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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Road signs?

Blogger Craig Rentmeester likes the way Ames Construction of Burnsville, MN handles its road signs. They have a pretty effective website as well.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Crisis resolved (and the virtues of back-up)
Our first day of vacation almost turned into a business crisis. We had planned our route to Israel with an overnight in Boston before transiting on Alitalia to Milan and Tel Aviv. Before leaving, I had set out the editorial content and advertising feature files, zipped them, and sent them to our production co-ordinator. But he hadn't looked at these files because of the surge in last-minute ads which kept him busy through the weekend.
Tonight, I was just about to turn off the computer (after spending a couple of hours resolving how to download our trip pictures), when he told me he was missing some files and stories. As it turned out, he was missing MOST of the critical content for our July issues. And, foolishly, I had failed to back up the files on my laptop.
Fortunately, I also have some human back-up, a good friend with a key to our house and its security password. I didn't expect to need his services; but tonight he came to the rescue, heading to my home office and retrieving the files. Phew. If this problem had been discovered 24 hours later we would have had major delays in our publications; if he wasn't there, we would have probably 'lost' the papers for a month!
Backup, backup, backup. I cannot express the importance of this too highly. If you don't have an organized backup system for your business -- both technical and human -- beware; you could be caught in an unresolvable crisis.
We got through this one okay. But it could have turned out very different, indeed.
P.S. Now that the comparatively minor camera problem is resolved, watch for images on; again I will use this blog only for stories and observations of business interest, so entries will be limited for the next month.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Vacation break
Our bags are mostly packed, and I am finishing up the last bit of work, before our family sets off for a month-long visit to Israel.
With the travel schedule, this blog will be less-than-active. I will keep in touch with the business and home through the cellphone and hopefully the Internet, but I will only blog here in the next few weeks if I come across a specific issue or insight of relevance.
I have started a travel blog at to report on our family's journey.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The end of the (conventional) Yellow Pages

For most business-to-business and full-service residential contractors, Yellow Pages have always been a dubious investment. Besides the cost, you don't really get the clients you wish -- you find price-shopping bargain hunters, inviting many proposals; often when they really know in their heart (from previous relationships or referrals) who they want to use.

But in some businesses, the Yellow Pages have been vital and essential -- especially in emergency situations -- plumbers, roofers and other infrequently used but urgently required trades have found the listings to be central to their marketing process.

You'll notice that I am using the past tense here, because the Internet is rapidly eroding these traditional advertising models and, even where directory-type advertising remains valid, soon you won't have to deal with the biggest weakness of the conventional printed Yellow Page advertisement.

It is this -- you are stuck with a sometimes huge monthly bill, regardless of results, for a fixed format ad that you can't change or modify during the directory cycle, no matter what.

This is okay, I suppose, if the ad is working for you, but wouldn't it be much better to be able to control the volume of response and pay only for leads -- or even better -- actions that result in profitable business.

Online search engine advertising is powerful and effective for these reasons. Post the ad in the appropriate keywords, and pay only when advertisers click on your message. Great. Google will soon offer some advertisers another option -- pay for your ad only when they buy! But this will likely be available for items you can order and pay for online, and I don't think most plumbers or roofers will ever work this way.

As well, while the online model is effective and the search engines are improving localization, it is still relatively hard to fine-tune your geographic interests so that you only attract interest and response within your local service area on the Internet, especially if that area is quite small.

However, the final nail in the coffin for traditional Yellow Pages advertising may soon be on its way. New services allow publishers to offer a 'pay per call' service where advertisers only pay for their printed directory listings if customers actually call the special number (which ultimately rings through to your regular business line) when they see a directory ad relevant to them.

In other words, this model is like the 'pay per click' on the Internet, but here callers use the phone, just like the Yellow Pages.

Wow. No more wasted print advertising, and you have immediate traceability and accountability. And while I wouldn't recommend you turn the line off, if you get too busy I suppose you could disconnect without too much trouble.

While this service is new and is only experimentally available in some areas, I would really reconsider your Yellow Pages costs. One idea: Take 1/3 or even 1/2 of your Yellow Pages advertising budget, and allocate that money to the Internet with a high quality website, and good keyword search term selection. I think you will be impressed with the results.

Trade show creativity

Marketing guru Seth Godin outlines a creative use of T-shirts to create trade show buzz in his blog. See here:

This is a interesting idea you may be able to adapt for your own trade show marketing. I'll think about applying a variation at our next show.

I am reading consultant Michael Stone's new book, geared primarily for the residential contractor. It certainly is one of the most thorough books I've seen and will provide some worthwhile guidance for the renovation contractor, small company selling siding, and smaller new home builder.

I'm not so sure how scalable the bulk of his ideas are to the ICI market, or, for that matter, to the point where you are ready to move from a "do it yourself" business model to one where you hire third-party salespeople; and ultimately a sales manager. The reason: Stone advocates 100 per cent commission sales and, after some years of experience with this, my perspective on the commission vs salary approach have changed.

Beneath the material is a tone (though he denies it) of the old high pressure style of pushing people for decisions. Of course Stone is right about ethics -- it is always wise to get it right with the client before starting the job -- and he is especially correct in insisting that you know your numbers, and ensure you are making a proper 'markup' and return on your work. Finally, you will find his closing ratios/lead tracking guidelines useful, especially if you are trying to see how well you are doing.

But I wouldn't follow his model on recruiting, hiring and compensating salespeople, with a paradoxical twist -- the quality of salespeople we should aim to high should be just as good as he advocates.

I've detailed earlier my system for finding sales reps. It works in Canada but may not apply so well in the U.S. We start off with a decent but not overwhelming salary offer, and then screen heavily using a systematized process minimizing the need for direct contact with bozos or people 'just looking for a job." At the very end of the process, after using third-party sales aptitude/orientation tests and a phone interview, we give our new sales representatives between a day and a week's paid work to see how they do in real life. They need to pass all the tests -- and a reference check -- before we hire them.

While sales are on a salary base, we pay commissions if they go beyond their salary; and the representatives know that consistently falling below their 'salary' is not a good thing. (I am learning a sustainable employee review/evaluation system and will introduce this once I've proven it in practice.)

Finally, since Stone is writing a sales book, he focuses on the sales process with lesser emphasis on the main issue -- developing and maintaining current client relationships. This of course, in my opinion is where most future sales originate, and should be the centrepiece of your selling and marketing strategy.

Would I buy Stone's book? Absolutely, certainly, if are a residential contractor with sales to the general public; we might not agree on everything, but you'll still find many useful ideas in its pages.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Vision and Uniqueness

Today, I visited Toronto to interview people at two very different companies, who will be profiled in the next issue of Ontario Construction Report.
Because these interviews were conducted as advertising features -- in which the profiled business an review and approve the interview contents before publication -- I am bound not to report on the interviews, even positively, until I have their permission.
But I can address something important; the fact that both of the businesses I interviewed have successfully developed unique niches, and connected the dots in surprisingly creative ways.
One is a developer -- but its source of funds are largely pension funds of unionized businesses. So it conducts its affairs with an exceptional degree of respect for workers, 'ordinary people' and the labour movement. Yet don't think these guys are push-overs. They still require their projects to meet the highest competitive standards and they must ultimately operate within the open, free market for products, services, and clients.
I walked a few blocks to an entirely different business -- an architect that combines two very distinctive, but unrelated specialties. The result is an intriguingly eclectic international practice -- one that competes on the highest levels, and in fact sets the standards for its industry segment.
Both of these businesses, of course, practice the 'standards' of business discipline -- they get the basics right (something I failed to appreciate as we expanded carelessly a few years ago). But they combine the normal processes with the exceptional creativity of building their businesses within well defined niches, creatively diversified, but always within their core values.
Once I have their permission, I'll disclose more. Of course the stories I was writing are part of our own niche, which allows us to be truly viable as print publishers in the Internet era.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Craigs list?

This is a really interesting post from Brian of Singer Construction in Orange County, CA on the forum.

Tricks for Craigs list.
Craigslist is great, but of course, like anything else it takes practice. When I place an ad, the phone starts ringing usually within 30 minutes. I get so many phone calls I have to eventually stop answering the phone.(FYI, I'm advertising for handyman services in the So Cal area.) 1) The #1 trick to using Craigs list is writing a GREAT ad. The search feature on craigs list works just like google. You need to have lots of relevant keywords in your ad. Example, if you are a Roofing Contractor, include in your ad, roofing contractor, roofer, roof, shingles, tile roofs, etc. and anything else relevant to what you are selling. A person looking for a roofer, might search for "Spanish tile".Also, take the time to write a really good compelling ad. Just because it's free, doesn't mean you shouldn't devote some time to it. Before placing an ad, sit down and write 1 or 2 paragraphs about your company and what you are selling. If you browse through the ads that are similar to yours, you will get a really good idea of who is serious about it and who the flakes are. The flakes usually have 1 or 2 sentences and a phone number. For example, here is an ad I looked up under "roofing" :ROOF REPAIRS. 23 YEARS EXP IN THE ROOFING TRADE. I WILL FIX THOSE PROBLEMS. CALL DAN 714 XXX-XXXXWould you call this guy? He obviously doesn't care enough to sit down and write a decent ad for his company, so why should I call him? Take the time to write a decent ad, and don't write IN ALL CAPS.Also, a well written ad with links to your web site and relevant keywords will help Google find your web site. Even with no calls, that benefit makes it worth your time.2) Next, write a really good Title. Something like this, !! ROOFER - best in the business - Licensed Roofing Contractor !!This step will take some practice. Try a new title each week until you find the right one.3) I never include my email address. I always keep it anonymous so I can still receive emails from customers, but they can not see my email. It will help minimize spam. Also, I always include my phone number. I'd rather have people call me. People that take the time to call are generally more serious. If someone does email me and asks for a price, I will email them back and ask for there phone number, or I will reply with general info and my phone number and ask them to call me. I rarely quote a price via email, unless Im certain I DON'T want the job.4) Scams... it's usually pretty easy to sniff out a scam on the internet. Unless someone is willing to go about the traditional means of conducting business... it's probably a scam. a) Never accept Western Union, b) Never respond to an "Urgent" message, unless it is one where you physically show up to the job site. c) Never give out personal information, d) Most scammers operate outside of the country. Ignore them. Just use some common sense.Lumpy is exactly right... I have been contacted twice by someone in the UK saying they were "so excited about my product. send me the price and my info and they would send a check right away..." It sounded so fishy and an obvious scam.. I just ignored it.5) Set up a website with photos of your work, or better yet, set up a company website and include a link to it. Potential customers like to look at pictures of your past work. Plus, clicking onto your web site gets them off of craigslist. It will deter them from looking at competitors and once they are on your website, its a second chance to sell them on your service. You can also place your logo and pictures in your ad if you know how to do that. It's just like linking to photos here on Contractors Talk.6) Finally and most importantly, PRACTICE. If you don't get calls from your first ad, don't keep posting that same ad. Write a new one or try a different Title. I wrote 3 different ads before I found the one that made the phone ring. Also, don't post a new ad everyday. It's annoying and clogs up the system. I hate seeing 8 different ads for the same guy. Customers aren't going to call just because you have lots of ads. Post a new add every 3 - 4 days. Ads will stay online for 45 days and as long as you have a really good ad, with well written content and links to some nice pictures, people will still call even if your ad is 2 weeks old. One time I stopped placing ads because I just couldn't handle the volume of calls. I was still getting calls a month later, so I know craigs list works. It may be different for different parts of the country.I hope all this info helps.Good Luck.Brian

Finding what you are seeking, the round-about way
Today, in a search for graphics for my intended blog -- an outline of how a salesperson is getting it right with me -- I discovered BNet Insight -- Sales Machine. This blog is going on my personal hyperlink list; I won't permalink it yet because it is not specifically relevant to construction marketing -- but you may find useful gems in the pages here.

I had actually been looking for a graphic relating to the sales qualification cycle. Surely, if you have any experience with sales, you know the concept of A, B and C prospects. A prospects are supposedly ready to buy now -- they, the trainers say, should get top priority. B prospects are, well, good 'maybe' candidates. C prospects are, if you believe the training stuff, a waste of time. You might like them personally, but they lack the funds, the resources, or the relevance to what you are selling.

So, I expressed a rather blunt and straightforward observation to someone who approached me at the Future of Online Advertising Conference in New York last week. "I know what you are offering, and it sounds like a good idea for many publishers, but you should consider me a "C" prospect," I told the representative, who wanted me to see if I could use his company's "Pay Per Call" technology to provide a new service to our print advertisers.

(In this model, the service provider provides a set of individual phone numbers -- advertisers, seeing the ad, don't call the client directly -- they call the special number on the ad. Both the publisher and advertiser can track results real-time, and the publisher can set up a 'pay per call' system, much like the Internet's 'Pay per click' model.)

I told the representative that I am aware of the company's system, and how our local daily newspaper publisher is testing it out on a new product. Then I said "I really don't think this will work for us, both because of our low budgets, and the way we sell our advertising."

Fair enough, I gave the guy the courteous brush off.

He didn't give up, though, following up a week after the conference, again inviting a conversation, by email.

I told him, "no" again, elaborating in greater detail in an email our sales model and why his product simply wouldn't work for me -- noting in my email that I had checked the company's website, and since there are no prices displayed for his company's service, and much sales energy is being expended, it is probably too expensive for me anyways. I emphasised in my email that phoning me would be very rude and would kill the deal.

So the rep pursued things again, providing a little more information, and inviting another response. I elaborated my perspectives (he got lots of information this way).

Finally, the sales rep did something creative -- he told me his prices, bottom line, including the possibility of special deals; with actual numbers (especially in terms of set up costs) which were far lower than I had thought.

I responded straightforwardly, "You have turned a C prospect into a B prospect".

Will we buy the service, yet? That is still very much an open question. The resource this company offers represents a different sales/pricing model, and I am still having trouble grasping how we can use it in any practical way in our current business. One potential application where the proposed system might work represents an entirely new market segment for us -- it could be lucrative, and is logically vertically aligned with our current markets -- but on the other hand it is way out of our current frame of reference and expertise. I straightforwardly by email told the representative the possible application, but said it would have to wait -- I am going on vacation, after all, and (more importantly) if we are to consider an idea fundamentally shifting our market priorities, where does it fit into are disciplined business planning process?

Nevertheless, I admire the sales rep's tenacity. He saw more in our potential as a client that I did -- and he recognized that he needed to 'break his rules' and provide much more information than he would normally provide, in an early stage, in email communications, than a sales representative would conventionally offer a prospective client.

I also handled things correctly. I straightforwardly described our interests, explained my very real knowledge of the selling company's offer (indicating that I have generally good insights into my own industry's trends), and didn't waste the sales rep's time.

Maybe we should all try to understand and learn these practices, both as sellers and prospective purchasers.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Workload 101 (before vacation)

This time next week, I'll be on a plane with Vivian and Eric to Israel, via Milan, Italy. We decided to take this 3 1/2 week vacation back in December, just as the business reached the 'inflection point' described in the earliest blog entries.

Leaving a business for a vacation -- especially a business that is in the early stages of rebuilding -- is not quite the same as leaving a job. But I'm confident everything will go well. Our small team of employees and contractors has a good grasp of their responsibilities and I expect the values and culture of this business -- respect for individuals, family, and teamwork -- will prevail when I am a few thousand miles away.

Operationally, the biggest challenge is I haven't hired a full-time editor yet. This means I must write a pile of stuff, right up to the day I leave, and then rely on a competent local freelancer (with help from the rest of the staff) to co-ordinate the final copy editing and review for this issue; and to take charge to ensure that the content is mostly ready for the next issue (I'll return just before the production deadline for the August issues.)

Interestingly, I am far less anxious leaving for the Mideast this year than I was staying at a cottage just an hours' drive from the office last summer. Then, even with a staff editor, the business truly was in a distress state -- there were tensions, hostility, lack of trust, discordance, and all-around anxiety throughout the organization. I couldn't leave my desk for a day, I thought, without dire consequences. (These glum assessments proved right, at least partially -- as the crisis reached its peak, we ultimately needed to lose virtually all of our employees to hit 'bottom' and begin rebuilding.)

While I'm away, of course, I won't be totally out of touch. Israel has a well-developed and inexpensive cellular network. In fact, I ordered two phones (one for me and the other for Vivian) online -- they were delivered Expresspost by the company's agent in suburban Toronto. When we arrive in Israel, we plug them in and when we start using them, pay $1.00 a day per phone plus quite low per-minute rates. With a $10.00 adaptor plug, I'll be able to use my laptop -- however, I will need to research wireless services and set up communications when I am there.

As for this blog, I'll take a vacation -- I've registered another blog, which, I expect, will report every day (or at least every day I can find an Internet connection) on my discoveries during this long vacation. I've posted a couple of entries there already.

This week, as we prepare to leave, my blogging may be lighter than usual, as well. I've got to compress a couple of weeks' writing into one week; and of course, in addition to my personal travel planning, must make the arrangements for staff to work effectively in my absence.

But it is fun, and satisfying, to be able to take some time off,, and it is refreshing and exciting to look towards the future.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The blog search continues
Following the previous post, I decided to start a thread at to see if anyone else there has started a blog for construction marketing. "Ed the Roofer" is the first to report back.
Compared to other sectors, notably in public relations, communications, general marketing, and high tech industries, blogging has been slow to catch on for the construction industry and allied professions.
After about a half-year of posting (often two or three times a day), I haven't seen much tangible direct business from this blog. But I see encouraging trends, both in the overall readership and the number of repeat visitors (these are easily tracked through Google analytics.) I'm confident by this time next year this blog will be the leading repository and portal for construction marketing information and resources on the Web.

The Art of Publicity

This forum posting on press releases (originally started some months ago but refreshed recently) shows the diversity of perspectives and approaches to media publicity -- and the great untapped opportunities here for general and subcontractors, and suppliers.
I especially appreciated the posting on page 2 which showed that selectively placed publicity in smaller media -- sometimes where the advertising and editorial 'boundaries' are not strictly observed -- can prove to be profitable; leading the contractor, in this case, to think of starting his own informative publication -- and selling some advertising to non-competing businesses.

The basis of our business, in fact, are advertising features; stories written about businesses and projects, and generally supported by their advertisers. Of course, we publish independent editorial content and announcements (especially community service publicity) without any advertising requirements.

But I am always concerned about delivering value to our advertisers -- the companies that place support advertisements in their clients' features. Sometimes the best approach is to write a similar feature about the advertising company in a future issue; but often this approach is not the best, so we need to figure out other alternatives. I'm a firm believer in providing real value for our clients -- $265, $485 or more for a single ad is plenty of money, so part of the service is frank and customized consultation on the best methods of achieving objectives -- and often publicity in other media is the way to go.

Press releases, blogs, online newsletters, and the like all can work really well, often in conjunction with each other. The trouble is, what works once might not work the second time; despite some basic principals, there are issues of reliability and predictability here. Nevertheless, if you have a choice of spending $50,000 on advertising or $50,000 on editorial/publicity services, go for the latter. You'll get far more results for your investment.

If you would like a copy of my Art of Publicity report, email

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Glass House (in Denver)

This is a classic case study of how to successfully and effectively market a residential condominium project using email, controlled scarcity, and effective 'soft sell' interpersonal relations.

Number one on MSN

In the world of "search engine optimization" we've achieved number one placement on the MSN (Microsoft) Search Engine, Type in the words "Construction Marketing" even without the quotes, and the Construction Marketing Ideas blog appears first.

Our ranking is not so high on Google -- you can get to the blog through first page listings of some of my articles and newspaper websites.

While MSN is the third ranking search engine, it still is a significant driver of website traffic.

Why is the search engine ranking so important? An increasing percentage of web users define their inquiries from the search engines. If you can achieve top placement for your business under categories relevant to your company, you'll see a noticeable increase in inquiries and interest.

There are tools, techniques, methodologies and strategies to achieve higher search engine ranking, and specialist businesses provide guidance and support in this area. However, underlying the strategies is a basic principal that your website needs to be relevant, useful, and interesting. If it is, you can enhance your position with the search engines.

How do you find connections and contacts to achieve these standards? I'm not qualified yet to give you clear answers -- because I have just concluded (through reference through our general business consultants) the selection process for a web design/strategy consultant. However, I expect that in the next few months I'll have more practical tips and suggestions in this area.

In the meantime, even though this blog is not intentionally designed to lead in the search process, we are getting there -- and have achieved that number one spot, at least on one major search engine.

Integrity and Community

After a while, I think business people can sense quite clearly who is good, and who is not. This instinctive capacity -- probably hardened with some real life pain -- is absolutely essential, for the business world has more than its share of scammers and con artists. Smart criminals know the right way to rob a bank is not with a gun, but with accounting tricks and creative contract language, after all.

I'd like to offer this 'smell test' for integrity problems. If you run up against these warning signs, all might still be okay, but I'd sure do a double check before rushing into anything substantial

  1. You sense something overpowering, fearful, about your potential business counterpart -- you either read through body language or words that this individual has good lawyers at hand and will sue, without hesitation, if things aren't right (from the other person's perspective.)
  2. Your counterpart is too smooth, too poised, too 'perfect'

  3. Your counterpart is enjoying unusual levels of success; has lots of material things, a big new house; seems so comfortable, so quickly, he or she is right out of a 'get rich quick' story (of course the sudden wealth may be honestly acquired; you'll know there are exceptions to every rule.)

  4. You can't quite fathom how your colleague has achieved success; the business model is complicated, confusing, or layered within odd structures or language.

  5. You just sense, in your first-impression gut feeling, that something isn't right. Your sixth sense, intuition, or instinct is telling you something is wrong.

If you haven't been burned yet by a business con artist, you are either very new, naive, or lucky. In fact, it is likely you will be burned more than once in your business career (hopefully through cons who are good enough to send out different signals so you honestly couldn't learn from your mistakes). You are obviously most likely to be vulnerable when you are desperate, grasping straws, and hoping for a lifeline.

Cons, by the way, are not the only reason for failure and business problems. Certainly my most recent challenges (now resolving well) have been entirely my responsibility.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Pricing theory

Today, I had a fascinating conversation with a successful renovator. His company has won several awards for top quality work, and he leads the renovation committee of the local home builders association. He also observed that his business works on high-end jobs, and he has a solid network of trade suppliers who can meet the most demanding standards. Yet he has a problem -- he can't grow his business to the market's demand (he says he must turn away, refer, or defer work) because he can't find enough skilled people to help him do the work.

I looked him in the eye and said: "You should raise your prices."

He hemmed and hawed, said that wouldn't work, that clients in the market would not accept higher prices . . . and then described how some competing contractors charge the same prices as he does, for shoddy work. I looked him in the eyes, and repeated, "You should raise your prices."

I wish I could solve every business problem so quickly and easily, but sometimes things are obvious. "The best in any business or field of endeavour can charge more for their specialized skills," I said. "In your business, you have a choice. You can systematize your operations, find labour saving approaches, use mass production techniques, and then produce good quality work, at volume, at 'regular' prices and make a profit. But you are not in that market. You are doing quality work, customized, for the very best houses in the city. Do you not think that these clients should pay more for the reliability and assurance that the work will be done to their standards."

I can be like a broken record when I see something obvious. Fortunately, I saw the renovator again a few hours later at a social function, and, with his wife present, had the opportunity to repeat myself, yet again. He said he got the message.

Now, I would agree that if you are just starting out, or don't have a well-established local reputation for quality, you might not want to raise your prices, just yet. But ironically, even without producing top quality work, you can receive higher prices for the same task -- through effective marketing. By knowing your clients, and adapting your products and services for your 'best' potential customers, you can design your business around the market's requirements and (because the market will have confidence in you) earn more for the same actual work.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The balancing act

Yesterday, driving to work, and listening to a CD I purchased from another marketing guru (who said he got his ideas from elsewhere, but didn't identify their source, so I'm not going to identify the guru here), I heard an interesting idea that our own business uses effectively. Yet, as I listened to it, I also appreciated the paradox -- the contractor who uses this business model will likely be so busy he won't use it very often because it is TOO effective.

In the example, the anonymous plumbing contractor does a great job in solving an immediate and urgent crisis for a respected public speaker -- saving the client acute embarrassment. After completing the project, the plumber visits the client and asks if he wouldn't mind helping spread the word about the plumber's good work. The enthusiastic client responds "sure".

The plumber then invites the speaker to provide a list of the people he knows in the community, and a copy of a letter explaining the client's great experience with the plumber. The plumber asks the speaker for permission to send this letter -- under the speakers' own signature -- to the contact list provided by the speaker. ("We'll do all the work, in preparing the letters, stuffing and folding the envelopes," the plumber says).

And so the plumber sends out the letters as the first part of a direct marketing campaign -- a campaign with real clout because of the endorsement from the speaker/community leader.

I'm quite confident that a campaign like this would work very well. But you won't see it happen often in practice. The reason is apparent to most of us -- most great plumbers are busy enough as it is and the response they would generate from this kind of marketing would overwhelm their resources and service capacities. In some cases marketing can be too effective -- In this case, you would need a team of journeymen plumbers trained and ready to work to your high standards, and some care in planning how to handle the response from a strong endorsement.

Nevertheless, if you are in any contracting or professional service business, please consider the power and effectiveness of the satisfied client endorsement letter. And note its potential applications for virtually any construction business and the allied professions.

For example, if you are a consulting engineer with expertise in hospital work, if you have a letter from a really satisfied hospital client, who belongs to a trade association and is respected by other clients within that association (say your client is the president of the association!), and if you could get a direct letter of reference/referral and target it to association members in communities where your practice has offices or could serve effectively), I think you can see how this kind of letter would accelerate interest and build powerful referral business for you. And if you are a general contractor, imagine the clout of the organized referral letter distributed to your satisfied client's contacts within your regional business community.

Just remember, do this right, and you won't need to market very often. And note this stuff only works if you do your job really well -- always, I emphasize, the most important cornerstone for successful marketing.

BTW, I'll be happy to send you a sample copy of a referral endorsement letter we use in our own business. Just email me at

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The 'Go-No Go' Choice

Bernie Siben has told readers of the SMPS Listserve that he will be increasing the frequency of his updates. Today, he posted a useful note on the importance of screening and qualifying projects before rushing to prepare quotations and proposals. Just because you receive an RFP doesn't mean you should do it. "No" often indeed is the right answer.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Overcoming the 'silent treatment'
This thread on the networking site provides a truly revealing collection of answers to the problem most business-to-business sales representatives encounter virtually every day in their work: They call, have a conversation, seem to receive some interest, then . . . silence.
Unreturned phone calls and emails leave the salesperson in a quandary: Is the prospective client avoiding us because they don't want to buy, because they simply are very busy, or because they are afraid to say 'no'? Most sales reps would rather have a clear cut 'no' than being left up in the air -- but of course that is not the way most businesses -- or people -- work in real life.
I'd like to say I am good at returning calls; but often things get crazy, and if I can sense at first glance that the caller won't be able to provide anything of value to me, I leave the message unreturned. This is not entirely out of disrespect. Occasionally, as one poster noted, the reason for not calling back is that I am genuinely working on a decision -- as an example, a non profit group wanted some publicity requiring me to attend an evening meeting; I needed to clear this with my wife before responding; and that took an extra day. Usually (though not always) a second call or email with a clear request for a response will result in an answer -- and almost always, it will be 'no'.
The issue is always more complex and challenging when you really believe you have a product or service of genuine value to the prospective client, if only he/she would listen, meet, or see you. Here, persistence is often justified -- as long as you handle it with tact, good humor, and respect. Finally, sometimes it is helpful to let things rest for a while and then return when you have something new to offer. I like non-intrusive methodologies such as electronic newsletters, personal notes, and the like.

Building My Green Construction Company #19

Here is Paul Hering's latest video. High tech or high production values, not. But nevertheless, he has achieved an intriguing early-state use of video for construction marketing in the new era. (I wonder, however, if he cleared copyright for using the music in this video!)

I emailed him to learn what camera/technology he is using for this video series.

Here is his response:

"Mark - I have a cheap AIPTEK camera with a 1GB card in it to capture pictures and videos. I got this camera because it was cheap and small. I carry it in my front left pocket and I can pull it out and take video pretty much anytime and often without others knowing I'm taking it. I hold the camera away from me when I am shooting myself and sometimes put it up on something. I note that the more I can just do it on the fly the more real what I say is and the more natural I I almost always just walk or move about as I would normally when I am shooting myself.

When I am in the truck, I just put it up on the dash pointing at me, sometimes I put a piece of duct tape under it in a loop so I can make sure it doesn't fall. Pretty darn low tech.

As far as editing, I use Ulead's Video Studio. It is a very easy program to use.

I plug in my card from the camera and move the files to a directory. Then I start the ulead software and I import all the video and images to the library.

I start a new project, review the video, use some simple cutting tools it has, put it in a timeline (drag and drop), and then put some titles, transitions, and music where it needs. The one I just did (not my best) I did in about 10 minutes. It was a 5 minute video with lots of cuts. Many of the videos can be done in a matter of a few minutes.

One last note. Youtube suggest you use MP4 files at 240 x 320, with 30 frames per second.

That's about it.

Hope this helps you."

I looked up Aiptek and learned their most expensive "high resolution" camera is available for about $400.00. The Ulead editing software is priced at about $60.00 This is definitely not high-budget stuff.

But it is right in line with some major trends in business and therefore Paul's project is worth observing closely.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

What is the best way to market a small construction business?

The poster on Yahoo Answers received several responses -- but I agree with the suggestion that the best way is to treat your existing customers really well.

Searching for construction marketing

At the Future of Online Advertising Conference, Jed Nahun, director of product development for Microsoft's adCenter advertising platform, introduced some interesting tools from Microsoft adCenter Labs. While Microsoft holds a distant third-place in the advertising search engine marketplace (lagging far behind first runner Google, and behind second-place Yahoo); it has the resources and tools to play at the highest level. And, if we allow for possible inconsistencies or invalid assumptions in the logarithms, it suggests that the construction industry is soon going to truly discover the importance of the Internet in marketing and advertising.

Take, for example, the keywords "construction marketing" -- the theme of this blog. The adCenter data reports a previous peak of 480 impressions for this search combination in May 2006, dropping to between 80 and 160 impressions over the winter months. AdCenter projects search impressions reaching close to 800 this month (June, 2007).

A search for "Construction Leads" provides equally interesting results. From last April through to Dec. 2006, search inquiries ranged from approximately 900 to 1,700 per month -- then skyrocketed, reaching 4,700 in March, 2007. The adCenter Labs predict the totals will decline from this peak -- but the prediction for approximately 3,200 inquiries in June, 2007 still is approximately three times the volume reported last year.

I realize it is dangerous to read too many assumptions into graphs and charts like the ones you can uncover yourself (there is no charge for this service) but the adCenter data suggests that Internet search engine marketing is about to become very important for the construction industry.

The evidence is growing that you should consider implementing a search engine marketing strategy right away. In fact, I will go out on a limb and suggest search engine marketing should be your number two strategy and priority. Number one, of course, (by a far margin in order of importance) is developing and maintaining your relationships and reputation with current clients.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Our biggest lesson
I've just written and published on the website networks, Our biggest mistake -- expanding without planning.
The story is humbling. I've learned some important lessons.
Have you had similar experiences and learned lessons of your own from them?

Friday, June 08, 2007

FOOA Day 2

Shortly after writing this entry, I will return to the meeting room for the second day of the Future of Online Advertising Conference in New York.

I have taken a low-profile "absorbing" attitude towards this conference. Notes describing specific speakers etc are in the files (and conference organizers promise a complete package when it concludes) so I will put together now simply some quick thoughts gelled from a number of different speakers.

  • There are interesting observations that conventional 'corporate' ads don't work so well as ones that inspire some curiosity and make very strong use of photographic images. Combined with a little text (say 80 characters), response may be highest.

  • One unconventional group has developed a rather interesting model for advertising within a 'vertical' sector. Within this group, only one ad is run across all the sites, it must meet very specific technical requirements, and the advertiser generally must buy ad on all sites for a month -- and prepay. If repeat business is an indication, this model is successful. It encourages a non-cluttered look on the web pages, and the exclusivity gives the advertiser real power and value. This type of initiative requires much co-operation over many platforms, however, so I doubt it will become widespread.

  • Nevertheless, the issue of 'advertising clutter' is one worthy of attention -- as a publisher do we trade off real effectiveness by jamming too much advertising on our sites? Is there a place for a more controlled and managed approach here?

  • RSS Feeds offer interesting and important advertising opportunities, again in moderation and with respect for the way feeds are distributed.

  • Video is undoubtedly becoming more important, affecting everyone, and creating new opportunities (and challenges) for traditional publishers and sites. Things can get even more interesting with concepts of embedded product placements and linkages within video sites.

  • Online advertising is a booming sector, radically transforming traditional publishing practices, ownership, and viability. I found it interesting at the conference to see how many people were working with laptops -- and how few were reading the free copies of Wired and Advertising Age (printed) provided to each participant (though I and I'm sure many others took these publications to read more closely after the conference sessions ended.)

I'm shortly heading back to Gotham Hall, for another day's dose of insights and observations.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

I'm in New York now, mid-day of the first of two days of this conference dedicated to the trends and issues of online advertising and marketing. The insights so far from speakers suggest that the online market is rapidly evolving, but is still very much at its infancy in its potential.

Of course most traditional marketing values apply within the online sector, enhanced with elements that transcend traditional practices. The most significant elements I think, are the rapidly growing inventory of places where ads can run, offset to some extent by the fact that traditional advertisers, seeing the return on investment in the online world is so high, are moving funds from the conventional media (thus decimating the economics of traditional media, especially daily newspapers).

From the construction industry's viewpoint, understanding online models, techniques, and methodologies will undoubtedly be increasingly important. the ability to track and measure results and fine-tune market segments to an incredible degree creates many opportunities -- but also many opportunities to get things wrong.

I will have more observations soon as I digest the speakers' comments and synthesize the 'bigger picture' in my mind.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Old and new marketing
The story behind this old roller ad is not clear, but the message is undeniable -- business-to-business advertising for construction products and services is nothing new; the question is whether the professionalism and effectiveness is there.
Tomorrow and Friday, I'll be attending the Future of Online Advertising Conference in New York City and will probably (assuming that wireless Internet is readily available at the conference center) blog several times during the conference.
How will I apply the insights at this conference to our own business? Here, the answer is less clear. At our planning meeting yesterday, we budgeted some money for website rebuilding and design, but put these expenses forward in the fiscal year -- in other words, while the improvements are important, we decided they can wait a while. This is partly because our business still collects more than 90 per cent of its revenue the old-fashioned-way, and partly because we don't want to rush carelessly into changes that just make things worse.
The consensus at the meeting is this blog and my bi-weekly electronic newsletter give us some windows to the future and should continue and be enhanced; and we will also engage in consulting services (low-cost) to rethink our website appearance, design and functionality. We also agreed that online advertising is truly beginning to change processes and practices especially where immediate response is expected or required.
Nevertheless, while I doubt I'll make immediate changes in our business after the conference Thursday and Friday, I'm sure I will have a much better grasp of the issues and concerns that we need to understand better.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The planning day

We spent a long day today -- from 10:00 a.m. until 8 p.m. at a chalet in west Quebec, about 90 minutes from Ottawa. Bob Kruhm flew in from Durham, North Carolina and Chase from St. Catharines (via Toronto). Natalie Laferriere and Amanda Arthurs drove in from Ottawa -- I picked up Chase at the airport, and we drove in together; because of Chase's flight time, this meant we arrived an hour late from the original scheduled 9 a.m. start time.

Then we went to work, under the facilitation of Bill Caswell and Upkar Bilkhu of Caswell Corporate Coaching Company. The objective: Take a good hard look at where we are, and where we wish to go, and fashion -- through collective involvement -- our business plan for the next year.

And we did. Unlike last year at this time, when I had a staff of rather reluctant and frankly angry people, we didn't carry any excess baggage with us. And so we set out to visualize where we really wanted to go in the next year and set out some realistic and practical objectives.

Last year's plan, frankly, fell off the rails almost as soon as we drafted it. The plan simply didn't have a realistic heart in it. This year, however, I am much more optimistic that we will stay on schedule, and as they day concluded, I could see how if we had a similar planning process in place a few years ago, we would never have gotten into the mess that virtually destroyed my business.

Most importantly, specific expansion ideas and concepts were set out, budgeted, and built into the schedule. There will be no 'spontaneous' expansion or money-spending -- but we don't have to feel we are treading water; we know where and when we will grow (the specific details don't need to be disclosed yet in this public blog). In our plan we built in another planning session; this time to align the budgeting with normal fall practices -- but we will probably have in the future a spring session as well, to keep things on track.

I could see more clearly how a systematic and regular planning process involving all key staff members really allows a business to avoid mistakes, grow, and avoid conflicts and negativity. This process is not inexpensive. I will have to pay the facilitator's fees, travel and hotel costs, and of course the 'lost day of producivity of employees from current operations. But I know this is money well spent.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The planning meeting
Within a few hours, we'll be at a chalet in Chelsea, Quebec, for our second strategic planning meeting. Ironically, and significantly, in addition to the facilitators, I am the only person attending the meeting who was with our business last year. And, in reviewing last year's plan, I find that almost nothing in it has materialized as projected. In other words, the plan developed at the meeting truly did not accurately project the future.
Yet I have grown to appreciate the importance of this meeting/planning process, and now truly believe that we would not have experienced the business crisis experienced over the previous three years if we had this kind of systematic planning meeting. The reason: setting out guidelines, expectations, and projections -- and getting people involved in the business to buy into the process, is vital for its survival.
Last year, we were on a 'death spiral' with distrust, frustration, hostility, and negativity -- and all of these negative vibes came through loud and clear at the meeting. A few months later, everyone had left. Our business rebuilding coincided with this blog's launch.
Nevertheless, as we began rebuilding, I had some hesitations about holding another planning session. While the consultants co-ordinating the program have offered generous financial terms, the meeting's bottom-line cost is high, considering our current operating budget. But I quickly realized that we need to, right now, establish a cohesive and realistic vision for the business -- especially if it is to achieve its ambitious future objectives.
The planning session is co-odinated by Bill Caswell of Caswell Corporate Coaching Company.

Asking the right question (or wording it right)

This morning, Denise Michaels pointed out that I didn't exactly word the question correctly in my one-question survey last week: What is the most important question about marketing for your business.

Here are her observations:

Actually Mark - I would've preferred it if you'd asked:
"What's your most important question about marketing your business?"
Slightly different question - but the difference is palpable. Why? Because in your version of the question above it's like they're supposed to guess the most important question they SHOULD have about marketing - in almost a textbook kind of way. The second question (as I gave it to you on the phone) is the question that's nagging on them the most - the one THEY most need the answer to - it's a little more personal. See the difference?I'll give you a pertinent example of why the specific wording - in even casual marketing research like this - is important. Authors always want to test titles to come up with the right title for their book. Most will come up with a list of titles (say 6 to 8 of 'em) and ask their list:
"Which book title do you like the best?"
Wrong question!
Because the people asked start looking for which one is the cutest and the most clever title. Which one is the linguistic tour de force or something.
A much better question to ask about book titles is: "Which book title would you be most likely to buy?"
See the difference? After all - isn't that the action you want? Sales - rather than a "Gee, that's a cute title" response.
So back to your question - the idea is to discern what's the most pressing question about marketing that's rambling around in their brain that they're hot to get an
answer on. "What's your most important question about marketing"
How many times did you send it out? If you only sent it out once - I suggest that you send it out again tomorrow (Monday) and on Thursday morning. You may pull in more responses. Also, send it in the wording I originally gave you above. Stuff gets caught in spam filters or people delete it out of hand. It takes a few repetitions to get a true response."
Here is another interesting article on asking the right question(s) in marketing surveys. I link you to the Google cached version of this story so you won't need to register with anyone else to read this article.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Is our marketing generating revenue for sales?
This question, one of the responses to our survey asking you for your most important marketing question, I think touches on the very real challenges of measuring success with marketing initiatives. I interpret the question as: "Does our marketing actually lead to sales revenue?" and of course to answer that question, you need to have really solid lead tracking systems. In other words, you need to know where the initial lead originates, and how successful/valuable it ultimately is.

Sophisticated businesses set up processes for this type of thing -- the image is from a blog with an answer that is unlikely to be of much help for the typical reader of this blog; I don't think we are in the realm of large corporations with sophisticated (and distinctive) marketing and sales departments. Nevertheless, lead tracking is certainly valid in a formal sense in businesses with retail clients garnered through advertising, shows and the like -- you will want to know if your expense for this marketing produces results. And informally, you will want to know if your leads and selling system are profitable and effective.

But I don't think these approaches work so well in the professional and higher end business-to-business side of things, especially for smaller or medium sized professional service firms or contractors. The problem is less the valid need for these tracking approaches as it is in the process of finding and implementing a reliable and easy-to-administer system.

As well, none of this deals with the soft value of marketing; branding, image development, and so on -- stuff that is hard to measure tangibly but is undoubtedly important in the long run.

More later on this complex but very important topic.

Anton Volchenkov scored a goal and assisted in game 3 of the finals. He is not a leading star -- but his team is in the Stanley Cup finals

Winning teamwork

Few metaphors are as strong and evocative as those linking high level sports and business. Teamwork, energy, determination, creativity, support and power are all words that come to mind and apply in both circumstances. And (though I would be careful to claim a tax expense only when there is solid and specific justification) I certainly can see genuinevalue for any business person in attending a 'final' supporting event, whether it be the World Series, Word Cup, NBA Championship or, in my case, a Stanley Cup final Hockey game.

Ottawa, of course, is not that big a city -- but it has proven it can support at least one major league team in a sport that is passionately followed in Canada even though it is more on the fringes in the U.S. Nevertheless, the Ottawa team is fighting with the Anaheim Ducks for the finals.

Through some luck (and logical persistence) I snared a couple of last-minute tickets for the game to attend with my hockey loving (and playing) 10-year-old son, Eric. While we were late in buying the tickets, we were among the first in the stadium. It turns out we had lucked out -- the Senators had set aside a media overflow section but realized it could release a few seats to the public, and I went on line looking just when these seats were released. (Of course, I knew beforehand that it would make sense to keep checking online -- as various held-back seats would quietly go on the market before game day.)

So, no need to pay the scalpers -- nevertheless, the tickets were appropriately (highly) marked up for the special game, and the stadium was packed to capacity.

As the Senators fortunately won, I saw clearly how the game is won -- in business, as well as sports. Elite personal abilities combine with team respect, trust, and connectivity. You have to know when to let go for the team-mate to carry forward either with glory or the pain; but you need raw talent yourself. And the fans (customers) indeed have a place in the team's success. Besides the cash to pay the bills, they provide a critical amount of energy for everyone to enjoy. As well, I sensed the importance of the 'worker bees' -- those in the concession stands, or on the Zambonis; not much credit for them, and their skills are relatively easy to find, but everyone needs to know their role, and do it well.

Finally, of course, we come to marketing. When you get to this level of success, you have the pleasure of controlling the market. The Senators of course knew they could extract revenue by holding back tickets and making them available only to Seasons Ticket purchasers; and they did. And they could charge premium prices for 'ordinary' seats,and truly earn their money -- while selling advertising in various formats without problem to all kinds of buyers. If you are the best at anything truly competitive, you don't need to scrape for business. It helps to be great at what you do.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Truck painting

Chase, our representative in St. Catharines, sent me this intriguing set of photos of 'painted trucks' -- suggesting a potentially powerful option for using construction vehicles in creative visual marketing.

Conrad Black in Wal-Mart. Never.

Which marketing effort is most effective for you?

This is an intriguing and important question. It is easy to answer "it depends" and of course there is some truth to that response -- because the marketing effort results will depend, ultimately on the characteristics of your market.

But I'm going to take a risk and suggest a general but highly specific response to this question -- one of the responses to our online survey.

It is: Can you connect with your current clients so well that they will:

a) buy more from you;

b) encourage others to buy from you -- best of all, even without your 'knowing'

c) share their insights and observations about where the market is heading?

The rather crucial point here is that your current clients ARE your business -- their satisfaction, respect, and interests will tell you much about who you are serving and what they want. Assuming you have a close enough relationship with them -- and you should -- they will also be able to tell you where the market is heading; and allow you to adapt your business in that direction.

If you give me the answer: "I'm just starting out and don't have any current customers" I'll respond: "That's BS. If you truly don't have any customers at all, you are not in business; you are dreaming. Surely, in the early going you have some clients -- you aren't going to pour thousands of dollars in time and effort and not know of anyone ready to pay for what you offer...."

If you say: "I'm not making any money from my current customers", then you need to look more closely at the customers you find profitable, and find more of them (and jettison the ones that aren't profitable.)

Good marketing services and consultants will always explore your current clientele before structuring marketing programs to attract new business for you. The reason is simple -- prospective clients are likely to be similar to your current ones. You wouldn't expect for example (at least at present!) Conrad Black to set foot in a Wal-Mart. (This example may only be relevant if you are following a somewhat arcane criminal trial in Chicago.)

One example of a marketing failure that still rings close to my heart is the failure of the Eatons' Department Store in Canada. This had been the biggest retailer -- its founder captured mail order and client service in its era; and years ago learned how to attract and retain the very best retail clerks around.

But the stores went into decline, as successive family member generations focused on their country estates and horses rather than the quality of the business. The clientele aged, and business declined. The company filed for reorganization, and its managers set out to 'reposition' the business to appeal to the 'next generation'.

You guessed it... the older people, alienated by all the changes, left, and younger people did not respond to all the expensive marketing. A much smarter approach would have been to look more closely at the older clients' needs and build in processes to have them share their experiences with their (now adult) children. I think the stores would be thriving now if they did.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Marketing and the market

At lunch at the Sales and Marketing Awards for the Ottawa-Carleton Home Builders' Association, I had an insightful and enlightening conversation with the local general manager of a mutli-city building supply business. the company serves markets throughout Canada and the U.S. (Reflecting the fact that I did not indicate I would use the information from the conversation in any published forum, it is right that I not disclose any identifying information about the person speaking with me.)

He said the business thrived in the U.S. (and oversees) for many years when the Canadian dollar was much lower than the U.S. currency, and it could beat local competitors easily on price. And he said the business thrived in Ottawa and other booming markets a few years ago when, because of its manufacturing capacity, it could maintain delivery schedules while competitors were building order backlogs -- and delays.

In both of these circumstance, the company didn't need to 'market' itself -- allowing that its product quality is comparable to the competition and the company engages in business with good organization and ethics.

But what happens when the market slows, and delivery time is not an issue for the competitors? Or the currency advantage is lost, so pricing is essentially the same as competing products of the same quality.

It is, the company decided, time to market itself -- and it engaged (on recommendation) the advice of a local advertising/marketing agency -- whose representatives coincidentally were at our table as well.

"Marketing is important now because we have to differentiate our product; create a brand, create demand and awareness," the building supply manager told me. "We know that, but we aren't used to this whole world."

Fortunately the company appears to have chosen wisely for its agency -- one with experience in the field, and good understanding of the realities of business-to-business and business-to-consumer marketing. "We look at the demographics of the market -- your current clients -- and see who they are," the marketing agency representative told me. "Then we figure which media to use to draw attention to others fitting the same profile."

The agency is well aware of the importance of repeating advertising; and of the profound and important change in the use of the Internet. "If we see the market includes older clients, we will suggest a combination of Internet and traditional media," the agency person told me. "If it is younger, we might recommend only the Internet."

I told the building supply person and the agency people I am well aware of the importance of online advertising, though our business primarily earns its revenue from conventional print media. In fact, I'll be at the Future of Online Advertising conference in New York this time next week (and blogging from there).

The building supply person asked my opinions, knowing that I published the association's internal newsletter. I explained that one of the best things you can do is get involved directly in relevant associations -- in fact his major competitor had a senior position in the OCHBA's executive recently. Personal relations and connections are vitally important and these are best developed within the association context.

Perhaps the best evidence of the validity of that point was the fact that my table-mates earned several awards for their marketing work; and we (without forcing the matter) were happy to exchange business cards for very realistic future business relationships; in other words, I may have a couple of very valuable new clients from this get-together.

What can I conclude from the experience? You don't need to market when your competitive advantage is so great that it is obvious and clear to anyone with half a brain. You do need to market when your product or service, within the framework of competitive options, is really not that much different or better (at least objectively). The marketing process -- the creative 'connecting' and relationship/brand building exercise -- creates the extra value that allows you to thrive despite commoditization and competition.

And it never hurts, in business-to-business marketing, to join relevant associations and attend their marketing awards lunches!