By Denise Stoppleworth
Even though it’s summer, it’s time to start thinking about winter success.
By Denise Stoppleworth
Snow and ice may be the last thing on most people’s minds during the heat and humidity of June. For landscapers who make their living doing snow removal in the off-season, however, it’s time to turn thoughts toward winter success.
Meeting with manufacturers at the Snow & Ice Symposium this month in Cleveland will help navigate the best equipment solutions, but simply having the right equipment to get the job done won’t result in snow removal contracts and business growth.
There’s the old philosophical question: If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it still make a sound? Well, if a contractor builds the most robust snow removal business anywhere but doesn’t market his capabilities, will it really do well? Probably not.
For success this winter, start making noise now.
Identify your target market
No sane person would go hunting blindfolded, and yet too often businesses try to hit the marketing bull’s eye without identifying their target. Even when they have a good idea of their target market, formalizing it in writing often boosts marketing efforts by revealing gaps in that vision of who could be served.
- Geography: Consider where your desired customers live. Are they in the city limits? Are they within a certain radius of a city? Does your business cross provincial or state lines?
- Services offered: Next, define the type of customers best suited to your business. Is that commercial shopping centres or residential neighborhoods? Where will your company experience the most success with your snow removal prowess?
- Characteristics: Think about what your ideal customer looks like. Do they tend to be working professionals who want assistance taking care of snow and ice at their homes? Single parents? Retired couples? Business owners?
Define the message
Sure, a snow removal business should be able to say it offers reliable snow removal – but that’s no different than what the next three contractors down the road are telling their prospects. So, why would a customer pick one over the other? It comes down to differentiation. The key to determining what makes one business different – and, in the eyes of the customer, better – than the next can be determined with a SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis defines your business’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities for growth and any threats to that growth.
Once your list is complete, consider what strengths will best help set you apart and sell your services. What does your business do better than any others with whom you compete? From timeliness to pricing structure to ice management, hone in on what makes your business the best choice for a customer.
As part of this, look at how your competition positions its strengths. If Competitor A is well-known for showing up ready to work the moment the snow halts, it’s going to be difficult to come into the market with a message hinged on response time. Marketing a comprehensive approach to removing ice and limiting liability may be the way to go instead – as long as it’s something you’re confident your business does extremely well.
Choose the channels
Once the audience and message have been defined, it’s time to research and determine the best channels for pushing that message to that audience. For example, while millions use social media, choosing to share images of snow removal jobs on Vero – a new-but-growing social network – and expecting to grow customers in the gated retirement community niche won’t be successful. In that case, a targeted direct mail campaign would likely perform better, even if it does cost more.
The options for getting the message in front of an audience are nearly limitless, but pairing the right audience with the best print and digital channels can be challenging. Explore all of the avenues your competition is using to advertise, and consider any others with good potential. It often helps to pull in an expert in marketing or advertising, since they’ll have the tools readily available to compare audience demographics and sizes along with pricing. Most can guide you to the right channels, from using digital retargeting ads to placing a print ad in community magazines.
No matter the audience, though, the odds are they’ll check Google before making any decisions. What comes up if they search “snow removal in Winnipeg?” What happens when they search a particular business’ name? What should happen is your business comes to the top of the SERP, or search engine results page, and a complete Google listing with photos and positive reviews pop up. Then, when they click on the link, they should see a professional, easy-to-navigate website that makes it clear what services are offered and ensures it’s easy to take the next step to request a quote. Those steps should be easy even on a mobile device since that’s the increasingly common way people use the Internet. No matter the platform on which your potential customers are searching, if they don’t see an easily navigable site with the information they need, they’ll keep scrolling until something better catches their eye.
And although a picture is worth a thousand words, sexy images of clean parking lots in the middle of winter won’t cut it for getting potential customers to your website. Web content should be search engine optimized, which means including the terms users are most likely to search for. Those words should be in the copy, coded in the headers, and incorporated in the alt tags on photos. Even if it’s a small site, it’s important to have a clean, professional, search-engine optimized website to serve existing customers and recruit new ones.
If you already have a website, be sure you’re keeping it up to date. Algorithms change, software updates occur, and trends in search terms shift. Without implementing site updates and adding new content that’s optimized to appear in searches, your site – no matter how great it looks – will start to slip in rankings and be less likely to be seen.
Get out there early to market your business well, and you’ll be signing new contracts before the first snowflake falls.
Denise Stoppleworth is president of IRONCLAD Marketing, an advertising, public relations and marketing agency based in Fargo, N.D. Turf care and snow removal are among the business sectors it serves in the U.S. and Canada.