It is very easy to get bogged down with the day to day running of a busy commercial landscaping company. Tenders, job deadlines, employees, suppliers, and contractors, all take up so much time. It is so important to occasionally take a step back, and look at your business from a distance. Ideally a full business plan will help any company, but at the very least a good marketing plan every few years is essential. To grow a business to its potential, try this basic marketing plan. We have tried to simplify this process as much as possible, to make the process easy. If you have already had a consultant to construct a marketing plan, well done, and I would suggest using that. There are also some computer programs you can buy that will help you with marketing plans. Even if you use these other methods of constructing a marketing plan, I think you will find this article beneficial to making your business stronger.
Executive summary (Read this quickly and come back to it at the end)
The executive summary provides a quick run-down, or synopsis, of the overall marketing plan. This helps your group as well as others quickly identify the main points. This summary should be written after you finish the rest of the marketing plan, (done last) but placed at the beginning of the first page.
A table of contents should follow the summary so readers can easily find more details about each point. Off course if this is only for you, and no one else, you can dispense with some of these formalities, although if you are going to do the exercise, then the extra work may help the bank, or your employees better understand your business.
Research Phase (I find this the fun bit)
Here is where you gather information about landscaping market forces, your business, and what economic, customer, and other trends are occurring. Just put on your landscaping, and common sense thinking cap. A little reading, internet searching, and peer discussion can be helpful. Having overseers, estimators, office staff, and other employees involved in this step can really help. It also makes them feel more like part of the team, and can be great for company moral.
- How many commercial sites are currently having landscaping done by any firm competing in the commercial landscape market in your area of operation, or even in a wider market? Don’t get too worried if you cannot find this information.
- How many prospects have potential use for commercial landscaping?
- What is the geographic market you need to look at? Find information about it? Make the size a little bigger for the research phase. EG: You may live and work in the Eastern Suburbs, but you should investigate the whole of Sydney. Or you may currently work the whole Brisbane area, but for this exercise, you should look at the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast as well. (Broaden your area a little)
- Is the market growing, flattening, or shrinking? For example; find information about new building statistics for your area. Some statistics show that Victoria will continue to be the dominant home building state this financial year and it will lead Australia in a housing upswing in 2006-07. Housing Industry Association figures have forecast that Victoria will have 39,470 new starts this financial year followed by Queensland on 37,240 and NSW on 34,800. A further example may be that, developments will be more planned and architecturally designed with increasing demand for mature stock, landscaping, indoor plants and flowers, and niche products and services. With consumers demanding a complete package, builders, developers and selling agents will respond by doing their own landscaping prior to sale, as a result, there will be more work for the commercial landscaper.
- How large is the potential market? It is hard to define, but in your market area, how many companies per year would undertake to hire a landscaper?
- What are your performance indicators? Check you profit statements. Are you having cash flow problems at certain times of the year?
- Are you gaining, or slipping back? Are you growing?
- Where are you gaining?
- If you’re slipping back, is it something you can fix with better marketing?
- Is everybody in your area of interest in the same situation, or just you?
- Which types of jobs are the most profitable? Analyse your sales. EG: Landscaping apartment blocks maybe more or less profitable than landscaping roadsides. Soft landscaping maybe more or less profitable than hard landscaping. EG; Planting gardens for smaller commercial clients; you can often make 100% profit when you sell plants. You buy at wholesale and sell at retail. Some turf varieties have a higher profit margin for the Landscaper. EG: A landscaper can make $1.60 per square metre on Empire Turf, whilst they only make $0.30 cents on Kikuyu. (When comparing wholesale prices to retail prices)
- Which clients provide the most business for you? This can be analysed on client name, or by segment. EG; builders, developers, roads departments, councils etc.
- What times of the year are quiet, and which require prospecting? You may need to advertise more at certain times of the year.
Macro/Micro Environmental Factors
- Look at outside influences like the economy, demographics, social or societal factors and what effects they are having on your business. EG: More Baby boomers with money. Sea change. (People moving near the ocean).
- What trends or changes are occurring? For example water usage is a concern now for many gardeners. This will effect which plants a landscaper must consider buying. Trends are towards No Irrigation Gardening plants and more drought tolerant turf. EG; Empire turf and Palmetto turf. Smaller area landscaping, as houses grow and block sizes shrink. (More paving?) What trends are occurring in large commercial development landscapes?
- Could any changes or trends affect your business?
- Is there a greater awareness of an issue your business is involved in?
- If so, can you take advantage of that to gain more clients?
- Does the government, (local, state or federal) have any effect on your business?
- If so what, and will this change in the near future?
- Are there any new rules/regulations/taxes on the horizon?
- If so how are they going to affect your work? EG: Government rules on commercial development, may require more landscaping in general. The greening of the city.
- Are any new technologies on the horizon in your sector?
- If so how are they going to affect your work? EG: New smaller efficient machinery can save labour. So many new small fantastic machines in the market place. Besides how much fun are they to play with?
A SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis builds on the information you gathered in the first part of the research phase and identifies the major strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats with which your business is faced. Strengths and weaknesses are internal, referring to your business, whilst opportunities and threats come from external forces.
This is an example of a SWOT analysis for a residential landscaper. Not all these points will be relevant for you, so you really should do one of these. It is simple and easy.
Strengths – Examples
- We have experience and knowledge with plants.
- We have 6 large clients that continually give us large amounts of work, plus 30 smaller ones.
- One of our employees was a horticulturist so we have extensive knowledge on plant applications and solutions for gardens.
- Due to our large size we can take on large projects.
- We own a significant amount of machinery.
- We have paving experience.
- We have good experience at building retaining walls and other hard landscaping.
- We are well known to commercial Landscape Architects.
- We have 2 full time estimators, which allow us to quote many projects.
- We have well signed vehicles.
Weaknesses – Examples
- Our overheads are higher than some smaller companies.
- We have little experience in landscape maintenance.
- We have little advertising in local directories.
- We have high maintenance costs for all our machinery.
Opportunities – Examples
- Many government departments are now dealing direct with landscapers, rather than overall project managers.
- There are many suppliers of plants and turf in Western Sydney due to the large amount of land. This will reduce the cost of sourcing supplies for projects.
- The city is expanding west with new housing developments that require landscaping.
- Landscape Architects and Designers need landscapers to recommend. Few landscapers send company profiles to these groups.
- Networking with colleagues, and others in allied industries can lead to opportunities. EG; having a stand, or even just attending a landscape architect conference can provide contacts that may recommend you in the future.
- Winning landscape awards can lead to credibility, and new customers.
- Increased advertising, and other marketing, can lead to more work than we can cope with, which can simply be fixed by increase our prices, which brings the level of work back down to manageable levels. Higher prices can be an opportunity.
- Machinery can save labour costs.
- Landscapes need maintaining. There is an opportunity to add maintenance to your current busines.
- Governments are contracting more work out.
Threats – Examples
- A major threat to gardening in general are water restrictions which make people and companies feel uneasy about maintaining their gardens.
- Increased competition from these particular landscapers. (List them)
- Increased costs of labour, and work cover laws becoming tougher, can all increase business costs.
- Extra government red tape can slow landscaping down.
- Bad debts.
- Increased cost of fuel makes travel and machinery costs higher.
Marketing Objectives and Issues (Now we get serious)
Having completed your SWOT analysis you can then work out the issues you need to focus your plan around.
You should list broad goals of your business, for example;
- To specialise in mass planting and turf installation, or to specialize in hard landscaping, or to chase a broad range of landscapes, or whatever your goal is.
- To broaden the geographic area in which we landscape.
- To network better with allied businesses.
- To expand the business.
- To increase our local government business.
Next, target objectives should be stated as quantitative or specific goals, for example:
- We want to increase promotion of our business 200%.
- Increase the amount of quotes that are successful by 25%.
- Increase the amount of quotes that we do by 80%.
- To increase our turnover by 30% this year compared to last year.
- We need to increase our labour charge by 5%.
- To buy extra labour saving devices, and to hire out and increase our machinery hire sales by 40% compared to last year.
Strategy to Achieve Objectives
You can now outline your methods for achieving those objectives.
Possible Strategy (Plan of Attack)
Some possible examples. You need to decide for your business what the methods of achieving your strategy will be.
Market Segmentation (Specialisation Strategy)
Almost all markets have some major and distinctive segments. Even if a market isn’t currently segmented, it probably can be. By focusing on a segment of the market it allows small businesses to specialise and meet the needs of these clients more effectively than larger competitors, whilst larger companies can offer an array of services at a cheaper cost.
We will specialize in hard landscaping, such as; stonework, courtyards, paving works, retaining walls etc.
Or we specialise in roadside landscapes, for estates and traffic authorities.
Or we will specialize in soft landscaping, such as turf, gardens, and some basic hard landscaping such as retaining walls.
Or we will provide a complete landscape service, but in our advertising we will list all of the landscape types. (Both hard and soft)
The positioning of your company is important as it determines how you will compete on service. You may only want to do large scale projects or focus on commercial work for builders such as townhouse developments.
Promotion is concerned with how you can grow your business and spend your money on advertising and promotion. It is one of the most important decisions for increasing the amount of work and finding potential customers. There are many simple but overlooked factors which are essential in promoting a commercial landscape business. Remember the more sensible promotion you do the more work you can quote on. The extra quotes you are asked to do, may allow you to increase your price by 2% or more. On large landscape projects this can be a lot of extra profit.
For Landscapers this could include the following simple points:
- When working on client’s landscapes, have brochures in the car which could be given to other builders or developers near by.
- Making sure that you and your vehicle are presentable.
- Make sure sign writing on trucks and cars is up to date and clearly visible.
- Have plenty of business cards on hand, and company profiles on hand.
- When working on a project, erect as large a signs as possible, shouting to the world that you are landscaping that project.
- Ask your current clients if they know of anyone who needs work done.
- Buying building reports. Companies such as Cordell sell construction reports that list much of the construction work being let. For example it might list that 20 townhouses are being built by XXX constructions in Richmond. You can then contact the builder and try to quote on the landscape work. These reports also list roadside work, engineering, parks etc. To buy these reports visit www.reedconstructiondata.com.au . These type of reports, are the easiest way to find potential clients. To make these work you it is necessary to put effort in. Have a good company brochure and standard letter you can send to any potential client you contact by phone.
The types of advertising different landscapers normally use includes the following; direct marketing with letters and postcards, TV, radio, and print ads.
Direct marketing is a great way to promote your business as it allows you to monitor sales resulting from this media, whether it’s over the internet or by pamphlets to peoples homes. Direct mail has been on the increase in recent years so it is important to make sure it grabs the readers’ attention or provides information that they may find interesting. Or make the direct mail relevant. This can be done by listing a particular project you wish to quote on. This way the letter will not be classed as junk mail. The best way to find the projects is in reports such as the Cordel report. These reports come in many forms, so you will need to choose the one that best suits you. For example there is the Dawn construction report, or the weekly construction report, or the local work generator. To find the best report for you call 1800 011 846.
Another way to make direct marketing work for you, is to develop a list or data base that is relevant and accurate. Find out who the estimators and overseers/project managers are for various companies. Before you do this define your target market. For example you may choose to chase certain categories from the following list; Construction companies, Builders, Councils, State Government Departments such as Roads Departments, Waterboards, Landscape Architects, Developers, etc. Once you have chosen the target market, you can either buy a list, from list brokers, which is generally not very detailed, or you can sit down with the Yellow pages, and phone and find out the appropriate contacts, type them into your data base, and then start mailing out your company profile with a covering letter. The more people you let know that you are interesting in quoting commercial landscape projects, the more quotes you will get to do.
Telemarketing is another form of marketing that can work. In the case of a landscaper, this can be quite successful. The main aim should be to be put on future tender or quotation lists. It is a simple matter of phoning prospective clients, and asking them if you can send them a company profile, and if they will allow you to quote on any future landscape works.
Marketing to Allied Industries
Produce a good company profile document. This could be a letter of introduction, or a full colour brochure. State on it what kind of work you are after, and make it clear that you would like to work in the future with the company you send it to. Send these to Landscape Architects and Designers, Consulting Engineers, etc. If it is quiet, go and visit these types of places, or phone them up and let them know you exist. If you can build a good relationship with Landscape Architects, the recommendations they can hand out can be very lucrative.
Display at landscape Architect shows, or builder trade shows etc. The contacts you make may pay off for years.
Types of Advertising
Websites – These are low cost. Have a good clear web site, which quickly shows what your business does. Yellow pages online, and Google are worth looking at for advertising. Google’s adwords are relatively cheap.
Print Advertisements – All the above information could also go into print adverts.When designing a print advertisement, choose one, two or at the most three points, and make them stand out. Don’t clutter. Make sure your message is correct and strong, and then get it across so people will notice it. If you do advertise make sure the target market is the correct one.
Competing on price is not recommended as this will simply lead to reducing profit margins in the landscape industry. You will soon realize what the correct price is. If you are too low you will win every quote, if you are too high you will win none. Try to get a good balance. The more quotes and tenders you do the more work you will get. One strategy maybe to quote twice as much as you currently are, which may allow you to raise your profit margins slightly, and still win about the same amount of work. This could allow you to make more profit.
To handle all the extra quotes, try using some of the new estimating tools that are now available. For example try the Cordell landscaping trade cost guide. For more information phone 1800 806060. Being able to process quotes efficiently and accurately is an important aspect to commercial landscaping.
Contingency Plans (Action Plan)
Each marketing strategy can now be broken down into specific action plans. This is the part where you make sure things are actually done, and not just talked about.
Each action program should specify:
- When it will be done (started, reviewed and completed)?
- Who is responsible for doing it?
- How much it will cost?
- What will be done (for example, a direct mail-out to attract new customers)?
- What will the measurable projected outcome be (for example, 50 new customers from the mail-out)?
- Set dates. This is your check list for making sure things are done.
Operating an effective marketing plan requires resources in people, money, and technology.
This section of the plan details the resources needed. For example an advertising budget can be compiled.
The last section of the plan outlines controls that will be used to monitor progress.
Review the results for each period, maybe each month or quarter, and determine if the plan is meeting goals. Modify where necessary. Here is where all that money you pay accountants can finally pay off. Compare profit and loss information to see if the business is improving compared to the ones previous to the marketing plan.
Wasn’t that fun! The marketing plan for a residential landscaper can be found here.