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Monday, March 03, 2008

Great idea -- but forget the "free estimates" part

This posting on suggests a simple but effective marketing/strategy.

Here is a fool proof idea:

  1. Identify what city you want your business to grow in. Figure out which newspaper is the most popular.

  2. Find the section where the local Contractors and Tradesmen advertise. Place your ad so that it is in the top one or two spots. Your ad should have your Business name, personal name, Free Estimates and Referrals mentioned.

  3. Make sure the number you list is answered by a real person who has an interest in generating leads from 8 a.m. to 8pm seven days a week.

  4. Make an appointment within 48hrs at the customers convenience, even if it's 9 p.m. at night after you've been working since 5 a.m. When you go, be professional, dress better than your crew of workers, but, in a manner that says, if I have to jump in and hump it with them I can and I will.

  5. Engage Good Selling Best Practices.

  6. After a year, your closing ratio should be better than 1 in 4, your goal should be 1 - 3. If it is, keep doing it, or hire someone to do it. If it's worse than 1 in 4, you su*k as a salesman and you need to get better or hire someone better. If it's better than 1 - 3 raise your prices until it gets to 1 - 3.

  7. Track who advertises in the paper with you. You'll notice there will be a few that are always there and a whole bunch that come and go. Those that come and go are looking for something easy, there is nothing easy about this.

Ok, this has merit, but can we get away from the "free estimates" nonsense? There is no USP (unique selling proposition) here; if you are going to offer something 'free', why not a report on how to do things better, a list of practical ideas, or a reference to a well written blog or website. Sure, you can talk in terms of ballpark numbers -- you want to make sure that your clients are in the range of reality, and your potential clients have the right to know that you aren't way out of their perception. But a full blown estimate with detailed proposal should come with some commitment in return if the job is of any size or significance.

Other posters on the thread debate the need for this extreme level of work effort. I'm not so sure that you can escape that (though the specific hours/schedule may not apply in your business. Ultimately, you'll have staff (perhaps working shifts and rotating on-call schedules) or reach the point that you can narrow hours of operation to your, rather than your clients' hours of convenience, but this is probably not wise at start-up and I've seen through experience the costs of abrogating responsibility and leaving things entirely to others, even when things seem to be going well.

But I'll give the poster the final word (actually the beginning of his post) because it is the most solid advice I've seen in a while:

What's most effective in marketing is what you put your best and most consistent effort in. Whatever you do, make a two year commitment to do it and stick with it. All of the ideas you and others mention work, but only if you work them consistently. Throwing money at a one time newspaper ad, mailer, door hangers, lead service, etc. etc. is literally just throwing money away. You are going to be in business a long time, take long term approaches so your customers see you as the guy that is always at the Homeshow, always hangs that cr*p on my door, always mails me those postcards..... people trust who they know.

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