If you are a renovator/remodeling contractor, you will want to listen to this NARI podcast with Michael Stone. He suggests six low or no-cost marketing approaches. The strongest: Invite your really satisfied current and recent clients to send out a referral/introductory letter. You write the letter and pay the postage, but they sign and provide the names. Obviously this takes the referral process to another level and puts you in control, rather than passively expecting your phone to ring because of spontaneous good-will. It also is virtually free.
Towards the end of his observations, Stone says generally you should avoid networking groups such as peer-based lead exchange programs. He says most of the time you will run into people looking for freebies. I originally misnterpreted his observations as relating to Chamber of Commerce and similar networking events, which he says can be useful if you work at them. However, my experiences have been somewhat different. Some organized networking groups have been truly successful in our local market, while Chamber-of-Commerce business networking events have (for me) turned into events where junior salespeople and very small businesses “network” without reaching any useful results. I think business-to-business networking events are probably not your best place if you are looking for residential-type work but community groups and activities can create really useful visibility and enhance your connections and relationships within centres of influence. I also think if you are in the business-to-business space, active engagement within relevant client-focused associations can provide you the most effective path to connecting with potential clients on neutral ground, where you can show our abilities and commitment to serve (as you gather practical market intelligence.)
(Stone and I will discuss our differing interpretations and I expect I will be able to elaborate more on these issues and options in a future blog posting.)
Not surprisingly, Stone also advocates you set up a website and unless the situation is exceptional, bypass the Yellow Pages.
Meanwhile, if you are an architect, engineer, general contractor or consultant serving the business-to-business or institutional markets, you know well how hard it is to dislodge organizations from incumbent relationships and Mel Lester offers some practical solutions. Two options don’t work. One: Ignoring the opportunity because someone already is there and, Two: showing up at the RFP or public bidding stage and hoping you will dazzle the client with your skills and ability. Your challenge is to get your foot in the door when no one is looking.
Your challenge is to determine if you really can serve the potential client most effectively and then connect to provide support without worrying about any sort of immediate return (other than perhaps gaining some additional access).
Offer your help unconditionally. If the client is reasonably satisfied with the incumbent, there may be little interest in talking with you. This is true even if the client agrees to meet. You should try to dispel the notion that your offer of help is simply a ruse to get in the door. Imagine the client says, “We’re already working with (the incumbent).” You respond, “That’s fine. If I can be helpful, that in itself makes it worth my time if it’s worth your time. Helping people like you is why we’re in business.” Or something to that effect.
The biggest challenge with these and other ideas is that you may need to reach out of your comfort zone and do the sorts of things you don’t really like. I think you can sugar-coat (and override the challenges) by connecting the marketing tasks with things you really enjoy. As an example, in a trade association, if you are passionate about golfing, offer to help out in co-ordinating or contributing to the Golf tournament (more in time and effort than conventional paid sponsorships, unless you are flush with cash). You’ll enjoy your time, work with like-minded people and connect with association staff and other members who may know potential clients for your business and practice.
In his NARI podcast, Michael Stone suggests that remodelers spend at least an hour a day “reading” for marketing ideas. The podcast presenters joked that that is asking a lot — people go into the trades and remodeling businesses not generally because they are the super stars in reading, writing and (for that matter) marketing.
But we all need to look beyond our own space and doing what we’ve always done to succeed in business. I’m certainly not suggesting you force yourself into a place where you don’t belong but you can’t go wrong by finding ways to enhance the referral potential of your current clients and discovering ways to share, contribute and connect (without squandering cash) in associations, groups and relationships with potential new clients. So here both Michael Stone and Mel Lester can help — and their blogs are free to read.
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