Relying on word-of-mouth in today's business environment is the equivalent of trying to win a motor race on foot. You might eventually make it to the finish line, but you'll be eating a lot of dust as your competitors roar ahead of you. Even in the landscape industry, surviving in today's ultra-competitive world requires a much more proactive approach. Below are our top five suggestions for marketing survival.

1. Know Your Customer
Don't waste time and money by trying to spread too wide of a net. If you try to target everyone, you'll interest no one. Narrow your target market by geography, income level, and other measurable factors like home size. Do your research to learn about your target's likes, dislikes, needs, desires, lifestyle patterns, and spending triggers. This will often vary by market and is not a one-size-fits-all formula.

2. Talk to Your Customers on Their Level
Once you truly know your customers, you can use that knowledge to influence their spending by focusing on the benefits to them. One of the hardest things for many business owners to do is to get out of their own heads and think like the customer. Whether in an email, mailer, commercial, on the phone, or in person, talk about your business in a way that interests the customer.

3. Have a Quality Online Presence, and Be Social!
The reality of today's world is if you're not online, you're dead in the water. Research shows that Google is the number one way consumers find local service providers. And, the days of designing a website once are over; however, user-friendly platforms like WordPress incorporate integrated social media, email marketing, and search engine optimization tools that make it easy to regularly change the information on your site to keep your online marketing efforts current.

4. Don't Tell Them, Show Them
When you try to say too much, you say nothing at all. Keep your marketing messages short and to the point, and never say with words what you can show with quality images. Try to always get before and after shots of your projects to use with your various marketing efforts. For better "after" shots, make sure the area is clear of tools and debris and consider staging the shot with potted plants or furniture. Whenever possible, take photos during a time of day that offers the best lighting conditions and casts the fewest shadows, which is often very early morning or near dusk.

5. Network, Network, Network
Take advantage of as many networking opportunities as possible. Get referrals from existing customers by offering a referral incentive or sponsoring a post-project backyard bash to meet their friends and neighbors. Whenever possible, attend homeowner association, chamber of commerce, and civic meetings to learn about possible bid opportunities. Look for cross-marketing opportunities with suppliers, local retailers, or related service providers. And, never forget to follow-up in a timely manner.