There’s no set company size or timeline as to when engaging a marketing firm can benefit your lawn or landscape business. Yet sooner or later, the question of “Do we hire an agency or bring someone in-house?” will arise.
Technology is driving rapid changes in marketing – especially when it comes to digital marketing. Depending on your situation, working with a marketing firm can be helpful if your team doesn’t have the time or specialized expertise in particular areas. No matter why you decide to work with a firm, the key is to select the right fit for your operations.
What Do Marketing Firms Offer
If you have an in-house marketing team, you might see hiring an outside firm as unnecessary, but plenty of landscape companies opt to use both channels.
Laura Mullin, marketing director for Mullin, based in St. Rose, Louisiana, says they decided to work with a firm when they wanted to add some professional videos to set them apart from others.
“We needed someone in the landscape industry that understood our end goal plus attention to detail,” Mullin says. “They were also able to get a ton of footage in a short amount of time.”
Robyn Schmitz, owner and CEO of High Prairie Landscape Group, LLC, based in Edwardsville, Kansas, says she opted to hire a marketing firm to help them pursue their growth goals and free up her time to cultivate the talents of her team.
Meanwhile, Jamie Storrs, VP of marketing with Chenmark, based in Portland, Maine, says due to the seasonal nature of the business, they decided hiring an agency would allow them to lower their retainer in the offseason when the workload was lighter. The agency handles paid search, SEO, web design, graphic design, and paid and organic search for Chenmark.
“There’s so much to learn and know in marketing,” says Rob Reindl, El Conquistador of Oasis Tree & Turf, based in Loveland, Ohio. “I think it’s inevitable to need to find a marketing company that can help you solve all those questions.”
He says they sought out a marketing firm back in 2014 when he decided he wanted to start blogging and the website needed a makeover. Reindl says he wanted blog content that would answer people’s questions.
“The great thing is that they’re doing the research for us; they’re finding out what questions people are asking,” Reindl says. “You either need to have probably a few people on your staff dedicated to doing this type of work or you need to hire a company that does it.”
Adam Zellner, vice president of sales for Oasis Turf & Tree, adds one of the benefits of working with a marketing firm is having a collective of different expertise.
“You can probably find a great in-house marketing person but that they’re going to be the best at SEO, they’re going be the best at writing blogs, they’re going be the best at web development, video or any of those things, I would say is next to impossible to find one person that can do all of those things,” Zellner says.
Storrs agrees that when you work with a marketing firm, you are able to access subject matter experts within each marketing channel rather than a generalist who is a jack of all trades.
Zellner says by working with a marketing firm, you can ensure you’re getting the most out of the dollars you are spending toward these efforts. Aside from blogging, Oasis Tree & Turf also pays their marketing firm to help with pay-per-click ads.
“Over the last six years, they’ve helped us generate 30,492 leads,” Zellner says. “We’ve had 383 job applicants through our website and our web traffic is 4,700 percent up over the course of those six years.”
Choosing the Right Marketing Firm
While Storrs, Schmitz and Mullin say it depends on the situation, whether it’s better to work with an industry-specific marketing firm or a general one, Reindl prefers working with ones that specialize in the landscape industry.“One of the things that was important to me was finding a company that focuses on landscape companies because I didn’t want to have to try to explain everything to them, especially when it came to blogging,” Reindl says.
He says the first firm they hired, he ended up having to explain basic things like lawn care treatments, so they sought out another marketing firm. The new firm had writers with a great deal of industry knowledge so creating the blog content was not an issue.
“Don’t feel like you’re handcuffed to a company,” Zellner says. “We made the wrong decision once and then we found a company that we love. It didn’t mean that because we found a company that didn’t work for us we decided marketing companies aren’t a solution for us.”
Storrs says while a marketing firm doesn’t have to have landscaping experience, they should have lead-gen marketing experience as this is different from selling items directly from a website. Schmitz says it’s important to work with a marketing firm that focuses on the quality of your leads and sales, not just vanity metrics of unqualified leads or traffic.
Schmitz also says they view their relationship with their marketing firm as a collaboration, so they chose their firm based on their landscape industry expertise. She says they understood High Prairie positions themselves differently than the conventional landscaper. Some of the questions she suggests asking include:
- Do they understand your business and brand?
- How are they uniquely positioned to help your business?
- Do they have past success stories as social proof of performance?
- Is their way of doing business and is their software compatible with yours?
Mullin also suggests looking at the firm’s previous work and finding one that is flexible with timing. They had a hard freeze that forced them to move the original dates for the shoot.
“A key green flag is an agency that’s willing to provide references for you to call,” Storrs says. “If they’re not willing to do so, that can be worrying.”
Storrs says they found their marketing firm by asking for referrals from peers they trusted. Zellner advises finding a company that is easy to talk to and meshes well with your company culture. Mullin says they also looked for a firm where their values aligned.
“I feel like they’re an extension of that company culture,” Zellner says. “When we get on calls, despite them not being in our office, we talk and joke and have a light-hearted relationship built on top of our business relationship. That goes a long way with just our ability to feel comfortable with them.”
What to Expect
Marketing firms are not a cheap venture. Mullin stresses having clear expectations and goals when working with one. Schmitz agrees that you should not invest without a clear scope of work and expectations in mind.
The marketing firm Oasis Tree & Turf works with has a contractual agreement in place where they pay over $4,500 a month. Reindl says this includes them writing two blog posts a month. Similarly, High Prairie has an ongoing yearly contract.
“We use the firm mostly for content creation and a one-time-per-year video shoot,” Schmitz says. “I still manage our social, web development, SEO, and conventional marketing methods in-house.”
She says the cost of various services is scope and specialization-dependent. New websites can range from $6,000 to over $15,000, while ongoing content creation could be $800 per month to a four-article package over $3,000 per month.
Chenmark has a monthly retainer where they can add or drop certain services, depending on their needs during that time. Storrs says the cost of working with a marketing firm varies for everyone but expect to spend at least $3,000 to $5,000 per month.
“Anything less than $3K and you’re just not going to get the level of attention and service that you’re going to need for the partnership to be successful,” Storrs says. “After all, you get what you pay for!”
Zellner advises being patient as improved marketing is not something you experience overnight. Because you only get out of your marketing the effort you put in, Storrs suggests setting up bi-weekly check-in calls you can focus on.
“Don’t take these calls when you’re driving from one job site to another, be in front of your computer ready to learn,” Storrs says. “Use your bi-weekly check-in calls to learn and understand what your marketing agency is doing for you. Don’t settle for the answer, ‘We’re looking good; leads are up!’ Ask them where leads are coming from, if they’re seeing any shifts in certain channels or certain ads working better than others, and ask them what they want to try next. Your agency should always be experimenting and trying out new ways to increase your lead flow, be it testing new landing pages, new ad copy and creative, or new offerings from Google Ads.”
This article was published in the Jan/Feb issue of the magazine. To read more stories from The Edge magazine, click here to subscribe to the digital edition.