An early season company newsletter published by Wimberg Landscaping features compelling images interspersed with informative articles on winter landscaping, planning for spring, the distribution of 2022 contracts and observations about how the company is continuing to maintain healthy distancing on job sites.
The company produces a biweekly newsletter in-house that covers a range of subjects. The newsletters are posted and archived on the company’s website and also are emailed to customers.
“It’s a good way to communicate with your customers,” notes John Wimberg, vice president of Wimberg Landscaping, an irrigation and lighting service provider in Cincinnati, Ohio. The company has 60 employees in peak season.
B & K Landscaping in Rock Valley, Iowa, produces a newsletter that is sent to clients via email and posted on the company website.
The goal is to provide a deeper dive into information for clients and potential clients about the services and products offered by the company, says Ben Van Der Brink, owner.
B & K Landscaping offers a range of services from new landscaping design and installation, irrigation systems, landscape maintenance, hardscaping, water features, outdoor lighting, and snow and ice management. Van Der Brink is one of a staff of six full-time people. He brings in part-timers as needed to address various seasonal tasks.
B & K Landscaping has offered the monthly newsletter for about three years. It came as part of the company’s subcontracted website services. That company suggests topics and Van Der Brink chooses the one he wants to highlight during a particular month. In February, for example, the newsletter addressed snow removal and fire pit sales and featured images from his company’s product offerings.
Wimberg says that while he doesn’t know for certain how many people read the newsletters, for those who do, “I’m sure it’s triggering something in their mind occasionally to call the company about a service.”
“One thing we use the newsletters for is to push certain types of work we want to sell,” he says. “We’ve written about honeysuckle removal and pollinator gardens. They work as a nice form of advertisement for your services.”
Van Der Brink says his company is within a 15% to 17% open rate for emails and newsletters.
Wimberg points out that a newsletter can be helpful in establishing a company as an industry expert.
“It lets people know you do what most companies don’t do,” he says. “We have a lot of good staff of people who have been in this for a long time and have a lot of knowledge.”
Van Der Brink says the newsletter helps to set him up as an industry expert, not only with his customers, but also with potential customers seeing the newsletter on the internet.
“Sometimes there’s information some people don’t know about the types of services that are offered or what’s good for lawns or bad for lawns,” he notes.
Wimberg advises companies that don’t have a newsletter and want to start one to “stick with writing about things you are competent about and focus on your core work.” It also helps to designate someone who is skilled in communication skills and can dedicate themselves to the production of the newsletter, he says, adding that at his company, the task is handled in-house.
Van Der Brink advises other companies in the industry looking to start a newsletter to start small.
“Start with talking about things your company does or can do, because not everybody knows what each and every company is capable of or what type of services they offer,” he says. “Companies specialize in certain things. Touch on that in the newsletter.”
Get the message
Picking the right topic for newsletter content can be a challenge, but it’s important to give customers a message they can use, says Sally Evans, marketing director for Hot House Digital, St. Louis. Give them information or tools to help them solve a problem with the solution leading to hiring an expert from the company to help.
Topics do well when they tie in to seasonal aspects of the industry, and newsletters should be planned to address that subject matter at a certain time, she adds.
“Time your messaging with what’s going on and what is going to resonate with people,” Evans says.
While a newsletter is generally consumer-facing, it’s a good idea to include company information as well. “Having your certification and being licensed in your state is super important,” says Evans. So too is touting partnerships with various manufacturers. Such announcements demonstrate a company is keeping up with the cutting edge of technology and designs.
Tips that enable customers to be a partner with a company in pursuing solutions may involve water audits for the irrigation system “making sure people aren’t wasting money and wasting water and using their systems smartly,” says Evans.
“Talking about the things that you’re doing to keep up with the latest and greatest in your industry is really important and certainly is highlighting your team as far as what they’re doing,” she adds.
Spread the news
Given the manner in which people are inundated with communications on a daily basis, it’s important that a newsletter features content that catches the eye of a customer or potential customer and retains their interest, says Sally Evans, marketing director for Hot House Digital, St. Louis. She works with many green industry and irrigation companies writing content and building websites.
Titles and subject line wording should be clever and catchy, she adds. While the subject line is important, it’s also key to be mindful of what would be the first thing someone sees when opening up the email, such as a company logo or an article headline inviting the reader to explore further.
“Use the subject line to speak to the broader picture,” she points out.
Linda Hamburger, owner of On Call PR and adjunct professor of marketing at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, says the best content that will make a customer sit up and take notice of a newsletter is to write about the customers.
“Put yourself in the shoes of a journalist and either interview them or include them as a source in an article you write on the industry,” she says. “Problem-solving, new trends, technology and real-life news on current events are all excellent hooks.”
Because space is tight in a newsletter, Hamburger recommends short columns that address topics such as what you see as the newest trends in irrigation. Write about what differentiates your crew from others, and what they do better than anyone else. Even suggesting movies that feature top-notch landscaping may catch a customer’s eye.
“Try to be creative and think outside of the box,” says Hamburger.
Some businesses focus on doing service plugs, talking about their company and its services, says Evans. It’s best to know the audience for the messaging.
“You’re going to talk to a property manager and residential customers in different ways,” Evans points out.
When it comes to newsletters and what is useful in developing further business with a customer as well as a professional relationship, Hamburger says the number one rule is “Make it easy for them to contact you, including by the old-fashioned landline.”
“Be sure the newsletter looks professional,” Evans says. “You don’t need to spend a fortune, but strive for zero typos, short paragraphs and good images. I am surprised by how many times a newsletter is left to an unskilled person and treated almost as an afterthought item.”
Hamburger encourages asking for feedback and direct interaction with a newsletter.
“Go ahead and write something a little controversial and you’d be surprised at how people take notice,” she says. “For example, ‘What’s politics got to do with irrigation?’ Strive to be thoughtful without being too contentious.”
Contractors should include company news in a newsletter that includes landing new clients, a new contract, winning an award or working with a nonprofit.
“Give professional advice and be sure to compliment staff and employees for their achievements and activities,” she notes.
For contractors to establish themselves as an industry expert through the newsletter, “think like a ‘thought leader,’” notes Hamburger.
“Don’t just report on current events, but be sure to write insightful and interesting commentary,” she says. “Attend professional meetings and events and write a few lines of what was covered at the meeting or event you attended.”
In helping with customer acquisition and business development, “newsletters should not just be about you,” Hamburger advises. “Include people you would like to ‘woo’ in stories as sources. Narrow the topic down at times to spotlight specific groups. Be certain to get the newsletter in front of decision-makers.”
Evans speaks of the value of using “omnichannel” communications for the newsletter content. The newsletter can be emailed, featured on a website, sent in printed form with other communications through the mail and featured across social media platforms.
Marketing professionals can help ascertain how an email newsletter campaign is playing out for customer acquisition and retention through analytics such as open rates and click rates.
Evans utilizes A/B testing, which is a user experience research methodology to determine how the messaging is resonating with the audience.
“With print, it’s a little less obvious” she says. “You might have some kind of promotion or something you can link to in order to see if people are responding to your messaging. If you’re posting on social media, you can look at click rates. It’s a good way to evaluate if a newsletter is worth the time and energy.”
The actual production of a newsletter depends on the cadence of the messaging, such as weekly, monthly or other time frames. As for planning topics, says Evans, aim for that which provides the most value to a company’s current and potential customer base.
In terms of the work and planning that needs to go into a newsletter, “don’t assume a newsletter can be done by anyone with a computer and social media account,” says Hamburger. “I strongly advise starting with a professional person to lay out and design a great look for you, and use a freelance writer for those first new issues or when you are ready to change up what has already been used.”
“Think of your newsletter as a resume,” says Hamburger. “Your investment in a newsletter when spent well can attract a significant increase in business and help support sales teams. Determine the budget and don’t start at zero.”