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Monday, March 30, 2009

Construction Marketing: Leads and sales when you are just starting out

You don't need fancy marketing materials in the start-up stage if you are willing to burn some shoe leather and have a simple, defined niche and service offer (and, better, you enjoy your work). The contractor using this note claimed he could earn $10,000 to $20,000 in sales in less than four hours canvassing. I haven't been able to validate the claim, however.

Many new businesses start during recessions and the often are the most successful and viable enterprises when conditions recover. Often, you start your own business during hard times because you have nothing to lose -- you have lost your job -- and you know you have the talent and ability to succeed.

The challenge is you don't have piles of money to waste, and you need to get business, fast. Unless you have some rich relatives to back you (you might, in which case you are blowing their money, not your own), you must preserve every cent you have and decide how to use your time and resources effectively.

This blog is not a general source of business start-up advice; I focus purely on marketing issues here, but that is part of my advice. You need to focus your energies in a specific niche and area of expertise, framed within a geographical or social market space. In other words, you can "do everything" if you wish to offer handyman services (minor work under $5,000) within a rural community or defined (small) urban neighbourhood. You are not going to succeed if you try to do everything and go after big jobs in a wide area (assuming, in the first place, you can obtain licensing or bonding to get this type of work at the outset.)

Conversely, you can position yourself as an expert in something like (this is just off the top of my head), "heritage building repainting" if you serve a community with specific heritage preservation laws and have the relevant credentials, or "stock car garage fitting" if you happen to know a lot of NASCAR people needing that type of service.

Two practical clues to ideal focus are (a) the first project that may have fallen into your lap (perhaps from a relative or someone who knows your expertise and (b), whether you are really, amazingly, fascinated and love doing the work because the opportunity represents who you are in your entire inner self. The second point may seem absurdly idealistic when you are just trying to make a few bucks, quickly, but is actually truly important at the business start-up stage. If you don't really love your work, if you are just doing the work to survive, you are likely to live on the edge of failure permanently, or at least until someone offers you a less-crappy job. (Because most business start-ups are worse in pay, working conditions, and 'security' than the most crappy jobs.)

Next, you need to find clients. You are going to have to do it the hard way, at the start, but you can still finesse things. Perhaps you can obtain testimonials from previous clients where you worked as an employee elsewhere (beware of course of non-compete and non-solicitation requirements in your employment contract; if you have these, you may be able to get out of them, but you should be willing to spend a few hundred dollars for legal advice before you start.)

You can:
  • Call friends and relatives;
  • Call on your network through your church, social clubs, or (if you are established in these spaces) Internet social network sites;
  • Use free advertising resources such as Craigs List;
  • Canvass and/or telemarket: Can be highly effective if you are willing to burn the shoe leather, handle the rejection, and sincerely offer your service. See my earlier posting about a rather surprising canvassing success story.
You should not pay cash for advertising, and be wary of commercial leads services, at the start. First, you don't know what you are doing, and second, you will find that unwise decisions can drain whatever capital you have.

Remember you need to focus your energies within a specific niche, community, or market speciality, and if at all possible, offer a service that you really want to provide with passion, heart, and energy. Your will to work and your enthusiasm for your trade or speciality will carry you much further than millions of dollars in capital or slick marketing materials.

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