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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.

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