Marty and I formed a proper partnership as Horsham Landscape Gardeners and started our career together landscaping some beautiful gardens in Horsham.
It proved easy to get our first few jobs, then just as we thought we were on a roll, work dried up and we learned that to be successful businessmen we had to get out and market our business. We learned many lessons in that first year and came through with some battle scars and having fallen out a few times, but ultimately our relationship survived and became stronger.
Our first job was for a friend of a friend. They always say that recommendations are the best way to get work and it’s a fair point, though it does add pressure to make sure the finished job is high quality. The particular job was to build wooden decking outside the customer’s back door and across the back of his house. It was quite a large structure and took us a while to complete. The customer was delighted and recommended our landscapers to a neighbour.
Well that was easy and we fell into the trap of thinking that all we had to do was a good job and our loyal clients would find more customers for us. Sadly it didn’t turn out that way and within 3 months we’d run out of work. We recognise the problem when we had a couple of weeks’ work left, so held an emergency war meeting and decided on a course of action.
Marketing wasn’t in our repertoire so we had to do some research and call in some help. We worked out a plan because we had to do something quickly if we weren’t to run out of work – and money!
We had a three-pronged attack; firstly we’d get out to networking events and aim for two a week each. We figured that meeting lots of other business owners would help us forge relationships and should result in new business.
Secondly we had 5,000 leaflets printed and arranged for them to be delivered to the wealthier areas of the town.
Thirdly we sought out local magazines and inserted ads, thinking that folk would rather employee a local company to do their landscaping.
The thing with marketing is that it doesn’t work overnight – and it doesn’t work immediately. We found that the networking gave the best results and were lucky to get a job almost immediately. It wasn’t massive but enough to keep us busy for another couple of weeks.
Then we had a better idea and redirected our networking efforts to meeting companies we could actually work with, rather than just touting for work with all and sundry. This approach was far more effective and we built relationships with garden designers, as well as larger builders who would want new properties landscaped. We continued in this vein throughout our first year and the relationships we cultivated bore fruit. It wasn’t all one way though as we helped those companies gain more business too.
So the biggest lesson we learned in our first year was how to keep work coming in. Our success meant we ended Year One with a healthy balance sheet and with a pipeline of landscaping work. In fact we were so successful that we needed to take on employees – which was our next big lesson.