What Gardening Has Taught Me About Lead Generation

As a digital marketer, I am increasingly drawn to hobbies and creative outlets that aren’t reliant on the internet, computers or even electricity. And I’m not alone. I have colleagues taking up hobbies like boat making, home brewing and even knitting. After a long day at the office, it’s nice to work with your hands and make something tangible to balance out those clever tweets or landing pages with a 5% conversion rate.

The gardening bug really hit as I moved into a new home a few years ago. I set up a temporary garden that first season, to understand the physical conditions of my yard: the path of the sun, the wildlife, etc. Surprisingly, about 20 feet away from my garden, a rogue tomato plant grew. It didn’t look like any of the others I had planted. A seed must have been kicked up as the yard was being graded, or maybe a bird brought it over. Regardless of how, it wasn’t inside the raised bed I had built, so I neglected it. I never really watered it. And I think I even mowed over it once. But it persevered, eventually bearing tomato fruit that put my actual garden tomatoes to shame. Hands down, it was the biggest, most delicious and best tomato I’ve ever had.

The garden has evolved since that first season. The seeds of the rogue tomato were harvested and now my garden consists of nearly 40 tomato plants, half of which are from that persistent gem. And as I spend evenings or weekends toiling away, my mind inevitably drifts back to the digital world. With dirt on my hands and sweat on the brow, I realize the garden holds valuable lessons for my fellow marketers.

Be Open to Success in Unexpected Places

Just like my rogue tomato, some of our greatest opportunities come from beyond where we sew our seeds. And that’s OK! While I made the initial mistake of disregarding that opportunity, marketers should constantly be on the lookout for new social channels, additional inbound link opportunities and campaigns that drive traffic without our attention. Keep a watchful eye on your Google Analytics for traffic coming from sites not yet on your radar. Stay tuned to what’s happening with referral sites and MLS aggregates. Most importantly, when a lead does roll in from an unexpected place, don’t mow over it. Give it some water and see what you can make from it. Chances are good it will surprise you.

Plan Ahead

If I waited until I craved a fresh, homegrown tomato to start thinking about my garden, I’d be out of luck. At best, I could visit a local farmer’s market (expensive) or head down to the local supermarket (blech). Lack of planning forces me to fall back to a more expensive or subpar product. A great tomato season in July and August is reliant on actions back in February and March — starting seeds indoors, hardening off the young seedlings and transplanting at just the right time. To ensure a constant harvest, I’ll even stagger the start of plants over a few weeks and stretch those fresh tomatoes into October or November. The parallels to an onsite sales person wanting more traffic or an Online Sales Counselor craving more leads shouldn’t be lost. Sit down with a calendar and plot out the volume of leads you’ll need for the year. Work backwards from Community Grand Openings and sales goals. Build out your campaigns to support that need. Know that a delay in planning can easily result in overspending (expensive) or lower quality leads (blech).

Experience has taught me the most successful lead generation campaign, like the most successful garden, is the one thought out in advance.


Just like a strong garden needs regular care, all of your marketing campaigns need regular tending to maximize performance. A soil test will check the levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and potash in your garden; uncovering which fertilizers are needed to amend soil. Mature gardeners will also keep tabs on PH levels. Do the same for your marketing efforts. Identify a set of common performance metrics for your campaigns to help diagnose and treat potential issues. Focus on monitoring Click-through Rate (CTR), Cost per Click (CPC), Conversion Rate and Cost per Conversion over time by channel. A drop in a Facebook ad CTR might indicate new photos are not performing. And you might decide to invest more time in your AdWords negative keyword list after a few changes drive a decrease in AdWords CPC. Across all channels, you can compare Cost per Conversion to ensure you are spending wisely. Just as I test the soil at the start of every season, check your metrics often to ensure progress.

Gardens need regular watering just like potential leads are thirsty for more content. Savvy shoppers are increasingly researching online for weeks or months before contacting a business. Ensure all of your product content is accessible by everyone. When they are thirsty, they need to find answers to their questions fast. Avoid practices like hiding basic content or asking visitors to “call for details.” Your visitors will dehydrate!

But beware: overwatering can be just as dangerous! Maintain a balance of how much content you push in a short period of time. A visitor receiving multiple marketing emails in a week or seeing three remarketing display ads on every page they browse is getting too much water.

Also, don’t be afraid to prune. Not every branch can produce fruit, and not every lead source can sustain the volume and cost of leads that you need. Know the core metrics your campaigns need to hit and be ready to trim as needed. You’ll be able to focus on growing bigger, healthier campaigns.


Harvest your crop too soon and you have small, undeveloped and tasteless tomatoes. Harvest too late and you risk rot. Asking for the conversion from website visitor to lead can be just as tricky. Align your Call to Action (CTA) with your content. A Grand Opening event landing page should ask the visitor to “RSVP.” A Facebook post highlighting a new model home could close with “Visit Today.” Don’t miss the opportunity by burying a contact page or phone number too deep on your website. And try to avoid the ever so blasé “Submit” button once they get there.

As my garden routine has grown more detailed and regimented, so have my lead generation techniques. My harvest is larger and more bountiful year over year, as is lead performance. Thus, allow me to update the famous H. Jackson Brown, Jr. quote: “Remember that relationships, careers, flowers [and now lead generation] reflect the kind of care that they get.”

So the next time you are taking some joy in your hobby, think of the lessons that can be implemented back in the office. As the humble, rogue tomato in my yard has grown, I hope your marketing practice grows as well.

This article first appeared as a Guest Post during Thoughtful Thursday on the Meredith Communications Blog.

 Oct 9, 2017  |  

Free Lunch

In 2017, “pay for popularity” on social media is way too easy. Whip out your credit card, fame is just one PayPal transaction away. $5 can buy 5000 followers, 1000 likes, 500 comments on your Instagram photos or a retweet to millions. I know we’ve all been tempted at times. It sounds like a small price to pay for instant popularity. We fool ourselves into thinking an increase to that little number will make our life better or our business flourish.

Spoiler alert: it just doesn’t work that way.

What you actually get for five bucks is an audience of bots and zombies. And what value do thousands of fake, lame or inactive accounts really bring? Sure, a temporary boost to the ego, but ultimately the same engagement rates you had before. No new sales or leads. Heck, Facebook and Twitter might even punish you! Even worse, those innocent few bucks could be funding a click farm in China, the modern-day sweatshop. Trust me, those people don’t want to be your friend and they definitely aren’t buying your product.

So rather than spend money on hundreds or thousands of bot followers, I choose to invest my money in building relationships with awesome, local people doing cool stuff. People just like you.

They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. This is as close as it gets. Here’s how it works:

  1. You follow me.
  2. Send me a Tweet or DM about something cool you are working on.
  3. Once a month or so, I pick a new follower to take to lunch.
  4. I buy lunch for us both. I have a penchant for sushi, soup or tacos.

That’s it. You can help me grow my following and score a free lunch. Find me online and let’s make this happen.

If I had lawyers, they’d probably encourage me to set a few ground rules. So consider this the fine print:
1) Paid social has a time and place, I am not arguing against paid social advertising.
2a) You have to be local to Columbus.
2b) Exceptions made for Ohioans that travel thru Columbus.
2c) If you aren’t local, I still appreciate your follow. I’ll look you up when I come thru your town.
3) Almost always, lunch will be in or around Easton.
4) If we’ve had lunch together before, I probably won’t pick you for this freebie.
5) If we already know each other, we can go to lunch anytime. But we’ll be going Dutch.
6) No MLM pitches. No overt solicitations. Also, no murderers.

 Jun 20, 2017  |  

20 Years Ago, I Became an Eagle Scout

Twenty years ago this year, I earned my Eagle Scout. A loyal Scout from an early age, earning the Eagle Scout Award was the pinnacle of my twelve-year Scouting career. I had been luckier than most: a strong Troop with both adult and youth leaders that valued outdoor programs, parents that supported and participated alongside me, and the means to indulge in adventure.

Through the years, Scouting took me to different parks, states, and countries, allowing me to log over 500 nights in a tent — that’s better than frequent flier miles. Scouting caused me to meet people from every walk of life, and to embrace, appreciate, and celebrate our differences as humans. Scouting gave me a true reverence for nature and the outdoors. Heading out into the wilderness, carrying all of your supplies on your back gives new meaning to sustainable living. Because of Scouting, I am committed to the ideology of a greener planet, protecting the environment, and leaving every place better than I found it.

Over time, I gave more and more of myself to the program. Following the lead of those who helped me, I helped those who came after me. Eventually, I instructed more than 150 individual merit badge classes, helping nearly 2,000 Scouts to learn core Scouting Skills like swimming, pioneering, and orienteering. I served seven years on Summer Camp Staff, two as a Camp Director. Even today, I can tie all of the BSA’s Forty Knots behind my back or blindfolded. And of course, I had fun along the way.

Recently, a friend asked about my current involvement. I was embarrassed to admit that I had been inactive the past few years, allowing both my Resident Camp Director certification and BSA membership to lapse. My own words stopped me in my tracks and caused a moment of reflection. Eventually, I took solace knowing that while I had left Scouting as of late, Scouting will never leave me.

Of all the lessons learned, one has continued to resonate with me every single day. Twelve simple adjectives that make up the Scout Law have become my life’s mantra. Twelve qualities that I admire and encourage in others. Twelve character traits to influence my behavior and attitude. “A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.”


Always tell the truth. Keep your promises. Remain honest and ethical in the face of corruption. Be dependable.


Stay true to family and friends. Proudly pledge alliance to community and nation. Give firm and constant support.


Be concerned about other people. Willingly give assistance without pay or reward. Make your actions useful and supporting.


Seek to understand others. Respect ideas, customs, and beliefs other than your own. Stay good natured, hospitable, and affable.


Manners make the Man. Be polite to everyone, regardless of age, rank, or social status. Be appreciative of others.


Exhibit strength through gentleness. Be affectionate and show compassion. Treat others as you want to be treated.


Remain law abiding, dutiful, and disciplined. Obey the laws of community and country. If you disagree, put forth effort to reform rather than disobey.


Look for the bright side of things. Stay happy and optimistic when faced with adversity. Try to make others happy.


Use time, money, and property carefully. Pay your own way. Be prudent and avoid wastefulness. Conserve natural resources.


Show courage by doing things that scare you. Always stand up for what you think is right. Be ready to face danger. Protect those who cannot protect themselves.


Keep mind and body fit and healthy. Stay morally uncontaminated. Keep home, community, and environment free from pollutants.


Show deep and solemn respect for the things that matter. Respect the beliefs of others. Permit yourself to be grateful.

 Apr 9, 2017  |  

I Thought Facebook Was a Fad

To be honest, when Facebook launched in 2004, I didn’t even notice. Mostly because I was well out of college, already working at Apple for three years. When they threw open the doors to the general public in 2006, my interest was piqued. But I still didn’t sign up.

Their stated mission at the time, an “online directory that connects people“, just didn’t solve a problem for me. I had a carefully curated electronic address book, maybe even had a tidy stack of business cards in my desk. Plus, how long could this “social network” really stick around? I had already abandon my GeoCities page for MySpace, did we need another option?

That’s right, in 2006 I thought Facebook was a fad. And now in 2017, I still think it was.

Let me clarify. I did eventually sign up in 2007. Late to the game for an otherwise early adopter of technology. The first few months were full of pokes, Zynga games and low resolution photos. I was underwhelmed. Then word came of companies creating Groups as a vehicle to talk to brand fanatics and potential customers. Shortly after, Facebook Ads and the Business Page as we know it came along. Then it all made sense. Just like Radio, Newspapers and TV before it, Facebook transitioned into a medium for advertising.

Remember the old adage, “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.”

So the Facebook of 2006 was indeed a fad. The idea of being a simple online directory was short lived. Facebook the company knew this, and pivoted quickly. Today, they masquerading as a social network. In reality, Facebook is an ad platform.

 Jan 24, 2017  |  

Take the Time to Make Time

Taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather, I went for a short hike today in the 650 acres of Blendon Woods Metro Park. Walking alone, I adopted a quick pace. It wasn’t a race, nor was I aiming for a workout. I just had more plans for the day and was thinking about what was next. Whatever the reason, I kept that hurried pace.

Until I came up behind an elderly couple walking in front of me. I was forced to slow down. At first a nuisance, upon closer look they were holding hands and stopping every few minutes. Not because they were unable to continue or slowed by age. But to look at the birds, the squirrels, the stream and the woods around us. In my mind, I imagined they were married for decades, retired and set out to enjoy the day just like me.

Then I realized… they had decided to spend their precious time to enjoing the outdoors today. Time to breathe in the fresh air and savor the outdoors scenery. I had time too, yet I chose to rush my outdoor experience. In a hurry to the next thing on my list.

Why wait for life to give you time to do the things that make you happy? We all can claim ownership of our time. Slow down. Take the time, to make time, for the things you really want.

 Jan 21, 2017  |