I wish I could tell you how boring most efforts at marketing within this industry are. Laundry list ads, brochures packed with cliches, dry, turgid (and often quite bad) photographs, the marketing efforts I often see are so bad they provoke a small smile, until I realize that the architect, engineer or contractor actually paid real money for this stuff.
Is there a reason sub-trades run around like lemmings with ads in (now) little-read Yellow Pages directories shouting out “free estimates” with stock artwork provided by the directory company? (If this is your advertising, and it is providing profitable, meaningful and measurable sales leads, of course, let me know — and please don’t cancel your advertising.) And why do so many websites look like really bad online brochures; worse, practicing some really poor SEO (Search Engine Optimization) techniques.
The reason, of course, is that most people in this industry are practically focused, rather than creative, at least in the marketing sense. You know your profession or trade and if you are successful, you are undoubtedly quite good at it. You then need to overlay your technical/professional knowledge with business management and operating skills, of which sales and marketing is one critical element. But these activities aren’t your strengths, eh.
The most expensive (and worst) solution, is to buy piecemeal answers sold by sales reps for marketing services. Many media and marketing representatives are honorable and competent (such as the team my business employs for our regional and national publications) but their frame of reference is rightfully narrow. So while it doesn’t hurt to listen the sales representatives and purchase their offerings if they fall within your marketing plan or vision or you enjoy the creative contribution they provide, they are highly unlikely to provide you with the most frugal answers.
The second relatively expensive solution is to contract with an independent marketing consultant. Consultants need to be paid for their time and they value their time highly if they are any good (and even if they aren’t). A good consultant can, of course, save you much time and guide you in the basics — and if the consultant is really good — customize his or her approach to your business. But is this the frugal way to go? I don’t think so. (Ouch, I’ve just unsold myself in this and the previous references!)
So how do you do it then?
Pick brains. For free when you can. Or for fun when y0u need to pay. Look to your current best clients and successful non-competitive peers for your answers.
Here is how I would begin developing a creative marketing strategy.
Through your relevant trade associations, look for similar size and demographic communities outside of your market service area and call either the local association chair or some of their key members and learn who they think has the best marketing approach (better the best frugal marketing approach) in their community. Then you can email, phone or (ideally if you are combining with a personal ‘vacation’) visit the relevant community and meet with the peers individually. They’ll generally be happy to share insights and observations with you.
Then talk with your best five clients. Ask for their advice. This conversation may lead to a rather nifty side-effect — y0u may pick up some additional direct business from them, on the spot. You want to know which associations they support, which media they view and read, who influences their decisions, and how they influence others. You can go out on a limb and ask for some referrals or for them to send an endorsement letter, but that probably should come later.
Finally, consider other resources such as free or inexpensive books (mine!?), online peer forums such as contractortalk.com or remodelcrazy.com and association-related events and seminars (not always free, but usually good value).
Put all of your ideas and notes into a binder or computer file folder. Take a break. Then think about which approaches would work best and which will cost the least money (and which you enjoy the most.) Develop a plan and budget. (The budget can be very low, of course, maybe just a few hundred dollars, even.) Send this draft to two or three people you trust for some feedback. And now you have a frugal marketing plan, ready to go.