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Monday, December 31, 2007

Ford Harding's resource

I've elevated Ford Harding's blog from the Construction Marketing Blogs to the Construction Marketing Resources section because of both the content quality and its frequent updating. In his latest posting, Another Way to Use Ancedotes, Harding relates the importance of narrative storytelling in marketing -- very much in line with Stephen Denning's Stephen Denning’s The Secret Language of Leadership, which I am currently reading.

If you know of blogs directly relevant to construction marketing, please feel free to let me know -- the link is free and I don't require a recirpocal back-link (though of course it is always appreciated).

The Mission Statement (3)

Mike Finley, of Rocky Mountain Bathrooms, based in Littletown, Colorado, has developed and posted his company's Mission Statement in a logical and highly relevant location -- on its employment/job offer page. See this relevant posting in a thread on the forum.

Our Companies' Core Purpose
To be a valued partner to our customers by providing them with a means to make improvements to their quality of life through purchasing the services we provide.
Our Company Core Values
To serve our customers, to serve our employees, to serve our company.
To act with integrity and always be ethical with our customers and our employees.
Have respect for the individual growth and success of our employees.
To always be the leader in our field by intelligently
combining traditional, tried-and-true construction practices with new and innovative high-quality processes and materials.
To generate a reasonable profit proportional to the value provided to our customers.
This is really well thought. Again, mission statements are meaningless unless they are truly reflected in business practices -- certainly our 'old' mission statement (see my original entry here) remained in our newspapers despite many business operational flaws where we failed to live up to its values.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

From sales pitch to trusted partnership

Charles Green's Trusted Advisor Blog provides many useful insights into the Trusted Partnership concept.

From Stephen Denning's The Secret Language of Leadership:
Given the risk of incurring long-term costs by employing less-than-truthful practices aimed at short-term gains and sales, some firms are exploring the possibility of reaching a more stable plane -- to shift from making sales pitches to becoming trusted partners. These companies aspire to become reliable collaborators with their clients, so that clients look to them for advice and dialogue about issues of common concern. Here the conversation aims less at achieving immediate sales and more at ensuring that the firm's products and services will receive positive consideration when the time comes to make decisions about purchases. The object is higher margins, more repeat business, lower price sensitivity, and shorter sales cycles. In assessing what's involved in moving from "sales pitch" to "trusted partnerships" these companies are having to reflect on what is involved int he phenomenon of trust. What kinds of behavior lead to trust, as opposed to behaviors that lead to distrust?
Here, the construction industry and its allied professions have a significant advantage over other businesses, in that the actual working relationship between client and customer is usually long relative to other industries. Think of the typical consumer or business-to-business purchase -- you request a product or service, and either it is delivered, or provided in a manner that requires little direct interaction once the transaction is completed.
With construction, design teams must spend months working with their clients; as does the general contractor. Even subs are often on the job for weeks, perhaps returning more than once during the project life cycle. Everywhere along the line there are connections, moments of potential conflict, issues to resolve -- sometimes with great urgency -- and trust to either earn or lose.
While I advocate strongly that most construction businesses should focus more attention attention on marketing, I also believe that 80 per cent of marketing success in this industry is defined as the work proceeds. You can start out by guiding clients about your processes (as Sonny Lykos does in his document, the Process). Then make sure to live by your standards; returning calls, cleaning up the site, ensuring drawings are correct and accurate before releasing them to your client or contractor, and so on. These may be common-sense steps; but failure results in lots of the wrong kind of talk behind your back. And that kills your best marketing efforts.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Life choices

The decisions we make when we are young indeed shape our direction when we are older. They also create our memories, our frame of reference, and our perceptions -- and help define our values.
As this year nears its end, I'm pulling up videos on Youtube recalling Rhodesia in the 70s. My journey there -- to see the end of Rhodesia and the birth of Zimbabwe -- answered questions in my spirit, heart, and intellect.
I learned about war and peace, racism, economic disparity, cynicism and hypocrisy, the limits of the news media in discerning and reporting on the truth, and I discovered the lessons of courage, perception, and common sense. This journey helped to take me out the shell of extreme introversion -- and allowed me to understand that far too many people are either ruled by fear, or allow fear to define their choices.
I also realized that few people apply their understanding and resources to achieve larger dreams; and that (in part because so few actually take the risks), there are more opportunities out there than you can imagine if you are willing to reach beyond your current perspectives.
If you are in the construction buiness, for example, you will find that a rethinking of your pracices to a more marketing rather than "low bid wins the job" orientation will create much opportunity and wealth for you; if you are just starting out, thinking about how you will find and retain clients will do you as much good as developing the required technical expertise within your trade. (But don't get me wrong -- you need to be really good at your craft, or know how to hire/contract with people who are).

Friday, December 28, 2007

Branding 101

In Canada, Tim Hortons has fine-tuned its brand, successfully. You can do the same for your business, at little or no cost.

If you want a fairly priced soft drink, or healthy food, you know the last place to go is a professional baseball or hockey game. Part of this is cultural; part of it (depending on location) are monopolistic rules within the sports facility. So what if you break the rules, constructively?

You serve healthy food at a baseball game -- or, in Canada, you serve good coffee at regular retail (not 'gouge') prices.

Tim Hortons does the latter at Ottawa Senators games. They offer the only fairly priced concession in the building. Does that help their brand? Absolutely. (And can they make money at their concession? I expect so, though they don't show me their books.)

So, how much does it cost to ensure your site is clean and tidy at the end of each shift? Or, if you are a residential contractor, to leave a small gift of thanks at the end of a job? For that matter, how much does it cost to simply return your phone calls or email messages promptly? Or to pay for a simple, not overly forced, uniform or tidy shirt or T-Shirt for your crew?

More impressively, how much does it cost to link your brand with one that communicates fair value and service? In Canada, Tim Hortons coffee coupons or gift cards are truly inexpensive and a gift of one of these won't be considered an unethical 'bribe' even to the stickiest purchasing authorities.

So, here is some simple free advice. If you are advertising in the Yellow Pages, consider reducing the size of your ad and put the money you save into the simple things to make your client relationships more rewarding and more respectful. If you are not, consider the observation that the suggestions in this posting require virtually no money; just a little thinking.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Mission statements (2)

The Mission Statement from Thieneman Construction in Indiana is simple and effective -- and this company receives one of the highest placements in Google's image function for the relevant keywords.

Here are some construction company mission statements, taken in "Google order" with the keywords "mission statement construction".

Bob Moore Construction, Inc., Arlington, TX

Bob Moore Construction's philosophy has remained unchanged for over five decades: Deliver a quality product on time and in budget.
To that end, our mission is:
To perform for our customers the highest level of quality construction services at fair and market competitive prices.
To ensure the longevity of our company through repeat and referral business achieved by customer satisfaction in all areas including timeliness, attention to detail and service-minded attitudes.
To maintain the highest levels of professionalism, integrity, honesty and fairness in our relationships with our suppliers, subcontractors, professional associates and customers.
C.F. Jordan LP Construction Services, El Paso, Texas

To be the preeminent provider of superior construction services by consistently improving the quality of our product; to add value for clients through innovation, foresight, integrity, and aggressive performance; and to serve with character and purpose that brings honor to God.

Gootee Construction, Metaire, LA

Gootee Construction is an experienced general and mechanical contractor dedicated to quality construction and efficient management of resources. Our track record of
major projects - including new construction, renovation and restoration - has
earned us a reputation for being creative, technologically advanced and extremely responsive to our customers.
Our two greatest assets are our people and our integrity. Gootee employees are experienced, well-educated professionals. Our competitive advantage stems from the atmosphere of mutual trust and respect that permeates our company. The care and concern that we have for our employees and subcontractors greatly enhance our ability to deliver quality projects on time and within budget.
Above all, we are dedicated to our customers and their projects. In addition, we are committed to community service, as a company and as individuals.

Krusinski Construction Company, Chicago

Our Mission... Krusinski Construction Company is a leader in providing value-added construction services to our customers by creating a successful partnership with them throughout the construction process. Our pledge is to establish lasting relationships with our customers by exceeding their expectations and gaining their trust through exceptional performance by every member of the construction team.
As marketing resources, I perceive that none of these mission statements would have any direct impact or value -- in themselves. The reason: They speak of standard values -- of expectations that I think everyone would have of a contractor or construction business. The only statement that takes any risk, if you wish to dare use that word in this context, is C.F. Jordan which states a religious message within its Mission Statement; presumably reflecting the company management's faith.

The mission statement importance in these contexts is the companies abilities to live up to their missions -- then, of course, they will communicate through deeds more than words that they are well-run businesses with solid community values and respect.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The mission statement

This image is from the Mission Statement page of SDC Construction Services -- a Portuguese company that has successfully expanded internationally, with U.S. headquarters in Miami.

So here I am, on Christmas night, in a quiet hotel lobby in Montreal, suddenly realizing that it is indeed time to define the business mission statement.

My influence: A truly influential book, The Secret Language of Leadership by Stephen Denning. Randy Pollock, editor of the SMPS Marketer, sent the book to me as a gift -- it arrived in the mail on Dec. 24 and went into my 'reading bag' as we started our brief Christmas vacation in Montreal.

The Mission Statement has been on the Action List since last year -- every time the due date for this project comes up, I've pushed it back; feeling in my heart that a Mission Statement is corporate gunk-talk; stuff for the people sitting around the table at endless meetings, not really knowing where they are going; or at worst, is platitudes and corporate-speak, designed to sell the business to itself -- and create a mirage image for the public.

But maybe I've had it wrong all along. Have I really thought about WHY we are in business; what our deep objectives are; and what we want to accomplish -- or do we just have a product, a market, and a sales methodology that sort of works, without respecting its implications in the marketplace as a whole.

And maybe the problem is that our existing Mission Statement is okay, but it came from the heart of someone no longer with the business, and is something I just paid lip-service to:
We are the Construction News and Report Group of Companies

We help to secure the ties that bind old and new relationships.

We provide word-of-mouth recommendations in print.

We work as a team to help strengthen your team.
Hmm, not bad, I think, now reading this. But where is the stuff that reaches my heart -- the passion, the desire for good journalism, the objective to build and enhance communities and correct problems and injustices? Where is the guidance, the support, the will to help the subcontractor struggling to find work; or the architect battling to find a place in the marketplace against overpowering competition. (Or, for that matter, how do these values relate to the well-run and successful corporation where solid business practices combine with practical understanding of the business to overtake the competition and succeed in virtually any market environment?)

Maybe I am ready to generate a more meaningful Mission Statement. Let me try this one on for size:
We are the Construction News and Report Group of Companies.

We support communities in the construction industry in achieving ethical growth.

We uplift individuals and businesses in achieving marketing insights and success.

We help to secure the ties that bind old and new relationships.

I'm not sure if this is the right statement; we will need to bounce it around; refine the message, think about the implications, and how it drives our passion. I would like to put more heart, more soul, more spirit into the mission statement.

So why is this so important all of a sudden? Well, I realized in a flash of insight tonight that I risk running a rudderless business, where our salespeople are working for money rather than a larager purpose-- where we are looking for short term objectives rather than long-term values; and I simply realized this won't take us to where we really want to go -- to be a business with international scope, leadership, and quality.

Leadership, says Denning, requires a passionate purpose -- you need to have something meaningful to lead before you can achieve much of significance. Just pushing out our papers (and websites) won't achieve this value. Just 'doing the job' won't achieve the higher level of meaningful accomplishment and greatness to differentiate us from all the other regular businesses out there. And I simply don't want to accept 'okay' as an answer -- good enough is, here, not good enough.

I want to share something beyond business as usual -- to communicate hope, adventure, love and respect. To help people work together; to bring communities to a richer space; to give the industry the tools to grow; to allow the entrepreneur to weather economic storms; to foster understanding and honor; to battle cynicism and blatant greed and hypocrisy. Most importantly, I want to elevate and honour the unsung heroes of our community; the subs who toil in the shadows; the consultants who live behind the scenes and help the big guys do their stuff so well; and yes, to the ethically run and well managed larger businesses who fuel the overall industry and have the capacity to handle the largest and most significant projects.

Now, I just have to boil these thoughts into a meaningful mission statement -- and that is going to take some work in the next few days. I certainly welcome your input.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Services such as provide specialized business-oriented Christmas cards; that is where I found this image.
Time for family, friends and, for many, a celebration of faith.

At our business, we give all the employees the day off on Christmas Eve, but I go into the office to check over last minute details, prepare the deposit, and (today) ensure the printer has the final page proofs for the January issue of our newspapers.

Unlike recent holiday seasons, we don't have major travel plans this year -- we'll spend a couple of days in Montreal and Eric is participating in the Bell Capital Cup, described as the "World's Largest Hockey Tournament" later in the week. We're also installing a new server in our office on the quiet Friday between Christmas and New Years.

I'll continue blogging during the holiday period; it's fun more than work -- though there will probably be fewer entries.

In the meantime, I hope you and your family have a great holiday season.

"The Process" for smaller projects

Sonny Lykos has posted the "'Shorty' Process" at JLC Online. This is, he says, for repairs and very small remodels.

... This may help you qualify those customers you want vs the bottom feeders. It sets the tone for your meeting with them. You just mail it to them the day they call so they receive it before the day of an appointment. It's works for me, and this is a revised version. I only use it for new customers, even if they are a referral.
The idea here is of course not to intimidate with complex procedures a person simply wanting a small job, but to help screen out clients and discourage client behaviour you don't really want to encourage.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

"The Process" (2)

The team picture from Progressive Builders in Fort Meyers, FL. This company also uses Sonny Lykos' "The Process"

Sonny Lykos has reactivated a Journal of Light Construction thread relating to The Process -- from 2002 and, with the cross link to this blog, we are receiving many new visitors. I decided to look into the website of the thread's starter, Candi Hilton, then of Hilton Enterprises in Stillwater, KS. Her site went to a dead link, and proved to have expired back in 2004.

BUT . . . new tracking tools through social networking sites allow us to find people who might otherwise disappear into the ether, and Troy and Candi Hilton appear on associated with Progressive Builders in Fort Meyers, FL.

On the Progressive website, we find:

Troy’s been in construction for 27 years. In that time he has worked in many aspects of the construction industry, from high rise concrete construction to commercial tenant finish and all phases of residential building and remodeling. Troy and his wife Candi ran an award winning big 50 remodeling company in Kansas. They relocated to south west Florida in 2004, to enjoy the weather and the water. Troy is also a Certified Remodeler by the National Association for the Remodeling Industry.

And, perhaps not surprisingly, I found a page with . . . The Process!

Sonny's concept to provide a systematic and practical approach that steers potential clients away from "free estimates" and bid shopping is proving to stand the test of time -- and geography. It may not work for some sub trades, as Daniel Smith notes about painting contractors, but the answer may be in part the fact The Process allows for a basic form of "free estimate" -- the ballpark call, which can be handled on the phone in the initial conversation. Obviously, you need to be sure your potential client can even contemplate the budget for which you wish to work, and the client reasonably wants to know if taking things further is a waste of time. By offering ballpark numbers on the phone, you will avoid investing too much energy in people just trying to get an idea -- and you will set the stage for trust and their receiving (and understanding) The Process. I also think The Process works obviously best when your brand and reputation are relatively well established; it is just one element in Brand Harmony. I'm looking forward to finding and verifying other examples of its utility in practice.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

"The process"

Overbuilders Construction Services in Denver, CO, uses a similar system, also called "The Process". Instead of saying there are no free estimates, the contractor says the initial consultation "our no-obligation TimeSaver Estimates are always free, so the initial phone call is very easy to make."

Sonny Lykos has graciously sent me a document that is a worthy resource for any renovator or residential contractor. "The Process" is provided to homeowners after the initial inquiry -- and establishes the guidelines for the working relationship including the fact that there are "no free estimates".

Yes, you can get a ballpark idea of the project's scope and an idea of whether the planned work will be within your budget -- but if you want anything detailed, or serious, you'll need to agree to have a Specification and Cost Analysis (SCA) and pay for it (cost to be applied to the total project if you go ahead with the work).

The multi-page document also addresses scheduling, change orders and the problems and issues that can occur during any project. Most importantly, it outlines in a straightforward manner, the actual process -- step by step.

This document has several advantages. First, it helps to build trust between the contractor and the homeowner. You don't need to worry about crucial unanswered questions. Second, it pre-empts bidding games and (to some extent) "low bid wins the job" competition -- if you want to get serious with Lykos' organization, and receive a meaningful quote, you are going to need to commit (and pay for) the SCA. Finally, it actually simplifies and stabilizes the relationship between the homeowner and contractor, right from the start.

Sonny has graciously allowed me to post this document in full and encourages you to use it yourself, modifying the wording to suit your own business practices. It is a great tool, one that I think belongs in your business systems and practices. (If you are a commercially oriented contractor, you might want to devise something similar if you are dealing with clients who are not sophisticated about construction processes -- or even if they are, that shows you have clearly defined procedures and methods of operation. I think it will help your clients feel confident in your abilities -- and thus free you to a significant degree from commodity pricing struggles.)

Editor's note: Following this posting, Sonny Lykos emailed me regarding the photo caption reference to Overbuilders in Denver: Lykos wrote: "That's my 'The Process'. I sent it to him many months ago, and he did a great job of modifying it to his operation and talents."

Some effective signs

Jeff Wackerly of Blackstone Builders in Portland OR, has two signs, one for building and the other for renovation projects. He asked members of a forum which sign would look best as part of an in-branch bank display promoting his renovation business. The consensus: The first version -- showing the single home -- would work best.

Look at these site signs originally posted by Jeff Wackerly of Blackstone Builders (Portland, OR), on He's the renovator whose bank wanted to promote his business with an in-branch marketing display. He then requested and received suggestions -- including design suggestions for his bank site display -- on the thread. (See previous blog entry). The bank is now even more excited about the proposal and is preparing to give the display additional prominence.
And one of the forum readers, seeing the thread, printed out a copy of the thread and set-up/design, took it into his own bank. This is what happened:

After reading this, I printed out a little bit of this discussion and took it in to our bank (WAMU). The manager was not there, but the assistant was and he was getting more and more excited as we talked. He will present it to the manager tomorrow when he gets back. WAMU has 16 branches in our "region" and I think their is a good shot at getting in all of them. I will keep you posted, but this looks very good!

Oh yeah, we would modify the display to show off granite countertops, since that is what we sell. Also, I have a cabinet guy who wants to get involved and show off his cabinets underneath the countertops!

THANKS for the idea!

This is an example of the amazing collaborative and resourceful idea-sharing on specialized Internet forums.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Getting in the bank

On a renovator is describing an initiative where the manager of his local bank wishes him to set up a display -- and, as the contractor reports in the thread, the project is evolving into a truly intriguing marketing initiative.

Why I wont buy . . .

Seth Godin's Meatball Sundae (review by Copyblogger) is an intriguing bit of writing -- the 'hook' sends you in a direction the opposite of what you would expect; taking you right back to the ringing endorsement. But the concepts here are really important in the current marketing environment. New media and resources are effective at marketing and selling new types of things ; they could well be a waste of time if you are hoping to get results selling 'old stuff'.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The process of sales (not?)

Charles H. Green in his provocative Trusted Advisor blog has published a post that I think is truly important in defining sales and marketing practices. In "Why your sales process is bad for sales" he advocates that systematizing and measuring everything -- going by the numbers -- dehumanizes sales work, and disconnects it from the core essential quality of effective sales practice -- the quality of relationships. You can't force everything into metrics; into quotas, into measurable statistics, he argues, especially since the process of defining the sales initiative by the 'numbers' defeats the very best in sales work.

Comments to this blog, including something of a 'who's who' list of marketing and sales gurus such as Ford Harding, either agree, disagree, or share mixed feelings about this interpretation. They suggest that quantification is possible; that subtle interpretations and nuances can be measured, and that you can't take the measuring process out of sales work without failing to understand its essential nature.

Underlying all of this of course are arguments such as whether sales are best conducted on a commission basis, or by salary, whether teamwork and community are more or less important than individual initiative, and whether great sales can be achieved without a degree of sensitivity and understanding that transcends the mechanistic and overly structured 'systems' of business.

Green writes:

Selling is not at root, despite what web-searches will tell you, about process. It is about people and relationships and trust. We are in most cases far, far past the point of significant value-add by linking systems. And in getting there, we have run roughshod over the value-add by human connections.
In a comment, Tom "Bald Dog" Varjan ( says:

In my experience, sales managers love managing by numbers because it's easy. It's a lot easier to tweak numbers than creating an energised culture in which salespeople are naturally inspired to improve both the quality and the quantity of their relationships that, in time, can lead to high-calibre client relationships.

To create such a culture is the hard part. A culture that attracts such people while keeping the others out.

But I believe this also requires the adjustment of the compensation system. Personally I believe that the commission structure is adversarial to the client’s interest. We must be able to enter a discussion with a prospect with a total detachment from “getting the deal”. A well-thought No must be an accepted answer. Sadly, in traditional sales, it’s a sign of failure. It’s even taught at sales programmes: Either you win by selling the prospect or the prospect wins by not buying. It’s a win-lose scenario which is wrong.

I believe that trust from prospects significantly increases when they realise that we’re not going for the deal but participating in a decision process.

Like any important issue, you will find people with varying views and impressions -- and I think in many cases everyone will be right.

But I will try to outline some thoughts here.

At the very highest level, at the level of the truly huge sale; the sales that define and shape industries, that make or save businesses, that change or redirect public culture, the salesperson achieves success through sensing and capturing the essence of relationships; of values, of personal connectivity. But these one-on-one interactions, often at the highest level, are melded with analysis, research, polling data, information, and insights from science. These can be measured, and are.

I think mechanistic, ritualistic, 'by the numbers' techniques work in many cases -- otherwise, there would be no cold calls, no telemarketers, no door-to-door canvassers; no time-share commission salespeople. But these types of selling processes need to be connected to something else; and that is the sales representative's underlying ability and trust to form relationships with clients and the community at large.

Equally, some 'great' salespeople are so effective at the process of selling -- of building relationships within the selling structure -- that they forget the larger picture; how the selling effort integrates with broader objectives and values. for these representatives, some numbers, some controls, some guidance is vital.

Sure, we need the numbers, we need to measure results, and we need to build trust and integrity in our relationships with our clients.

It seems, in the end, the very best salespeople manage to make the relationships work so well that they don't need to think about the numbers -- but indeed they prove their success by achieving results. And these most certainly can be measured.

Who clicks on those (internet) ads?

Verticals and specialized sites like offer a defined industry demographic -- I doubt too many rural housewives who clip coupons would visit this site.

This blog posting, "Who clicks on ads? And what might this mean?" suggests that the people who click on Internet ads are unlikely to be the best demographic market -- lower-income rural housewives!

Obviously this posting does not take into account the fact that the advertiser can very clearly target and measure the results of their Internet advertising -- something that is much harder to do with conventional media. But it raises the question; and reality, that much advertising is indeed ineffective and wasted, and that other advertising (in conjunction with the overall business strategy) can assist in brand development -- and the comments validate this awareness. Finally, we need to consider the effectiveness and value of some of the construction industry vertical sites -- with enough content and value to truly deliver a qualified and measurable audience.

Serendipity power -- the trust jump

In searching for graphics to go with this blog entry, I (perhaps with serendipity), discovered the blog: Slow Leadership -- Articles on returning humanity to working life.

I love serendipity -- that amazing confluence of forces that causes good things to happen at exactly the right time. You might call it good luck, and in some ways, it is "luck" but the special thing about serendipity in marketing and business is that you usually need to create the luck for it to happen; and that sometimes involves, for want of a better phrase, "trust risk".

To explain the concept, we'll have to travel far back in my own life experience, to youthful summer agony at age 21.

I had, (through serendipity) obtained a job as a cub police reporter on the Vancouver Province newspaper while in university -- clearly one of the best student jobs you could imagine.

But I had one rather big problem to overcome; my utter lack of social skills and capacity. No close friends -- certainly not a girlfriend -- really awkward personal behaviours; loneliness, personal identity confusion, yuk.

So I sought help, and ended up in the university's student service psychiatric research program as a subject. They had something called "Day House" (see page 2 of this link) an intensive group therapy program where grad students and researchers tested the then latest techniques and therapies on a rather intelligent group of subjects; generally students and recent graduates. The catch: I would have to forgo starting my summer job, while going through this therapy program.

I failed.

Yes, unlike almost everyone else who made it through the program, they drummed me out -- asked me to leave -- after four weeks. Seems, my problems were so serious, so major, that I was disrupting the program and simply didn't fit in. They referred me to another day treatment program at the university. I lasted there about two days -- everyone seemed virtually psychotic (they may have been) on really heavy medications (drugs were not allowed at the initial program). Sensing the choice between spending my summer with drugged out psychotics and working as a police reporter on a daily newspaper, I wisely chose the latter direction.

But the 'failure' in the initial therapy program haunted me.

Somewhere, in the period of being kicked out of the first treatment program, I saw my psychiatric assessment and diagnosis. "Personality Disorder -- Schizoid." I guess you could call it a really bad case of introversion -- so bad that I could not connect or look outside myself effectively.

I can't be sure if this is the reason they kicked me out of the initial program, but perhaps symbolic of the deeper issues, I recall well having difficulties with the "trust jump".

The entire group stood around in a circle, and you were expected to jump off a perch, letting go, and allowing everyone to catch you. Somehow I resisted doing this.

Like many things in life, negatives turned into positives, and I learned some lessons through the horrible ordeal of the "trust jump" and the aborted therapy program.
  • There are times when you really need to let go; to trust, to allow yourself to fall freely from your inhibitions, and allow the forces beyond to 'catch' you.

  • You are still absolutely responsible for creating your own opportunities and circumstances; I chose to be in this therapy program, of course, and I also had a great safety net -- that wonderful summer job on a daily newspaper -- to fall into when things 'failed'.

  • We all can overcome our deficiencies, weaknesses, and challenges with a combination of will and serendipity -- I have learned how to trust jump through life's challenges and circumstances.
Today, the difficult experiences from the late 1970s are a distant memory. I hesitated before posting this blog entry, because it obviously touches on some very personal matters and I wasn't sure it right to broadcast the old psychiatric diagnosis (if that was my illness, I'm clearly 'cured' as I have a great family life now, and people who work with me would not describe me as extremely introverted.) But I decided to publish the posting, because these themes connected just a little more than a year ago, when I needed to take a leap of faith -- accepting the risk, accepting trust -- and let a formerly key contractor resign, without knowing whether we would ever find a replacement.

In marketing, sometimes you need to follow a less conventional path, let go of assumptions, and sometimes, just let go, period. Then you may find the magical power of serendipity occurs, and you'll achieve the success you deserve.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Canvassing works, but . . .

Needham Canvassing Consultants in Ceresco, MI, offers a consulting service to help businesses canvass effectively.

This thread on suggests that door-to-door canvassing is truly effective. Similarly, Ford Harding in his Rainmaking book indicates that if you have the stomach for it, cold calling for professional services can be profitable and valid. My role in reporting on these options is not to denigrate them; they work in many cases, just as do intrusive telemarketing calls, and (yes) spam emails. But is this the type of business we really want to run?

I think the business owners who have employees pounding the pavement with door-to-door canvassers would much rather have an environment where the phone rings and clients call, enthusiastically requesting quotes -- without worrying about the price (which might be well above the going rate). This is the stuff of branding, reputation, relationships, and repeat business. It is about authority, leadership, and effective niche marketing.

But I don't want to sit on an ivory tower in judgment. Cold calling and canvassing indeed are effective, done properly.

Ford Harding's latest book

I'm reading right now an advance copy of Ford Harding's "Rain Making -- Second Edition". Harding has written perhaps the most useful books about the art of selling for professional service providers; lawyers, architects, engineers and his latest book advances on the principals he advocates so effectively in the first edition. More soon.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Focus and diversity

The Center for Construction Industry Studies (CCIS) is a multidisciplinary research center at The University of Texas at Austin's Construction Engineering and Project Management (CEPM) Program . . . an example of an effective interdisciplinary initiative.

This blog, like my business, covers many disciplines and areas within the construction industry. I write about issues relevant to architects, and sub trades; to the marketing departments of large multi-national corporations, and the one-person band, just trying to get a business started.
Is everyone's interest the same, and is this blog trying to be too many things to too many people, at the same time?

I hope not -- though there is a paradox here. The blog's multi-disciplinary focus is because we publish geographically regional publications. Within the geographical area, there are clear economic relations and direct linkages of interest between the different sectors -- the supplier for residential contractors, for example, will also serve ICI specialists within the community; labour force issues and social problems/challenges affect everyone, and where there are occasional tensions and controversies within the industry, these are real and valid issues to report in a local construction industry publication.

I started the blog about a year ago as a resource for our advertisers; to give them something 'extra' and beyond the ink on paper and invoice. Since then, I've immersed myself in as many aspects of construction industry marketing as possible. My objective: to provide the advertisers with something far more than they originally expect to receive -- to offer them practical, highly effective and totally without cost consulting services so they can improve their businesses and profitability.

So what happened?

Well, some of our clients have expressed interest, but they are a small minority. I tell them about the blog, the extra services, the 'connection' and resources available, but they simply pay their invoices and buy more ads. This is obviously not a problem for me.

Meanwhile, the blog is morphing into something better and different than I originally expected. It is connecting me to people around North America -- and the world -- and is leading to relationships and contributions that transcend the original concept.

I perceive that other bloggers can focus more closely within specific industry sectors and activities, and others can develop truly useful regional blogs; these blogs will of course be welcomed to permalinks without reciprocal expectation.

But I still find it amazing that, despite the obvious value and potential revenue gains with the free consulting service for our advertisers, there are few takers, so far.

Simple things, really

These short sleeve dress shirts are available from Great Price, a division of Uniformalwearhouse LLC in New Jersey, online for less than $13.00 each. You can build your brand by buying a stack of these (and at this price, compared to a Yellow Pages ad, they could be disposable and still save you money!)

Yesterday, in an exchange of comments with Sonny Lykos, I asked for some industry-specific suggestions to create "Brand Harmony". I asked for the suggestions, because Steve Yastrow's Brand Harmony book (which Lykos graciously gifted to me) is full of examples from the airline, hospitality, and car rental industries -- but a little short on examples from construction.

Lykos, in his comment, wrote

Branding is simply what the customer thinks of you. It's that simple. It's not a logo. It's not a discount. It's not "only" the caliber of your work. Their perception is based upon a compilation of every single contact anyone from your company has had with them, and believe it or not, that includes how those in the company answer the phone, what they say, and their manner. It's the opposite of what one specialty contractor said to me when I called him for the first time: "Yea!"

I simply said: "I have the wrong number." and hung up. "I'm semiretired, yet even while working only part-time, my prices continue to be double to triple my supposed competition.

Your readers would be very smart for starters, to buy and read "Brand Harmony." And if they really understand the contents of the book, they will incorporate what's in it and begin to enjoy substantial increased margins, while reducing aggravation and time, in the running of their business.

The key is to not just "satisfy" a customer. Many business do just that, merely satisfy them. The key is to WOW each customer. Treat them in a manner that is the opposite of what they expect, and the opposite of what they expect because what they expect is the public's knowledge of the lousy reputation of our industry.

Or don't bother and keep the status quo - fighting for every job, and at less than you desire. Understand that "branding" brings the customer - and sales - to you, instead of you having to continually advertise and market while trying to sell yourself to them.

Remember, K-Mart, Wal-Mart, Target, Big lots, Family Dollar Store, and the like are all in the same category, the low end, and there are many of them. But how many Dillards exist? Don't brand yourself as a Chevy, but as a Cadillac or Lincoln, and with each hour prove that you're worth every dollar.

In an email exchange, I noted:

Sonny, thanks for your most recent comments. I will expand on these (and quote from them) in my next blog entry tomorrow morning. It is interesting how the simple things are important to establish the basis of brand – but it is scary to think that dressing neatly, answering the phone, and doing little favours is enough to create ‘wow’ reactions within the construction industry – of course it has always been my contention that just a little common sense marketing will go miles within this industry simply because it is so unsophisticated about marketing principals.
Lykos's response:

Correct. You would not believe just in the comments that I, a tradesman, wears short sleeve, button down collar, white dress shirts (Wal-Mat $12) and kaiki pleated pants ($15), and shined brown shoes. And people are surprised when I call in advance even if only think I might be 5 minutes late. I get the same "No one does that any more" nearly every time.

I deliberately 'broke style and have enlarged the last quotes from Lykos here. Look. Wearing neat clothes costing $27 at Wal-Mart, and calling in advance when you think you might be late (Priceless), are the sorts of thing that create your brand. And are rather easy to implement systematically -- you can insist your employees follow these rules. The fact remains, the construction industry is so far behind the rest of the business community, you only need to be mediocre in business/branding practices within this industry to assume a leadership role and reap the rewards of effective branding. And this is especially the case if you find yourself a much-maligned, exploited and frustrated sub trade contractor scraping for bidding opportunities!

Monday, December 17, 2007

An idea from South Africa

I'll let the original poster, Marc Ashton say this in his own words:

We have recently taken on a new client in the construction Project Management arena and they came up with a really unique way of acknowledging their clients and key staff as part of their communications / marketing strategy.

In a nutshell what they did was ask us to design three hand drawn construction scenes and then super-impose caricature faces of key staff and customers into the scene. It was quite nice in that you could have the Customers "key man" fiendishly pouring the cement mixer onto the hapless Project Manager and the Financial Manager pulling her hair out at these shenanigans. It creates a really nice vibe for a small Corporate Gift in either a Calendar or framed Wall Picture format. Without talking my own book too much it does make a nice quirky and personal gift that a client can appreciate and you get to emphasise some of their hobbies and character habits.
Not sure if this works for me, but then again, the idea of personalizing and designing something that 'connects' to your clients in a highly individual way has a lot of appeal and is probably worth the money. If so, feel free to contact Rival Industrial at or Marc Ashton by email at

The press release and the website designer

Marty Thomas of, a recently established web design organization focusing on the construction trades, asked on The Contractors Club forum for advice on issuing and distributing news releases. I can claim 'expert' status on this topic -- Now a publisher, I worked as a journalist, and for five years as a public relations officer for the Canadian federal government. So I know something about news releases and how they work (and their limitations as well as strengths).

I asked to see a copy of his draft news release. He responded:

Hi Mark,Thanks for your help with this. I have subscribed and have been reading your blog. I like what you have to say and look forward to your thoughts here. I am a retail contractor by day. However, This particular press release was written for my web design & Internet
marketing business that I started with a couple other web developers in Chicago.Thanks again

And he sent me this news release text:

Martin Thomas, Founder

Nook Web Introduces Skilled Trades Specialized Internet Marketing

Bridging The Technology Gap
Chicago, Illinois
- December 17, 2007 – NOOK Web, a website design, development and Internet marketing firm based in Chicago, Illinois and serving clients nationwide, introduces specialized turn-key services for the skilled trades industry. The company’s unique strategies bridge the gap between skilled trades professionals who rarely need or use the Internet and their diverse customer base encompassing business professionals, home owners and individuals who use the Internet as their principal means for finding service professionals.

Experts foresee a 50 percent drop in Yellow Pages use during the next five years. In addition, Business Week reports that 70 percent of homeowners use the Internet to make their purchase decisions.

As a result, traditional print advertising media is no longer the most effective way to generate new business. “We’ve developed an intelligent, cost-efficient strategy that lets skilled trades professionals, whether a sole proprietor electrician, plumber, painter, HVAC contractor or major custom home construction businesses, reallocate marketing dollars into carefully targeted, local online advertising” states Martin Thomas, Founder of Nook Web.

Martin Thomas, founder of NOOK Web, grew-up immersed in the general contracting industry, helping his father in the suburbs of Chicago for more than 20 years. After earning his degree in Multimedia from Bradley University, he used his existing professional network to develop and fine-tune a highly sought-after and focused Internet Marketing technique. Since that time, Thomas has expanded his audience nationally, assisting skilled trades clients from California to the Carolinas.

To learn more about the company’s web design and Internet Marketing services, visit or call 888-689-3144.

About NOOK Web

NOOK Web ( is a specialized website design, development and Internet Marketing firm focused on the skilled trades industry. The company guides clients through all steps of the website introduction and advertising process.
# # #

This is a classic, conventional news release. It will be somewhat effective, I believe, but won't excite anyone. Certainly, publishers, especially "conventional print media", will not publish it -- it is essentially inviting advertisers to desert their publications; and no one in their right mind is going to encourage that. So the news release most likely will find its way into online systems, and thus be read primarily by the people who don't need the service the most -- the contractor looking for his first really good website.

Now, does that mean it is totally invalid? Not necessarily. News releases have many additional functions including collateral marketing. But what can we do to increase the chance of the news release turning into published news media articles (which are far more valuable in marketing collateral than the news release itself?)

I suggested two things. First, Marty should tailor the release in different variations to the different trades. This will increase its relevance to specialized trade media.

The second suggestion relates to testimonials, and here things get interesting and challenging. Can Marty provide examples of clients who have successfully increased their business, and quantify it? If so, he can achieve a one-two media-relations punch.

First, in co-operation with his clients, he would issue individualized news release to local media highlighting the clients' success. (The clients will probably be very happy with the publicity.)

Second, using the client stories as a basis (or perhaps the local media publicity as background material) the news release could be revised to show real benefit to the 'typical' trade in the field -- maybe reformulated into a ready-to-run print article (or possibly the ready-to-run article could be sent to the appropriate specialized media along with the news release.)

Finally, I would reiterate that it doesn't help your cause to say that conventional advertising doesn't work -- this will discourage any media from using it. Write the article and news release to suggest the Internet are complementary to the conventional media, and pick-up rates will be higher. (But you can of course take a shot at the Yellow Pages, since they are competitors to both the Internet and editorial print media, and of course, the Yellow Pages would never publish your news release, anyways.)

Oh, and I like the idea of a specialized web design service for the construction trades -- it is good that you can speak the industry's language, and connect with its participants.

The importance of branding

So what do I find when I key in "Construction Sub Trade Branding" on Google? Not much. But I did come across this reference to Vicano Construction in Brantford -- and their page inviting subtrades to log in and apply to be suppliers. Obviously this is NOT branding for the subtrades -- but is great branding for Vicano! (And may lead to some jobs for subs not wishing to 'worry' about branding -- who just want to bid for the work.)

Sonny Lykos has sent me much useful information about branding. I am still going through his binder of material, his reference books, and other resources. Today, however, I connected the mental dots (sometimes it takes me a while) and realized that "Branding" is the answer for the struggling sub-trade; the victim of abuse and frustration; of bid-shopping and manipulation, and simply of being the low person on the totem pole in this industry.

Yet, for a very simple reason, I confidently will say that 99 per cent of the subs out there won't get it.

They won't because they see themselves as doing their trade, not as selling a brand.

Heck, they won't see it because I couldn't see it until Sonny laid on the materials and information to me. And I am in the marketing and publishing business, and read a lot, and, well, should know this stuff.

How can we expect someone who has built a business as a masonry contractor, a drywaller, or a mechanical contractor to understand branding? Heck, the company that excavates foundations doesn't think of itself as Coca-Cola or Dell Computers. "Branding" seems to be an arcane and absurd concept when your business is laying sod or stringing wire.

But if you are in any of these businesses; any of the subtrades "just doing your job", you will want to find a few minutes to figure some things out about branding, and then set to establish your brand and marketing plan.

"Huh," I'm sure you'll say. If you are a typical sub trade, you'll probably have a modest roster of regular clients, you know who they are, and you bid their jobs in accordance with your usual practices. If you are competitive, you win. Maybe you like some of your clients better than others; know who treats you well, and who tries to squeeze every cent out of you; and for the ones that are reasonable, you sharpen your pencil and give a bit better price. You get by. Marketing is for sissies. You have work to do.

But what if you could increase your prices by 20 per cent or more -- without investing in expensive equipment? And either diversify or improve your client base -- so you are less at the mercy of one or two organizations? Alternatively, you may decide you don't really want to grow -- to get too big for yourself -- but you would like to find a little more profit from your existing business. Again, carefully thought and planned branding strategies (correlated primarily with simple client service and relationship initiatives) may produce huge results.

So, the next step, is how do you get started? I'm going to assume for now that you are not the biggest reader -- and all the gobbledygook out there anyways doesn't really relate to your own business. So while it will be helpful to read some of the useful books on Branding, here are some other ideas:

  • If you have ever purchased advertising in one of our publications, feel free to call me. I'll listen to your situation, and suggest options. (I promise not to try to sell you more advertising -- only a tiny portion of the branding process -- you may buy some, but that is because I've succeeded in practicing what I preach about branding.)
  • If you aren't a member of your relevant trade association, or in the U.S., a chapter of the American Subcontractors Association, join. Then call and ask for support and resources relating to marketing and branding.
  • You can hire a consultant. The challenge is getting the right consultant, not the BS and phony stuff that some consultants spout -- at overpriced fees. I can recommend Sonny Lykos (if he is available) and Michael Stone. Locally, you may find someone who works well with you (I use Bill Caswell in Ottawa).
Most likely, when you enter into this branding and marketing space, you will make some mistakes and possibly encounter some false starts. But it is worthwhile. Ask Sonny Lykos. He has avoided the commodity pricing trap and makes money, because he knows how to brand his business.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The advantage of returning calls rapidly

Charles H. Green in his blog makes clear that the "Single Fastest Thing You Can Do Increase Trust" is to waste no time in returning calls and emails -- and he explains why in his revealing posting.

Sometimes the most effective business practices are the simplest, and we need to be reminded of them. This posting does just that, very effectively.

The Five Don'ts of Sales Presenting

I really enjoyed this Five Don'ts of Sales Presenting blog posting by Sims Wyeth (above), in his blog High Stakes Presentations. It is simple, distilled advice -- just one entry in an overall well-designed blog. (I found it through Ford Harding's blogroll, where he is listed along with, now, me!)

Here is the first 'don't':

Don’t even go to the presentation if the client won’t meet with you ahead of time so you can learn what they want and why they want it. Your time is extremely valuable, as is theirs, and you should not waste either their time or yours by pursuing an opportunity for which you are not suited, or by traveling to recite information they could read in a brochure, e-mail or website.

Wyeth is of course absolutely right here -- as (you will notice when you read his blog), is his effective connection and relating through association with other influential speakers and allies.

Certainly, in business it is possible to soar and build your own reputation, but you'll go a lot further if you associate and relate to others with leadership talents in their areas of expertise.

Maybe the survey worked

Bob Kruhm, our North Carolina publisher, sent this email to me tonight:


I’m interested in the survey you sent to NC advertisers. Who received it? On Tuesday I spoke to (client name). She acknowledged receiving your survey and commented it seems a good idea to ask just five questions with an appreciative preface. She plans to copy the survey format for her own clients. I’m surprised you didn't get a response from her....
One of the benefits of your visit in January is to meet our advertisers and get direct feedback. I hope to invite several advertisers to the ASAC Triangle chapter meeting.


I've removed the client's name from the email because we didn't request nor receive her permission to publish it, but obviously I'm happy to see this result.
Notably, my initial test survey (of 500 plus names) received just seven responses; suggesting a zero response to a list of 60 names is in line with expectations. So the survey may actually be 'working' -- it is important to combine it with first-hand client communication and feedback, ideally in an informal and natural way, however.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Client surveys -- some thoughts

This posting, Client Satisfaction Surveys: Yea or Nay? by Charles Green (Trusted Advisor Associates), wisely points out that conventional surveys don't really work for professional service firms -- but strategic, and well-planned review meetings with clients (not necessarily on a strict annual schedule) can be very effective.

I think Green's article could be very useful for many of this blog's readers, but it doesn't solve my own problem.

The challenge with our business is that clients often purchase individual advertisements either to support an association (for which we either publish a publication under contract, or are writing a special feature report), or to support one of their own clients, usually in the context of a special feature/report about the client's business or project.

These advertisers of course are adhering to the principals of client service that I advocate frequently -- your current customers/clients are the most important, and if you do something to help them in their own marketing and promotion, you of course are helping your relationship with them (and less directly, but no less significantly), helping your own business through downstream support of their marketing process.)

My problem is that despite this referred relationship, we are providing the service, and wish our clients to receive value beyond just keeping their own clients happy. This blog originated, in fact, as part of the service process -- I thought by providing useful marketing suggestions and ideas, our clients would gain benefit that transcends their advertising within our newspapers.