(The following article is adapted from The Landscapers Survival Manual, written and published by Alan Sargent. The relevance of the words will differ from firm to firm, person to person, and will depend on your previous experiences, either as a long term designer/contractor, or your life style/life stage i.e. if you are a second careerist or not, with perhaps a background where much of this will be second nature to you. Similarly, the advice may not resonate with you and the offer you make to your clients.
Please read through and glean whatever you can from the words, which are part of a much more complex Manual, which begins with embarking on your business, and it’s development over perhaps a three or four year period, when most people have decided which avenue that wish to travel – designer, design and build, build and maintain or maintain only.)
Marketing, Identifying Sources of Work
You all operate your businesses in, or near to, a village or town – you may even live in that same place – and it therefore easier to establish your credibility nearer to home than many miles away where you will be less likely to be able to build a base from which to market yourself.
I have already advised that you take care to choose a company name that you are really comfortable with, one that clearly denotes the nature and style of your Company’s offer to the public.
In order to begin the campaign of building your company profile – out of which will come opportunities for Public Relations – marketing must come first, otherwise your chances for PR are limited. Therefore you will need to assess your strengths. Schedule everything you feel that you are happy to offer a client and restrict yourself to that skills base. You can always get assistance if you have anything that crops up that you cannot handle, but in order to succeed in your efforts, you must remain focused.
As always, keep records of everything that is decided, said, and done. I will list a number of business opportunities that I have been successful with over the years, and describe how I went about securing those contacts.
For a number of years in the early to late 80s, I was in a loose partnership – an agreement that went beyond a simple handshake – involving a joint venture, with an upmarket florist called Patagonia, in Old Brompton Road, London.
At the time, I was working on several gardens in the West End of London, as the result of working with some of the best designers of the day. Although based in Sussex, it made sense at the time to try to have a foot in London. Most of my clients were more than happy to pay for us to travel to London, as our country overheads were very much lower than city based companies, and therefore the costs cancelled each other out. In other words, I was affordable.
I approached the owners with a business proposition. It is no use simply going into any business and expect them to recommend you and your company. Why on earth should they? (So often I hear that people ask for such favours, then wonder why they have had no enquiries. It’s because their cards were promptly binned!)
I sat down with the owners and outlined my scheme. They wanted to supply their customers with flowers and houseplants, including some large specimens.
They also wanted the aftercare of these plants, and expand into window boxes and their seasonal care. There are literally hundreds of window boxes in West London! They were not currently able to find the muscle power to do these things.
I wanted a shop window in town and our agreement was formed. They would have the shop front window professionally sign written ‘We also design and build Town gardens’, and I supplied some high quality photographs and plans of existing projects. (no names or identification).
Working together, we identified prospective clients, including several from their regular customers. I designed their gardens for a separate fee, and priced to undertake the works, which we did without fail. Patagonia used our muscles to install large plants and window boxes. We worked together as a team for several years, Patagonia also supplying and planting pots and tubs at the Chelsea Show for a couple of Gold medal gardens which I constructed.
An excellent relationship to mutual benefit, which only ended with the ill health of the owners. Note; at that time, West London was my target area, as I was better known there than in Sussex, especially for the sort of gardens I was interested in.
Most towns have a florist, some more than one. I suggest you try the one who appears the most exclusive, as they are more likely to have well heeled customers. I have a good friend in the business, and he assures me that people are very snobbish when it comes to buying flowers for themselves. I would not argue with him, he is very successful!
Following the same principle as florists, you need to be able of offer a mutually beneficial arrangement to Estate Agents. Once you have your campaign settled in your mind, list all Agents, and write to the owner/partner/manager of each and ask for an appointment to discuss working together to increase the kerb appeal of properties (a rather trendy phrase to describe making a house more attractive to a would-be purchaser). Do not expect an answer from all of them, but if you do not include them all, and word gets round that they were second or third choice, you won’t get any response!
Your offer to the Estate Agent can be wide spread, but with the same base line – they must get something out of it – selling a property on their books.
There are several ways you can help. Some houses do not sell because of an eyesore, either in the garden or at some distance from the house. We, as designers and landscapers, are perfectly capable of disguising such problems. Similarly, a noisy road can become less of a problem with noise attenuation planting. There will be many examples of prospective purchaser resistance, by one or more of the buyers (wife hates this, husband is worried about that), and an Estate Agent with potential solutions is a happy agent.
I have worked with a few agents over the years, in different towns, and expanded the landscaper offer to include Site Evaluation, where the major features in the garden are listed and valued, either for their cost as a specimen plant, or estimated value of a rockery, a pool, or glasshouses etc.
Similarly, an unbiased schedule of the existing garden, complete with problem areas e.g. a swimming pool long past it’s sell by date, but may be turned into a Koi pond or bog garden, infilling with other hardcore/topsoil on site. Again, things that we do not find intimidating by virtue of our Trade, can render a property more saleable. If you can have a happy agent, and a buyer who may well want works carried out, maybe even a seller who will similarly require your assistance. Working with the right Agent and developing a trusting mutually beneficial ‘partnership’ is to be highly prized.
Do you want to carry out insurance work? Rebuilding garden walls, repairing damaged fencing, supplying and laying a replacement lawn after a herd of cattle have trodden through the site? These works can be a constant source of work, especially for the smaller contractor.
How to get onto the Insurance Companies list of Selected Approved Tenderers? Find out the name of your insurance companies local area manager, and write requesting that you be placed on this list. You do business with them, with your vehicle/s, Public Liability, personal life insurance etc, and you would like to get some business back!
Supply a full list of works you offer, and make it as comprehensive as possible, without going overboard. Any special skills you may have would be a useful addition if you highlight them.
Very similar to Insurance Companies, you may extend your offer to include Site Evaluation and Valuation, which is useful to a firm of solicitors in cases of dispute. If there are questions reference damage or losses involving garden ornaments, plants etc, a firm of solicitors will engage someone to inspect that site and produce a report. This is not ‘Expert Witness’ territory, so do not feel daunted in any way. Write in the first instance, to a named partner in the firm. You may obtain that name either via the web site or by asking the receptionist who deals with property claims and address that person.
There are hundreds of Estates in the UK, many of them in private hands, others held under Trusts or in trust. Most, if not all, of these estates have been victims of money shortages, some for many years. However, it is a fact that in the last couple of years, even more cut backs have been demanded by the owners and Trustees. These cutbacks have resulted in the loss of many jobs, with their skills and talents lost to the estates, yet perversely, there is a growing need for freelance contractors, specialising in a wide range of activities, from flint work to mowing, contract pruning to paving repairs.
List all of the estates within your area – check through County Hall records for maps and sizes – and produce a list of all Estate Managers or Directors. You should include in this list all estates, whether private or otherwise.
Arrange a personal one to one meeting with the aforementioned Manager and offer your services, whatever they may be, together with a schedule of your rates, either hourly or daily. Ask that you be given an opportunity to carry out some work whenever the need arises, and request to be placed on a list of Selected Tenderers, which will place your work base on a more solid foundation.
Working on an Historic House is a very good advert for your professional profile, and may lead to many more opportunities outside the estate.
The type of dealer I have in mind is one who buys and sells large garden items, usually, but not exclusively, stone or iron, both of which are very heavy.
Landscapers are perfectly suited to this task, as they are well versed in site etiquette, used to handling very heavy, perishable and easily damaged plants and have a good eye for siting such items. Any certificates you have including Safe Handling, Lifting Safely etc, will be very valuable, and combined with your Public Liability insurance will make you a very attractive proposition to these specialist dealers.
Again, research your area and make a list of all such dealers. It may not be a long one, but it is an opportunity you should not miss. I have had a long and fruitful relationship with two such companies, and know how highly they value our particular expertise. Most of their antiques are extremely valuable, and the chance to work with an efficient firm with added expertise of handling heavy but delicate objects will not be ignored.
There may also be scope here to offer a site survey to establish the most efficient manner to import/export the pieces, together with restoration works if needs be to lawns and fences.
If you have any good photographs or references from similar works, write in the first instance, otherwise, go along and ask to talk business with the owner.
Swimming Pool/Tennis Court Companies
Most swimming pool installers and tennis court constructors are only interested in putting in their product, and there is a very wide scope to become involved in offering the ‘dirty’ works of drainage, including French drains to tennis courts and backwash/filtration pipes to swimming pools. Pools offer the added chance to carry out the paving and allied works around the new pool.
Whilst offering to undertake this work – and you may have to produce a schedule of rates per metre run for these projects – you will again major on your site etiquette skills and landscape talents, and perhaps incorporate a wider part of the garden in your brief by integrating the new pool into the rest of the grounds. Be prepared to pay a small commission to the contractor for this reference, avoiding the structured percentage demand previously mentioned under the relationship between designers and contractors.
If you are able to increase your workload from the client, perhaps you may include the paving around the new pool as part of the garden works for reasons of warranty, but each scheme will have its own programme.
All of the above are but examples of targeted marketing, and there are many other roads you may wish to travel in your search for work. They all require the same discipline of homework, research, monitoring, locating the people in charge of things and keeping your records up to date.
As previously stated, this article is only a small part of a much wider ranging ‘Essay’, based on over four decades of experience. It should be read in that context, although I trust there will be something here to either inspire you to have a go at developing your own marketing strategy, to remind you of things you had forgotten – or inspire you to see Marketing for what it is – a discipline requiring lateral thinking and good record keeping.
(Public relations, which are a major part of the development and benefit to be gained by a Marketing campaign, are dealt with elsewhere in the manual)
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