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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Construction Marketing: Under or out of your control

You can't control the overall economy. Nor can you control how individual clients will respond to your marketing strategies.

You can control your attitude, your personal and business finances, and your overall business strategies and individual business decisions.

Your marketing challenge is to ensure the qualities you can control have enough power and effectiveness to overcome (or at least manage) the things you can't control.

Say, for example, that in good times you "relied" on referrals. You never had to go looking for new business, "I never had to market or advertise", because you always had an abundance of clients, in fact a backlog.

Now things have slowed down for reasons over which you have no control. You can survive in business by taking charge of the things you can control. You can cut costs and staff, live on less, and manage.

Or you can understand that if you were doing things well enough in good times that you had a backlog of work, you probably have an overall excellent reputation, and you can work to capture the referral and repeat business through systematic marketing and advertising now.

Remember, as well, that you don't want to be in the position where you are relying on one (or just a few) potential clients to say 'yes' to bring in your new business. If you are desperately hoping for something to work out, it often doesn't -- the potential client can almost sense your anxiety. Even if that isn't the case, you simply don't have that much power to ensure everyone behaves just the way you want, no matter how much you try. You need to have several possible clients wishing to do with you at the same time to be comfortable, so you need to use your talents under your control to ensure you have enough future business in the pipeline.

Take charge of the things you can control, and the things you can't control won't defeat you.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Construction Marketing: Leads and sales when you are just starting out

You don't need fancy marketing materials in the start-up stage if you are willing to burn some shoe leather and have a simple, defined niche and service offer (and, better, you enjoy your work). The contractor using this note claimed he could earn $10,000 to $20,000 in sales in less than four hours canvassing. I haven't been able to validate the claim, however.

Many new businesses start during recessions and the often are the most successful and viable enterprises when conditions recover. Often, you start your own business during hard times because you have nothing to lose -- you have lost your job -- and you know you have the talent and ability to succeed.

The challenge is you don't have piles of money to waste, and you need to get business, fast. Unless you have some rich relatives to back you (you might, in which case you are blowing their money, not your own), you must preserve every cent you have and decide how to use your time and resources effectively.

This blog is not a general source of business start-up advice; I focus purely on marketing issues here, but that is part of my advice. You need to focus your energies in a specific niche and area of expertise, framed within a geographical or social market space. In other words, you can "do everything" if you wish to offer handyman services (minor work under $5,000) within a rural community or defined (small) urban neighbourhood. You are not going to succeed if you try to do everything and go after big jobs in a wide area (assuming, in the first place, you can obtain licensing or bonding to get this type of work at the outset.)

Conversely, you can position yourself as an expert in something like (this is just off the top of my head), "heritage building repainting" if you serve a community with specific heritage preservation laws and have the relevant credentials, or "stock car garage fitting" if you happen to know a lot of NASCAR people needing that type of service.

Two practical clues to ideal focus are (a) the first project that may have fallen into your lap (perhaps from a relative or someone who knows your expertise and (b), whether you are really, amazingly, fascinated and love doing the work because the opportunity represents who you are in your entire inner self. The second point may seem absurdly idealistic when you are just trying to make a few bucks, quickly, but is actually truly important at the business start-up stage. If you don't really love your work, if you are just doing the work to survive, you are likely to live on the edge of failure permanently, or at least until someone offers you a less-crappy job. (Because most business start-ups are worse in pay, working conditions, and 'security' than the most crappy jobs.)

Next, you need to find clients. You are going to have to do it the hard way, at the start, but you can still finesse things. Perhaps you can obtain testimonials from previous clients where you worked as an employee elsewhere (beware of course of non-compete and non-solicitation requirements in your employment contract; if you have these, you may be able to get out of them, but you should be willing to spend a few hundred dollars for legal advice before you start.)

You can:
  • Call friends and relatives;
  • Call on your network through your church, social clubs, or (if you are established in these spaces) Internet social network sites;
  • Use free advertising resources such as Craigs List;
  • Canvass and/or telemarket: Can be highly effective if you are willing to burn the shoe leather, handle the rejection, and sincerely offer your service. See my earlier posting about a rather surprising canvassing success story.
You should not pay cash for advertising, and be wary of commercial leads services, at the start. First, you don't know what you are doing, and second, you will find that unwise decisions can drain whatever capital you have.

Remember you need to focus your energies within a specific niche, community, or market speciality, and if at all possible, offer a service that you really want to provide with passion, heart, and energy. Your will to work and your enthusiasm for your trade or speciality will carry you much further than millions of dollars in capital or slick marketing materials.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Construction Marketing: Leads and sales

Why bother with learning about how to be an effective and successful construction industry marketer? The answer -- and measure of your marketing success -- is the quality of sales leads you are able to generate.

Quality leads convert to high-value business with little selling or pricing effort. In other words, if your marketing is successful, people will pay your price, without resistance, and will sign on the dotted line exactly when you wish them to make their commitments.

In many respects, lead quality is far more important than quantity. If you want lots of leads, I can give you the phone book, or you can call one of the commercial services who will send you dozens of somewhat qualified leads, of which a few will convert to real business. Maybe you have an efficient and resourceful (and maybe a high pressure) sales force, who can drum up business by cold calling or door-to-door canvassing. These methods work, but they are stressful or most of us, and unpleasant for virtually everyone.

Conversely, word-of-mouth referrals and repeat clients because of their satisfaction with your service are golden. You don't strain or struggle to serve them, you enjoy working with these prime clients, and some of them are incredibly helpful for your business, perhaps referring several other high quality clients.

These numbers are validated by our ongoing poll, where hundreds of people have now voted, and 73 per cent say they find most of their business through repeat and referral business.

With this information in hand, you now have a clue to how you should focus your marketing efforts.
  1. Develop your service so well that clients want to do business with you by treating them right. Remember, two major client complaints are failure to return calls in a timely manner, and failure to clean up your job site. These are easy fixes.
  2. Then, focus on communicating, responding, connecting, and building out relationships with your existing clients to induce and encourage more repeat and referral business.
Your next challenge is to figure out how to leverage beyond these two basic guidelines. Advertising, leads services, and cold calling and canvassing all have their places: They can be expensive, short term, but if you are able to attract the right type of clients who will fit into the referral/repeat matrix you will recoup your investment. But you can do these things intelligently.

I'm a firm believer in effective media publicity (we provide that to our clients in Ontario, North Carolina and the greater Washington DC area), coupled with resourceful association networking, both in the business-t0-business and community environments. Both forms of marketing can be inexpensive or virtually free in cash cost, but require commitments of time, energy and talent.

You don't need to spend a lot of money to be a truly effective construction industry market leader. Simply focus on your core -- your existing and previous clients -- and build out the relationships of trust and integrity to the wider community through their network.

(And what should you do when you are just starting out? I'll discuss your options in my next posting.)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

How to win your pitch

Here's my video review of Joey Asher's book, How to Win a Pitch.

You also can read my earlier posting on this topic, which outlines his five fundamental points for success.

Ready for change?

This image is a little distant from this article's theme, but I like the questions the photo raises from a Construction Marketing Ideas perspective.

Mel Lester makes an excellent point in his E-Quip blog when he reports that hard times may be the key catalyst for important and necessary changes in your business and life.
But sometimes change is imposed upon us, and we're forced to respond in ways we were unable or unwilling to do previously on our own unprompted initiative. Economic downturns can do that. Hard times can be just the catalyst we need for needed change. Rahm Emanuel's comment "never waste a crisis" was politically motivated, but that's not bad business advice.

One of the most important truths of organizational change is the following: "If the pain of change is greater than the pain of staying the same, change will not occur." There are many reasons change initiatives fail, but this is the most common. There is too much discomfort in changing, not enough in staying the course. So the status quo prevails, often despite elaborate plans and valiant improvement efforts.
I agree. It is hard to change when things look like they are working well, even when they aren't. Sometimes you need a real scare, a real crisis, to provoke the necessary change. But there is an important precurser for success in these situations: You need to have the knowledge and insight to be aware of what you need to do, and why.The best example I can give of this quality is how I made it through the early 90s recession, about three years after starting in business. I remember heading home from the office one blustery March day, thinking all had been lost -- if you added the negative equity in a dumpy property I owned, I was effectively bankrupt -- single, no girlfriend or family, nothing much to show in life for a 38-year-old.

But a couple of years earlier, in a trade-out deal, I had obtained some Brian Tracy motivational tapes, and one thing he suggested was to affirm "I am responsible for myself", and for some reason, on that dismal day, this thought stuck in my mind. Sure, things were bad, but no one but me could solve the problem. Two years later, I married the woman of my dreams (I had known her as a friend for 13 years) and my personal standard of living skyrocketed as my business recovered.

It is easy to say that this magical turn-around occurred because I purchased and listened to some tapes by a motivational guru but that is too simple. Other choices, decisions, and responses shaped and continue to challenge my assumptions. So should you.

You will best be prepared for change with the bedrock of your values, and your accumulated knowledge of what is right and necessary. Then, when hard times hit, you will respond naturally and effectively to the crisis and make the changes you should have made long ago.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Cold calling or networking: Which is better?

Doyle Slayton, in a provocative posting on, Networking for Results, observes:

As was the case with The Great Debate: Quality vs. Volume, once again, I’m in the minority (see Pump Up the Volume). I don't find networking to be an effective way for "sales" professionals to exceed their goals. For that reason, I almost never attend networking events. On the rare occasion when I do, I’m normally there to support the person or the friend of the person who is hosting the event.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met a lot of nice people and built some good friendships at networking events, but when I’m looking for results… when I’m looking to exceed quota… I get on the phone! Cold calling and pipeline management… that’s the key to sales success!

If I’m going to meet new people at a networking event, I’m looking for people who are big thinkers. Maybe I’ll meet someone who I can collaborate with at some point in the future… But let’s be clear… At this point, I don’t want to sell them anything, and I’m not in the buying mood. Lastly, I’m not looking for an opportunity to get together for coffee. No offense, but I don’t have time for that. The truth is… I don’t drink coffee (smile).

There is another very important fact that has shaped my disbelief in networking. Almost every team I have worked with has members who are attracted to the networking scene. None of those individuals were ever outstanding producers. Most of them struggled to even meet expectations.
Is there a step-by-step formula for those who love networking to produce “superstar” results?
So, since I believe real networking (not the plastic stuff at 'networking events') is the best way to go, I'll do my best to answer Doyle:

Step 1
Know your primary market and Interest group. You can discern this often from your best current clients (who may provide introductions to Step 2).

Step 2
Join relevant associations and groups where your current clients and their peers hang out.

Step 3
Actively engage and contribute to the group and support the individual members without worrying about return. This is not a quick hit game (though results can occur surprisingly rapidly when you let go of the urgency). Follow the principals sharing, respect, and contribution.

Step 4
Reap the rewards. This occurs in two ways. One, people will invite you to do business with them or offer referrals as part of the principal of reciprocation. Or, in appropriate circumstances, you can openly ask your friends and colleagues for help. Because you've built the relationships to a high enough level, they will.

That's the formula. Now, if you need results immediately -- if you must get orders in the door yesterday and you have a manager breathing down your back, and you haven't bothered to build any relationships to start, you will probably have to go to the most intrusive and irritating forms of cold calling and canvassing, and hope something sticks. But if you've laid the groundwork with your networking and existing relationships, you will likely have much greater success in a crisis by calling on favours from people who respect and trust you.

Networking done right can leverage relationships. Oh, by the way, I found Doyle's blog through a reference that Ford Harding had joined his group. That's good enough for me. If you can utilize the multiplying effect of really strong relationships and media and social networking publicity, you can speed up the reputation building and relationship development far faster than either conventional cold calling or meet-and-greet networking. But that's marketing, not sales!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Publicity and privacy: Be careful

Images captured by the Google Street View camera have caught people in embarrassing or compromising situations. See this posting on the site.

I'm having some trouble writing this posting. In the original version, the text, naming names, reads like a tale of woe about how to get into real construction marketing publicity trouble on the Internet by carelessly expressing yourself, or simply allowing your actions to be exposed through the intense power and scrutiny of online resources.

The less-than-positive stories are real, and I've participated in a few of them in the past few years, digging out public-record information and discovering things that some people would rather not seen publicized.

They are powerful examples of how seemingly inadvertent actions can have unintended consequences. You simply cannot compartmentalize your life these days. If you engage in public or semi-public activities (for example, by sending an email to a few friends, or allowing a compromising image to be taken of you in public place), you may soon find your are on hundreds, thousands, or more computer screens, blogs, and websites.

In the original version of this posting, I poured oil onto water by citing some specific examples, naming names and hyperlinking the text to the relevant source information.

Then I hesitated.

Is the purpose of this blog to dig up mud or to show readers how to market effectively? However, what happens if you create your own problems through careless ignorance of this rule? Whatever you do in public these days can be recorded and redistributed widely outside your control and distributed to millions.

Use common sense. I'm not advocating paranoia, but when you send emails, or post pictures on social networking sites, or demonstrate anything in public you might want to keep private, remember that Big Brother indeed is watching.

Conversely, if you have a good, humorous or positive story to share, don't be afraid to communicate through unconventional methods. Maybe you can track where the Google camera is and set up an 'accidental' shot that will be seen around the world (The Google van is in Ottawa now.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Change order boat owner identified

I've confirmed through local construction association representatives that Paul Frazier of Bronze Construction in Memphis TN is the owner of the Change Order boat. I've left a message at his office.

See: Change Order Boat Mystery (Partially) Solved

How to connect your marketing pieces for success

Robb Graham and Jessica Rowan at the first SMPS Ontario T3 (Third Thursday) networking event in Toronto. How can SMPS chapters attract more participation at events? Tim Klabunde in Washington, DC offers some ideas in his Cofebuz Blog.

Three interesting posts on the blogs I monitor closely demonstrate the challenges and opportunities in construction marketing.

In the first, Tim Klabunde answers a question from a fellow SMPS chapter co-ordinator trying to get more people out to local chapter meetings. He says the most effective approaches are building on word of mouth, and "viral marketing". The latter approach worked for the Design and Construction Network, an initiative founded on online sources such as "I have not yet been able to make it happen for our SMPS lunch programs," he writes. More effective, in this case, is encouraging and enhancing word-of-mouth promotion.
Instead of just sending out blast e-mails about an event (which you should still do) build a group of people that are responsible to invite people during the course of regular conversations. So, if you send an e-mail to a friend that might benefit from attending ask if they are going to be at the program and let them know that you are going to be there.
Meanwhile, Michael Stone reported that while attendance overall at the Journal of Light Construction conference held up well despite the recession-induced stress in the housing market, he says he was surprised that few younger contractors attended the event.
JLC Shows have an interesting mix of attendees, with younger business owners (20’s and 30’s), as well as those in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and even beyond. This show had a serious lack of business owners in their 20’s and 30’s. I have been a speaker at JLC Live shows for many years now, and this was by far the oldest group of attendees that I have seen.

So the question begs to be asked, “Why?” Let me offer my theories, and I’d like to hear yours.

Many older business owners have been through one or more of the housing downturns that we are now experiencing. They even remember the last really tough market, the late 70’s and early 80’s, with mortgage rates in the teens and twenties. They know from experience that we always come out of these downturns and move on to better things, more business, a brighter future. When things are slow, they know that investing in their education will pay off in the long run.

For many young business owners, it is their first business setback or downturn. They have never experienced a lack of phone calls and business, especially when the market was so easy so recently. Many are pushing the panic button and giving their work away, and are working on the jobs themselves. They associate activity with accomplishment. They don’t have time to visit a trade show, they have too much to do.

Stone, of course, says this is unwise. When times get tough, you need to get out and learn how to run your business more effectively. He's right, to a degree. But when the wolf is at your door, and you don't have experience otherwise (and lack capital), you might find it strange to spend time away from clients and spend money on hotels and attendance fees for a conference.

Finally, look at Mel Lester's posting in his E-Quip blog:

As many of you know, I’ve long maintained that superior client service is the best differentiation strategy in our industry. Last week I stumbled across still more evidence to support my claim. The consulting firm Morrissey Goodale recently published the A/E Industry Customer Service Report Card which summarizes their survey of project owners.

Notable in the report is the paucity of high marks for several key service areas. Following are some highlights from the report:

Only 16% of clients gave their A/E service providers an A grade for overall satisfaction. A fourth of respondents gave firms they worked with a C. Sixty percent gave their firms a grade of B.

The lowest scores were largely related to the direct interaction with the client. Only 14% of firms got an A for communications. Project managers received the highest score only 12% of the time. Project management earned the lowest score of all--7%.
When you pull together the threads from these blogs, you can come up with some interesting observations and clues about how to be more successful with your construction industry marketing.
  1. Nothing beats interaction and communication with your clients and prospects. You can do this at conferences and events (Stone, as a consultant, is right to be at the JLC conference, but if you are building business within your markets, I would advocate you attend conferences where your clients are attending, more than your peers.) You can also connect by email, or supplement emails and phone conversations, depending on the nature of your relationship and situation. (Someone who had communicated with us on Internet forums sent an email to me yesterday, I responded with a phone call, and obtained some valuable business from that conversation.)
  2. Your biggest marketing "hits" and "wow" success stories have an aspect of unpredictability about them. Tim Klabunde could not have known ahead of time how the Design and Construction Network would catch on, online. I certainly didn't expect that the postings on "Change order boat" would result in more Google searches to this blog other than the obvious Construction Marketing topic.
  3. However, in assessing the unpredictability of really successful marketing events, you can learn from others' experience and of course ride the wave when it happens. Media publicity, like viral marketing, can achieve dramatic and surprising results, but there are ways to encourage and manage them. While you have to be careful about budgeting for a hit, you certainly can respond effectively and if appropriate stoke the fires.
  4. Finally, you are most likely to be successful if you apply several complementary approaches at the same time. The Design and Construction Network Happy Hour marketing in part achieved viral status because rarely can online interactions lead to face-to-face communication in short order. Likewise, this blog and other online resources allow me to maintain relationships with current, former, and future clients in an unobtrusive environment -- the key is to make closer, more personal and immediate connections when appropriate. (And of course the blog and reference to other bloggers enhances lateral relationships -- the fellow bloggers have their own networks, influence, and connections, so the circle grows wider even as marketing depth and effectiveness increases.)
How can you tie these thought threads together? Most importantly, connect with your clients. Use a variety of complementary resources and marketing methods. You'll achieve success, both slowly and incrementally, and then, suddenly, you may find you have a marketing hit on your hands.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Change order boat mystery solved

This image has been making its way around the Internet. And now I know who took it -- a Canadian visiting Ohio in 2007.

Today, I received an email from Mississauga, Ontario (in the Greater Toronto Area) whose writer says he took the "change order boat" picture that has been making its way around the Internet largely by viral emails.

This image and earlier postings relating to it have been the most popular keywords and page searches leading to this blog (other than the obvious "construction marketing" word combination), since I first posted the reference last year.

While I know the email writer's identity, he has requested I not publish his name. However, his letter is worthy of posting here:
I ran into your website with the picture of Change Order.

The history of the picture is simple. I am a management consultant who does a lot of work with construction companies. Mostly finance and organization.

I was on assignment in Vermillion, Ohio in late July 07 eating at the Red Clay on the River restaurant patio over looking the water. I noted the boat and tender moored in a slip across the water and given my construction background thought the boat and tender and names highly funny. Shot the picture with a digital camera that I carry, sent some copies to a few close friends and associates who I thought would appreciate the humor.

This year (March 09) I was with a client in New Jersey, who had the picture in his office and said “see my boat”? My immediate answer was that it wasn’t his boat since I shot the original image. I knew it was my original from the girl in black in the picture, the placement of her leg behind the piling and the bow of the boat just entering the picture on the lower left.

I have no idea who owns the boat other than he appears to be a successful contractor with a great sense of humor.

The interesting part of this story is that I had no idea the image would resonate as it has. I found that you can Google the picture and find it which is how I happened on your website. I know the power of the Internet but had never really experienced how things of interest can travel so widely in cyberspace. There is a small part of me that wishes I had 10 cents for every computer this picture has been sent to. I might be in Tahiti with a beach house etc. Oh well. But I am happy that many others seem to have enjoyed it.
So, we can trace this picture to the U.S. Midwest and to a Canadian who just happened to be there. The world is smaller than we think. My correspondent concluded his note with this PS: " ... and yes we Canadians also have a sense of humor."

Note: I have since discovered there are two change order boats, one owned by Paul Frazier of Bronze Construction, In Memphis, TN. (not the one pictured). The person who discovered the boat also agreed to have his identity published. See this posting which resolves the issue as much as possible.

How to (really) win a pitch (2)

Joey Asher in his book, How to Win A Pitch, outlines five fundamental points. Here they are:
(I'm stretching copyright but don't think he will mind me repeating this page:)

Fundamental number one: Make sure your presentation focuses on one thing: your prospect's needs. No one cares about your firm's history. Your prospect only cares about how you will help them solve their business problems.

Fundamental number two: Keep your message simple Most presentations are too complex and try to make too many points. Your message will stand out if it's simple and disciplined.

Fundamental number three: Show passion. Most presenters speak with a boring "serious" business voice. You will separate yourself if your voice and face show that you really want this job. Be intense. Be passionate.

Fundamental number four: Make the presentation as interactive as possible. Interaction allows the prospect to get a true sense of who you really are. That separates you from the competition.

Fundamental number five: Rehearse. One of the best ways to show that you really care is to come in well practiced. It's always apparent to the prospect who has researched the most. That is another separator.

Execute these fundamentals every time you deliver a pitch and you'll win more than your fair share of presentations.
Here, I'll disagree slightly with Asher. You won't win "more than your fair share" of presentations -- you'll win your presentations because you deserve to win them.

In an email overnight, Asher wrote:
Hi Mark.

Thanks for the great review! and I completely agree with your take on presentations in the AEC market. I'm going to do my best to drive people to your site. I want everyone reading your review!

BTW. The book is going to be available on Amazon in May. The official release date to the book trade is May 19. It's available now at
Asher also can be followed on Twitter at I'm at:

Monday, March 23, 2009

Direct mail and marketing (the simple way)

This thread "Update on Advertising" offers an inspiring and practical business-building solution for smaller contractors trying to find business in hard times. You need to do some work, taking a list and hand-addressing the letters, but the results can be satisfactory if you are ready to put in the effort. Cost will be some sweat and a few hundred dollars, maximum.

How to (really) win a pitch

When Joey Asher approached me with an invitation to review his book: How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals That Will Distinguish You from the Competition my first reaction, frankly, was to recoil.

The word "pitch" conveys everything that is wrong about marketing within the AEC environment -- the stand-em-up, shoot-em-down BS-filled presentation which will never work unless you are so well connected with the project that you really shouldn't need to pitch, anyways . . .

Well, turns out Asher and I agree on the basics: Most pitches are terrible, and most pitches fail because they are, well, pitches!

(Asher doesn't define it this way, but I'll give my definition of a "Pitch". You receive your RFP or "Invitation to Bid" and you bring out your team and hash out some ideas, then show up with your standard power point presentation, and proceed to, boringly, "dazzle" your prospective clients, who had actually chosen someone else already . . .)

Asher makes it quite clear that in most cases you haven't got a chance in a thousand to win this type of "pitch". You have to have a relationship with the people and organization to whom you are presenting -- at least enough of a relationship to know the story behind the story; the real reason they have requested your proposal, and then, your job is to develop a well-thought and researched (and enthusiastic) presentation showing the prospective client how you can actually and truly solve the potential client's challenges.

In other words, you need to wire this story in your favour before you even go into the conference room to deliver your presentation. And you want an environment where the people in the room are peppering you with questions, so much that your focus is engaged in a conversation rather than a "pitch" with the people to whom you hope to do business with.

Of course, once you've done your homework, and followed Asher's advice, you'll likely stand out from the crowd. His point is if you make it to the point where you are on the short list of finalists, you obviously have enough technical capability to win the work: So the real decision is going to be on how you relate to the people who are making the decision -- and the best way you can relate to them is to share real ideas and insights, and involve them in the process, and be really prepared.

There's lots of good stuff in this book. Asher is effectively using it to promote his pitch-preparation and coaching business. But you don't need to pay for his extended services to gain value.

So, he succeeded.

Asher's "pitch" worked because he knew his market and the obvious relevance of his book to this blog.

Next posting, I'll share with you his five fundamentals.

If you want to buy the book, you can find it at Amazon.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

How you can win the Construction Marketing popularity contest

Paul Lesieur uses his "Mobile Kitchen Display" both as a showroom at home shows, but more impressively, as follows: " I drive it to the customer and bring a 1/2 pound of WoW kitchens coffee that I personally roast. I drive out, start the generator, make the homeowner a Cappuccino to drink while looking at my showroom. After were done I offer the homeowner the coffee. Do you think I stand out from my competition?"

Paul Lesieur of Silvertree Construction in Minneapolis, Minnesota, sent the following email last night. If you want to know why, read this thread which he started, Wanna Trade Links, Watch this, in which he delivers a video from SEO (Search Engine Optimization) guru Scott Willoughby.

I wrote an article on how I blogged, very short.

How I blogged
Blogging is good for me on two fronts. It helps drive traffic to my site, and it puts me in the expert category because if you can write about something, readers feel you must be an expert.

First thing I did was get a Wordpress account, got a free template and then began to write. Since I was not a writer I used the free writing tools at Ezine. I learned a little about punctuation and grammar and spell checked my attempts, finally i was ready to publish.

What I learned was, you need to keep it interesting while keeping it short. A 400 to 800 word article was what I produced with a few articles only 150 words in length. Another thing I learned was its a lot of work, you need to come up with a snappy title and write relevant content.

Blogging produced some positive results, much more traffic to my website, and my first Internet lead. I also use my blog to promote my industry partners, and in turn they are referring me to others. If you are considering a blog be prepared to constantly be working on it and remember, what you put out on the Internet will be seen by many people, so make it relevant and interesting.

Its too soon to say where this will lead, but aside from the time it takes, my blog is a success, also I think its one of the best things I ever did to market my business.

Paul Lesieur
There are some other aspects to this story, however. Paul is certainly jot the only person coming here with useful and relevant information about Construction Marketing Ideas. This blog is getting easier to maintain and grow. This success in part relates to the one of the fundamental rules of marketing: Make sure you are first within your niche, and do your work well enough to hold that position. And there are other rules, suggested in Matt Handal's Help Everybody Everyday blog where in reading his latest posting, initially expecting just some more good advice, I received another ego boost!

Successful Marketers often establish themselves or people in their firms as experts in a particular subject. This is because people often take the advice of experts.

One great example of this is Mark Buckshon, who publishes construction-related news publications in Canada and the US. Mark's firm makes money through the sale of ad space. One of his primary marketing tools is a blog, newsletter, and an upcoming book about marketing in the construction industry. While you might assume that Mark's expertise is in publishing, he knows that his client base finds marketing advice much more valuable. By writing about this subject, he has established himself as an "expert", and has leveraged both the weapons of Authority and Reciprocation in one successful swoop.

In practicing and understanding these methodologies, you need to remember that marketing success gets much easier, almost on an exponential level, once you reach a break-through leadership point. Your challenge then is to determine if your initiatives are "me to" or will take you to first place.

There's of course nothing wrong with "me too" stuff, especially if you can copy and refine it to your specific niche -- for example, if your market is being a renovation or remodeling contractor in Minneapolis, you simply need to be top place within the category: "Remodeling in Minneapolis". You can copy and adapt stuff from elsewhere to be the leader in your own space -- I certainly did that in starting this blog, and continue to do it today!

Please feel free to communicate your marketing initiatives and stories by comment or email to You'll receive editorial mention here, and a higher search engine ranking for your own blog or site.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

In the news in the Soo

The successful adaptation of new convergence communications models is readily apparent in how two local businesses in Sault Ste. Marie received recognition as Ontario Construction Report Readers' Choice Award recipients.

Local Internet site sent a videographer to the sites where Northern Ontario Construction News Publisher Leslie Greenwood presented the awards to George Stone and Sons Ltd. and Ficmar Builders. She described how she felt both awkward and excited in front of the camera.

I expect I'll reset this post later today with an embed (though you can click on the pictures for the link to the Soo News page with the video).

This is a great example of how new media converges with old, and may provide powerful clues about your marketing. Multi-dimensional and multi-media approaches are now possible on truly low budgets; whether you wish the formal "television advertisement" or the less structured video interview/communication strategy.

Service costs have dropped so low (in many cases they are free) that you can experiment with the new communications models in your spare time, without draining a cent of your marketing budget (of course you may drain a lot of your time to make this stuff work).

Friday, March 20, 2009

Newspapers, the Internet and construction marketing

The Daily Record in Dunn, NC, has the highest market "penetration rate" in the country -- more than the population of the community it serves? How is it so successful: "Names, names, names". This is one of the most effective ways for newspapers to remain relevant to readers and advertisers alike.

Newspapers, as we know it, are in trouble. The Internet's nearly-free and hyper-specialized opportunities are turning the conventional printed media's former advantages into big liabilities. The cost of gathering news, printing and distributing information cannot be recovered from advertisers, so formerly solid edifices are crumbling.

However, printed media survives and retains value in these places:
  1. Where you cannot practically access online resources (airlines, especially during take off and landing, are an example);
  2. Where the publication puts you in the news (lots of names, pictures, and local gossip);
  3. Where weekly advertising fliers are a tradition (the preprinted inserts seem to be wasteful, but they still work, possibly because readers are in the habit -- and because they can tear out or quickly organize the "specials" sold that way.)
  4. Where the printed media provides enough real value in relationship development and online resources to serve advertisers effectively (that's us!)
So, should you use the newspaper in your construction marketing?

Yes, if you follow these guidelines:
  • Check with your current/best clients and see what they read, like, follow, and respond to. Take them to lunch, or dinner, or sit with them for a coffee, and listen. You want to adapt your marketing to reach more people like them. (These conversations will provide you with an added opportunity, as well, to gather additional business and direct referrals -- and arrange for testimonial notes.)
  • Look in the local media, and in media in similar but non-competitive markets, for repeat, continuous advertising from service providers offering your product or service. In non-competitive markets, call the advertiser to pick brain. You may find another contractor has ideas worthy of borrowing.
  • Set up an effective measuring/tracking system (possibly a special phone number, web address or the like) so you can tell how your ads are actually working.
  • Call the relevant publications and negotiate the best deal you can -- remember, rate cards are not always carved in stone, and extras can be arranged, possibly some additional advertising space, colour, or free editorial/advertorial coverage.
Then, when you've done all of these things, set a budget large enough for a reliable, regular, and continuous advertising. You won't succeed with a one-shot deal; you need to have patience for the print media to be effective. This is why you must complete the first stages of the research -- otherwise you ma be tempted to quit your advertising just before it becomes truly effective.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Selling and buying

Blogger Gary Vaynerchuk doesn't need to make cold calls to succeed -- he shows how, by demonstrating how to make a cold call in this video posting.

Most of us, most of the time, don't like to sell or be sold anything. However, most of us like to experience things, to share news (gossip?), and to be entertained. So how do you find new and profitable business, then?

These thoughts run through my mind as (a) I initially turned down but may eventually do business with someone who wanted to pay me for a link on this blog, (b) fellow blogger Seth Holdren posts a fascinating video showing how you can "monetize" your blog, and (c) I thought how Gary Vaynerchuk, giving the advice on monetizing a blog, actually is achieving the objectives of achieving his business objective without selling anything. That is, others are now posting and reviewing, and observing the blog, in an ever-expanding network.

We see these contradictions all the time in business. Most successful contractors, architects and engineers, win most of their business through repeat clients and referrals, even public RFP stuff is often wired in favour of one organization or another.

Going out and selling stuff -- actually phoning people cold, or even simply asking for business, seems unpleasant, to be avoided, and disturbing. If only we could make the clients come to us without doing that sort of thing, we think.

So we are paralyzed with inaction when the phone doesn't ring (except for someone trying to sell us something.) Or we seek to buy the answer through advertising: We pay someone else to send out our message, with the hope that potential clients will call us. We measure our success when this happens.

Our challenge then, is to find a way to market like Gary Vaynerchuk, to reach out -- to actually sell -- in a way that transcends the simple one-on-one selling experience, and gives you leverage so that you can, indeed, get people to call you who hear about you from others, who hear about you.


Can you hire a publicist or do you have the knack for getting the media interested in your business. The selling here will be the 'pitch' to the relevant media outlet, or the outrageously innovative idea that you can spread virally.

Blogging (passionately)
That's me. I'm good at this stuff and the blog is reaching higher rankings because of its success.

Hiring someone else to sell for you
Yes, it would be nice to get someone else to make your cold calls, but I think you are unlikely to be successful unless you make some yourself -- you can delegate this work, but you can only do that once you really appreciate what is involved.

Initiating community service and networks (being a leader)
Look what Tim Klabunde is doing in Washington.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Risk taking and rewards in life, business and marketing

Among my experiences today, I rode the Roslyn Metro Escalator -- At 205 feet, 8 inches, the escalator to street level is the third longest continuous span escalator in the world, an engineering marvel.

Today, as we conducted interviews for writer/editors for Washington Construction News, I thought about the ironies and opportunities that define our lives and choices.

In Washington, we are resurrecting a business that had fallen apart -- yet in its original birth and its resurrection reveal intriguing lessons about risk, failure, choice, and revival.

(What is a Canadian doing in the U.S. capital city, publishing a local newspaper? And how, three years after closing the publication as our business almost failed, could I come back and re-start it in the midst of a major recession?)

I'm here because of accident, experience, and choices made in far away places at far away times.

What drove me to fly to Africa and live out the end of the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe war as a journalist, only to return home just as a major recession in 1980 threatened to destroy the newspaper industry (and, like the current crisis, resulted in the failure of dozens of publications across North America.)

And why, back in 1987, did I decide to exploit a loophole in U.S. immigration regulations, collecting several thousand dollars in revenue as I embarked on my first visit to Washington -- to deliver applications for the first U.S. non-preference visa lottery. (Our initiative proved to be successful in more ways than one: Several of the approximately 300 people who paid us between $25 and $100 for their chance at a Green Card, indeed received one -- I did!)

These observations may seem like brags, and they are, in a way, but my list of dumb mistakes and blunders is equally impressive. Many of my lessons have been learned through the school of hard knocks.

Nevertheless, in Africa I learned an important lesson: Risk is a relative thing -- and perceived risk is often greater than real risk. After all, who really has more job security? The person who owns a business, keeps a close eye on it, and cuts where necessary, or the person with a job who can be cut anytime (or clings to a morale and mind-sapping job just because of "security"-- giving up soul and heart in exchange for a "steady pay cheque".)

If you are afraid now for your future, if you are yearning for security and hope, remember that the biggest risk may be taking none at all. This does not mean I'm advocating throwing good money after bad and investing real cash in an untried business. You need to find a way to start without any money (or very little, if you wish.)

Then, if you have the courage to follow your dreams, you will find opportunities in places and circumstances you least expect.

I'm happy to be thinking these thoughts as I sit in the airline lounge at Reagan National Airport waiting for my flight home.

To Washington . . .

In a few minutes, I head to the airport for a busy day in Washington, DC as we co-ordinate the relaunch of Washington Construction News. I'll be meeting with new publisher Karen Buckley and prospective editors and writers.

If you are in the construction community in the Washington DC metro area and would like to receive a free subscription, you can request it with this online subscription form.

The Ontario General Contractors Association Symposium

Yesterday, I forwarded the following announcement about the Ontario General Contractors Association Sixth Annual Symposium primarily to readers and advertisers in Ontario. This is probably the most useful educational and networking event in the annual calendar if you either are or work with general contractors in Ontario.

We have received the following communication from OGCA office manager Mary Wademan:

Good afternoon all - we are reaching out to those of you who attended the symposium in 2008 to make sure we have reached every possible delegate and non-delegate before the rooms are released at Blue Mountain.

We have attached the registration form for the 2009 symposium, and ask you to complete the registration form, faxing it to 905-671-8212 as soon as possible, then call to book your room at Blue Mountain. The rooms will be released on Friday, March 20, although we have asked for an extension to Monday, March 23.

Brochures have been sent but we may have missed you. If you wish to receive a copy of the 2009 brochure, please let me know. All delegates will receive the brochure in their registration packages.

Hope to see you at Blue!
You can also view a copy of the symposium brochure here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

For the U.S. federal and state government updates on the infrastructure and economic recovery initiative, you can visit this site,
By May 2009 Washington Construction News will implement coverage of the progress of federal stimulus initiatives on the economy.

The Construction Marketing Ideas video blog review

You can arrange a review of your own site/blog by visiting

Peter Ericson at The Complete Website, LLC offers free video critiques/reviews of your blog -- and I took him up on his offer. His report of the Construction Marketing Ideas blog is here.

Recovering from the pain of criticism (no one likes to be criticized, of course), I realize he makes some truly good points. I'm a writer (and publisher), not a blog designer. As well, this site is intentionally experimental, especially with advertising placements.

Ericson's offer is an intriguing example of the use of video and free consulting to promote his own services.

In the short term, I've adjusted some of the advertising spots, removing ones that are yielding low results.

I'm not sure if putting the navigation bar outlining the blog history/archives to the top of the sidebar is the best use of space. The links list can be better organized --some sort of categorization will be helpful, I think -- but that takes time and effort which will need to await a major rebuild in the future.

Ericson shows some examples of really well done blogs and this blog would probably benefit from a major redesign later.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Your $10,000 advertising budget: How should you use it?

Regional publications like Ottawa Renovates are effective because of their focused readership and distribution. You need to be thoughtful about where and how you allocate your advertising dollars.

If you have $10,000 to spend on advertising, where should you allocate your funds for your construction industry marketing? That question naturally invites the response "it depends" but you can still find clues in these observations.
  • If you've spent this money successfully in other media (for example Yellow Pages or newspaper advertising), and the ads have worked for you in the past, continue if the ads are still working. It doesn't matter what the trendy or new thing is, if you have found ads that generate worthwhile results on a cost-per-lead basis, you should not dump them until you have validated and discovered that the new and better way is truly new and better for you.
  • If you haven't advertised in the past, and relied on "word of mouth", consider strategic ideas to enhance/build and increase your referral and word-of mouth-relationships before you rush to spend money on advertising anywhere. In other words, develop campaigns and programs to reach and communicate with your current and previous clients -- perhaps holding client appreciation events/dinners, send them e-letters, and (best of all) improve your direct communication and thank you contact with your clients.
  • You can use this contact/communication, as well, to learn your clients' interests and which media they like/respect. You may wish to allocate some of your funds to advertising in these media outlets.
  • If you haven't already done it, spend at least a few hundred dollars to build an effective website. You can use a variety of inexpensive service providers. We paid just $500, for example, to build the Ottawa Renovates site.
  • If you are just starting out and don't have previous clients or a track record, proceed with exceptional caution, especially in the current environment. You can easily burn your budget with misplaced or misguided advertising expense, and you must be very careful in projecting your cost/value per lead. I assume in starting out you have some contacts/connections with previous clients (and are not subject to non-disclosure/solicitation contract obligations with your former employer), and would look at communicating and connecting with these people first.
Remember, that a $10,000 advertising purchase is a drop in the bucket in a larger market, but could be have significant impact within a small, focused community, niche or market area. Focus your advertising where it will do you the greatest good -- not where advertising salespeople urge you to go. Then you can grow your business to where a $100,000 advertising budget is reasonable, if you wish.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Same product, different approach

In 2005, we thought of association relationships as "selling opportunities." I discovered the Society for Marketing Professional Services just as we were virtually forced to mothball our U.S. business, and sensed a different approach would work much better, choosing to engage and contribute to the association even though there were no local chapters where we operated and so we could expect absolutely no business in return. Come 2009 and there is a chapter in Ontario and we enjoy good relationships with the chapters in Washington, D.C. and in Raleigh/Durham and Charlotte, North Carolina, where we have active businesses. The above image is from a SMPS D.C. Chapter meeting.

The product/service our business provides in 2009 isn't much different from 2005. Our business is growing (in a serious recession), while in the middle part of the decade, the business was declining, almost to the point of collapse.

What changed?

The answer may provide you with clues about how you can defy the recessionary environment.

We learned how to respect clients and the community-at-large and focus on relationships rather than transactions.

In 2009 we want our sales representatives to be "order-takers". In 2005 we wanted them to be "closers". Order-takers get business because people want to do business with us; closers need to force "sales techniques" on prospective clients.

How can this be? The key to the change is my initially painful discovery that we needed to look far beyond the actual selling process and focus much more on how we relate to our clients both before, during and after the transaction.

We know that we are succeeding when the purchase decision is made effortlessly, without any "sign now" pressure, and when our biggest problem is dealing with competitors who use high pressure or abusive tactics, sometimes souring the market and causing people to say "no" to us because of bad experiences elsewhere.

In many cases, after the potential clients compare us to our competitors, they call back and give us the go-ahead. They've checked with their peers and discovered that we do things differently. (A painful corollary, unfortunately, is that some of our satisfied clients receive calls from our competitors and sign on with them, expecting a similar experience to what they enjoyed with us, only to find not everyone conducts business the same way.)

Now, you might be looking for the magic formula, one-size-fits-all answer here to how this turn-around really works. Here are some points:
  • Since 2005 we've given countless hours in community service and free advertising to associations and causes, never with any expectation of financial return. Of course, the associations and causes represent the interests of our potential clients. So the generosity is well-placed and rational.
  • We've learned to be selective, patient, and rigorous in our hiring policies. Representatives with us need to be able to work within the team, but have the spirit and ability to work independently. Our hiring process is systematized, yet flexible and adaptable.
  • The entire client experience is far more important than the ability to get business short-term. Clients receive thank-you notes, personally. And everyone who does business with us has access to the best marketing advice we can offer -- and that advice is rarely to spend more money with us (this blog is part of that process.)
Can you change your business to achieve success with this business model? Yes, if you understand these basics:
  • You really need to know your product/service and be able to deliver it effectively and at a price where you can earn a fair profit Lowering your prices to win business competitively is rarely the best way to go.
  • You must know the basics of effective business management and operations. You need to know your numbers.
  • Finally, you must appreciate your market and marketing. Read, learn and ask questions. Think for yourself. Remember that your success in marketing depends 80 per cent on the quality of your relationships, both within your business and within your marketplace.