer who wants a nice lawn?

    Just my limited experience laden with my predjudiced opions. Have at it.
  2. Weekes

    Weekes LawnSite Member
    Messages: 107

    Just curious why ditch you clients, any reason?

    Hope you the success you are looking for. No disrespect or anything is meant by my question. Were they bad paying?
  3. tamadrummer

    tamadrummer LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,102

    I am in a similar boat as far as back surgery. I had artificial disk replacement in 04 and lost my job as a power plant shift supervisor. no one wants to hire a back problem even though I am now recovered.

    I am now trying to make it with this. I wish I had the requirements to take the turf exam here in FL but it is impossible if you haven't worked for someone or gone to college and worked for someone.

    I will get the Round up cert soon enough and be happy with that.

    Good job keeping your eye on costs! Good luck this year!
  4. bill8379

    bill8379 LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 778

    I would just hire a few guys and baby sit them all day, drive them around, while they deliver the door hangers.

    Get them all out in one day, then get some more out. If it is spring in NY (we still have 3 feet of snow here) I would put out flyers just for spring clean ups, it's very busy 3 weeks, fast money. They pay right after you finish.
  5. Whitey4

    Whitey4 LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,448

    Call you when I need you types, and my new business plan says no cut mow and blows.... can't make ends meet here doing that at market rates. If I can't get the ferts and herbicide apps, it won't generate any profit. I do mow and blows ONLY when I get the profitable add ons.... aeration, over seeding, ferts, weed and insect cotrol, etc. I don't take any one time cleanups either.

    tamadrummer, Florida is tough to get licensed in.... but it's doable. F these jerk O-F-F companies that think we are on the wrong side of 50 that we can't kick the crap out of these snot nosed kids they prefer to hire. This weenie at Geico... I swear, he was worried about me taking his job two years down the road. We don't need em. At least I don't.... he did me a favor, keeping me out of that call center sweat shop. I'm much happier doing this.
  6. Whitey4

    Whitey4 LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,448

    Bill.... the point was I don't have the capital to get people to do the legwork.... it's a sweat equity thing, starting an LCO with like zero $!
  7. bill8379

    bill8379 LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 778

    All right, I understand that. Then you know what you have to do. Deliver the rest of your flyers.

    I seen in the other answer that you don't do one time clean ups. You can make some fast money doing that you know. It's VERY seasonal (spring clean ups) and you seem to have a lot of time on your hands right now. Assuming it's spring there, I'm not sure what your climate is like.
  8. Whitey4

    Whitey4 LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,448

    I have another 1200 hangers to get out. Long term, my time is better spent doing that than one shot cleanups, although cleanup time is another couple of weeks from now around here. Two hours doin a cleanup for 150 or getting a full service account for $1200+ for the year by doing door hangers during that time?

    I also have a PT gig going as a safety net, doing about 20 hours a week. So, I'm not sitting on my hands right now either. I will stick to my carefully designed business plan.... full service accounts only, or apps accounts.

    I won't let myself lose focus.... I know where my profit will come from, and it isn't from one time cleanups.
  9. sweetz

    sweetz LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,599

    I've gotten a good amount of paying, monthly maintenance customers from one time clean ups. Just my 2 cents.:waving:
  10. kleankutslawn

    kleankutslawn LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,185

    i have gotten alot of accounts from one time clean ups.that could get you in the door to sell yourself.just my .2

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