Being in business for yourself is tough—even in a great economy.
In the 21st century, you need to know how to run your business, use technology out in the field and in the office. Plus, hiring and retaining employees is an ever-present challenge.
Additionally, you don’t need your competitors stealing your clients. And yet, every company has competitors, especially in the landscape and lawn care industry.
In this article, you will learn eight tips to strengthen your relationships with your client base. You’ll also get a few tricks to keep your current base coming back to you... instead of going to your competitors.
Plus, we'll talk about the protections you have when an employee leaves to start their own business.
8 Tips to Keep Your Clients from Leaving You and Going to Your Competitors
There are no surefire ways to guarantee some of your clients won’t go to the competition...
...but you can put systems in place to encourage your customers to stick with your lawn care or landscaping business for the long haul.
If you were in your clients’ shoes, how would you feel as a customer?
Stop by your customers’ homes and inspect the work that your crews did that week.
Talk to your clients—either in person, through an online survey or through email and social media. Here are some questions to ask:
- Do crews clean up after they’re done mowing, trimming, pruning or other work?
- Are the crews friendly and will they answer the homeowner’s questions?
- Do your crews go above and beyond their assigned work?
If you get feedback that one of your clients had a bad experience with your company, don’t get defensive. If you were in their shoes, how would you feel?
Empathize. Do your best to solve the homeowner’s problem.
Why it works:
The more customer feedback you get, the better you can meet your customers’ needs and wants.
If your clients are experiencing sloppy work on their properties or unfriendly crew members, they’ll start shopping around with your competitors.
2. Be Consistent (Even When You Change)
Your customers form a bond with the account manager or sales person who successfully sold your services to them.
When an account manager leaves your company, or someone retires, you’ll probably replace him or her.
However, your clients will miss the relationship that they had with that staff member.
Use this opportunity to reassure customers that the high quality service will continue uninterrupted, and their property needs will be met as they were before the account manager left.
It’s imperative that you keep your communication lines open too. Tell clients ahead of time when a key player in your company is leaving and what the homeowners can expect with this departure.
Also, let your new customer service reps or account managers form their own relationships with your clients.
It takes time to develop strong relationships, and everyone has their method for cultivating those bonds.
Why it works:
Most people dislike change.
When you keep your customers informed of any changes that will affect their lawn or landscape service, they’ll hopefully work with you during the transition.
Plus, when you trust your sales team to forge relationships with their clients, you allow them to be more authentic and helpful to homeowners.
3. Create a “Client Persona”
In the digital marketing world, companies create “client personas” to better sell to their prospects.
This works perfectly for your own lawn care or landscaping business.
Client personas help you visualize your clients, and keep their most important “buying triggers” in mind.
For example, do you cater to upper-class neighborhoods who have money to burn and will embrace outdoor living features in their backyard?
Or are your clients mostly senior citizens who are on a limited income, but see the value in regular lawn care maintenance?
Income, the region you serve, the person who calls your office for an estimate, and your clients’ values all play a factor in your buyer persona.
Why it works:
Once you know who your typical customer is, you can tailor your marketing and services to meet that population’s needs and desires.
In other words, you can speak their “language.”
It’s imperative you know your competition.
Study their website, social media pages, and their advertisements.
- What services overlap with yours?
- Are they targeting the same customer base?
Perform a SWOT analysis to measure the competition against your business’s mission.
A SWOT analysis measures both your company and your competitor’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
It helps you to see how much of a threat your competitors are to your business and gives you the incentive to strengthen your company’s weaknesses.
Why it works:
A SWOT analysis allows you to position your strengths as well as your weaknesses with your competitor’s strength and weaknesses.
The information you get from this tool helps you to make adjustments and capitalize on your strengths.
5. Nurture Your Relationships with Your Cornerstone Customers
Those customers who have been with you since the beginning are golden.
And it’s worth your time to nurture those relationships because it’s harder to replace those loyal customers.
Why it works:
It’s less expensive to keep the cornerstones of your client base (20% of your customer base) than it is to gain new customers.
So, you should spend 80% of your energies to nurturing your existing base rather than spending all of your time garnering new clients.
6. Get a USP that Can’t Be Ignored
What’s your unique selling proposition? A USP helps you figure out how you’re different from your competitors.
For example, your USP may be that you provide organic lawn care over your competitors who use only conventional methods.
Why it works:
By differentiating yourself from the competition, you safeguard losing your customers to your competitors because they don’t have that same service or product.
One way to endorse customer loyalty is through offering more of your services.
If you’re a lawn and landscape maintenance company, for instance, you can upsell your mowing clients into signing on with your fertilization and weed control program.
The more your existing client base spends on your services, the more loyal they will be based due to perceived value and the endowment effect:
“...people value something more if they own it. By logical extension, they value it even more if they spend additional money on it.
...Perceived value states that a product [or service] is as valuable as the amount you spend on it. The more you spend, the more you value it.”
Why it works:
As the above definition states, the more a customer spends on your other services, the more they’ll value you.
They’ll stick with you for the long run.
8. Loyalty or Referral Rewards
Everyone loves to get a free gift or a discount on services.
Reward your customers for their loyalty to your company with a discount on services or any other reward that makes them feel appreciated for their loyalty.
Likewise, if you have a homeowner give you a referral or two, make sure that you thank them with a gift or a discount.
Showing your gratitude motivates your clients to continue referring your company to their neighbors, families and friends.
Why it works:
Loyal customers who get something for their fidelity will continue to spread the word about your company.
When an Employees Leaves to Start Their Own Business...
Sometimes, employees want to leave to start their own lawn care business. They always ask these two questions:
- Should you take some fellow employees with you?
- Should you raid your boss’s contact files?
Nope and nope.
When going out on your own as a subcontractor, you can’t just take your clients or crew with you. It’s considered unethical and could end up as a lawsuit.
There are several things employers can do to cover themselves… Employees should be aware of these too.
1. Non-compete Agreements
If you signed a non-compete, it means you won’t open your business in the same industry within the same geographic area as your employer.
For example, if you worked for a landscape design company, you can’t open another one in the same city, region or state, where you become a direct competitor.
2. Non-solicitation Agreements
With a non-solicitor contract, you agree not to contact your current employer’s contracts for a year or more.
Entrepreneur.com describes a non-solicitation agreement:
“Non-solicitation agreements are viewed as a legitimate effort by a business to protect its goodwill, and are often upheld by the same courts that routinely strike down non-competes.”
If you signed one, you should leave your former employer’s contacts alone.
3. Uniform Trade Secrets Act
Even if you didn’t sign a non-solicitation agreement, Entrepreneur.com says...
“...you still may have some legal liability to your former employer if you blatantly try to steal its customers. That's because, to date, 42 states have adopted some form of a statute called the ‘Uniform Trade Secrets Act.’ If your state has adopted a version of this act, then you're prohibited from stealing your employer's "trade secrets" and using them for your own benefit, even without a written agreement with the employer.”
Most businesses in the United States are protected under this act. There are similar, albeit more complicated laws in Canada.
But That Doesn’t Mean You Should “Leave it to Fate...”
Competition is a natural byproduct of being in business. But you shouldn’t rely on luck to keep your clients loyal.
Instead, look at what you’re already doing and find ways to connect with your customers. The more invested they are with your company, the more loyal your customers will be to you.
And if you decide to open your own business, don’t risk losing it by taking clients away from your current employer. It’s just bad manners.