Building a new business — marketing to the top

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mike johnson
From Michael Johnson: “Here is a photo of a customer who asked for a photo with me. I just installed a new dishwasher and kitchen faucet.”

Wisconsin plumber Michael Johnson thinks by a different set of rules. He is proving that marketing success is largely in the mind and certainly doesn’t require much money.
He has been posting on the Contractortalk.com forums and a related blog, under the name “Mike’s Plumbing”, with some rather outrageous and creative marketing ideas.

Earlier this week, in my Construction Marketing Ideas blog, I reported how he solved the problems of canvassing rejection — by bringing children along. (They received some ice cream after the two-hour stint of door-knocking.)

However, the story which caused me to want to know him a lot more is how, after building a successful local one-person plumbing business after recovering from a personal bankruptcy, he sold the enterprise and moved to a new town, where he knew no one — and relaunched an entirely new business without spending a cent on advertising.

I reached him on the phone and we had a comprehensive interview on the condition that I not disclose his exact location. (He said, however, that he has moved from an area near Madison, WI to the Milwaukee metropolitan area.)

After selling his old business, he said he had enough money in the bank to live without income for a while as he established his new enterprise. Then he set to work.

First, Mike reviewed the community newspaper in the town where he planned to relocate and discovered the names and some background about the local movers and shakers. He also noticed their major unsolved problem — a local arts center, struggling to survive, had serious financial difficulties. He learned that many of the town’s leading figures — “the five per cent who matter” — were associated with the arts center, either directly or through their families and children.

“I offered to help them out,” he said. “I shared marketing ideas, fundraising approaches — they were having a hard time raising money. I spoke my mind. I looked at their advertising, their venue, and their play.”

“‘Why would anyone want to watch this?’, I told the director. (The director) agreed that certain artsy people thought the dramatic idea was cool, but they needed something that the average person with kids could enjoy.”

Now, all of Mike’s resourcefulness and straightforward talk may have seemed a little strange to the town’s leaders; especially from an upstart plumber who had just arrived from a different community where people weren’t nearly as wealthy. However, Mike knew his ideas were helpful — and the community agreed.

“I never talk about plumbing when doing this community work,” he says. That, of course, didn’t stop him from attracting business from people such as the local police chief.

The next business-building step, he says, is to deliver a level of service so over-the-top enjoyable to his clients that they are truly enthusiastic (he says “addicted”) to doing business with him. He says he focuses on clients’ interests, values, hobbies, and stories — he wants to genuinely build relationships with everyone.

This fosters the valuable word-of-mouth referral process; but in the case of Mike Johnson, he is starting from the top: The community leaders, influencers, power-brokers and others with huge local networks and influence.

I think you can see where this story can take your business. Without an advertising or conventional marketing budget, Mike Johnson soon will be the most successful plumber in town — and he will command hourly rates far greater than the competitors who are plastering ads and hoping for service calls.

Mike has other ideas, ranging from T-shirts (he gives them away to everyone he knows) to a different style of invoicing which personalizes the process and adds to the relationship. He gives himself a quiet hour every day to think up new ideas and set goals.

He says he doesn’t want to hire other employees or grow the business beyond its current residential, emergency service focus. Money isn’t his primary motivation now, he says. He says several readers on the contractortalk.com forum have communicated with him to learn his secrets, but he expects few will bother following his advice.

However, I think anyone can apply the basic marketing lesson he shares here.

If you wish to break into a new market, focus on contributing to the community with charitable, public service and non-profit association relationships with the community’s movers and shakers. In making these contributions, concentrate on what you can share and contribute, not on promoting your business. Through the relationships you develop, the doors will open. Then, you deliver such exceptional service that your clients will return again and again.

If you are among the five percent who will follow Mike Johnson’s example, you will be among the few applying some of the most powerful and effective Construction Marketing Ideas.

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