Discover your free Construction Marketing Ideas Email Newsletter

Monday, November 30, 2009

Relationships, marketing and rainmaking

You will find some simple truths in this blog posting, Rain Making by Deduction, from Ford Harding. His basic premise: Relationships are the key to rainmaking success, and successful relationship development (and maintenance) is found in both the quality and quantity of your relationships. He also asserts you can't build a relationship without personal contact.

For marketing, he writes:

Marketing Properties

  1. The goal of marketing is to help you meet people and develop relationships with them (by giving you reasons to contact them).
  2. Marketing efforts that don’t do one of these two things are probably not worth the investment.
Good advice, indeed.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Niches and expansion

A thread, "How do I market my company?" starts off with this simple but relevant posting:

I need some advice. My busy started out as a Landscape design build company. Now we are venturing into basements and hopefully soon kitchens/bathrooms/other remodeling. My company is called Rusk Enterprises. So my name does not hold me back.

Is it going to confuse people if one week they see an advertising for a backyard, and then the next week for remodeling work? Will this hurt me or help me?

I'm a little confused on how I should proceed with this.
The advice from the marketers is: Stick to your niche. But from other remodelers, the advice is, consider adding the additional services and broadening your scope.

I observe in a posting that you need to focus within your niche, but you can, and should listen to your clients when opportunities to expand and grow the business are provided. We for example, after some ill-fated expansions (including one effort to publish a general business newspaper, a real flop), decided to focus exclusively on regional business-to-business construction newspapers.

This is still our primary business and focus, but last year, a good client suggested I publish a local magazine for renovators. I initially declined because this product would be far out of our niche and expertise, but reconsidered when I realized that the client is a centre of influence at the local Home Builders' Association, and essentially was handing me a ready-made market on a silver platter. I pulled together a joint venture team and Ottawa Renovates has become a true success.

Similarly, while our focus had been in the print media primarily, Tim Klabunde in the Washington DC area suggested last year that we could produce a magazine primarily in online format, and (in conjunction with the Design and Construction Network), we developed the Design and Construction Report.

Client-driven expansion can make a lot of sense, but you should still proceed cautiously, and be satisfied the growth is compatible with your existing niches, values, interests, and of course your existing clients. They are most likely to be your first and most valuable clients for the new service.

(Note you may need to sign into as a member to read the original thread. The forums are an excellent resource if you are in the remodeling or renovation business -- or are a sub contractor or supplier serving this sector.)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Marketing perspectives: Where is your place?

With several years "active watching" of construction industry marketing, I am starting to notice that industry participants fit into four distinctive categories.

We don't 'market' because we believe in word of mouth and referrals.

Common practice, indeed. Some contractors say they are so busy, even in the recession, that it doesn't make sense to advertise or spend any money on marketing. Existing, repeat clients return for more, and tell their friends and colleagues. No need for a marketing budget, they say.

This could be a recipe for disaster, especially if you are relying on one key client for business or leads. When things go wrong, bam, you are in a deep hole and have no idea what to do.

We bid public work. If we are low, we win.

This is common practice for some well-established contractors, and some start-ups, who don't know any other way to find business. Supposedly fair and open competition, with low prices, seems to be the way to go. Of course, you can't make much if any money this way if the competition is true and open, and if it isn't -- if you are receiving preferential treatment from your public sector clients, you may be behaving more like a member of the first group.

We market, but never (or rarely) advertise.

Common for larger AEC practices, the organizations have marketing department but focus on proposal preparation, media relations, networking, conferences, and the like. Often these approaches are successful and effective.

We budget for full-scale advertising and marketing.

Friends of marketing media, these companies allocate significant resources both for general communications and marketing activities. They are often lead in the residential or speciality markets within their areas.

You are unlikely to jump from one group to another in a quick flash -- if you do, you are likely to be highly disappointed, at least in the short term. But if you are relying on word of mouth and referrals, rather than organizing campaigns to manage them, or if you are relying on repeat business and referrals from just a few key clients, you should take a close, critical look at your business. You may be heading for deep trouble, and not know how bad it is until it hits.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The (publicity) cost of getting it wrong

The Ottawa Citizen yesterday took a pot-shot at a small local roofing contractor because of an apparent screw-up of the work on an elderly home owner's roof.

The story "Excuses rain down on roofer's work" may disappear from accessible archives in a few days, but reading the story, I cannot help but think, "Why?"

The "Why?" is on two levels. The first is, "Why did the daily newspaper care?" Reading the story, the roofer seems to have done a less-than-perfect job, but he hasn't denied responsibility, absconded, or refused to make good.

The second "Why" is why the roofer didn't get the basics of branding and construction business success right in the first place: That is, doing the job correctly and wasting no time in seriously addressing valid client concerns.

You'll notice I am not naming the roofer in this blog posting. I've made it a general policy not to name negatively individual businesses or organizations unless their wrong-doing is so great that it is worth the risk of libel lawyers and I have factually checked the story with our own resources.

Since I'm writing this blog entry based on observations in another publication -- and since a business owned by the person's father with the same name is not implicated -- publishing an identifiably negative report here would cause unfair harm. (This is especially the case because neither father nor son appear to have grasped how to use the Internet for marketing, and only limited references -- including the negative Citizen article -- are available with a simple Google search.)

This silence unfortunately won't help the roofer (or his father) in the near future, unless they simply don't care about negative publicity. Which is dumb. Because unless you are living in a very deep cave, you know that success in the trades depends on word of mouth and repeat business and negative publicity in a major daily newspaper cannot do you much good in either regard.

Unfortunately, this type of story also hits contractors who get it right. Negative news coverage builds distrust, and distrust is the opposite of effective branding.

Nevertheless, this bad news story creates some good news opportunities.

  • Could you offer to make good for the other roofer's mistake? (I've practiced this principal a few times in my business history -- when a competitor screws up, I fix the problem, at no charge. Of course it is easier to do this with some advertising than in rebuilding a roof -- especially one owned by a cranky client.)
  • Can you gather an incredible collection of testimonials (videoed if possible) to post on your website and communicate your quality, and market that message -- especially if you serve the neighbourhood served by the victims?
  • Can you get a neighbour you've served to send a letter of commendation to friends and neighbours?
  • Could you write a brief article, "Seven Tips on How to Be Sure to Succeed with Your Roofing Project", and post it on your web site, submit to local community publications, and include it in your marketing materials. The article should not be self-serving; the advice of course should be consistent with your own best practices.
None of these suggestions may apply in your case, but this story shows how publicity is a two-edged sword. Just doing a bad job got a roofer into real trouble; sometimes doing things well can create positive publicity, almost by accident. But if you do your work well AND manage your publicity to encourage and support positive media coverage, you'll achieve the best possible results: Great marketing and branding credibility, without heavy (or even any) advertising expense.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


This time last year I had just returned from a quick visit to Columbus, Ohio, to gather insights into canvassing.

I'm glad I went, though today would be hard-pressed to find the budget for this sort of adventure. As the recession caught, then burned into my business, non-essential travel suddenly seemed frivolous as we struggled to keep the books in balance and the debt level from flying way above the red line of economic solvency.

You may have experienced similar challenges and stresses.

Hard times require us to tap into our internal strengths, spiritual values, and relationships.

We focus on the essentials, and discover simpler pleasures. (And, if we are fortunate, we can still enjoy some special treats, just as long as they don't cost too much money.)

We have much reason for Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


We've had our fair share of surprises this week. Many can't be reported in this blog -- they are internal or personnel-related issues, but one thing defines them: Their utter unpredictability.

Certainly, yesterday and today my work schedule turned on its head as we adapted and revised processes on the fly to ensure that our publications would be delivered somewhat on schedule (they will be late, regardless).

Perhaps my business is more volatile than most -- maybe it reflects my personality. But I think there are other issues here. In business, things happen. The best laid plans collide with the reality of the unexpected. Impressively however the business with a plan, and with some collective experience, has the tools to weather the storm.

Collective wisdom helps, but individual ideas usually provide the answer.
By bringing all your employees into the process, useful suggestions emerge. In this case, a key suggestion from a part-time employee provided the best answer: "Why don't you call a former employee and see if she is available," the employee suggested. I did, and she was.

Regular meetings and processes provide some cohesion and structure in unstable environments.
We had our regular weekly meeting, but I had to reassign some tasks within the meeting on the fly. Nevertheless, we kept communications open and in place.

Ideas sometimes emerge in crisis that solve other issues.
Next week is the major annual construction show in Ontario, and I've always attended. But this time around, family obligations make it harder to participate. With the crisis, one of our employees suggested another could fill in for many of my responsibilities. While the crisis has been resolved, the suggestion still makes sense -- so I'll attend part, not all of the conference (and thus have more time for my family).

Overall, it is turning into a surprisingly successful week.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The best construction industry marketing blog: Update

With a Dec. 20 deadline for nominations for the best construction industry marketing blog competition, I haven't widely publicized the contest -- in fact, the only places this opportunity is referenced is here and at the "other" Construction Marketing Ideas Blog at

Nevertheless, we've received eight entries so far; and I think there will be many more in the weeks ahead.

Any legitimate blog serving and for the architectural, engineering and construction industry qualifies. "Legitimate" is somewhat subjective, but obviously if the blog is just a Search Engine Optimisation device designed to set up link-backs to your site, it does not qualify. You need to have original content, updated at least monthly, with enough entries to show consistency and continuity.

When nominations close Dec. 20, I will post all the entries with hyperlinks from the new Construction Marketing Ideas blogsite, and we will commence a month-long voting competition.

The more votes your blog wins, the more your chance of winning. You can invite friends and colleagues to vote -- the system will detect if you try to vote more than once from the same computer, so it will be hard for an individual to game the system by submitting many repeat votes.

We'll then elevate the finalists with publicity in the Design and Construction Report, additional hyperlinks and recognition.

To enter the competition, simply complete the form here. There of course is not cost to enter, and no fee for finalists/winners.

Please fill out this form.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sales: "Be honest, but don't be stupid"

A regular poster on (Welterweight, he doesn't post any identifying information) started a thread with the "Don't be stupid" heading, and these observations: (I've fixed some spelling and grammar here).

Here is some sales advice

"Be honest, but don't be stupid"....

That is something that was told to me years ago. I now bring this up because another home improvement contractor mentioned how honest he was and how he always encourages his potential customers to get at least three estimates.

I looked at him and said that was the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Why in the world would you tell a homeowner to get a few more bids? Because you are such an honest guy? if that's the case, become a priest not a contractor. Of course we need to be honest and have integrity but my G-d,why in the world would someone say something like that!

Bottom line: Offer a high quality product, make sure its installed properly, treat your customer with respect (it's their home you are in), and then charge whatever you think you need to make. if you need to make 5k from a siding job then charge accordingly, 10k, the same thing.

But never say, "Mr. and Mrs. Jones, it was an honor showing you my products and discussing all the solutions that would fit into your home. However,before you decide to go with us, get a few more estimates...

What the hell is that all about!

The responses are worth reviewing.

Tinner666 (Albert's Roofing, Richmond, VA)

I get many that say they're getting more estimates. I say "That's fine. I can assure you I'm going to be the highest" If not, call me and let me know so I can see what I missed and add it in."

And, I've said ' Get more estimates if you care to. I'll still be the highest, and give the best job."

DaVinci Remodel (, Denver)

We listen carefully on the initial call. If we here the word "bid", we ask "are there other contractors looking at the project?" We then let them know that we do not "bid" projects and our real competitors - who are at our level of craftsmanship and service - also do not "bid" projects.

We explain that the "bidding process" is designed to identify the best price not the best value. "If you were to use the bidding process for your dinner plans, you would eat fast food all the time!" "You would never enjoy a great steak and bottle of wine."

We further ask them: "If me and my real competition (those that offer our level of craftsmanship and service) do not do bids, who is bidding on your project?"

"We would love to help you with your project, but bidding is not something that we do." "Good luck and please call us if we can be of service."

Pcplumber (Leonard Megliola, Bestline Plumbing, Los Angeles)

It is very annoying when a sales person answers and argues every question. It becomes a 'battle of the words."

When a customer tells you he is getting 1,000 bids, just ignore the statement like you never heard it. It doesn't matter because the majority of contractors I run into give terrible bids. The bids don't make the scope of the work clear and on and on.

Stop worrying about what other contractors are doing and just do your own thing.

I disagree with most of the posts that say they try to pre-qualify a customer. We spent several hours with customers and we knew we were not going to get the job, but because we are so professional many of these customers still recommended us to other customers.

We went to many homes where we knew we were not going to get the job and we sold a job to a relative or neighbor during the same visit.

I started this year off with a post that stated my New Years Resolution. It was to never turn down an estimate and go to every customer's home even if they want a light bulb screwed in.
BamBam5144 (Siding, Milwaukee, WI)
Good Reading. It is always nice to prescreen. I love being the first guy out there to give them my information first. Then right off the bat they have something to go off of. Usually they do say "I am getting other estimates" in which I always reply, "that's good you really should. I can promise you though that you will find cheaper prices but they may not be the same high quality products, have the same warranty we can offer or have an owner who limits his installers to nothing but the highest standards. In order to compare prices, make sure you compare apples to apples."

If someone says I need an estimate and they've already received four or five, I push them off unless I have nothing else to do, or I mention to these people that there is a 130 dollar estimate charge that will come off the price of the job once a contract is signed. That helps get rid of these people right away.
If you read through this thread and wonder: "Is there more than one right answer to this question?" you are getting closer to the truth. I agree with the original poster that you don't need to set up and encourage price-sensitive competition, but if a person makes it clear that there will be competing bids, you need to be in a position where you are both first and last in their mind, and you need to prepare them mentally for low bids.

And if you have someone who is clearly bid-shopping for the absolutely lowest price where you don't have any previous relationship, as a rule, it may make sense to pass. (Though note Leonard Megliola's "never pass" posting; I've found as well that when I apply subjective screening criteria I've lost far more sales than if I take every inquiry within my service area seriously.)

So, you think, scratching your head, which suggestions in this thread should I follow, and which should I reject. Here, I cannot give you a simple answer, but suggest you align your response to the successful contractor whose practices most closely match your personality, values, and client demographics. Then consistently follow your own system.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Automating personalization . . . Can it be done?

In a blog posting, Matt Handal throws out a trial balloon. Is there a way, he questions, whether he can develop a follow-up program which sends out "personal" emails on a seemingly random but pre-planned schedule.

I won't try to suggest whether his idea can work but it raises a question experienced by most marketers. How can we effectively and practically connect with former clients and previous/current prospects without spending countless hours trying to come up with individualized communications?

Undoubtedly, "follow up" is one of the construction industry marketing and sales mantras.

Initial inquiries, I've been told several times (though I admit never checking deeply the original source of this information), require upwards of nine to 13 "impressions" before they connect. Similarly, the argument is made that if you give up after one, two or three sales calls, you lose because the potential client would probably respond on the fourth.

Perhaps the reason that follow up at this level is successful is that it occurs when there is an exceptional (and rare) reason for such energy and commitment. My sense is that if you persevere and try a fourth or fifth or more time, you have a really good reason for this extra level of effort; or you are a strange person I would rather be nowhere near.

As an example, I certainly kept in touch as a genuine friend with a woman I dated three times who said "Let's be friends", the classic brush-off. But I wanted to be her friend. (We married 13 years after our original meeting and have been together for 16 years now.) Beyond this perseverance being exceptional in the extreme, I hope to only do that sort of thing once in my lifetime.

In other words, exceptional personal connecting and communicating requires exceptional circumstances to justify it -- and if you are an introvert, like me, you aren't going to feel that comfortable going out of your way to push yourself to maintain these links.

However, undoubtedly, follow up and communication is important. But does it need to be personalized and one-on-one? I don't think so.

I would advocate these approaches could make sense:

  • If you can write (or wish to pay someone who can), newsletters, blogs, and published articles (forwarded to relevant people on your list) make a lot of sense, if the content is not overtly self-promotional and focuses on information of real use and relevance to your readers;
  • Speeches and presentations help you reconnect with previous clients as well as new ones;
  • Community involvement and contributions create non-business opportunities for maintaining and developing relationships.
Of course, follow up with personal calls and emails when appropriate and when it is natural.

But I'm not sure I would go to the extent of faking personalization.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Construction marketing and the circle of life

Vancouver, BC viewed from the south with mountains behind. Blended exposure version. 20 stitched images
Mfield, Matthew Field, Reproduced within Creative Commons License

Yesterday, after an intense day of work, my wife drove me to the airport, and seven hours later, (with a connection), I arrived in Vancouver. Today is my mother's 85th birthday party, and her children and several of her grandchildren are joining for a celebration.

This point-of-life event will leave me with mixed emotions. Mom is getting older, of course, but her grandchildren have started raising their own families, so she can see the next generation.

We are all experiencing life transitions and experiences; individually these influence our perceptions and decisions, as a society the demographic shape defines largely what will be built and what must be replaced.

Planners use demographic data to scope out what to expect, but I suspect that decision-makers base their choices more on their emotions. The entrepreneur has an elderly relative needing care, so decides to build a care home; a contractor working in area with many teenagers about to enter college might see his own sons and daughters heading forward, and think about bidding on college projects.

We also make the decisions on quality, price and choice. I hate spending money on travel, so the business class airline seats are with points, and I arrived in a very large chauffeur driven vehicle (also known as a city bus) at my mom's condo late yesterday.

In construction marketing, consider your emotions, your choices, and your demographics. Then think about how these elements relate to your current and potential clients, and how you can make the connection. You will succeed.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The best construction industry marketing blog: Nominations open

In conjunction with the Design and Construction Report, we're looking for nominations for the best Construction Industry blog. The guidelines are simple: The blog should belong to a business or individual within the architectural, engineering and construction community and relate in some way to the individual or organization's marketing objectives. (The scope is deliberately wide).

The only blog which cannot be nominated is the Construction Marketing Ideas blog (this one) or the one directly associated with the Design and Construction Report at

We'll prepare a list of finalists and open the voting around Dec. 20, about the time this blog begins its migration to the Wordpress site at You can nominate as many blogs as you wish and do not need to identify yourself to nominate anyone. (Yes, you can nominate your own blog.)

Nominees will receive free hyperlinks on the voting ballot, and the finalists (selected by the number of votes received) will receive free permalinks, and lots of attention.

If you have any questions about this nomination process, please feel free to email me at

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Experience, please

You would think that, at 56, I'm beyond the age where this expression applies: "You need experience to be given a chance, but no one will give me a chance to get experience."

This is the classic refrain of new start-ups, and young people seeking employment.

In fact, in most cases, there is good reason for this "experience required" rule, and in most cases (mine included), there is a way around the "give me a chance to get experience."

It turns out I lost an opportunity to develop and present a White Paper for the SMPS Foundation because I lack sufficient speaking and presentation experience. And the failure to pass on this ground (another key criteria is writing experience/ability, which I obviously succeeded at) is valid -- I simply haven't spoken much in public in my life, even though (at age 17), I was the youngest person ever to graduate from the Dale Carnegie Public Speaking course.

At a meeting today, colleagues on the Ottawa Renovates! project related the importance of experience and references for success. We won the job over another person who made the initial proposal because of our practical and hands-on publishing experience. (I got around my inexperience in selling business-to-consumer magazine by calling on colleagues who truly know this area for assistance.)

"The other person -- who originally bid the job -- clearly didn't know what he was doing," said one of my colleagues. "He bid far too low and promised far too much, so much that anyone could see that he really didn't know what he was doing, and would not be able to complete his commitments."

We of course promised a lot, but delivered on our promises, in financial terms that made sense for everyone. Our clients knew from our references and presentation that we could deliver the goods.

So, what do you do when you lack experience and lose opportunities as a result?

I have two answers.

The first is to team up and joint venture with people with the relevant experience, like I did for Ottawa Renovates!

The second is to volunteer, and get out there and do things that are stepping stones to experience. So next year I'll add to my list of commitments to give at least five speeches/presentations. I'll do these to local groups or as part of webinars/joint venture projects with other experts on relevant topics.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What works?

If successful marketing is all about obtaining more, higher margin sales, and achieving these sales is all about your brand, and great branding is all about trust, what is your most effective marketing strategy?

The answer is you want to find the lowest cost methods, with the highest leverage, which results in the greatest amount of trust among potential clients.

Here, things get interesting.

  • Conventional advertising in mass media may reach many people, but can you build a campaign that creates trust (brand) at reasonable cost -- especially if you haven't advertised much before?
  • Word-of-mouth referrals of course are inexpensive and loaded with trust, but how do you leverage this asset? If you do nothing, often nothing happens.
  • Great media publicity, in electronic and print media read and viewed by your potential clients -- especially in a community where you have great word-of-mouth reputation, offers truly high leverage opportunities, little cost, and great trust-building advantages. (That is where our publicity and media services come in handy.)
  • Community service, through active, engaged participation in organizations and groups related to your clients, has less dramatic leverage opportunities, as many of your relationships are one-on-one and in small groups, but the intensity of the relationships and their quality (especially if you are connecting with community referral leaders), can be dramatic.
If you put everything together into an effective package, you can leverage all the resources to maximum effect: Consider the impact of taking the lead on a community activity, relevant to your business, worthy of great positive publicity.

Would your results be greater value for money than conventional advertising?

I think so, by far, but I also acknowledge this type of activity requires work, specialized skills and knowledge you are unlikely to have, and is rarely if ever conveniently packaged for you by friendly and co-operative sales representatives.

That of course brings you back to our own organization's philosophy. We'll do our best to help you with the bigger picture. But we can't do it for you. You need to put these pieces together in your own mind, understand your market, and then take the lead to make things work.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Connecting with Spec Writers

Last night's CSC Ottawa Chapter meeting. The Subject -- EIFS Quality Assurance Program. Sure, the topic is dry, but what happens when your building leaks?

If you are a general contractor, sub-trade, building product manufacturer/distributor, or technology provider, I can think of few better places to connect than your local Construction Specifications Institute or Construction Specifications Canada chapters.


Who is most likely to know and have a sense of what is about to be built than the people who create the contract documentation for the project? And who will influence the choices of materials and technologies more than the people who tell everyone else down the chain what they must do to comply with the contract?

Of course, participation in your local specifications writers group is not a short term fix. You won't get far (or achieve meaningful results) by joining and pumping for leads. Rather, the knowledge and relationships you build over time will expand your connections and awareness of the industry and lead to the critical early understanding of what is happening, and where things are heading.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Digital media magic

Today, Design and Construction Network members will learn that the fall issue of the Design and Construction Report has been published. However, if you received my own newsletter, you would have learned about the publication on Friday.

Over the weekend, we made some improvements. One feature had a new story included, and I built in hyperlinks for several images to make it easier to navigate and use the publication. The work took about an hour to complete. As things progress, we can update and maintain the publication indefinitely.

This advantage also applies for the initial issue of the Design and Construction Report, which you can find by going to the small "archive" button on the bottom of the home page.

If you are an advertiser in the first issue, and your phone number changes, we can update your ad and put it online quickly. The online magazine format combines the readability and ease of use of conventional print media (you can easily print out copies on your office printer), with the flexibility and ease of change only possible in the online world.

Aligning your marketing; Going with the flow

The greatest marketing opportunities, I think, occur when you are in the enviable position of having something new that overcomes an existing product/service's biggest deficiencies, and can be sold within the framework of that service.

Consider, for example, the marketing environment of services such as Reach Local, which provide Internet marketing alternatives to the Yellow Pages. (They co-ordinate keyword advertising placements with the search engines.)

For these services, the market is easy to find, their representatives simply need to open the Yellow Pages! (Connecting with decision-makers within the companies is a greater challenge, but that is a sales more than marketing problem.)

The problems of the traditional book are apparent: You need to sign up (and pay) for a year's service, hoping things will work, but with no recourse if they don't. If your business circumstances change, you are stuck. (Of course if you have a successful ad, you don't mind at all, because everything is locked in and secure, also.)

As a marketer, however, you also have a good idea of how much the potential clients are paying, and if your research is good, yo can suggest alternatives which will generate better results for less money -- and without the mandatory yearly commitment. You still need to build trust and prove yourself, but you know the market is there, and you can align your product and sales approach to it.

You may not have the same technology-disrupting opportunity, but you can still study your business (and market) to find out where your service has a significant advantage over your competitors, and where you can then sell into it effectively.

For example, you are a new roofing contractor with experience in the business and contacts (and credit access) to key suppliers Here you can enter public bid competitions and undercut the competition for larger jobs because your internal business costs and overhead are lower, but you have access to supplier capital. Once you get these initial clients, you then can broaden your scope (and brand) to serve commercial maintenance accounts. (This is how successful Shorex Roofing got established in Ontario.)

Of course your challenges are different if you are in a defensive market position. If you are the Yellow Pages, you can use your existing clout to push aggressively into search engine marketing (perhaps with limited success, but enough to confuse the mind-set of your existing clients, at least).

In some cases, of course, you have an uphill battle in gaining trust because of the destructive impact of your competitors.

We continue to earn most of our revenue by providing advertising supported editorial features in our print and electronic publications, but this approach to marketing has been abused, severely, by some competitors who combine high pressure techniques with low quality/value. The result: "Once burned, twice shy."

In these circumstances, I think you have a couple of choices. You can work hard to build and maintain the trust to overcome the competition, or you can reframe your service so that the competition doesn't matter.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bleeding edge or leading edge

Do you need to bleeding edge to be leading edge in your marketing strategies?

By "bleeding edge", I mean, far at the tip of risk --testing untried and new concepts, soaring to the heights of creativity and accomplishment to get it right?

The answer is, unequivocally, "No".

Most construction industry marketing is in the dark ages compared to other industry sectors. "Relying" on word-of-mouth, or (far worse), conventional public bidding opportunities, most people in this industry have marketing strategies which might have been common in other sectors a few decades ago.

So, to keep ahead of the crowd -- to be leading edge -- in this industry, we only have to emulate tried and proven methods of other industry groups.

To make the point crystal clear, consider that the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS), the association representing marketers in this industry, only started in the mid 1970s.
Surely, marketers representing other industry groups had their own associations long before then.

You don't need to create a new wheel, or even reinvent an old one, to be successful at construction industry marketing. Just learn from, and copy, the best practices of other industries, and you'll be much closer to success.

The Design and Construction Report is not the first online magazine. But it is the first for the industry. Leading, not bleeding, edge.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What do you want to hear?

Yesterday, an electrical contractor phoned me to receive some advice on how to market his idea. He planned to start a design consulting service where people would obtain his advice on the overall project before getting started.

My initial reaction: "This will be a hard sell" because of the trust problem. Why should anyone go to him for this level of advice?

Where are his credentials, and where is his reputation?

Then I probed some more for the underlying reason.

He had hoped to connect with potential clients earlier in their decision-making stage so he could ultimately obtain their electrical contracting business.

The latter isn't such a bad idea, if you can pull it off, but I told him I didn't think the advisory service would fly, at least at present, because in effect he is asking people do business with him on a supposedly independent advisory level when in fact his real intent is to obtain their business as an electrical contractor.

Where is the trust here?

This led me to the next stage of the conversation, offering him some useful advice he could implement right away, without spending any significant money, and without expecting him to do any business with me.

"Are your former clients really happy with your service," I asked. He said: "Yes". I told him to take his best clients for dinner, or lunch, or coffee, and pick brains about their interests and values, offer them some free service as a Thank You, and then enlist their support to endorse or recommend his business.

I listened to him as I discussed these ideas, and could tell he wasn't really listening.

I had just shot down his great idea, and now was suggesting something "he had considered before" but just didn't want to do.

That's fair enough. My consulting services are free in this context. But I've heard stories from paid consultants who describe the paradox of their work: They deliver useful, honorable advice, but their clients rarely implement the best ideas, often making the same mistakes, and often calling them back with more fee-paid opportunities.

You might see this as a vicious or virtuous circle, depending on your perspective. The consultant doesn't mind the repeat engagements and fees, but surely the client can learn to do things more wisely.

Trouble is, most of the time, we are stuck in our ways, and it is hard to change. Sometimes a good jolt (like a recession) helps, but mostly we want to continue just as we are. This is especially the case if any change would interfere or threaten our underlying beliefs or values.

These principals apply to your potential clients, as well. They may be looking for security, adventure, quality, or price, or an impossible combination of everything, but your marketing message will only click with them when they hear what they want to hear, so you need to speak in their voice.

This can be hard to do because you may have a disconnect between your client's voice (perception) and yours. If you are fortunate to have the ability to modify your way of communicating, you can be successful. Probably easier is to work with and find clients with similar perspectives and values as yours. You'll relate naturally, without stress or angst.

As for the electrical contractor, I don't think he will give up on his idea. He will call others seeking free advice, he will continue to dream that he could be an advisor and guide his clients to the right way for the entire project, and, winning their trust, show them how his electrical contracting service is the best.

I won't change his mind, but if I wanted to run a con, I could offer to give him guidance in implementing his idea, for a price, of course. (Assuming he doesn't also have a perception that paying for any advice is unwise.)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Silence is golden, sometimes

In the last couple of weeks, I've seen a couple of examples of why we should never break the rule: "Never speak ill about your competitors."

In one case, a web designer and Internet marketing expert of undeniable credentials and capacity stepped over the line and had less-than-wonderful words to say about another website design/management service.

In the second, I offered candid, first-hand observations of a publishing competitor.

We were both communicating in the forums; and we both (independently of each other) have earned our place of trust and respect within the forums.

In the context, we are experts within our respective fields and we "should" know what we are talking about.

But did our words of wisdom about our competitors carry any weight? Not unless you consider it a weight against us.

I observed this rather disillusioning result not from my own frame of reference, but when the web publisher spoke his mind. My immediate reaction: "This guy has lost points, who is he to say these things, and isn't that competitor really not so bad, in fact, maybe quite good."

So what are the forum readers thinking when I took a shot at MY competitor?

I'm pretty sure that both the web designer/marketer and I know the rule "Never speak ill about your competitors" by heart, but we felt comfortable (and trusted) enough in the closed forum environment to speak our minds with some candor.

It didn't work. It is too painful to draw attention to the specific responses, but you can read through the relevant forums and will see we didn't win any brownie points for ourselves, or really do any harm to our competition.

This leads to another question, then. You know you have a bad competitor, and you know someone is considering using their services. How do you get them to see the light you know from hard first-hand experience?

Maybe you have a better answer than silence or even sincere praise (rather hard to do, eh). Right now, I don't.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Emergency marketing response: The crisis solution


Something really bad happens, and you need to act fast.

It could be a horrible piece of publicity when one of your employees or subs is killed on a job site accident, your key client defects to a competitor (or worse, goes bankrupt just after you finish a major job but before you are paid), or terrorists hijack four planes and aim two of them for high profile public buildings in a market you thought you were succeeding in, and were about to expand. (For me, Washington Construction News, September 2001.)

Things happen in business and in life, and not everything is under your control.

You can plan for contingencies, but can you plan for everything?

To some extent, yes, but I would argue that outside of some common sense, you can't worry too much about the improbable or unexpected events that affect everyone. You'll be in a mess, of course, but so will everyone else around you. (And sometimes disaster equals opportunity -- I'm sure most contractors in Louisiana didn't fare too poorly after Katrina struck.)

The disasters you need to watch and prepare for are the ones which aim squarely at your own business, but no one else. These are usually self-inflicted. (It turns out I had business problems in Washington, D.C. which had nothing to do with 9/11 but were caused by my then lack of sufficient management controls and oversight of people/processes.)

Lets take the job site accident, for example. Are you observing all the relevant safety regulations, and do you have best-practices for managing and training your employees in the processes. (Skimping your safety budget to enhance your marketing is surely not a wise business decision, because when something goes wrong you will more than pay for the collateral damage.)

Is your credit and business management so loose that you would allow yourself to be caught when a major client fails, and are you too dependent on a single client, who will cause business havoc if he leaves? For the latter problem, some intelligent marketing to enhance your client diversification is as wise an an expense as appropriate insurance coverage and good safety training.

These preparations are helpful, but you need another quality to get through really bad situations. I call it a great stress instinct and am fortunate to be well equipped in this regard. When something goes wrong, I quickly figure out a response or solution, often within minutes, and get down to work.

You probably know if you have this trait yourself. If your business has been banged around by the recession and is still viable (or you lost your job in the hard times and managed to start, and succeed, at business in the current environment) you are okay.

Don't sweat the small stuff.

We're still in Washington, by the way. Issue number two of the Design and Construction Report will publish and go on line next Monday. But I have a client service crisis to resolve which I learned about at seven p.m. last night. I've already mapped out my simple and inexpensive solution.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Billion Dollar Blunders

Libraries are great places. Lots of useful information, for a really reasonable price. In the last six months, as I began watching my business "pennies", I've replaced the bookstore with the library, and discovered several gems on the shelves.

Billion Dollar Lessons by Paul B. Carroll and Chunka Mui is one of these greats. The overline title is: "What You Can Learn from the Most Inexcusable Business Failures of the Last 25 Years".

The book's thesis is that much attention is focused on success stories -- sometimes myths --- and little study has been done on why big businesses flop, crash, and burn.

The stories the authors tell are however also truly relevant to smaller organizations because all businesses ultimately fall under the same fundamental constraints, passions, and weaknesses.

So why do businesses fail?

Many disasters occur, the authors suggest, because of blind take-over and acquisition strategies, or the ignorance of major trends and shifts right under the business leaders' noses. Add to the mix a load of ego and group-think, and you have recipes for disaster like the AOL-Time Warner Merger, the decline and/or collapse of Kodak and Polaroid, and the flame-out of WebVan (an ill-fated Internet grocery delivery service born during the Internet boom.)

And of course there is FedEx's disastrous ZipMail, trying to combine faxing and courier service, and Motorola's Iridium, perhaps the highest flying (or rocketing) waste of funds when just a little common sense would have told the market for direct satellite phone service from utterly remote regions is, well, small.

Even smaller businesses (yours truly, included) have fallen into some of these traps:
  1. Illusions of Synergy
  2. Faulty Financial Engineering
  3. Deflated Roll ups
  4. Staying the (Misguided) Course
  5. Misjudged Adjacencies
  6. fumbling Technologies
  7. Consolidation Blues
The writers suggest caution, real due diligence, and fearless verification of ideas is one way to avoid walking into disasters, without stifling innovation or the times when you need to face the music and realize the old game is up.

(You can buy this useful book from -- they will pay me a small commission -- or visit your local public library.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Longshots, dreams and the switch to Wordpress

This morning, in preparing the blog entry, I discovered a temporary glitch in the server and could not access the site.

I decided to move over to Wordpress and the "other" Construction Marketing Ideas blog, and post there my story about how I decided to break the rules in submitting a proposal for a project without first ensuring I have a proper, developed relationship.

The Wordpress version of this blog now is on the first page of Google search rankings, and, as I learn how to use its functions, I can see how, long-term, it will be the primary place for this blog. I've set the Christmas/New Years period as the time that I will transition most postings to the new site -- I still have quite a bit of work to do on hyperlinks and other set-up.

Several commentators suggest that if you are establishing a business-related blog you should self-host on your own server (using Wordpress) rather than the free blog services like blogger, from the start. Otherwise, assuming your blog achieves some success, you will have trouble transitioning away -- because your long-earned search engine rankings might disappear in a flash.

My approach to this transition has been more gradual: Develop the new site, allow the search engine to "catch it", and ensure the content on the two sites does not duplicate in any way. In other words, effectively, I must write two totally distinct blogs on the same topic for a while.

I can do this, but doubt most people would have the time or energy. Best to start on Wordpress first, if you can.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Branding and public bidding

You might be thinking: "This 'branding' stuff might be relevant if I am competing for work with residential clients or perhaps for non-public commercial work, but what does it have to do with conventional public sector advertised bidding opportunities?"

To some extent you are right. In the purest environment, where low price rules the space, it isn't about brand as much as it is your efficiencies in keeping costs so low that you can win the work, and still make a profit (hard to do.)

But things aren't always as they seem to be, and if you are one of dozens chasing public works, you should appreciate that in many cases the game is stacked against you from the start, and you can't even see it -- because your competitor has quietly won the branding war.

I've often cited an example of a Midwestern contractor who must obviously remain unidentified. His business consistently wins work at the local hospital, even though tendering rules there are always that the lowest bid must win the work. How does he do it? The contractor and hospital administration pre-arrange change order authorizations, so he can bid the work low and know that, with the change orders approved, he will still make a profit.

You may find the ethics of this story dubious; but there is nothing fishy about why this is happening. The hospital administration had been burned too many times by low bidders not completing work well, so they want to be sure that the contractor they really wish to win the work gets the opportunity.

If you are one of the many 'outsiders' thinking you can win by bidding low, do you stand a chance?

The gaming of "low bid wins" rules almost inevitably reflect two possibilities. The first is corruption -- someone is greasing some palms to restate the rules. The second is branding -- the successful contractor has built so much trust, and such positive relations and such a healthy brand, that the game is stacked from the start.

Assuming you don't want to get into bribery, if you aren't connected (with a great 'secret' brand with the public sector purchasing authority), you often can't get in, no matter how hard you try.

And where the competition is truly fair and open, and when the project size is small, the competition is likely to be so fierce that the low bidder will be working for minimum wage, if anything. In other words it is a victory that counts for little if you want to succeed in business.

In some cases, especially for design work in the public sector in the U.S., this favoritism is formalized legally through the Brooks Act provisions which mandate that experience and quality count more than price.

Are there any answers to this problem?

  • First, you must be realistic. If you don't have a previously established relationship and some inside track knowledge of your likeliness of success, your chances of winning are remote. So focus your resources to where you have some relationships and a reasonable chance of success.
  • Second, spend far more of your marketing time building these relationships than chasing bids once the opportunity is public. In other words, get to know the people who can authorize business with you if they are comfortable with your capacities. You may find value in joining and participating in associations relevant to your potential clients.
  • Third, when you get your first job, live up to every possible standard of communication, quality, and service you can. Build your brand. Then the next time around things will be much easier.
  • Finally, while proposal presentation is more the icing on the cake than the substance, consider carefully how you document and answer the RFP and tender calls. Of course, ensure you provide all information required to comply, and don't include any information not required which might cause problems. Then consider creative options including the effective use of photos, video clips (if the application is on-line), testimonials, references, and constructive suggestions to increase the project's success. If you believe you have a realistic chance, go all out and ensure your proposal is far better than the norm.

Building your brand

Mel Lester's posting on Building Your Brand almost exactly replicates my own thinking on this topic, expressed both in previous blog postings and my upcoming book. (Also, click on the image for a previous post citing Marty Neumeier on this vitally important topic.)

For most people in the construction industry, Branding is a concept that seems both distant and irrelevant. Alas, too many professional marketers focus on the superficial elements of branding, things like logos, graphics and advertising strategies.

As Mel rightly points out, the brand is largely built out of the client (and employee) experiences; these become the company story, image and perceptions.

Why is a healthy brand important? It comes down to the quality of clients you are able to attract and retain, and the amount of money you can charge them for your services. A great brand equals higher pricing power -- you can earn more for the "same" service.

Your construction marketing goal should be to escape the trap of competing blindly on price which is a fool's game, usually. But you need a great brand, first, to achieve this marketing success foundation.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Design and Construction Report (Fall, 2009) -- Sneak Preview

The start-up marketing challenge (4) -- Uniqueness

Soda pop doesn't have much to do with construction, but when it comes to marketing, this video says more than most gurus can suggest. Note the passion which correlates with John Nese's business. Can you bottle this in your own enterprise?

I can't overstate the importance of "Uniqueness" when you are starting up. This is the differentiating, special quality that will cause people to take a risk on an untried business, and where price be secondary.

To explain the concept, I will tell a very (old) story but it may give clues to you about how you can survive the odds against in your start-up.

When I entered the publishing business 21 years ago, in 1988, several people told me: "You are nuts. Nine out of 10 publisher fail." But I also knew I carried some special qualities; a love for journalism, a background growing up in a home where my father had been self-employed, and a critical decision I made two years before launching the business.

This decision: I quite a secure, relatively high paying government job, to sell real estate. Most people I knew thought I was somewhat nuts (including the woman who later became my wife).

"You are not a salesperson," they told me. They were right. But if you want to start your own business, you are going to need to know how to sell.

In any case, I proved to be a modestly competent Realtor -- I could sell perhaps better than two-thirds of the people in the industry, enough to earn a reasonable living. But I knew I would not be happy continuing at this work; I realized this when I put together a deal for a commercial office building with some significance, and discovered I was bored.

Back to journalism: Why not start a publication for local real estate agents? I read the books on starting a business, and drew up a business plan. Trouble is, the numbers didn't add up. The market would be too limited and it would be hard to earn a living doing this work.

Nevertheless, I sensed I could make it work, and with a little creative interpretation of the rules for the Canadian Unemployment Insurance program (I had previously worked in the public relations department for the Employment ministry), set out in business with my first issue.

I decided I would only publish if I could sell enough advertising up front to put the publication out without any cash outlay.

I did -- much to the surprise of everyone around me. My first issue proved to be something of a barn-burner. Chaos ensued in the local real estate industry because no one had ever seen an independent journal covering their community. Indeed, I had passed the critical first tests for a new business. I had found something unique.

Now, in fact, the market really was too small for the idea, but one night at the Rogers Motel in Smiths Falls, Ontario, the next year, I realized that the construction industry might also be able to use a local publication. Uniqueness again, no one had ever published local construction journals -- at least in Ottawa!

I had my business. (Later, I discovered that no one had published a local construction industry independent publication in Washington DC, resulting in a rather dramatic internationalization of my business!)

In sharing these observations, I don't want to mislead you about my business success. I've made many mistakes over the years, and can claim to be one of the smallest multi-national entrepreneurs in the world.

On the other hand, I've remained in business for a little more than two decades, and my wife, I, our 12-year-old son and our dog enjoy a comfortable upper-middle-class lifestyle.

Your success in business relates to your uniqueness. Remember that, and you will do well.

Passion, persistence and effective marketing

Over the years I've heard several people say "It takes nine to 13 impressions" for your construction marketing message to be absorbed. In other words, if you just try once or twice, few will respond. The advice is to find ways to continuously keep in front of mind of potential clients, and ultimately they will respond.

Trouble is, how do you know if your persistence will be effective, and when do you cross the line to irritate and intrude on people who want nothing to do with you -- or your business? And are all forms of persistence really effective, or are you just walking on a frustrating, failing, treadmill?

If your persistence is in line with your values (and passions) and your values, passions and business are in alignment with those of your current and potential clients, you will succeed. If not, you won't.

If you achieve this alignment, your persistence will almost seem natural, comfortable, and might not even feel like "persistence". Otherwise, you will feel you are constantly fighting a battle you can't win.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Tarred by others feathers

One of the biggest challenges in business is when your business practices (and brand) are adversely affected by the ill-doings of others, such as your competitors. I noticed this challenge yesterday on the closed list serve from the Society of Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) group for Certified Professional Services Marketers (CPSM).

One member sent an email to the group with this question:

Would like your opinion regarding National Publications offering to publish a feature article on your firm. The caveat is to supply them with a listing of your firm's vendors/suppliers who they will then contact to obtain advertising space.

Although the contact at the publication assured me this is done in a professional manner (no hard sales involved), I'm not sure that I am comfortable with this tactic.
Several members responded, some telling of horror stories of suppliers being badgered, and publishers producing terrible and useless publications. A few took a more even-handed stance, pointing out that if the feature is well written and distributed to the right people, it can truly be effective for the business.

I felt like the lion in a china shop, however, as our business is producing just these types of features -- and I know that the complaints of the angry CPSM members have some validity.

Last summer, for example, one of our own clients reported he had been burned by one of the less-than-ethical players in this business. He had experienced working with us, and so thought the other publisher would conduct business in the same manner.

The challenge of course is we can't dictate the ethical behaviour of our competitors, but their mis-doings affect our brand. We certainly can't name or criticize them. (However, here our client is being helpful; when we hear from other clients about the competitor plying the trade, we refer the potential customers to him a first-hand and wonderfully negative reference.)

The unethical behaviour in our industry is possible because sales can, to some degree, be conducted in a hit-and-run manner, especially if you are publishing a "national" publication and are able trap your business victims in many different locations, at least once.

As I write this note, an industry association with whom we have very good working relationship sent me an email asking about a publisher who appears to be representing a project in co-operation with the association. The association's employee immediately emailed us and two of our competitors to find if the person works for us. I'm sure the dishonorable publisher will be warned off.

I don't have a magic solution to this problem, which might affect your business, especially if you have several less-than-ethical competitors in your market space. Probably our best defence is simply to maintain our own standards. We benefit, like most successful businesses, from long-term repeat and referral clients, and by participating and contributing to industry associations.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The start-up marketing challenge (3)

John Poole in his Constructionomics blog addresses the question: How do you get work as a new construction company? He writes from first hand, live experience, and says it is more than rough -- especially in the current economy -- it is more like the Ironman than the marathon.

Above anything else, a network of potential clients is probably the most advantageous resource for a new company. If there are people for whom you have delivered work in the past while working for another company, a new firm can approach these folks and try to drum up some business. The potential client will have a better feeling about this new firm because, although they are new, there is at least some history of past performance which will establish some confidence in the mind of the client. So that's avenue number one - hit up your past clients.

But what if your network is sparse because you are in a new area or you are working in a slightly different market than one you have worked before? Well, this is where you need to pound the pavement like a marathon runner. You also have to explain to any potential clients what features and benefits your company offers. Construction services are not a commodity, they are unique to every organization. Your company must have a competitive advantage in the marketplace in order to get off the ground. Of course low price can be one of these advantages but there also has to be more. Something creative, something new, something to differentiate yourself from the ranks of ho-hum organization doing similar work.
In his post John describes leads services (he has signed up with one but not received any work, and pounding the pavement). For one public project, he found 25 competitors at the site meeting (for a $100,000 job). I've heard worse -- up to 50 or 60 have shown up for some Ontario projects. Can anything be harder than this?
So to sum it up, it's difficult, not impossible, but difficult. I suppose persistence is the key, but you will certainly be no stranger to a strong dose of frustration.
My sense the biggest challenge John and other people have is that they haven't yet found their Uniqueness. If you are one of many competing for the jobs out there, you will be fighting a pretty tough fight -- this is brutal stuff with insane price competition , qualifications barriers, and if you have the misfortune to be in an area with organized crime and corruption (like Quebec), you may have to work with evil people.

John has part of the answer in his well-written blog. It can be a healthy differentiator and relationship builder, and it humanizes his business, making him more than another number. And, yes, some decision-makers will go the web and check you out, so if you are writing useful stuff it will help.

The challenge in start-up is to combine uniqueness, solid existing relationships, and a lot of sweat. Its how I got started 20 years ago, and I have never regretted the decision.