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Monday, April 30, 2007

The short and long cycles

If you check back to the beginning of this blog, you'll know that the entries here started at a crucial time -- an inflection; a turning point, the end of a long and arduous two-year business slump where all my assumptions and expectations for the enterprise crashed around me (as did our sales, employee base, and, I thought, our market position.)

Now, in the bright light of Spring, I see a very different picture. The problems we had were not what they seemed to be; even in the worst days, our true circumstances were really quite healthy. I can track a specific story, with twists and turns that boggle my mind and stretch the bounds of probability. This story is too close to current circumstances and relationships to relate openly in this blog but I certainly didn't expect the results we see today -- both in the acceptance of our business and our actual sales revenues -- from when things began turning really bad a couple of years ago.

I realize now, more than ever, that businesses go through short and long cycles. Short cycles are the daily or even monthly ups and downs, you can look forward and even plan for them. Long cycles are more interesting and challenging. You may think you are in a certain place within the cycle; the real picture may be very different. Think of 'technical analysis' from the stock market perspective -- pundits read the charts, looking for signals and indicators, and often they are right -- but it is harder by far to read a long cycle shift than a short cycle.

I'm fortunate, as well, that as things stopped working the way they should, I remembered the basic rules of business in hard times.

  • Never let your debt get above the level where you can repay it (or, in certain circumstances, be exempt from having to repay it.)
  • Always accept full and complete responsibility for your business problems; yes, the economy may be bad, you may have bad employees, technological change or competitors may be decimating your market -- but ultimately you are responsible for your business;
  • The 'reality principal' applies in both hard and good times. "Things are never as bad as they seem at their worst, and they are never as good as they seem at their best." Of course there is nothing wrong with striving for things to be good, and to be the best at what you do. But it is wise to be well grounded in good times, and not overly pessimistic in bad circumstances.
Right now, nevertheless, I'm savouring the pleasures of a good cycle, and I know in my heart that it will be a long one. But I'll retain my humility. You deserve and have the opportunity to succeed and enjoy your life and accomplishments, and your success and achievements are far more important than mine in the truly big picture.

Busy times

Lots of writing to do this week -- and not so much time for blogging -- at least for the next few days. Lots of wonderful things are happening, however.

Here is a rather useful article suggesting what not to do when issuing a news release -- and reminding us that news releases have much more value these days now that they can be sent to wider audiences on the Internet (but they still need to be done properly.)

Sunday, April 29, 2007


Who needs publicity like this? In both ways. Publicite (French word for advertising) and Publicity (as in bad press, or in this case, a negative blog posting).

I think the original blogger is a bit hard on Venture Direct and Inc. Magazine. In our case, when these things happen (and they do from time to time) we review our internal procedures, and make adjustments to satisfy our advertisers. After all, we know that we must deliver real value to achieve repeat business.

The Pareto Principal -- 80/20 rule

I like this blog entry explaining the rule and some of its applications.

Saturday, April 28, 2007


We're in Montreal, Quebec, for my wife's high school reunion. Just before leaving, I sent out an email to our Ontario readers, inviting comments on holdback provisions within the Ontario Construction Lien Act. (I think the equivalent concept in U.S. jurisdictions such as North Carolina is 'retainage' -- and an extensive lobby is being mounted in North Carolina to reduce the retainage duration, and amount to 5 per cent from 10 per cent.

What does this have to do with construction marketing? As publishers, our objective is to provide news and information to help the industry -- this attracts readers; then advertisers. And I used my editorially-oriented email message for a small, but subtle marketing message. This is the best way, I think, to use email for marketing -- people don't want to receive ads in their e-box -- but they'll accept a small amount of promotional marketing within the context of a much larger useful information service.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Writing power

One of the best ways for industry professionals and consultants (especially architects and engineers) to build their reputation and practice is to be published. Trade journal articles carry credibility; this is enhanced if you write a book. Articles and books lead to speaking engagements, media interviews, 'expert status' and bookable business.

Writing, of course, is a skill like most others. Some people are naturally good at it; others can develop acceptable results with some effort and still others simply can't write very well. The solution if you have good ideas but don't have the inclination or ability to write well is to work with someone with these talents. Good writing need not be very expensive; though obviously if you are not a capable judge of writing you should work with someone you know and trust in this regard.

As you develop your writing skills and markets, you'll see how your writing can be leveraged -- allowing one piece of work to 'multitask' saving you time and dramatically improving the impact of your efforts. For example, I recently wrote an article about complex bid requirements for our Ontario newspapers (as part of a marketing initiative involving the province's general contractors). I posted this article to my website, and my newsletter. The publisher of a wide-circulation electronic newsletter asked for permission to use it in his publication; when the B.C. construction association read the article in that newsletter, they called me for reprint permission as well. If you want to see the article, it is here.

Articles can be repackaged into book chapters; speeches, newsletters, marketing materials and more. One piece of good writing indeed can go a long way.

Next week, I'll be delving more closely into the business of construction writing, attending the annual convention of the Construction Writers Association in Washington D.C. on Thursday and Friday. This is after I somehow package together some 60 tabloid pages for our newspapers in Ontario, Canada and North Carolina -- as I fit in time to watch Ottawa Senators in the National Hockey League playoffs. Oh yeah, and produce our bi-weekly newsletter and this blog.

Thankfully, I enjoy writing.

Lawyers and accountants

I write this blog entry as a three hour program on construction lien legislation is about to start. This stuff is arcane, to say the least, but is vitally important -- liens, holdbacks, and the rules regarding collection of accounts within the construction industry are unique indeed and while there are common themes, the rules vary by jurisdiction -- thus creating lots of work and opportunity for the lawyers and accountants.

If you are a general or trade contractor or supplier, all the hard work you do in building your business (and doing the actual work) are lost in a business disaster if you aren't paid. This is the opposite end of the business process of marketing -- but is equally if not more important.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Growth mode

Its exhilarating, exciting, and plain simple fun when a business turns around. After reaching a low point near the start of this blog last year, we are getting very busy. I'm continuing to hold the fort as interim editor as our sales team finds new business and the administrative staff (of one full time employee and a couple of part timers) handles increasing volume. We are now dusting off our business plan and preparing for a major planning meeting June 5.

The paradox of this growth is that, looking to the decline and resurgence, I can only see one cause -- people. Last year, former employees lost the spark and enthusiasm; they bickered, complained, and failed to do more than the minimum (and sometimes less than the minimum). I thought the problems might be market related, or caused by changes in client expectations, but now (with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight) I see these elements really don't explain the decline. We are recovering because we've regained the passion for the business.

What lies ahead? We will clarify our plans in early June, and I have learned that it is important to have the employees take a major part in setting the vision -- clearly, I have ideas, insights, and lots of experience, but the business will be defined by the employees. We'll add new publications (and restore old ones), improve our Internet capacities, and enhance our client services.

If you are having business problems, it may not be because of lack of clients, or market, or failure of clients to pay you properly. The problem may be right at home, with the people working with and for you. And, if that is the case, you have difficult and challenging decisions to make, but if you fail to do what you need to do, you will just drag on the pain and failure.

There is light at the end of the tunnel if you keep a realistic view of things. And it is really fun to come out in the bright light of the day with growth and enthusiasm after a couple of hard years struggle.

Choices in business

A couple of weeks ago, a client requested me to post an ad on our network of websites and we discussed reasonable compensation and terms. I didn't actually look at the ad -- my mistake! -- because I assumed it would be a standard banner ad and I knew the advertiser to be of good integrity.

To facilitate the advertiser's request, we need to facilitate some site reprogramming. Unfortunately, our offshore programmer initially reported he would need a few days extra because of illness; he now reports he will require up to a week to determine if he can even do the job. I had a Plan B ready -- we can hard wire the ad on the sites through a manual process using another service provider.

Then, just before instructing the service provider to start work, I actually looked at the ad for the first time. It is one of those flash ads that (without any reader prompting or action) spreads outside its borders and over other material on the site). Ouch! I know this type of ad can be very effective in attracting attention to the advertiser's own message, but what about everyone else on the site (including the editorial content). If anything, you are going to want to see this once, and no more -- and even then the message is way overpowering. I give the advertiser credit in coming up with the proposal -- it would, if accepted by me, be undoubtedly good marketing for his business, but the cash I receive from him would harm the interests of the overall sites.

We will hopefully come up with a compromise solution, but there are lessons to be learned here.

  • Check things at the outset -- if I had actually reviewed the ad I could have communicated my concerns with the client right away and not provided the terrible service to him I am in this case;
  • Consider others in engaging in any relationship or marketing. Of course your consideration should put your interests first -- I really don't have any trouble with the proposal itself -- it is my decision to decline because of its overpowering nature. I am declining because I know it will cost business greater than the ad is worth;
  • Don't be afraid to risk and try stuff -- the proposed ad is really effective from the advertiser's point of view; he did nothing wrong in proposing it to me.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Lunch and Learn -- marketing to AEC professionals

Jack Laken of Termodeck Canada invited me to a "Lunch and Learn" presentation at Griffiths Rankin Cook Architects as we prepare a feature advertising profile about his technology -- an originally Canadian concept developed in Europe that uses the concrete thermal mass to reduce heating and air conditioning costs, without increasing construction expenses. It is a 'green' technology that stands on its merits for purely economic reasons -- operating savings are immediate and construction costs are no greater (in fact may be lower) than alternative technologies. This is a 'win win' to me.

Nevertheless, selling anything new is always a challenge. Jack is like me. We are professionals in our own field -- not professional sales representatives. We both know we have to be able to 'sell' to run our own businesses. (He is an engineer, I am a writer/journalist by trade).

But the Lunch and Learn approach, I found, is a truly effective and responsible approach to selling building technologies and materials to the construction sector and its allied professionals. the architects certainly are happy to have the opportunity for a free lunch, and other guests including a significant general contractor and a potential owner-client for the service also attended. Jack could explain his technology to competent professionals, and answer questions at a higher level than in a forced selling environment. No one felt any pressure or obligation; this was a lunch and learn, not a hard sale -- but he forged relationships with the architects, builder, and me -- and opened the door to useful future business relationships.

Lunch and Learn marketing makes a lot of sense -- it certainly applies when you are selling to professionals, but I can see a similar concept being quite useful if you are demonstrating tools or services to contractors, sub trades and the like.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Washington (state) lawyers

I'm going to add Washington Construction Law from Davis, Wright, Tremaine LLP based in Seattle with other Washington state branches, because it meets the criteria for a solid and well produced marketing blog. Lots of useful information, relevant to the target audience, updated frequently, and well designed and maintained....

Of course I do this with some awareness of my closer interest in the other Washington -- D.C. and the thought that a "Washington Construction Law" blog might at first sight focus on national law interests. But this confusion works both ways. We had to pull our adwords listings for "Washington Construction News" when people from Tacoma and Seattle were (legitimately) clicking on our D.C.-oriented site.

The Hotmail paradox

Today I discussed retaining the services of a consultant who offers a service to help budding authors turn their ideas into publishable books. One of my goals this year is to write my first full-scale book. I've written countless newspaper articles -- in fact, filled enough copy to cover several books -- but have never turned an idea into a published manuscript. I want to achieve that goal this year.

The consultant has marketed her service primarily to authors looking to get published. In my case, "self publishing" is rational because, after all, I am a publisher! My hope however is that having a third-party coach and consultant would help me discipline my effort and move things along.

We initially communicated last month, and I said "go ahead"; but I got cold feet when she instructed me how to send the first month's payment for services ($600 to her Paypal account.) Whoa! I just wasn't comfortable sending money off to someone without knowing her a bit better -- I wanted as well time to think about where I am headed with the project. And a month's hold would not interfere with my ability to move forward with the initiative.

She called me back late last week while I was at the OGCA conference, and it wasn't until today that I could return her call and engage in our first real conversation. She seems knowledgeable enough; credible, and she had reasonably good answers to my questions. But I wasn't totally sold. So I said: "Give me 24 hours, and I'll let you know firmly one way or another where we are going."

She rightfully probed for objections. I told her my experience with Bill Caswell, who offered (and has adhered) to a guarantee that we don't pay him until the consulting goals are achieved -- an admirable concept. Her answer: She can't do that, or even offer a money back guarantee if I'm not satisfied, but she could accept (if cash is short) a two week trial for $300 rather than $600 for the month.

Fair enough, but I still said I would take the 24 hours. I asked to confirm her email address, and she did -- at a account.

Ouch. In the book on marketing I planned to write, I would recommend that no one use a Hotmail free account for business emails. Domains are inexpensive to register, and email can easily be forwarded to 'hidden' accounts -- including, if you wish, a Hotmail address. But to use Hotmail as a primary account implies cheapness, smallness, and something lacking in professionalism.

So I told her this. And she responded she has had trouble losing emails on her outlook account. Huh? Most Internet service providers offer web-mail accounts to go with your primary domains/accounts, so there should be no risk in 'losing' emails because of outlook screw-ups.

I don't mind imperfections, but I am looking for inconsistencies when I am about to send $600 to someone. I won't totally rule against the consultant -- I will review her materials, websites, and presentation tonight before making a final decision, but this may prove to be a case where saving a little on the email account cost at last $1,800 in consulting fees.

If you have any thoughts on this matter to help me make my decision please feel free to email me at or use the comment function (you can be totally anonymous in commenting, though I moderate all comments to prevent spam from getting through.

Monday, April 23, 2007

I've added this environmentally relevant blog to the permalinks. From it, you will be able to link to related blogs for Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, CA and southern Florida.

An email....


Thank you for your April 8 mention and kind comments about my book Construction Business Management. However, your link goes to a cover that was replaced before publication and could be confusing to the reader. The correct Amazon link is

Nice blogsite.

Thanks again,

Nick Ganaway"

I will fix the link.

Meetings (2)

Ah, the challenge of setting up a meeting, especially an all-day meeting that requires some participants to travel a significant distance to attend. Everyone needs to be able find a common day(s) when they can clear their schedule, while maintaining personal and business responsibilities. And of course, since virtually everyone in the business is attending, the timing must be co-ordinated to not interfere with operations, especially client service.

This can be a challenge, indeed, but it is important to get it right. Bad meetings are the bane of most businesses; good meetings I've learned are critical to growth and cohesion. We are getting it right, but it has been a challenge to find the few possible days when the planned meeting is right for everyone invited to attend.

SMPS Chapter Blogs -- initiatives that haven't progressed (yet)

In my continuing search for relevant construction marketing blogs, I Googled "SMPS (Society for Marketing Professional Services) blogs" and other keyword variations, and discovered what appear to have been a few attempts to set up blogs -- though they haven't gone very far.

Look at this entry for SMPS Seattle, for example, "Sharing the Umbrella, " -- it hasn't been updated in more than a year. Tracking back, you can see this archived entry for a meeting to discuss the potential of blogging. See here:

SMPS Georgia has an empty blog page, here:

The last entry at SMPS South Florida Blogs dates back to 2005! See:

What can I make of these rather limited results? I tentatively conclude that a few people have tried to set up blogs but found they weren't going anywhere (in their market area), and dropped the idea. I will be sending some emails to see what really happened.

Logically, construction industry marketing blogs should correlate with the groups committed to regional construction marketing, but clearly this hasn't happened yet.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Eight ideas for revitalizing your blog

Mack Collier's article at is worth reading. He points out some simple approaches you need to take to ensure your blog is effective and relevant.

Dreams, goals and vision

I'm sure if you have read any of the motivational books and heard the speakers, you'll know you are supposed to set goals, and put the goals in writing. Furthermore, your goals should be realistic but stretch your present reality. And, at a higher level, the goals should be congruent with your values and principals, and reflect your passionate interests.

Fair enough. And true. But the more I learn about life, the more I realize that believing, implementing and applying these rules creates an environment of amazing inconsistencies -- and you will soon find that one right decision within this framework is counterbalanced by a wrong one.

For example, there is a lot of stuff around that says you should enjoy what you like; but that success results from delayed gratification. If you passionately believe in a political cause, I can guarantee you that someone else equally legitimately passionately believes in a directly opposing cause. You both have goals, they are 'correct' but they are certainly in conflict -- and while it is possible to merge interests and achieve peace (a laudable goal for idealists), many less than perfect wars often result from the passionate battling of conflicting goals, visions and values.

How do you meld these contradictions into a cohesive approach that takes you where you really want to go in life? Beyond religious and spiritual answers, I believe a creative application of the 80/20 rule may be helpful. That is, follow the guideposts of the majority of 'experts' either within your trade, or within the parameters of motivational guidelines and leadership, 80 per cent of the time -- set your goals, practice your affirmations, work at your passions, and watch your health. Then, throw the rule book away for 20 per cent -- perhaps your most important 20 per cent -- of your time/life/money. Be careless. Watch a low-brow television show. Play bingo. Eat fast food. Squander money on an impulsive purchase. Get drunk. (Obviously I am not advocating any of these things if there is a serious danger to your health or circumstances -- for example, if you are an alcoholic, taking 'one drink' would be more than dumb).

My point is that breaking the rules of success will help unleash your creativity and perhaps bring you closer to understanding the circumstances of the great mass who do not set goals, have vision, or achieve any level of greatness. For me, at least, achieving success is not losing touch with the 'real world' -- We can strive for perfection, but we I believe will only achieve our true place in life by allowing and embracing our imperfections. Have fun.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Meetings .... the right way

Marketing guru Seth Godin reports on the challenges of bad meetings. I would like to introduce him to consultant Bill Caswell of Caswell Corporate Coaching Company, and Clive Thurston, president of the Ontario Contractors' Association, who both know how to hold good meetings.

Thurston, Caswell, and Godin don't know each other (at least yet), but the lessons I've learned about meetings in the last year -- and enhanced this weekend -- show how truly useful and powerful good meetings can be.

Bad meetings; you know them; the time-wasting exercises in boring presentations,ego-strutting, or time-filling to justify some kind of corporate or personal agenda -- meetings stamped with routine and ritual, and hours of time that could be otherwise spent on much more useful work (or pleasure).

I had such aversion to bad meetings I set a business policy never to have them, except on the rarest occasions. This is a practice that Bill Caswell says is just plain wrong. In fact, he believes well-executed meetings are vital to business cohesion, success, and achievement. The challenge is to ensure the meetings are well executed.

Caswell says there are different types of meetings. Regular business meetings should be short (no longer than one hour), with a clear agenda, minutes, and a set out procedure for speaking order and recognition. He believes these regular meetings should incorporate the work group and be held with at least weekly frequency. The meetings always start on time, and distractions or interruptions are banned. Courtesy and respect for everyone is a cornerstone; no one can monopolize the discussion, and everyone is invited to participate in discussing agenda items.

Planning and conceptual meetings -- the 'big picture' type things, can last several hours or for major exercises an entire day. These meetings require more planning and co-ordination, but can be vital in setting the business course.

This weekend, I used the OGCA conference as the venue to introduce our two new sales representatives to each other. We had a meeting lasting less than an hour. My two new representatives agreed that a full-day planning meeting is vital, so (despite the significant cost) I agreed to retain Bill Caswell to help set it up. This will be the second full-scale planning meeting with him -- I think after this go-around, we will have enough systemic knowledge to do it ourselves.

On another scale, the OGCA symposium is a classic example of how to set upa meeting on a truly large scale. Some conferences are boring, others are ritualistic affairs; the OGCA instead found the formula mixing practical education and networking (along with some entertainment and rest) in a well-organized and (thanks to sponsorships) truly inexpensive package.

We gathered lots of news for our newspapers; and met previous, current, and potential clients (and as noted above, had the opportunity for an internal business meeting). Perhaps the best moment of the conference occurred when, a s I was walking back to my hotel room. A horn beeped. I looked, but could not recognize the person. She said "Hi Mark" and identified herself -- she had been working with one of my new sales reps and plans to advertise in the next issue of our Ontario papers. She recognized me from the photo on our electronic newsletter.

Good meetings, I believe, may reflect and mirror a business and its potential. Reviewing meeting practices and fixing the problems of bad meetings may, in fact, resolve many other business difficulties.

At the symposium

Little computer time here -- so entry today is brief (I may have a longer posting this evening on the train back to Ottawa; apparently there will be wireless Internet there, and the train ride is five hours).

Lots of insights, value, relationships, connections, and business here -- the perfect venue for serious marketing. There are lessons for other associations and groups as well on how to create real value for the membership. Notably, the general contractors belonging to the Ontario General Contractors Association are seriously interested in practical guidance and instruction on matters such as labour negotiations, technology adaptation, and improved business practices -- and they can attend the event inexpensively (in part with the help of sponsoring businesses rightfully eager to gain access to this crucial group.

More later....

Friday, April 20, 2007

Travel day

Soon we'll be on the way to the airport, and then from Toronto to the OGCA symposium in Collingwood.

Sent out the bi-weekly newsletter last night. Comments and critiques are invited.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The newsletter....

Blogging is light today as I prepare the bi-weekly newsletter (a little later than I'd like).
If you wish to subscribe, just register with the form above.

Reasoning, practicality and price

At 10 pm yesterday evening, I knew we needed to make some changes in our plans. The annual symposium of the Ontario General Contractors Association starts today. It is an important event for us -- the association is distributing our newspaper to everyone who attends, and we are building strong relationships in the process.

Unfortunately, because my wife has a vital community function this evening, I must miss the first day of the event. So my original plans were to drive from Ottawa to the Blue Mountain Resort in Collingwood tomorrow (Friday, April 20), stay overnight and return on Saturday. Our new sales representative Jason Chase is flying in to Ottawa this morning for a day of orientation and introduction to our office, and we would drive together tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, Natalie Laferriere is in Collingwood today and overnight and we have a planning meeting scheduled there tomorrow afternoon.

All good, and inexpensive. With cheap air fares, no need for a car rental, and the ability to share a ride to Toronto, we could keep travel costs to a minimum. But yesterday evening, I knew this wouldn't work. The reason -- it is a seven hour drive to Collingwood from Ottawa, and there are important sessions to attend Friday morning. This means, to be there anywhere near on time, we would have to leave here about 4 a.m. Friday morning.

It is one thing for me to endure this type of travel punishment; it is quite unfair to force it on a new employee. So I checked the alternatives. Things have changed in the past decade. I found plane tickets for the two of us to Toronto on one day's notice -- and cheap weekend rates are available for the car rental. So far, so good.

But getting back to Ottawa proved to be a challenge. I could do it for $250.00 -- not bad by 'old' standards, but, used to $99 or $49 one way fares, I've been spoiled. If I'm going to pay that much, I want to go first class -- but the first class one way airline fare is $450.00. No way. Finally, I checked the train. First class would be $150 -- I would get in to Ottawa late Saturday night, but the savings certainly pay for a really nice dinner out for my family.

The travel planning brought to mind some points:

  • It is possible to be penny wise and pound foolish. I could save $350 by driving overnight. But I would be 'dead' to useful work -- and the productivity loss would far offset any financial savings by driving.
  • When prices are discounted, no one wants to pay sticker price if they can avoid it. Hence, my resistance to paying the 'regular' fare for the flight home on Saturday.
  • A little luxury goes a long way -- if it is priced reasonably. Faced with the choice of getting home a little earlier or travelling first class, but a bit later, and spending less money, I opted for the extra comfort of first class on the train.
  • Finally, it is easy to get sidetracked on things like this. For a few years, I was obsessed with 'working the rules' with the airlines -- I in fact became an expert on how to travel business class for really cheap fares -- but my study of these issues obscured the fact that I was thinking far more about airline operations than the practical realities of my own business. It is vitally important to be aware of sidetracks, and stay off them.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Communicating with bloggers

Yesterday, after reviewing the thread on blogging for Search Engine Optimization, I contacted two bloggers who posted on that thread, and visited their blogs.

Brian Phillips of Houston Painters and Houston Radiant Barriers (see htt:// wrote in his thread posting:

I started a blog last month for 2 of the web sites I own. It is too soon to tell what the results will be. While I enjoy writing, it is a hassle to "have" to write several articles a week. I try to spend a few hours on Sundays writing. I then post a couple of the articles each week. I've built up a little bit of a backlog, so if I don't want to write, I still have something to post.

I searched without success for signs of his blog, then emailed him. He responded: "The blog is relatively new so that is why it may not be showing up. You can view it at"

Phillips has a well-written blog with lots of insights into business processes and systems. It doesn't contain links to other places within the web, yet, and that I think is an important part of the blogging process. Notably, I've blogged that bloggers start blogs to create links that raise their main business site's level within the search engines -- a good idea, indeed -- but I'm taking the approach that I will gladly link outbound without expectation of reciprocation -- when it comes time for people to link here they will, because of the blog's value.

As it is, indeed, you'll find one or another of my sites now is on the first page for keywords such as "construction marketing" -- of course it is uncertain how many people are searching these keywords (I don't think too many).

Meanwhile, the thread starter, Susan Betz of Fences of Distinction sent me this correspondence:

Hi Mark,
I ran a retail dot-com from 1996 to 2002. The only reason I closed the business was my main distributor changed their online marketing strategy and discontinued product to their top online retailers. I wrote all my own code, integrated QuikStore as my shopping cart, did all my own organic (top page in Google for my keywords)and PPC advertising. In other words, I am fairly proficient at web stuff. I don't toot my horn on ContractorTalk because I don't want to do work outside my home town (I do web work for my husband's company and good friends only).
Since '02, the main changes I've seen are the search engines folding into the top three or four engines, and the rise of the blog.
I haven't seen any real traffic from our company blog yet. But I figure it's an "everything helps" deal. I haven't integrated the blog into my site yet; I'm using the Google blog tool.
Thank you for the link to us on your site! I will check it out and comment for you. All the best,
Susan Betz"

Useful comments, indeed. Thanks Susan and Brian for your contributions here.

Value and money

Several years ago, my wife and I set up a business to provide health information. It was the early days of the Internet; online searching wasn't common, yet sources were becoming available to open the doors of medical databases and research papers to the eyes of the patient. Our idea -- taken from another practitioner already doing a similar sort of thing -- was to assemble relevant research papers and send the package to the person with the real medical need.

The idea worked, sort of. We attracted some media publicity, and a few clients, and delivered truly solid and useful information packages (hundreds of pages of well researched documentation) to our clients who were happy with the service they received. But we ultimately shelved the idea. Ultimately changing technologies and easier Internet access to the same type of information made the idea moot, but we dropped it before that stage -- the reason -- we couldn't see ourselves earning enough money for the time and effort to do the research; and the 'sales cost' with clients wanting information for free, or very small payments, was just too high.

We were charging $250 for the service.

Today, our smallest print ad in a regional publication, on a one-time schedule, sells for $265.00. We sell lots of them. The advertiser receives some space in our newspaper, and a decently designed ad. I doubt the ad will save the advertiser's life or help deal with a truly chronic business illness, however. Morally, and in terms of its real value to the end user, I fear the business I run today has much less value than the health information service we operated some years ago. But I'm a rational person -- I'll run the business I have, not the health information service, because clearly the marketplace of potential clients finds what we does has greater value to them.

Of course, there are several reasons our ads have value. They are often closely linked to supplier/client relationships, and we work hard to provide services that transcend conventional advertising. Today, for example, we arranged with a hotel client that provides housing for construction workers some additional services -- both formally, in generating some editorial coverage for them, and informally, in helping them track down client leads.

Nevertheless, value and money are not always as logically intertwined as we would expect. People pay a lot sometimes for very little, and refuse to pay a little for a lot. As a marketer, we must remember this as we plan our strategies -- we need to package and deliver services that people will pay for, and the true worth of these services is defined more by the marketplace than our own perceptions.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007 forums -- blogging observations

The forums at often have useful and pithy posts and threads -- the focus is primarily on the business-to-consumer market but there is some business-to-business information as well, and of course marketing for the construction industry especially in the service and remodelling sectors covers both communities.

This thread covers the topic outlined in the previous post -- blogging for SEO (Search Engine Optimization reasons. It takes some searching to find it, but here is thread-starter Susan Betz's blog for Fences of Distinction. I won't permalink this one yet because I'm not sure if the poster really wants or expects anyone to actually read her blog!

Blogs and search engine rankings

Mary Schanuel, president of Synergy Group in St.Louis and publisher of the blog shared with me in an email this afternoon a significant business advantage of blogging -- improving your search engine ranking.

"Using good keywords in the headlines gives my blog, my website and the companies I write about high online visibility," she wrote. "For example, today I Googled "LEED green design St. Louis" and my blog came up third on the list. Likewise, the client-based Media Center on the Synergy Group web site (which we update with news releases daily) also generates high search engine rankings for our clients. Making frequent posts and changes to a web site is one of the best ways to do that."

She also clarified that she spends a little more time blogging than I reported in my previous entry -- "Actually, I spend about 20 or 30 minutes per post, a couple of times a week (as my husband would attest - "are you blogging again?") she wrote.

And she caught a few of my typos and grammatical errors. I'm fixing these mistakes now -- if you are reading the previous entry for the first time, you would never know there were any errors.

I think the search engine element ranking element should not be underrated. If your blog is genuine, useful and relevant, others will link and refer to it -- and the search alogrithims will recognize your validity as an expert on the topic.

AEC St. Louis -- The model of a great regional blog

Mary Schanuel's is the first truly effective regional construction industry marketing blog in the U.S. or Canada.

That, of course, is a bold statement -- possibly someone has been there before her -- but in the past month of looking for examples, her initiative is so far the only example I've discovered that combines the blogging model with a solid regional marketing focus. Both in content and technically, her blog is well designed and maintained.

She is president of Synergy Group, a marketing communications business with several construction industry clients (see this page on her website for a client list).

"I've received a good reaction from clients," she said in a telephone interview yesterday. "They look at it, and track trends with it -- that was a major goal in bringing together the blog."

She started the blog in October, 2006 and reports that she has received an average of about 30 visitors a day. Most of these are local clients, media people, and other people she knows.

Mary says she spends maybe 20 to 30 minutes a week to prepare and upload blog entries perhaps a couple of times a week, but she spends much more time than that reading and learning about industry trends -- the blog has, she said, encouraged her to read more. Of course, this reading has value for her far beyond the blog as it is highly useful in her communications and public relations business.

"I know there are some reporters that read it, and that has led them to have some interest in stories I've written about that relate to clients -- and so the blog is a nice way to keep reporters in the loop as well." is not full of personal ramblings, "or my personal view on the world" she says, though she acknowledges that readers develop relationships with bloggers and, to attain a level of trust, "I am trying to put more of my personality into it."

"Self selected people are reading it and are very interested in what you have to say," she says. "Clients receive information quickly."

From a marketing perspective, could be emulated in any regional market -- and, to me, is a truly effective resource and prototype for marketing, public relations and communications businesses with a focus on the construction industry in regional markets.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Ejobcost online ads working

Dee Giarratano of called me today. He wants to increase exposure on our network of regional construction related websites to a fixed rather than rotating banner presence, and offered enough money to make his proposal worthwhile. Of course his order is a fraction of what we earn in off-line revenue in our printed publications; assuming his banner runs for a year, it will net less than our new print salesperson sold today for three half page insertions in our Ontario regional publications.

Nevertheless, Dee's order is a significant milestone for both of our businesses. He has seen the high flying -- and sharp crash -- of the era; only to rebound with his new, low-cost model for construction services including online directory listings, help wanted ads, and takeoff and electronic job room services. His prices are far lower than many competing services and he achieves these economies by managing his web business without excessive overhead.

Dee understands the importance of search engine marketing, coupled with localization techniques. His objective is to increase his page ranking within Google's algorithms by playing by the rules -- providing useful content and building high quality and relevant in-bound links (that validate the site's effectiveness).

Sometimes little changes make a lot of difference. If you go to his site, you'll see a scrolling list of links of companies currently using his service. He discovered he could use tracking software to serve regionally relevant companies to people visiting his site -- in other words, when you go there, you will see companies operating in your area. This simple change has increased sales dramatically, because businesses seeing their peers in the listings are more likely to sign up for their own directory listings themselves. (And while our printed directory listing service in Canada is worth every cent of what we charge, we don't price it as low as $25 per year.)

Dee's story hasn't been an easy ride to success. See this article in the Atlanta Construction News files.

The Blog List updated

I've moved to the top right of the page my listing of construction industry blogs. The decision of which blogs to include is subjective, but generally follows the principals outlined in this earlier post. It isn't a huge list. To be included:

  1. It is a genuine blog. “Genuine” may be a very subjective word, but I take it as a personalized form of communication, not an anonymous corporate site set up in blog format, and not of course some auto-generated thing spamming out auto-generated links;
  2. It is maintained with some frequency and reliability;
  3. It has some provision for two-way communication (reader response, comments and the like).
    It should be written by someone within the AEC sector – it can be outwardly directed, of course, to prospective clients. (In fact, from a marketing perspective, it should be reach out!)
  4. It should include content of independent value in its own right -- not just be a marketing or advertising piece.

The list will grow, but so far is impressively short.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A realistic perspective about new media and blogging

This posting at will be way over your head if you have little familiarity with things like the "New Media", Web 2.0, Facebook, or the 'blogosphere'. But it is important for those of us who may be getting wrapped in the hype and exaggeration involved in the new technologies and communications methodologies.

I think the most interesting point of the writer here is that, properly applied, techniques such as blogging and social networking tools are very much the extension of conventional sales relationships; the two-way interaction and communication with a purpose. When we are engaged in a selling/purchasing relationship, done properly, it seems natural and realistic, almost as if we are friends (and we could very well be friends!) Marketing on the Internet now is bridging the gap between one-on-one face-to-face relationships and the 'other' marketing tools and resources such as broadcast and search engine marketing. Thus it is a truly powerful force.

If all of this seems like gobbledygook to you, a simple way of expressing these concepts is that online selling and marketing now isn't much different, when you think about it, from what happens offline. If your clients aren't 'there' yet, feel free to take a break -- if no one is around, you can shout, or whisper, and still no one will hear you. But there can be a time when -- again if it is natural to you and not forced -- you can stake out your position as a leader in the field; and that of course creates long-term competitive advantages for your business.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A simple web presence

I like most of this post from Seth Godin,

His point is that small businesses can set up a very simple yet effective web presence without a lot of sophistication or effort by creating a functional blog, and using it as a basis for their 'website'. Not a bad approach as the blogging technology is really easy to set up and adapt, and service is free or very inexpensive.

I'm not as convinced about the value of his Squidoo lens -- it is his business, of course, and he has a bias there. But the "keep-it-simple" shows another approach to using the bog for marketing within the construction industry, and is worthwhile if you (or someone you know) has limited interest in a full-blown website or Internet technology.

Lawyers' blog

Here is an effective blog from Womble Carlyle Lawyers, showing how a professional practice is making use of the blog to reach/serve the construction industry.

The blog is at


A few years ago, telecom and media businesses went into a frenzy to adapt to 'convergence'. The issue -- the sudden realization that the distinctions between the various media formats; print, broadcast, and electronic, were crumbling under the new rules of the game created by broadband Internet capacity.

The frenzy resulted in transactions that seemed wildly out of whack -- creating apparent conglomerates of unrelated businesses that simply didn't fit together very well.

The pundits in the established businesses who moved their enterprises in the convergence direction were probably right in predicting the huge change about to overtake media practices; they however may have miscalculated at least for now the source and winners of the change. Google -- and to a lesser extent Yahoo/Overture -- shattered the conventional rules with the discovery that value from a media perspective in the Internet age is created through search engines rather than conventional 'content' -- and the content creators changed to include millions of 'ordinary' people suddenly able to gain immediate international access with the help of things like viral email and blogs. The new concept of 'citizen journalism' reshaped the rules of the game. Conventional newspapers, suddenly seeing their advertising and media dominance place in the universe diminishing (especially with the loss of new, younger readers) are now panicking, though it seems that some investors, with deep pockets, think the fear of the conventional newspaper's demise is irrational and are buying up the shares of newspaper companies as they become available.

I'm still learning the new rules. With a cheap camera and the help of youtube, I've even posted my first test video (I am not linking it here because, one it is technically bad, and two it is a test and doesn't have any meaningful content). On the other hand, a guy in San Francisco, Justin Kan, 23, has attached a camera to his head and is running a 24/7 broadcast of his life on -- though the tiny island nation of Tuvalu only earns a pittance for the use of its country domain name. Justin's business has scored something of a hit -- because of the traffic and 'stickiness' of his site with the use of a reader-response chat room, he is attracting sponsors and advertisers to a show that is certainly limited in its technical quality.

In the construction business, as these wider-ranging changes occur, what and where do you need to use this information in your marketing and business operations? Well, 24/7 site webcams in certain circumstances may make sense on your website (and internally, for security and project management purposes).

You should also be aware that the tried and true 'protections' against unethical practices -- things like bid shopping -- are straining under the ability of owners and higher level contractors to manipulate communications with electronic resources, private plans rooms, and reverse auctions.

You may also gain a competitive edge with some limited experimentation in new media/marketing techniques, provided you aren't sidetracked and worry too much about the latest trend. The fact remains that the construction industry is not one that overreacts or changes too fast under the wave of technological input. The old newspaper and the all-important business relations and practices, practices and integrity, are still far more important to you than the latest techniques in Internet broadcast and blogging. Just keep the technological and media changes in mind as you aspire to higher standards and better practices within your own trade.

Friday, April 13, 2007

How important is the construction industry in the Internet world?

How popular are construction-related sites? I ran a little test with, picking two of the major sites, McGraw-Hill's and, a well regarded and important site for business information within the industry. Then I transposed this ranking with that of the Raleigh News-Observer, a solid newspaper serving the North Carolina capital city region, which, with Durham and Chapel Hill is referred as the Research Triangle, representing its high tech and focus. However, while this is an impressive community and a solid newspaper, it is hardly a national level publication.

Who wins for site traffic -- by far, the News-Observer! (Of course if you ranked the construction sites against the Wall Street Journal or, if really wanted to push it to the limit, to Google or MSN, they would drop off visibility completely.) AECdaily ranks far below but none of the sites I've checked capture anywhere near the visibility of that North Carolina newspaper. Of course our own local newspaper in the Research Triangle, Triangle Construction News has a long way to go to catch up to any of these sites!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

(Off topic, a little) . . . A tale of immigration business creativity

In 1987, I watched a strange story on the television news. People were lining up outside U.S. consulates across Canada to learn about the first immigrant visa lottery. The U.S. government had announced it would accept 10,000 "non preference" immigrants -- the catch is your name had to be the first 10,000 drawn at midnight one day at a Washington, D.C. post office. You also needed to be from certain qualified countries, which included most nations in the western world.
"What a strange idea," I thought. Then, as I mused about the situation, I perceived a short-term but intense business opportunity. The rules said you couldn't use a courier or hand-deliver your application to the State Department; you had to mail it to the appropriate post office box. They also said you could mail as many applications as you liked. And, most interestingly, you did not need to sign the application -- you simply needed to provide the basic qualifying information on a sheet of paper.

I decided the best way to 'beat the system' would be to go to the actual post office in Washington and dump piles of mail into the front; staggered over several hours in the day before the official opening. Letters that arrived too early would be discarded; and of course it wouldn't take long to find 10,000 applicants, so you wouldn't want to be late. But we could mail many letters. "Could I provide a service by flying to Washington, and depositing the applications for others at the appropriate post office," I thought.

"Yes," U.S. consular officials confirmed, and so our "Increase your chances dramatically for a U.S. immigrant visa" business opened. We (a former girlfriend and I) placed ads in the personal columns of newspapers across Canada. We sold the service at $40 for three tries, or $100 for 10. At first I wasn't sure; a few calls trickled in; people were skeptical mostly, but one or two purchased the service.

But then newspaper, radio and TV reporters started calling, and the whole thing changed. One enterprising journalist at the Edmonton Journal, skeptical of our concept, called the U.S. embassy himself -- and received official confirmation that our idea was legitimate. Suddenly, in the press (in Edmonton at least) we had the official stamp of approval. The reporter later told us that the newspaper switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree with people wanting our number.

As the day for our Washington trip arrived, our two residential phone lines rang and rang; you could hear the phone crackling. Call after call, order after order, hour after hour. Sleepless, we packed our bags and headed for the airport. U.S. customs cleared us without problems, even when we declared that we had immigrant visa applications for 500 people in our bags.

I had never been to Washington before. My first visit would be very memorable -- shuttling between the hotel and the post office with the applications. It turns out as well we weren't the only people with this idea -- the postal service reported more mail flowed through that post office than any postal station in U.S. history in one day. I returned, exhausted, with a few thousand dollars in my pocket and the exhilarating if fleeting experience of fame and creative achievement.

A few months later, I opened my mail and found a letter from the U.S. Consulate in Montreal. It seems I hadn't made the cut for the first 10,000 visas, but they had opened another 10,000 applications. I received a 'green card'. We truly delivered the service we promised.

Years have passed, and that original immigrant visa has long lapsed. The Free Trade Agreement allows for business transfer visas, the L1A, to facilitate multinational enterprises. With the appropriate paperwork, I can now travel freely for my business in either the U.S. or Canada. Paralegals at Can-Am Immigration help to co-ordinate the renewals for me for a truly reasonable fee.

Since the original visit to Washington, I've been there many times. For about five years, we published Washington Construction News each month -- it now continues on-line at and I anticipate we will resume the printed publication within the next 18 months.

The U.S. visa experience gave me the courage to take the risk to start the publishing business, which I really enjoy, though I admit to longing for the intense high that occurs when hundreds of people all of the sudden decide they really must have, right now, what you are selling.

Then I emerge from the clouds and realize that a much better business is built on a base of fewer, but much larger orders; ones that lead to referrals and repeat business. Fame and mass appeal, no. A truly satisfactory and rewarding business life, yes. And that is where we are now.

Another approach to blogging for construction marketing departments

Mary Beth Perring, a member of the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS), responded on the SMPS listserve in response to my original posting there seeking suggestions for blogs related to AEC marketing, that the blog can in fact be a very useful internal organizational tool. "For example, I recently set up a group blog for the committee members of a large festival to use as a bulletin board and ongoing conversation hub between monthly meetings. Rather than receiving a lot of e-mails, they can just check the blog for updates. Only invitees are able to read, post or comment."

A good idea, indeed, especially for the business development/marketing departments of larger organizations/projects or where participants are spread over a large area.

ENR Blogs

Here are some blog references from Engineering News-Record (McGraw-Hill). Note especially the comment referencing, "hosted by Synergy Group, a marketing communications firm with a special niche in this industry." The St. Louis blog is right on target for the marketing blog concept -- here Synergy has obviously referenced its relevant regional niche. I've posted a link at our (very embryonic) (Thanks to Bob Kruhm for this reference.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Some good ideas from Brian Tracy

I'm on motivational guru Brian Tracy's email newsletter list. Today, his eletter has some incredibly useful pointers on relationship marketing -- absolutely vital in the AEC sector.

Here is part of his newsletter (maybe I'm violating copyright here, but I can't see him objecting!)

Keep Your Customers for Life
The single biggest mistake that causes salespeople to lose customers is taking those customers for granted. This is a form of “customer entropy.” It is when the salesperson relaxes his efforts and begins to ignore the customer. Almost 70 percent of customers who walked away from their existing suppliers later replied that they made the change primarily because of a lack of attention from the company. Once you have invested the time and made the efforts necessary to build a high-quality, trust-based relationship with your customer, you must maintain that relationship for the life of your business. You must never take it for granted.

Action Exercises

First, focus on building a high quality relationship with each customer by treating your customer so well that he comes back, buys again and refers you to his friends. Second, pay attention to your existing customers. Tell them you appreciate them. Look for ways to thank them and encourage them to come back and do business with you again."

You can subscribe to his newsletter by adding your name to this "refer a friend" form.

The Internet -- here, it makes sense to advertise (properly)

It may seem unusual that, while my business earns more than 90 per cent of its revenue from print advertising, I don't rush to recommend it as a new client marketing priority to most construction businesses. Adverting certainly has its place in the marketing spectrum-- for example, in "support ads" for company profiles. Here, you are advertising to maintain and enhance your client relationship (and the client profile has very valid marketing value for their organization as well as yours). If you are well established in the marketplace, as well, an ongoing print campaign within your community area can be a very valid and useful resource to maintain your market position. But, with some very careful exceptions, I'm less confident about the value of conventional print advertising to attract NEW clients. So, when someone calls me and asks to advertise, I always check the reason and, when appropriate (and it is often appropriate!) I encourage them to put their money into trade association memberships, public relations strategies, or -- if they have the understanding and knowledge to do it -- the Internet.

The "understanding and knowledge" qualification is important because someone not at all familiar with the electronic media has a major learning curve, and must be wary of the marketing charlatans and pitfalls out there. If you are reading this blog, you probably however fit into the group where Internet advertising can work and should be part of your marketing plan. The reason -- you can control, manage, measure, quantify, and ensure your advertising is effective and profitable in manners that other media simply cannot compare.

I am aspiring to expert knowledge in this topic; that is why I will be attending the Future of Online Advertising Conference in New York in June. In the meantime, I will share in future blog entries some examples of how online advertising can work for your business or professional practice. Please feel free to share your questions or insights either through the comment function or by email to

Facilities manager blogs to consider

Urlike Ruppelt of Ticular Market Access has sent me references to a couple of facilities management blogs that could meet the criteria for relevance.

These are:

and, in San Francisco, representing the local chapter of the International Facility Management Association, this blog: While the site is local, "you might find an IFMA chapter blog in your area," Urlike writes to me.

I'm not sure yet whether to put the facilities management sector blogs within the core areas of this blog. Undoubtedly, facilities managers requisition and use many construction services both in the design and contracting elements so they may be seen as client-centered resources. If you can get credibility within these communities obviously your marketing will be more effective. In that aspect, then, they are relevant (the challenge is extending this concept -- clearly blogs from ALL client sectors are therefore also relevant!)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Future of Online Advertising

I'll be attending the Future of Online Advertising conference in NYC June 7-8. The program (and speakers) look pretty impressive. The challenge for me will be to adapt the general concepts to the specific needs of the AEC milieu.

AEC Blogs . . . continuing the search

My list of blogs relevant to the AEC (Architecture/Engineering/Construction) sector is growing, but slowly. Here, for now, are the criteria:

  1. It is a genuine blog. “Genuine” may be a very subjective word, but I take it as a personalized form of communication, not an anonymous corporate site set up in blog format, and not of course some auto-generated thing spamming out auto-generated links;
  2. It is maintained with some frequency and reliability – Bernie Siben, for example, does this, if perhaps monthly. My perception is the value of the blog increases with the frequency of updating;
  3. It has some provision for two-way communication (reader response, comments and the like).
  4. It should be written by someone within the AEC sector – it can be outwardly directed, of course, to prospective clients. (In fact, from a marketing perspective, it should be reach out!)
  5. It should include content of independent value in its own right -- not just be a marketing or adveritising piece.

    So, in addition to Bernie's blog (and mine!) here is what we have right now:

Michael Stone's Markup and Profit (geared to smaller contractors, but well written);

A Daily Dose of Architecture , a New York-based architectural blog, and one more addition:

IMAGINiT (Rand) Architectural Solutions Blog

I'm rather surprised after two weeks of keeping my eyes open for other relevant blogs that I'm not finding more. (Of course bloggers like Bernie Siben and myself have our own 'favorites' list -- but these include many that tap into general or other issues that are outside the scope of this list; a general marketing blog, for example, is useful for anyone in the business of marketing, but it cannot be said to be an AEC-focused thing.) Thanks also to Ulrike Ruppelt at Ticular Market Access, who searched for blogs of possible relevance for this project.

The list will grow, I'm sure -- but right now this is what we have.

(If you know of other relevant blogs, please email or file a comment!)

Monday, April 09, 2007

Lead Generation -- Dos and Don'ts

This posting from makes some good points, but I think misses the essential one. It recommends lead generation from your website and direct mail, suggests trade shows and print advertising can be effective, and says don't bother with television or rented email lists.

Fair enough. But these marketing gurus fail to recognize the best source of leads for business are your existing and previous clients. Referrals and repeat business are, indeed, the name of the game, especially in the construction sector. I would go out on a limb and suggest that you spend 80 per cent of your marketing budget on this stuff -- and that means your marketing budget doesn't need to be too large. (It could include trade association membership where you can attend meetings with your clients, tickets to sporting events, support ads for your clients' features in trade publications -- yes that is what we sell -- or simply thank you calls, or even simpler, returning client calls promptly and courteously.)

But the best existing client marketing is the most subtle and challenging -- it is that chemistry that builds a relationship; a sense of community and common values between you and your clients. Then you won't need to worry about how fancy your website is to attract new leads.

One time customers, nah

If you are going to succeed in the construction business or its related professions you know that you cannot treat your clients as disposable property. First, it is unlikely your relationship -- even on the smallest job -- will be so brief that you can just collect your money and run. Second, references and referrals are vital for ongoing success in this business. You are doomed if you leave clients dissatisfied.

On the other end of the business spectrum (and thus representing examples to learn from, if only what not to do) are tourist traps that survive based on the constant flow of new 'suckers' who will never return -- and who can be induced by short-term marketing ploys. Another variation of one-time client abuse is the florist's wire service -- you know, the deal where you order flowers in one city, and they are delivered by an unknown-to-you florist in another place.

The florist at the receiving end, of course, doesn't have a client relationship with you and has the money in hand -- so can be tempted to ship out flowers that are near the end of their life cycle. Presumably, without any identifying information to avoid complaints. See Seth Godin's blog on this topic:

I responded to Seth with my own experience, as a teenager in my father's drugstore. Here are my notes:

Seth, your observations about the flowers delivered without contact information raises intriguing issues about “distant from client” marketing – namely, things like the inter-florist wire services (I’m not naming any business/organization here).

The florist getting the order on the wire service has no contact or association with the person who made the actual order, and presumably (since the relationship is out of town and one-time-only) will never have a further relationship. So what happens … those flowers, the ones that are virtually rotted, that would go to waste … they get sent to your home. (And clearly the florist has no interest in hearing from you

Of course this is badly short-sighted thinking. The local florist completing the delivery has the opportunity to show its quality, value, and service – and could, if it wished, knew you would be a good client for something more. But the florist is probably thinking “nah, that person receiving the flowers is never going to be my customer, and I have the money, so lets make some money on flowers we would otherwise throw away.”

Have I ever been tempted in business to give less than perfect service to a customer I don’t ever expect to see again? Yes, I admit it. And one telling story from my late childhood explains why. It was Christmas Day. My father had one of the few drugstores open in the city. A car screeches to the front of the store, and someone gets out, panting. He walks over to the cosmetics counter. “Give me something,
anything,” he says, and points wildly in the direction. I grabbed the most musty, dirty, stale stock, wiped it as best I could, took the old price tag off, wrapped it up, and sent him on his way.

Of course the person who bought this gift would never come back to the store, and the person who received it would not associate it with the source, so dead stock became 100 per cent profit for the business. The action is rational, in a way.

Ultimately, this is a crappy way to do business, much in line with tourist traps, and other gunk where one-time customers are reeled in only to be disposed of in a disappointing experience. The problem with the wire service, however, is that there is a real cost to all participating members and it is long term. I’m VERY wary now of using any wire service to send flowers because of the lack of control over the end result. My solution: check references and call a florist in the community
directly. They’re happy for the business, and of course the fact they don’t need to pay the wire service commissions.

As for my own business, this link explains how we do things now.

Seth's gracious response my email is off the record. Yes, in our business -- unlike yours probably -- we still have clients who might be one-time customers, obtained through relationships with third party organizations -- so the temptation could be to treat them brusquely and with limited courtesy.

We now treat all our clients with respect. The reward: Today, our North Carolina publisher Bob Kruhm reported a customer who originally placed a one-time support ad (and whom we thanked at the time) has arranged for a full-scale feature and has committed to advertising, as well.

My advice: Look at the tourist trap ripoffs, or the abusive one-time client deals, and recognize that you must behave absolutely the opposite if you hope to succeed in this business.

Selling to the government (part 1 of many..., over time)

If you have any experience in the business, you'll know that bidding on government jobs is far more than completing some forms, and hitting 'send' on your computer. First, you have to know what forms you must complete -- even obscure slip-ups can cost you the opportunity. Then you must face the reality that decisions in the public sector are made for subjective reasons, often, and personal relationships with existing vendors count for much -- if not in some cases, all -- of the decision-making scheme. The very things intended to ensure fairness, openness and transparency are used to stack the deck in favour of favored or 'wired' organizations.

Naive writers often take the easy road and write about the standard rules. They'll cite material from documents like this that purports to tell readers "How to start a construction business in Ontario" (Canada).

In truth, selling to the government is like the headline of this article. It isn't a simple, nor is it a rapid, process, at least until you know which strings to pull (and which elements to avoid). If, for example, you are an experienced estimator who has worked in the government milieu for years and want to start out --or you are in a remote place and there are few competitors around you -- of course things may be easier. Otherwise, over the next few months, in entries that will not follow a neat sequential order (though you had better follow the right 'sequence' in preparing your proposals to government), I'll share with you some insights into what works, and what doesn't, most of the time. It will be a challenging story.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

How do you find great salespeople?

The "Top 10 Great Salesperson Traits” is cool and realistic. I like the simple one to start: "Hire people who can sell stuff". So is Number 2: "Hire someone who will jump right in?" The original writer is Sandy Hamilton, and his blog is I found this at a site called SalesforceXP.

Construction Business Management --Nick Ganaway's book sent me one of its regular updates of books of relevance -- and included reference to Nick Ganaway's book on construction business management. New Internet tools (with the help of Google) allow us to sample some of the book's chapters online. Of course, I am interested in the chapter on sales and marketing, and that takes us here. (It is a truly long link -- if I post it directly it blows the blog's layout.).

Would I buy the book based on what I see here? Probably. You will see some basic common sense in the marketing advice section -- I especially like his simple guidelines for site signage -- though the chapters I previewed are written at a fairly elementary level for anyone who is a marketing specialist.

On another matter, I had my first email exchange with Seth Godin. He makes it clear (probably a template) that his response is off the record -- even for blogs! Fair enough. Why communicate with Seth? At one point, sometime or another, he might mention something on this blog on his blog -- and boom! -- there goes the traffic numbers.

I certainly welcome your email or comment if there are any construction marketing or general advice books for contractors you think are really good. You can email or use the comment function (anonymous comments are okay; though they are moderated to prevent spam attacks.)

New home sales resources

If you are a builder (or sales rep) for new homes, this blog from Myers Barnes has useful information. I've already reported on Nicki Joy's presentation to the Ottawa-Carleton Home Builders Association.

Builder Online lists a serious number of links under "New Home Sales Training". I obviously haven't checked all of these resources out (yet).

Clearly there are distinctions between the residential and commericial markets; and the training in these programs focuses on business-to-consumer marketing. Business to Business selling requires many of the same skills, but works in a different mind space.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

What's popular?

One thing I enjoy since setting our bi-weekly newsletter with Constant Contact (you can sign up by clicking your email address in the box at the top of this blog) is the ability to measure statistics and see what the newsletter readers enjoy reading the most.

Of course, much of the newsletter's content originates with this blog, and it is unfair to engage in circular reasoning and quote from the newsletter from stuff quoted in the blog, but two articles from the newsletter and not published here previously stand out.

First, is my note on our system for hiring salespeople. It addresses a problem that challenges many employers. The solution outlined originally in an email sent to one of our clients probably won't apply 100 per cent to your business, but you will still find some useful ideas here.

Second, is entrepreneur Norm Brodsky's classic article in Inc. Magazine where he argues that employers should pay their sales representatives a salary and forgo commission compensation models. His point of view is provocative and I can assure you that the debate on this issue will not go away.