Marketing skills aren't something people are born with. To market effectively, meaning you get results and aren't wasting money or time, you have to work — hard.
You're used to working hard. Hard work is what you've built your company on. Every day you're working hard to close more sales and finish jobs. But unless you work as hard at marketing your company, you may soon find yourself out of work entirely.
Thor Moody, President of the American Society of Concrete Contractors, says that most contractors, large and small, don't focus on image, instead focusing on selling only. And because they work that way, they get very little negotiated work.
Was he talking about you?
So what does it take to market your company effectively? First, you need the money to market, then you need some proven ways to market, and lastly, you need to learn the keys to success.
So now you have the money set aside for marketing. You're ready for the phones to start ringing. What now? Here are 13 ways to effectively market your business:
1. Study! Like everything else in life, you can never learn too much about marketing and business strategy. Because there are thousands of books out there on the subject, it's a bit overwhelming to try to weed through them all to find books that offer proven advice. Tom Ralston, of Tom Ralston Concrete, suggests reading Lessons from the Top: The 50 Most Successful Business Leaders in America — And What You Can Learn from Them, by Thomas J. Neff, James M. Citrin, and Paul B. Brown. “Be like a scientist and analyst in your area, like a baseball statistician. Information is power; it's fun to keep learning. Never be complacent, never rest on your laurels,” Ralston says.
2. Tap into a free resource. Press releases are a great way to take advantage of an effective message vehicle — the media. You're doing lots of newsworthy things, but do you get the attention of the media? If you're not getting coverage from local media outlets, you're not reaching potential customers. Newsworthy press releases are a great way to communicate with the media, and they can also be used on your Web site and in your collateral material.
3. Retain current customers. Part of retaining your customers involves keeping in constant communication with them. Marketing tools such as newsletters build and maintain rapport with your customers. Rocky Geans, owner of L.L. Geans Construction Company in Mishawaka, Indiana, started his advertising with bus benches and small ads in the yellow pages. He says he also uses a quarterly newsletter to communicate to customers and prospects. “I had a prospect I had been mailing newsletters to for three years and I finally got work from him and now we work with him all the time,” he says. “You just have to be tenacious, you can't give up.”
4. Position yourself as a professional. Include a full-color brochure customized with your company information in bids, and use the catalogs on your Web site and in other collateral material.
5. Profile your company. Include a full-color profile of your company in your bids, and use the profile on your Web site and in other collateral material.
6. Give stuff away. Nail down the keys to advertising success — recency and frequency — in one step. Give clients and prospects custom advertising specialties like mugs, scales and mouse pads with your company name and logo on them.
7. Stay in front of your customers. Direct mail is a great way to keep your name in front of customers and prospects. Target your mailing list to include architects, custom homebuilders, general contractors, designers, homebuilders, landscape designers and remodelers, and send them full-color postcards or letters. Geans is getting ready to launch a direct mail campaign, and he's supplementing his letters with reply cards, follow-up letters and brochures.
8. Make the most of your Web site. You've already spent money getting your Web site up and running, so don't forget to make the most of it by creating galleries of your work and keeping the content current and fresh. And while it's vital to be on the Internet with a good Web site, Rod Sadleir, owner of Concrete Solutions in San Diego, California, takes it one step further. He says he uses virtual imaging as a great selling point.
9. Advertise on television. Want to wow the customers you already have while you reach a larger audience? Have a professional commercial produced and run on local and cable television. Sadleir also recommends radio and cable television ads. Although it may sound unheard of, he has some local cable television spots he says he bought for $10 each. He says he also advertises in targeted publications.
10. No matter how great your marketing, the integrity of your work needs to back it up. “Nothing is better than a contractor doing good work,” says Doug Bannister, owner of The Stamp Store, in Oklahoma City, Okla. “I knew of a company marketing extremely well, but they couldn't handle the field work and now they're out of business.” Ralston agrees. “If you don't back up marketing with good product and put in 110 percent, it doesn't matter,” he says. “You need to work hard to develop a good reputation. I try to make my customers go away with a smile. I want to make raving fans out of my clients, because word-of-mouth is 75 percent of my work.”
11. Brand your business. Ralston says his branding all started with his mint-green logo. “I spent a year getting the perfect logo ... I even have my logo in a stamp to sign every job,” Ralston says. He also uses the logo on company uniforms and vehicles. But he takes it one step further by painting his trucks the same color as his logo. “I use mint green for money and success,” he says.
12. Samples are another strong selling point. Bannister says that he started out making small samples of stamped concrete as leave-behinds on sales calls, and now his showroom does the work for him. “Our showroom is a clearinghouse to getting products sold,” he says.
13. Get involved in your community. Geans likes the community approach in addition to other marketing tools. He supports local little league teams, because he says, “It shows I'm part of the community, and the added benefit is parents see my company name.”
Clearly, most companies cannot initiate all these marketing tools at one time. But pick out what you can do — then keep adding on marketing initiatives over time. And the best reason to not be shy about marketing? “There's a limit to how much work you can get from knocking on doors. You need to find a way to get people knocking on your door,” Moody says.