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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bid shopping or scope of work -- two sides of the coin

PCL Constructors' Poole's Rules, developed by founder Ernie Poole, codify simple ethical and business practice principals which have helped the employee-owned business to thrive and grow.

When can right and wrong be two sides of the same coin? When you discuss ethics and effective marketing principals in construction, you sometimes find opposite interpretations.

Yesterday, for example, I had a fascinating conversation with Ron Barrie, a retired senior project manager with PCL Constructors Canada Ltd., who recently received the Integrity and Ethics Award from the General Contractors Association of Ottawa (GCAO).

We discussed one of the major bones of contention between subs and general contractors, and general contractors and owners -- bid shopping, and when what could be perceived as bid shopping is actually the opposite: A genuine discussion about the scope of work.

Barrie said he frequently called subs after closing to confirm they had their scope of work correct. This would apply to subs whose bids seemed too low, and slightly higher bidding subs who he knew could do the job well.

Often, he says, the low bid sub, on realizing they had made a scope of work error, would withdraw from the competition. Sometimes the higher bidder would modify the bid recognizing that had overstated their work scope.

Barrie says most of his work before retirement had been on construction management rather than fixed price projects, allowing him to manage things more effectively and ensure a fair resolution for everyone. In this context, only qualified sub trades could get on the short list in the first place.

He added another point to this story, however. Sometimes, he said, a sub would run into problems on the job, often for reasons outside of the individual project. Technically, the GC and owner could throw the book at the sub, replace the trade and sometimes call on the bond.

But Barrie says the better solution, in consultation with the owner and other trades, often involved biting the bullet and providing extra financial support or resources to the sub to help out. The question, from a practical point, is whether the job would move forward better and at lower cost if a reasonable arrangement is made on site, rather than resorting to litigation, delays, and disputes.

Barrie says in great jobs the teamwork builds naturally and effectively. This leads to much happier working relationships -- and really satisfied clients. With the right team of like-minded sub trades and suppliers, in concert with the general contractor and owner, solutions are uncovered quickly and the project moves forward to a satisfactory conclusion.

Rouge elements still exist in the industry, he acknowledges, and some of them find their way into fixed price government-bid projects where the bidding authority is constrained by rules and therefore cannot easily weed them out. But they are few and far between.

Obviously, Barrie's award is well-earned, and the company he worked for has earned a reputation as one of the most successful general contractors in North America. PCL's Poole's Rules, to me, represent a solid model for business practices and processes for not only the construction industry, but any organization, and I believe the company's employee ownership model is well designed to encourage excellence and business sustainability.

The challenge for everyone in the industry when it comes to marketing is to remember that 80 per cent of your success arises from the work you do and the relationships you build on the job site with your associates and suppliers, and your clients. Nothing is stronger in building referrals and repeat business, and I know of no better source of leads than your network and connections built as you are working on projects.

In this environment, when someone tells you about future work, continuing maintenance opportunities, or other areas you could expand your business, you don't need to strain, struggle, or develop new strategies or systems -- your marketing flows naturally. As well, once your work is completed, your references are strong and your relationships are solid.

(Of course, it is wise -- in fact essential -- to develop methods to keep in touch with your clients and colleagues from earlier projects. Here, resources such as annual parties, seasonal or Christmas greeting cards, monthly newsletters, or friendly calls and emails are always helpful -- and will pay off in valuable leads and future business opportunities.)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Construction marketing: The success irony

Earlier this week, I emailed about 1,000 current and former print advertising clients with a simple offer -- they could receive an hours' free marketing consultation, with absolutely no obligation to purchase anything and with the understanding the consultation had nothing to do with selling our (print) advertising services. These clients receive the Construction Marketing Ideas newsletter and this blog.

Certainly, no one who received the email offer minded it -- no opt-outs from the mailing list, no cancellations, or the like. But only three accepted the offer, and each of the three is truly at the top of the game when it comes to marketing their services. They don't need my advice: They are doing things so well I cite them as examples of how to conduct their business.

Why is it that the people who could use marketing advice and guidance don't take it; while the people who really are doing well are interested in expanding their knowledge?

An inexpensive approach to online construction marketing

This posting from CF Construction on a forum thread Advertising for General Contractors is worthy of repeating here for its simple and elegant insights. I've only modified the grammar slightly (it isn't perfect), but if good writing is about clarity of message, these remarks are brilliant.

What we're doing, since we've decided to put off our magazine ads for perhaps the next quarter is simply e-mailing prospects. Since our demographic are individuals whom for the most part aren't being affected directly due to the recession (at least not struggling to pay the bills, or put food on their table).

I've purchased various magazines that lists countless of businesses down here in South Florida (i.e. luxury hotels, restaurants, spas, corporate offices, medical offices). I send a very brief e-mail "introducing" those prospects to our company. I invite them to visit our website so they can familiarize themselves with what we've done in the past and what we're capable of doing. Surprisingly, this approach has worked very well. Out of 10 e-mails, I perhaps average about 5-6 e-mails replying back to me. Which in return has resulted in a couple of jobs over the $100,000 tag to be completed within a month or so. Thus, giving us a very nice profit at the end.

If you have a website, you definitely want to make that very "search friendly". This site and some of its members have provided very useful tools to the point that we're getting many calls due to the website. In some instances, we're listed in the "local business" portion of Google searches, which are the ones way up top. It's just a matter of being dedicated, patient, and optimistic.

There are many other ways and approaches I've taken to ensure that we don't find ourselves waiting in the office for the next phone call to see if it's the one that finally gets us busy again, but this is pretty much the easiest one I've done so far and by far the cheapest. All you have to do is invest your time and a well written "introduction" and people will call.
CF is Claudio Fernandez, owner of CF Construction and Remodeling, Inc in Miami. His website is

How open can you be with open book management?

One reason cited by opponents of open book management -- where all employees see everything in the company's books and actively participate in the business planning and development process -- is the business risks disclosure of confidential information to competitors or others who shouldn't receive it.

This is a real concern, of course, especially as the number of copies of your corporate financial statements and reports increases with the number of employees with access. Obviously, we expect all employees to sign non disclosure agreements in their employment contracts, but what do you do about loose lips (and do loose lips sink ships)?

The answer to that question is another: Outside of specific circumstances -- for example formal negotiations before a business transaction is signed off -- should you put anything in writing that would cause you problems if it is divulged? In other words, if your 'books' get in the wrong hands, will it make any difference, and if so, why?

The answer is that, if you practice true open book management, the risks of inadvertent or unwelcome disclosure are truly minimal. Perhaps people you don't want to share information with can see your sensitive business data, but will they be able to do anything with the information to cause you real harm? I doubt it. We're assuming you are operating an above-board business with only one set of books, of course!

Best of all, if anyone in your organization is either sloppy or careless or wishes to cause intentional harm by sharing business secrets, you'll find you have many allies among the other employees to expose the matter and if necessary 'out' the wrong-doing employee. Notably, if you encounter this situation, you also find that you can uncover other more serious issues and resolve them promptly and fairly.

We discussed these issues at our construction marketing and sales meeting today, with the question: What is appropriate for an employee to share with outsiders, and what is not? One employee said: "Only disclose what you know if, imagining you are sitting next to your boss at the meeting, he wouldn't mind seeing disclosed."

This is an imperfect solution -- especially when you are a boss like me who encourages employee autonomy -- but it is a worthwhile guideline. With open book management, if you share secrets you are not supposed to share, you will encounter the consequences of the open culture within the business. In other words, if your lips are too loose, the company will learn soon enough, and will be able to address the problem before it gets out of hand.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Open book management and bad news

Readers of this blog know I was blindsided by a really bad financial report earlier this week. Thinking we were on track to profitability, I suddenly discovered that the numbers added to red line danger losses.

Obviously, failing to see the circumstances in a proper manner is a failure of leadership and management, for which I and no one else should take responsibility. But despite the bad news, some things still went very well, the most important being that the business could maintain the trust, respect and community of its employees.

The reason: No secrets. Everyone in the organization has received the same financial reports as I receive each week and clearly we don't massage the numbers to make them look right. So when I told everyone the bad news, everyone here could see things in black and white -- and we could set out to research and find solutions.

We are now reviewing our costs, revenue streams, and objectives, and I am starting to get a clearer picture of the problem with the possible relief that this is something of an annual glitch in part caused by the holiday season's disruption to the sales and revenue cycle. Data is reported weekly but our costs and production are monthly. The Christmas season requires a two-week shutdown, but no reduction in overhead or salary costs.

We handle things pushing back our February deadlines and holding firm on our January issues production schedule, essentially creating a six week gap (we make up the time with the two or three months a year where we have an extra 'week' in the month.) If our production cycle had been normal and not delayed by two weeks of Christmas season quiet time, the calculations match much more closely my original informal working projections. (Employees are required to take one week's mandatory vacation this time of year for this reason.)

This does not change the fact that the hard numbers are unacceptable, nor that I should have been aware of these issues well in advance of Monday. However they partly explain why over the years February/March have always challenged my projections and business understandings; and why if we seemed to be on a steady-state through December and January, we suddenly seemed to hit a wall in February.

Lesson learned: Build up better reserves in the fall for this time of year. Our problems this time around are probably greater because of expansions to the payroll and the fact that December/January results were exceptionally poor, draining cash at a time when we need it most. I now believe, with a tighter control on costs and review of our working objectives and practices, we should be fine in the next couple of months.

So, you may say, what does this stuff have to do with construction marketing? The answer is "everything". Your business culture, your internal structures, and how your employees and management relate to each other define how you connect to your current and potential clients.

And open book management is probably one of the best ways you and your employees can share and work together to maintain morale and respect when things aren't so good. If you have to cut -- if you have to make hard decisions -- everyone knows where things are and can help to find solutions.

Open book management, after all, is all about earning and maintaining the trust of your employees. Since successful branding and marketing relates to how your clients trust and respect your authenticity, you can see how the same principals apply in your external marketing.
This does not mean you have to bare your soul for every detail and broadcast bad news carelessly. In his presentation to the SMPS lunch in Washington, for example, Ford Harding described how a project manager without much sales training and experience attended a meeting with a potential client.

The client had been thinking of engaging the company's services, perceiving it had experience in the geographical area where the employee worked. So, when the potential client asked about the employee's experience there, the employee gave a brutally frank and negative assessment of the business and his experience. The client headed for the hills, naturally. Probably everyone would have been better served with a little finesse -- perhaps a question to see what the client really wanted to know; for if the employee had that information, he might have framed his response in a much more positive (but still truthful) manner.

The costs of failing to practice open book management can be seen in industries where businesses have failed to win and maintain employee and client trust. Consider the U.S. automotive industry, for example, where sloppy industrial and management practices resulted in the (just and necessary) birth of strong trade unions with an "us or them" mentality to management. Today, the industry is in crisis. The financial sector is even more disturbing. Here, the books that may have been open also appear to have been falsified through fraudulent self-serving manipulation. Alas, government oversight also failed.

The power and success of open book management can be seen in this video. Yes, the 1-800-GOT-JUNK story has elements of PR and rah-rah manipulation, but it also shows how allowing the employees to share in the business builds community and mutual respect and support (and helps your brand!)

We're stretching, we're growing, and, with some mistakes and glitches along the way, we are learning how to build a truly great business. You can do the same, too.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Risk and reward

When do you go against the grain of logic and reason, and hard and fast numbers, and decide to move forward with a business?

The answer, almost always, is when your gut feeling tells you to do it - when you are willing to take the risk because you think the likeliness of success is high enough even if the superficial barriers suggest you should be cautious.

These thoughts went through my mind today as I revisited the decision to pull the plug on relaunching Washington Construction News. On some levels, our red-line business indicators say this expansion would be a mistake right now. But on another level, I concluded that the investment required -- if necessary I could tap into retirement savings to maintain obligations -- is worth the reward.

This touches on a fundamental question and challenge for anyone involved in construction marketing. When do you go for it, and when do you hold off? Which projects do you bid, and which do you ignore? (The opportunity and cash cost for many RFPs I suspect would be greater than my actual cash at risk in restarting Washington Construction News -- the combination of local knowledge and business experience, with an established operating infrastructure, reduces the risks even more.)

The answer to the go/no go decision almost always depends on the quality of your relationships with your client counterparts. Open public bids where you have no relationship with people setting up the bidding opportunity are generally a waste of time and energy. If the bidding opportunity is truly fair and open and based on price, you probably will lose by winning as some desperate low-baller will most likely get the job.

If on the other hand the bidding rules allow qualitative and relationship-oriented measurements (like the Brooks Act does for AEC federal projects), then will you win the work if you are coming out of the cold, or are your chances a whole lot better if you are properly connected and relate to the bidding organization? The answer is obvious.

I thought of these matters today, realizing the quality of the relationships we have in the Washington D.C. area are impressive, as are the quality of relationships of the person we hope will take the publisher's job. So if she says 'yes', we will get started. And I will remember the rules of business risk and reward need to be put to the test in practice.

The bumpy road

The previous blog posting reports on one of the biggest business challenges -- things never are as simple as you would like them to be; and sometimes you hit bumps in the road. These problems are enhanced by the very real need to do whatever you can to minimize the bumps for the people around you; your employees, your clients, and your market's perceptions of your stability and business health. The fact is, you don't want (usually) to go around broadcasting your difficulties, so you keep things under wraps, perhaps hoping by keeping things stable you won't scare off potential clients, and you can work your way through the problems.

These strategies indeed are common-sense business practices, but we've seen in the past few years what happens when things are just a little too smooth. Bernie Madoff seemed, for example, to be defying gravity, with steady, reliable, slightly above average returns, regardless of the economy. Trouble is, he had set up a ponzi.

Other businesses traded publicly have cooked their books to show stability and growth in their earnings -- resulting in horrendous losses for investors, and sometimes jail time for executives -- when the real books, well, burned in the fire of disastrous losses.

Nevertheless, blatant honesty can be costly as well. The U.S. auto industry is in deep trouble, and this trouble just adds to the problem -- who wants to buy a car from a business about to go bankrupt? For that matter, who will sign any kind of long-term prepaid contract or purchase any sort of service with forward expectations if you have reasonable doubt of it being around for you in the future.

So how do you deal with these matters?

The approach I've chosen to take may not be right for your business, but it feels right for me. I don't go about broadcasting every little detail and truly work to smooth the bumps for our employees, while ensuring reliable and consistent service for clients. But I've chosen to do this with an open book attitude. Employees -- even the most junior employee who signs a financial non-disclosure agreement -- see the numbers every week. In normal conditions, this information is background and doesn't affect their work; but when we hit snags or difficult situations, they know they have access to the same information as senior managers and no wool is being placed over their eyes.

This blog represents another avenue of openness. Yes, competitors and potential clients as well as employees and current clients can read this and see the story, good and bad. Does this help build trust, open communication, and mutual support? I think so, but equally, I know that there are points where too much truth can scare people away. You need to be responsible and thoughtful about your communications.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The red line

Do you know your business's red line point?

Today, I faced the red line -- the specific number where, I know if we go beyond, the business will encounter insurmountable debt, liquidity problems, and its survival will be threatened.

The red line crept up this time somewhat suddenly -- after an excellent fall, the business stumbled in December (for January's published issues), but rebounded wonderfully in February -- erasing the losses of December/January. So I thought all was well, and proceeded with our recruitment/growth plans. We hired one person in Ontario and had made our decision about our publisher for the Washington Construction News relaunch.

Last week, however, our accounting officer gave me a heads up about the cash situation not being satisfactory, and today, in the financial reports, I saw the number in black and white (or euphemistically, red and white). We had hit the red line, indeed. Push further and we fail. Unless we stop and do what we need to do, things will turn bad, fast.

I expect the problem here is a combination of the usual seasonal decline (February/March are traditionally our slowest month), some gaps in the invoicing/payment cycle, and some unregistered earnings (meaning thing look worse than they really are). Looking forward, I could see a break-even or small loss for March if we don't have more people on the payroll, but rather serious losses if we add two people. Since we had hit the red line this month, we didn't have room for risk in allowing the debt to grow to pay the additional salaries. So I brought out the hatchet.

This stuff is painful, indeed. No responsible business person likes to muck up other people's dreams and lives -- to tell someone that we are about to hire after a severe and thorough vetting and competition that the answer must be "not now", and to tell a newly hired employee (fortunately not recruited from a good job elsewhere), that we must prepare to implement a short-notice dismissal.

Here, however, I applied the recession-survival principals outlined in this earlier posting. I brought all of our employees into the decision. They can see the complete financial reports and the red line numbers. We know where we are and where we need to go to get through this crisis.

I expect we will grow again in the next two to three months and am hoping the people we planned to hire will still be interested in working with us then.

A promotional video from the site

Glen Kohlenberg of Absolute Aluminum in Venice, Florida has started which is one of the bases for a paid contractor advice/forum service, Kohlenberg has shown the ability to innovate and create worthwhile marketing initiatives, most notably his supplier-supported magazine. (I am not sure of the business relationship between Kohlenberg and

You will find many interesting and rewarding elements in his blog, though I disagree with his posting advising readers to turn off the mainstream media.

Here goes. First off shut off all main street media in your life! That’s right no TV or radio or newspaper or anyone else that sounds off about the economy or how bad things are or anyone being negative around you.

If this means finding a new place for breakfast, lunch or dinner then find it.I cannot express to you how important this is. As a matter of fact if you decide not to do this then just put the for sale sign or going out of business sign on the door now!

Why do I ask so much of you so soon. Have you heard the term garbage in garbage out?

See the garbage that goes in affects your thoughts, so if you choose to listen to said garbage then your mind and thoughts will affect your outcome.

I've heard this stuff many times before from various self-improvement gurus and certainly believe that your own thoughts and perceptions define your place in life, and how you progress.

The challenge, frankly, is not to shut out the mainstream media and the world around you, but to adapt the knowledge and understandings from it to your own circumstances. If you can connect your business and interests to the flow of mainstream perceptions, you can capture market share and adapt your approaches to your environment. Of course the best way to adapt may be to be different and go against the grain of what others are saying. (I realize my biases are shaped here by my own career choices. I enjoy journalism so much that I ended up starting my own publishing business.

Nevertheless, Kohlenberg has an interesting and worthwhile blog, worthy of permalinking. Behind the scenes, I think his magazine is one of the influences behind my decision to proceed with the proposal for Ottawa Renovates magazine, which we successfully distributed yesterday. And his fee-based service will likely be worth the money to contractors once he launches it.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Free onsite estimates?

This blog posting, Call another Raleigh Fence Company to Get Me a Measurement? from Keith Bloemendaal of Raleigh Fence Contractors in North Carolina raises some important questions.

Bloemendaal says he is one of only a few fence contractors who are ready to drive out to see the homeowner, take the measurements, and provide the estimate on site. Others tell potential clients to send in their measurements and they will quote the job and one (who really raised Keith's ire) suggested to let another contractor take the measurements, quote a price, relay the information to the competitor, and the other contractor would under-bid the job.

Ouch! So you go out and spend gas and time, and then the potential client just needs to call the competitor with your prices, and achieves the work for less!

Of course, as Keith says, there are advantages in trust building and relationship development in visiting the client and developing the relationship -- qualities that cannot be achieved by the brutally inexpensive invitation to do things over the phone. Yet there are tough challenges here: In a recession, where under-bidding is common, spending your time and money to prepare quotes and estimates cold, only to lose everything to the low-baller, seems a rather poor way to do things.

I'm personally not in the trenches in Raleigh, so won't dare to suggest the best answer, but think some clues about possible solutions are possible through demographic and market analysis of your leads. In other words, are you able to assess your closing rate based on location, source of lead (referral, website, or whatever) and track these in a meaningful way. This might be helpful if your database is large enough to be valid. Here, when you receive a call from, say, your website, and the neighbourhood results are poor, you can decline the business or set it as a low priority. (Of course you should avoid racial profiling or anything that would get you into trouble with anti-discrimination laws).

But this is only a partial solution, because the other aspect here is the sales process and communication opportunities. Should you prepare estimates without a face-to-face meeting and decline all "Just drop by and take the measurements when I am at work" inquiries? This of course prevents you from traveling great distances without any relationship development opportunities, but you then have to match your schedules with the homeowner, and perhaps lose the efficiency of job batching (let alone requiring much inconvenience).

Could you succeed with a video estimate with some added branding resources and options? Here, you are respecting your client's convenience and really focusing on your value -- but, again, all your hard work may go to waste if a competitor just snatches it, develops a high-quality video/marketing retort, and steals your business!

Keith talks about ethics in his posting, and indeed there are questions here that are troubling. But I wouldn't spend too much energy worrying about the behavior of your competitors; things come to roost in the long term. You simply need to find answers in the short term.

Maybe readers here have some other ideas and answers to this challenging problem.

The video experment (2)

This video is created with an inexpensive camera and Apple's iMovie application. I could edit out some glaring errors and the image quality is far better than my first video, Construction Marketing Ideas -- Do what you love doing -- but this material is far from ready for prime time, yet.

My second video: Construction Marketing Ideas -- Your current and former clients, outlines the most effective and rewarding marketing approach -- creative follow-up with your current and former clients.

This work is hardly professional standard yet; I'm still learning the editing and production tools and how to integrate the camera and messages. Notably I needed to spend several hours replacing versions with rather glaring errors and problems, and encountered crashes within the youtube uploading process.

An attempt to simulcast the video with a live broadcast yesterday morning on failed (though you would only know of this attempt if you are one of two or three people following my Twitter account, another experiment).

These initiatives aren't ready for prime time. However, the experimentation here is providing clues about new resources and capacities for construction marketing at truly low cost.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Catching on with blogging

This image is from the site for FW&D Fairlington Window and Door LLC in Arlington VA. Ned Overton started a thread asking others for guidance about blogging. This posting reports on this thread -- and the setting of several hyperlinks to relevant construction marketing blogs from this site.

A couple of years ago, as I started the Construction Marketing Ideas blog, I sought out other bloggers in the niche by posting on with an offer of a one-way link (no reciprocation required), and received virtually no response.

How times have changed. Last week, Ned Overton at FW&D Fairlington Window and Door LLC, in Arlington, Virginia, posted this note:
Any blog experts on this forum? I started a blog, after all isn't that what we're supposed to do to increase traffic to our website, now what do I do. I'm not a writer, to say the least, but I will force myself to publish something. I just don't want to shoot myself in the foot while I'm trying to hit the target.
His posting initiated a response from several other contractors, all reporting on their new blogs.
Unfortunately, I couldn't meet Ned during my most recent visit to Washington, but his blog at certainly qualifies for a permalink.

So do several others who reported to the thread, which are listed below, but first I should clarify why they qualify for permalinks and why this is valuable to their business.

Google's algorithms like frequently updated and relevant blogs and this means that the blogger can ultimately expect a higher search engine ranking. As well, the blog by linking back to the main site for the contractor, will help to elevate the contractor's own search rank.
And high search engine rankings are really important for finding business these days.

But there is a big catch to this process -- if your primary objective is search engine optimization, you may ultimately be disappointed. This is because Google is constantly tweaking its rules to curtail gaming and manipulation. As you watch the story unfold, you will notice something of a tug of war between SEO (Search Engine Optimization) practitioners and Google -- people pay games to attain free high organic listings and Google, in part for good business reasons (it sells advertising after all) and partly because the gaming distorts the search engine objective of leading people to relevant and interesting sites, constantly changes the rules to prevent crappy stuff from overriding the meaningful and useful listings.

Google especially is watching out for splogs -- massive, "phony" blogs set up purely to catch reverse links and build up other sites status. This blog, for example, when it reached the stage where the number of backlinks to it would cause it to rise in Google rankings, experienced a temporary shut-down as (owned by Google) warned that the site would need a manual real-person review to continue. Once someone human inspected and found that indeed this is a real blog written with real content, my search engine status rocketed.

I continue to believe that any business with a legitimate blog used for construction marketing should be eligible for a free one way hyperlink. Of course these one way links are much more valuable as this blog has a high ranking. The list is starting to grow a little long, of course, but the blogs here are a library of construction industry marketing examples and can be useful for your own idea generation. I think once or twice a year I will need to review the blogs and cull out the ones that are not updated properly (at least once a week) or lack any meaningful original content.

Can you achieve even greater prominence here than your free presence in the growing list of links? Yes, by communicating something exceptional or effective, telling a story of how your business achieved marketing success, and describing what you did to succeed -- or simply asking questions or engaging with me and others on the blog. This justifies separate postings and more hyperlinks. If your blog is specifically relevant to AEC marketing and closely relates to my own personal network, I may grant additional presence/publicity and special intense links. Here reciprocation, while not required, is usually reasonable as our sites will closely correlate in interest and relevance.

While I appreciate that a higher SEO ranking is probably the most tangible benefit of blogging, remember that your blog ultimately will succeed if it contains original, relevant content, and you write it for the love of blogging, not the love of SEO.

Anyways, here are the other blogs referenced on the recent thread.

Chris Gerald in Toronto started Tongue and Groove: Flappings and Groovings about Remodelling, linking to his primary sites Vic Porch -- Decks and Porches and -- Retail and Office Repair.

He posted on
Tips? Don't talk about yourself. Really. Don't try to sell yourself or your services. You've got to give info away for free sometimes in order to gain the trust of customers.

Blogs are a source of info. They are not ads. Websites are ads. People form an opinion of you when they read your blog. People hire people they like. Nobody likes people who only talk about themselves.

One of the most sought after opinion-meisters of the blogosphere is Seth Godin. Here are his 57 them all and use the ones that apply to you.
Meanwhile, Brian Corns at, links to Hydroblast Pressure Cleaning and this video (another SEO device!)

Duane1982 representing Poole Construction in Central New York reports:

"I do blogging as an informational source and in hopes that people would ask for an estimate. Since blogging my web traffic has doubled and my site ranks well with Google."

Kelly Morisseau writes in her blog, Kitchen Sync: A few remodeling tips, some kitchen design and everything in between, that she works as a Certified Interior Designer for a residential design/build firm in Northern California.

"This blog isn't about looking for clients," she writes. "After 25 years in the business, I wanted to give something back."

In her posting, she observes:
A couple of things I've found:
  • Pictures are worth...etc., etc. Make sure that they're your own or credit the source. A lot of folks don't.
  • If you don't want your pictures shared, make sure you add a note saying so.
  • Linking to other blogs will raise your traffic.
  • Write what you like. What interests you? What do you always tell your clients and wish everyone knew? What do you want to show off? What do you want to laugh about?
  • Keep it professional. You never know who's reading it.
  • Have fun. Life's short. (Eh, thought I'd toss that in.)
HomerJ at Goco Home Improvement and Repair LLC in Chesterton Indiana started a and then posted on to find ideas and obtain a (useful for SEO) signature line link available there.

Nick Jacobson at Nick's HomeWork Solutions in White Co., Indiana has started a blog, appropriately titled,

You can also review Atlanta Roofing Repair's posting in the thread:
Here's a blog I just started 24 hours ago. I'm still working on it but feel free to leave a comment or question on the 3 articles I've already posted! = )

Why and how I'm using the blog will remain a mystery though.

PS: Right click on the screen for a surprise bonus!
The right click (or on Macs, command/click) reminds us of an essential requirement for successful blogs.

Help Everybody Everyday (a new site/blog)

You will want to add a permalink to Help Everybody Everyday: New Approaches to Marketing in the AEC Industry. Matt Handal, a fellow SMPS Marketer magazine contributor, started the site. He writes:

Help Everybody Everyday is not just a great way to approach marketing your services. It also describes a community of people who are willing to share and help each other grow as marketers and business developers.
You will especially want to read Matt's contribution: 10 Steps to Making it BIG in the A/E/C Marketing World. This brief article distills the essence of successful marketing practice and should be a key guide for anyone starting out in the marketing community -- and a good reminder for those of us who have been around a while.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Rainmaking, networking, and business growth

More than 100 architecture, engineering and construction marketers attended the SMPS DC Chapter's lunch meeting yesterday. Ford Harding, author of Rainmaking: Attract New Clients No Matter What Your Field, gave a speech -- and signed copies of his book given to everyone attending the meeting.

Yesterday, I headed to 7th Street NW near Washington D.C.'s Chinatown neighbourhood for an interview with Rainmaking guru Ford Harding, a SMPS D.C. Chapter lunch, and some key meetings and conversations with the person who will likely be the new publisher of Washington Construction News.

I will share more from Harding's observations in the days ahead, but the singular magic of the day comes down to one of the most important cornerstones of success in marketing -- you will always do best at the work you enjoy, and if you can relate your marketing to that process you are likely to be successful.

Of course, sometimes you need to do what you need to do to survive in business. One of Harding's best examples is of a person who started out in his own business, with the understanding that his largest client at his previous place of employment would continue working him. However, shortly after the new business owner opened his door, his first and only key client disappeared. The business owner had only one choice to survive: Learn how to sell!

Not surprisingly, many people who chose careers in architecture, engineering and construction want to practice their trade or profession -- not be some obnoxious sales person. As Harding noted in his speech, many people have perceptions and standards and expectations of what selling is about which are inaccurate -- or if they are accurate, represent only a part of the picture.

For example, you can expect virtually every individual sales activity will not result in business -- but if you don't engage in all the necessary activities, you definitely will not get any business (and if you do the right thing, if you, as Harding suggests, "get it", you will succeed.)

Fortunately, if you are unfamiliar with marketing, if you are looking to learn how to acquire the necessary skills, you can connect with your local Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) chapter. You'll gain access to resources, connections and a business network which will help you develop your skills an overcome your fears about the marketing process.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Your start-up pricing challenge

If you are fortunate to be expanding your business during a recession, you have some real advantages. Prices are lower, and many talented people are looking for work. The same advantages apply if you are establishing a new business. In fact, you may be starting a business now because you have lost your job and think you can do things better than your former employer. Many truly successful businesses are established during hard times (many also fail, of course).

Your real test in this environment is whether you can find and retain profitable clients. With many people out of work, some small start-ups price their services far lower than they should to remain viable. And some clients take advantage of these low prices, only often to find to their regret they've paid for more than they expect with incomplete jobs, sloppy workmanship, and perhaps unexpected liabilities.

On the other hand, many new business people are like I was at the start of my self-employment. I didn't know or appreciate how to price my services and worked far too hard for far too little money -- but still provided a really good service. The only problem is, as originally designed, the business could never grow because (outside of working 80 hours a week for something like $35,000 a year in income), I didn't have enough profits (retained earnings) to fund the hiring of competent people for reasonable wages.

Your best pricing challenge solution is to learn how to market and sell your services effectively. You need to know how to find the right clients willing to pay you enough for your work.

Do you know how to network effectively, how to advertise, and how to discover hidden clues within public leads and data to lead to hidden (private) opportunities? Some time spent developing these skills will yield profitable results and help you go beyond the treadmill of starvation-level wages.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

If you are looking for a rainmaker, look to yourself

Tomorrow, I'm heading to Washington, D.C. to attend a meeting of the Society for Marketing Professional Services DC Chapter, meeting fellow SMPS bloggers and rainmaking/marketing gurus Ford Harding and Tim Klabunde. Hopefully, as well, by the end of the day in Washington (I catch a 10 pm flight to Toronto), I'll be ready to engage the final selection for our new Washington Construction News publisher.

Through this whirlwind day in the U.S. capital, at back of mind is Friday's deadline for an article in the upcoming issue of The SMPS Marketer, the association's national magazine. The assigned title is "Recruiting rainmakers".

Here is the paradox. If you ask people like Tim or Ford, "What is the best way to recruit Rainmakers", they may say: "Why don't you become a rainmaker yourself -- especially if you are an owner or partner in the business/practice?" Essentially, as Ford Harding points out in his most recent blog entry, if you own or are a partner in the business, you can't simply dump this responsibility on someone else. Hired sales people (or "business developers" if you want to avoid the word "sales") simply cannot do the job as well and with as much passion and client relevance as a real partner/owner -- and if you have been around for a while, your network of existing relationships will far exceed any contacts your new hire can bring to the picture.

But here is the interesting thing -- you don't need to sell your soul or twist yourself into contortions to be an effective rainmaker; you simply need to change your attitudes to your business development responsibilities. If you are true to yourself, if you are authentic, and your relate your own interests and passions to your business development model, you can succeed.

Still, there are times when you will have to go outside your organization to hire talent. This ideally happens when you are growing, to new markets and opportunities. This is where an effective and relationship-oriented business development and hiring system really works well.'

More soon . . .

Monday, February 16, 2009

Paprika Marketing in Los Angeles

Yesterday, in a flash of inspiration after generating three blog entries in 15 minutes, I sent out a special e-card to discuss the idea of The Paprika Effect -- the use of little spices or extras (to the side dishes) that create an enticing client experience.

Despite the fact that most of us are in the middle of a long weekend, so far almost 400 people have opened the email.

Louis Magliano of Bestline Plumbing in Los Angeles suggests that, for his business, the little extras to create a great experience are built through the relationship from beginning to end.

Your question is difficult to answer because we pour paprika over the entire deal before work is commenced.

The first part of your question was what do we do to make the experience enjoyable. When closing the sale, we tell the customer we want them to feel comfortable, sit back, and relax because we will not ask for one penny until the job is 100 per cent completed and not until they are 100 per cent satisfied. We tell the customer they have a lifetime guarantee or a very extended guarantee and it is like we own their plumbing. We promise that we will continue to work on their job until it is finished without going to other jobs. We tell the customer a supervisor will go to the job, check every inch of the job, take pictures and give them pictures of the work. We tell the customer that in my 36 years of doing business we never added extras to a job.

We never told the customer we made a mistake and needed more money and the price quoted is the exact price that the customer will pay, and if we do find something we did not see that is related to the scope of work performed, we will repair, or replace it for free.

The second part of your question asks what we will add to a job. As stated in the first question, during the performance of our work we will throw in many free faucets, a garbage disposer, toilet, and many other small items without even telling the customer we are doing this for them.

The biggest thing we do is something I don't think any contractor does and that is we will actually lower the price of a job after a contract is signed and even after the job is 100 per cent completed, and even when the customer appears to be perfectly satisfied with the price. In the contracting business, there is no set price and there are times we feel we charged the customer more than we should have. I will lower a customer's price, without the customer asking, about three times every year. Also, when sitting with a customer and even after a customer agrees to a price, and even after the contract is signed, I will discount the job a few hundred dollars.

The more obvious way to make a job a good customer experience is cleanliness, mannerisms, and following through with everything spoken and written. We are clean-freaks and our employees must follow many guidelines for protecting the customer's property and accommodating the customer's needs that may include giving the customer the use of a restroom at all times, helping the customer to move their furniture, or making the job peaceful by having our employees keep their voices quiet.

We honor and live by this statement and will not take one penny from a customer:

"A sale is not a sale unless both the buyer and seller are 100 per cent satisfied"

About three times a year a customer will call and tell me he has a job that is completed, he would like to pay, and he has an issue that needs to be corrected. The customer is willing to pay and let us correct the problem later, but I tell the customer not to worry and not to pay until everything is perfect.

I believe all these things help create a good experience for the customer.
I'll share other readers' Paprika ideas in future postings (and tomorrow's Construction Marketing Ideas newsletter). In the meantime, please feel free to share yours with me -- and this blog's readers -- by commenting or emailing

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Paprika Effect

This blog posting, The Paprika Effect: The Brain-dead Simple Formula to Instant Customer Delight, offers a intriguing insight into creating a culture of client service and value -- think about enhancing the 'side dishes' of your client experience. (The writer cites a restaraunt in Singapore which discovered how putting some paprika on the fries creates enough of a delight to create hour long lineups for service. Next time I'm there, I'll make sure to visit Astons.)

Can you find your own "paprika effect" in client service?

Reaching first place by starting first

One of the cornerstones of marketing success is being first. First in heart, first in mind, first in the mental position of your market.

To be first you do not need to be best. And you do not need to be inspired -- because first is within a niche, specialty, or geographical area.

As an example, about two years ago I became the first blogger to focus on construction industry marketing. Certainly, back then, I was far from the first blogger -- word about blogging had spread around, and many people were starting blogs. I searched around the Internet for compatible blogs relating to the topic, and found a few local/regional and association-related initiatives and granted them free hyperlinks (and continue to provide the free links to anyone with a relevant blog).

Today, other excellent blogs are published relating to construction industry marketing, all of which receive free links from here (no reciprocation required). It hurts me a little, but some of the other blogs are actually better than mine -- in technical skills, design, and often in content (the last is a hard admission to make). However, the can never be the first construction industry marketing blog. I own that space (and will only sell it for a price only a fool would pay -- if you are a fool, feel free to contact me and provide your certified cheque.)

What are the advantages of first place?

  • You own the 'mind space' of your prospects. When people think about your speciality, they think about you first.
  • This means you don't have to work nearly as hard to win trust, respect, and the opportunity to bid work;
  • Once you are in first place, even if your technical or practical knowledge isn't as great as the contenders, you are in a much better position to defend yourself from competition -- the analogy is the military strategy of having a place on top of a hill with excellent supply routes to bring in reinforcements if necessary.
Note that it isn't hard to be in first place, no matter what your business is. You simply need to think "niche" and define your niche within your market segment or geographical service area.

For example, you may not have the first roofing, or drywall blog (you might for some of the trades, even nationally), but you could have the first roofing or drywall blog within your community -- relevant if you have a younger or technologically oriented market (or simply enjoy blogging enough that you don't mind if few people care, at least initially).

You could be the first roofing contractor in your area to use video or Internet estimates, or the first to actively support a local charity or community group with influence or respect within your market. You could be the first to offer a free maintenance or follow-up package, or the first to hold a client appreciation/referral night. You could steal dozens of ideas from this blog and other places, and still be first within your market segment.

(If you aren't first, you could be second or third, and play the Avis 'we try harder' concept -- it works, especially if your product or service are truly better than the first place contender, but still, make sure your marketing within your segment stands out first in mind.)

The ideas here are lifted from Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind probably the most influential marketing book I've ever read.

Any time you follow the "be first in your niche" rule, you will succeed. Anytime you defy that rule, by being better, cheaper, or simply copying a local/niche competitor, you will struggle to gain traction, respect and business opportunities. So make sure you are in first place from the start of your marketing plans.

Where is the stimulus money going?

Engineering News-Record ( reports where the money is going in in The Stimulus Bill, Sector by Sector. I first learned about this useful online article in the Washington DC Design & Construction Network initiated by Tim Klabunde.

If you want to go after the Federal stimulus money, remember the Brooks Act rules. You will win the federal work by experience and relationships, not primarily by how low your prices are.

To succeed, you will want to build up and maintain your local/regional business relationships, and combine these with connections with relevant businesses and professional organizations closely tied with the Washington money. With this combination, you'll be able to package your proposals to appeal to the political and bureaucratic minds disbursing the funds. If you have gaps in your relationships and relationship-building knowledge,

I encourage you not to waste time in filling them -- this is a stimulus bill, after all. For insights, consider your peers in non-competitive markets, your relevant trade and professional associations and, especially (for marketing issues) your membership within SMPS (Society for Marketing Professional Services).

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The video experiment

My first live video, Construction Marketing Success: Do what you love doing, will hardly win an Emmy Award, but the experiment taught some interesting lessons relevant to your business. Video production is now extremely inexpensive and you can put something together with minimum resources which can convey impressions and messages to your clients of undeniable marketing value.

The posting, Bill Thomas and his effective online marketing approach, describes how his company gets on the roof of potential clients, shoots videos showing the problem, and outlines solutions in video estimates without the client ever actually needing to meet face-to-face with an estimator. (Obviously, this approach only works for external services where permission can be granted to access the home when no one is home.) Nevertheless, the model can be repeated in other circumstances.

You can also use video to build trust and develop relationships, give live demonstrations and, if you are really sophisticated, build a true sense of urgency and need for your service.
Good enough in theory, but how do things work in practice.

This week, I purchased an inexpensive video camera for about $200 Canadian, and then gathered a few accessories including a tripod and cable to hook the camera to my computer for about $150 additional. My MacBook Pro has video editing software built into the system. Within about two hours, I learned some of the basics; including how to superimpose captions and edit out some (but most definitely not all) of the glaring production errors. (I couldn't get rid of all the squeaky chair noises for example and the lighting quality of the evening video shoot is less than perfect.)

After about eight minutes of shooting, and about an hour's editing, I was ready to post the completed work on YouTube, which provides a direct link back to this blog.

Next time around -- when I produce the second video installment in a week -- you will see improved production qualities, greater interest, and everything will be completed in even less time. I expect that in a month, I will be ready to remove this first video and replace it with a more inspiring work with essentially the same message; I probably will keep this one live however to show the learning curve and experience.

So it can be done, and I think you should consider doing it.

Should you consider hiring a professional video company for the work. Yes, if your budget is reasonably large, this makes sense. Your time can be better spent on your trade and business, and obviously you don't need to learn every detail of effective video production and editing. However, there are some advantages in some do-it-yourself initiatives; you will understand more clearly what works best and why, and how the technology can be applied for your own business.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Construction marketing success: Do what you love doing

Here are some simple ideas to succeed at construction marketing. This is my first construction marketing video -- your comments and suggestions are invited.

Sales reps, sales management and business ownership

If you want to start a business from scratch, you must master selling and marketing skills -- whether or not your heart and passions are in these fields. In really good economies, of course, if you are good at your trade or profession, clients come knocking at your door because of your reputation (personal brand) you acquired while working elsewhere, but you still need to find business and keep it, especially in an economic downturn.

These skills are no less important as your business grows. But things change. Now division of labour enters into the picture. You begin hiring or contracting for services and skills which you cannot do yourself effectively. You need to learn how to select the right people for the work, and how to manage and co-ordinate their responsibilities, especially as they relate to the overall business objectives.

As the business grows, things can go well, or be really messy. If they go well, you achieve the really wonderful place where the sum or the parts is greater than the individual elements -- where the team, working in synergy, produces far more than individual members could achieve on their own. This is a healthy business. Your employees are happy because they enjoy work satisfaction and can earn better incomes (with higher quality of life) than they would on their own or working elsewhere. And of course you are living the good life as the primary shareholder.

But things don't always go so well (I know from hard personal experience). Pick the wrong employees, or manage them incorrectly, and things fall apart really quickly. Worse, your finely oiled machine may break perhaps because of your management failures or because of economic changes. Then problems you never thought you would have rear their heads.

Are there solutions to these challenges?

Yes, but first you need to realize you must have really good but simple systems to handle the different responsibilities of your business, and while these systems can change, you must understand why and how to make exceptions to your rules.

Great sales reps do not necessarily make great sales managers; and great sales reps/managers often fail at business leadership -- though many businesses are started by people with a gift for selling.

Here are the simple rules/systems we apply to manage things.

  • Everyone here must prove competence before they are offered employment; the screening is thorough, fair, and comprehensive, through a questionnaire and work test hiring model (we have different rules for sales, administrative and editorial employees but the basic guidelines are the same.)
  • Regular co-ordination meetings are a cornerstone of the business; these bring everyone together and everyone participates in the building and updating of the written business plan.
If you are a 'natural' salesperson and built your business from scratch, you need to realize that your selling skills need to be subsumed to overall management and business ownership responsibilities, and these skills are not necessarily the same. I've seen some really sad flame-out stories of competitive businesses started by salespeople who thought they could do it better but didn't realize that the selling process is only part of the picture. You can solve this problem by combining your subjective abilities and awareness (good) with some objective rules of the game for hiring and working with people. That is sales management -- and you need to have this under control if you are to grow and thrive.

This thread, salesmanduties, inspired this posting.