Being proactive in your marketing efforts will help expand your customer base.

Andrew Leslie is a man they don’t make anymore - hard-working, Cajun-born and duty-driven. If the deep caramel skin (that’s about as smooth) and the telltale accent reeling quick-witted tales didn’t make you question his age, his overbooked work ethic would.

Though at age 65 he’s closing in on retirement, I’d suggest cardio training if you tried to keep up with him. I’ve seen his personal shadow almost give up in frustration.

He had a full-time career with J.R. Smith, helping assemble a few million specialty plumbing products, then moved into receiving, spanning as he told me in his thick accent,  “23 years, five months, two days and about six  hours … or thereabouts.” Andrew is rarely without wit or supporting evidence.

Yet his “other” full-time job was being a father to son Eric, who’s with the Federal Railroad Administration, and daughter Rachelle, a vice president of a bank. Andrew also unhesitatingly calls his nieces Kerry and Kimberly - both business owners - his “daughters” since his family raised them as well. His wife, Eva, was equally active, but fibromyalgia and arthritis had other plans, enlisting Andrew as supportive caretaker for the last 14 years.

His other full-time job was lawn maintenance. He probably did other things but I am getting tired of listing them all. Yet atop all this, he was our lawn maintenance guy. Did it by himself, too. His trusty silver Dodge Ram truck pulled a neatly crafted and packed trailer with Weed Eaters, blowers and a Snapper mower that was more an extension of his hands and feet than a separate machine.

Many a Saturday, I’d see Andrew, turning a zero-radius circle around one of our too many tall Southern pine trees with the fluidity of an ice skater (thankfully in khaki instead of spandex). Where he willed, the Snapper went.

And if our yard wasn’t enough, he had the neighbors to the left. And the right. And two doors down, plus the next one, and a couple more he’d hit on his way home. A master of efficiency, he had to “disengage” from one customer who was well off the route.

“I had to tell her the drive was too much for an old man,” he said to me once, adding “She wasn’t all that darn nice either.” I laughed, but he wasn’t done. “I truly hope she doesn’t move to a yard that’s more convenient.”

You can tell by the connection to customers that if Andrew got one job, he’d get all the other ones he wanted, where he wanted, at the price he said. Shopping was over. Why? Because Andrew’s referrals were so enthusiastic you’d half-question if there was some pyramid scheme of sudden riches coming to the referring party.

He got jobs - at will - in our neighborhood of yard-crazy people (historic neighborhood in the Deep South, need I say more?) that is regularly patrolled by the “big” companies. Their postcards were tossed, their TV commercials rendered us blind and the radio ads made us deaf. All we knew when prodded was, “Andrew does our yard,” usually recited like unwavering, slobbering robots. And we were.

Until Andrew retired from us.

Andrew's Legacy

Finding his “replacement” will be in word only. Oh sure, the “new” guy may have a little more bounce in his step, some more “moderness” to the approach and potentially more eagerness for additional clients. But he ain’t gonna be Andrew and that’s a fact.

The beauty of Andrew’s legacy, only briefly shared herein, has a marketing thread of fascination for me in that he scored 100 percent of the jobs he wanted, sans price-shopping. Here’s how he did it.

1. Advertised his work while doing his work.A neat truck, parked out front, with good well-maintained equipment was better than an interstate of billboards. If you’re not doing this - plus yard signs, parking pylons, door hangers and/or windshield signage -  how are the neighbors to know you’re “endorsed?”

2. Focused, targeted marketing efforts.Andrew controlled his jobs instead of the other way around. Sure, he could’ve gotten jobs in multiple inconvenient locations, but he focused on a particular customer in a particular area and “owned” that area. You think neighbors don’t talk?

3. Pricing insensitivity.Andrew could price a job efficiently since he had to move his truck only a few feet, spreading the “windshield time” over the adjacent yards, where others had to quote from a rate sheet that unwisely assumed a trip charge regardless of relative proximity. Smart. Yet, his increased efficiency went into his pocket, not ours, because he followed these steps. Double smart.

4. Established a referral chain.Each new job came with a blessing and endorsement from the previous customer. This was the first step in a three-step process that followed with…

5. Asked a simple question of the potential referrer.“If I introduce myself to your neighbors, is it OK if I tell them that I do your work?” Who’s gonna say no to that? No one did. Thus the near simultaneous third step…

6. Qualified introduction.Andrew would introduce himself as being the lawn maintenance professional for (insert neighbor’s name) and wondered, “I love this area and these great lawns. If you’re looking for someone to take care of it, I’d be honored. The (insert neighbor’s name) said it’d be OK to call them to ask anything you’d like about my service.”

Generally a phone call would ensue, which began the blathering, which ended in “SOLD!” Even if no phone call ensued, the “implied endorsement” was good enough. (Remember this when you blanket an area. Your trucks, signage, follow-up calls, radius mailings, etc. are all implied endorsements.)

7. Regular re-endorsement and relationship building.We got an invoice monthly, sometimes with a hand-written note (bill-stuffer anyone?) and a Christmas card every year. It’s the small stuff that can make the strongest glue. His regular recontact, even in the months we didn’t see him regularly, reinforced his presence, our loyalty and the subsequent discarding of competing effort. This is massively important. If you’re not recontacting clients, they’re not as much “yours” as you hope.

If Andrew had been a “company” of more than one, I’d have recommended all the above, but would have suggested using media to broaden the message. Thus, my advice to you is to “multiply the effort” through media and “multiply the results” as well.

The message remains the same.

Your referrals will not “just happen” in the numbers you could get if you “made them happen.”Andrew made his happen. You must target, ask, follow up and perform as promised and then repeat. If you do this for 23 years, five months, two days and about six hours … or thereabouts, you, too, can grow your referrals and retire happy.

Happy retirement, Andrew. My overgrown yard and I already miss you.  

Questions For You

  • What “actions” do you take to ensure that one customer leads to many? I’d suggest a seven-step follow-up procedure, beginning on the first day following a new customer contact, spread over the next 120 days, with two to four programmed contacts until they moved, died or told you to go away.

  • What “system” is in place to make sure the actions don’t get forgotten? This is a biggee. Our “Endless Referrals” program is designed to be just that.Put a single person in charge of this (should take 20 minutes a month) to enact.