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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best construction blog update

At the new Construction Marketing Ideas blog, I report on updated results for the Best Construction Blog competition, including the surprising surge in some late entries. All original content for this blog is now located at the site.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Delinking pricing, and (separate topic) career opportunity

Today, at the new Construction Marketing Ideas blog, I report on a career opportunity as associate publisher for the Design and Construction Report, and suggest a marketing method where you are able to delink your marketing/client from the organization ultimately paying the bills.

Original posting and work are now at the new site,

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Over the pond

In today's Construction Marketing Ideas blog, I reference a useful site from the U.K.

Meanwhile, upwards of 40 people voted yesterday in the Best Construction Blog Competition. Extended nominations close today.

All of this material is at the new Wordpress site which is now this blog's primary home.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The move to Wordpress (2)

It's time. Beginning today, the heart and soul of the Construction Marketing Blog will be at our own domain,

You can see the current postings by heading over there, and you may wish to bookmark the Wordpress site as the primary location for this blog.

Will I stop posting here? No, at least for some time, you will also find some fresh material in these pages, but mostly it will be summarizing and referencing the ideas developed at the other site.

The new blog is still a work in progress, but the early volume of responses to the Best Construction Marketing blog is impressive. The entries will become the base of the new blog's hyperlink referral collection.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The move to Wordpress

Quietly, for the past few days I've been working on the transition of this blog to the new site on my own Wordpress-framework host.

Although not intended to be really public yet, I set the code and voting mechanism in place for the Best Construction Blog competition and the votes started arriving, along with comments from some nominated bloggers to correct errors in their listings, or ask why they weren't included. As I fixed various bugs, more votes continued to arrive, suggesting some viral marketing is happening. (People are telling their friends and colleagues about the site and voting, and these guests are arriving, registering and voting.

I still have quite of bit of work to do before the new site is fully ready -- there are glitches in the background pages, the references, and some of the data, but overall it is exciting to see the amount of interest the blogsite has attracted.

You can help out by bookmarking the new site or including it on your blogrolls (but don't delete this one just yet). Unlike the site referenced in the previous posting, I'm going to be up-front and 100 per cent visible about my Search Engine Optimization -- of course both sites will continue to have truly original content.

P.S. The resources at are truly impressive, and free, and will provide you with a wealth of data.

A marketing mystery

So, who is behind, or for that matter, The site is certainly appealing, with lots of refreshing content and ideas, but some thing's odd here. You can't find any real contact information about the site owner.

My guess is this is part of a SEO initiative by a marketing organization (I have an instinct about who it is, but cannot prove it, so won't assert it publicly here).

Nothing wrong with this sort of strategy, of course, and I suppose with the backlinks from this public blog I've helped the mysterious organization with their objectives, but the advice and ideas on the site are useful and relevant, regardless.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Mike Jeffries' eight low or no-cost lead generation ideas

Mike Jeffries offers at a weekly service (via autoresponder) to provide "eight different low or NO cost ways to generate 25, 50 or even 100 Quality leads."

Here is a summary of his eight suggestions. I've cut some portions of the content of this week's email in part to respect his copyright, and in part because if you want any of these approaches to work you will need to do just a little more work than read a single blog posting.

Endorsements - "Find a business owner or influential homeowner and get them to endorse you to everyone they know - see an example in the download - this could mean 250 or more opportunities."


(Offer) Additional Services or Products

Past Customers - "Probably the biggest opportunity that people don't tap - reactivate, reconnect - tell about new services or products or projects ask for referrals if they don't have any needs now."

Other Similar Groups/Markets

Joint Ventures


Past successful tactics - "Do what brought you clients before."

"If you implemented all, or some, of these tactics, you've seen an increase in your business," Jeffries writes. "If not, now is the time to review each week and start generating more lead flow - which is the life blood of your business success."

Mike can be reached toll Free at (866) 926-5100. and his website is at Maybe we should have a conversation about joint ventures and/or co-marketing. As it is, this referral is free because the suggestions are indeed wise.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas 2009

Reprinted from the Construction Marketing Ideas newsletter, Dec. 22.

seassons greetings lantern
How will you remember 2009?

For some, it has been a year of genuine turmoil and struggle, as formerly thriving businesses faced painful retrenchments and struggled to survive.

Some readers lost their jobs, some their businesses.

We had our own share of challenges, as rosy economic projections last October gave way to an acute business crisis that tore into our business until we were able to bring things under control in the summer.

Within the gloom and pain, however, we discovered some bright beacons for the future.

The original idea to relaunch a printed Washington (D.C.) Construction News evolved, at the suggestion of Tim Klabunde, into the multi-media Design and Construction Report. Tim introduced me to the online social networking groups, and the highly successful Design and Construction Network.

We also discovered how timeless business principals distilled by our consultant Bill Caswell of Caswell Corporate Coaching Company could help our (and your) business both weather the storm and restore its capacity to thrive. Bill is leading a special seminar on Feb. 12: "Taking your Construction Business to the Next Level" which will tell you how to move forward and overcome your business challenges.

Most importantly, we realized how important traditional values and relationships are in the electronic age. Architectural, engineering and construction businesses thrive by delivering top quality services -- built on relationships founded in respect and integrity.

Best wishes for the Holiday Season and Happy New Year!

Mark Buckshon



Construction News and Report Group of Companies

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The road to Wordpress . . .

Regular readers here know that I've decided to use the Christmas holiday break to "move" this blog to its permanent site at our own domain. I chose the break to complete the change -- and set up the voting for the Best Construction Blog competition, because this stuff takes time and experimentation, hard to do when regular business responsibilities are in the way.

Since our family isn't traveling during the holidays, I'll be working on the transition most days when not hanging out with Vivian and Eric. Most of the activity, of course, will be at the new site but I'll do my best to post something here virtually every day.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Construction Marketing Ideas group

The Construction Marketing Ideas group related to this blog (and the new version on Wordpress at continues to grow rapidly. In addition to about 15 people I invited who accepted, the group received 12 inbound inquiries yesterday, and membership now is 202.

The reason for this rapid growth can be explained on two levels: Ease, and value.

Ease is that you really don't have to do much to join. Just click on your interest in participating through the relevant profile (if you aren't yet in you will of course need to join and provide some additional information, but there is no charge and is quite good about managing spam.) Then your application is forwarded for review, and if you qualify, you'll be accepted.

Value: You probably won't win a $5 million contract just by joining the group, but by being a member you have access to the profiles of all the other members, and someone among that group may have a connection or know the right people at the organization you are trying to build the relationship with to win the contract.

While you join this group, you may also wish to join the Design and Construction Network. The network has its own website at We publish The Design and Construction Report for the Network.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The newsletter

If you have requested it, the final Construction Marketing Ideas newsletter for 2009 should arrive in your email box this morning. Over the year, readership has continued to increase and now almost 3,000 people receive the bi-weekly newsletter.

Next year, I expect the newsletter will have more impact as I've just discovered how to effectively embed video in the emails. As well, the Construction Marketing Ideas group is growing rapidly (approximately 20 new members joined yesterday), increasing the networking and relationship-building value of the newsletter, blogs and other social media resources.

Next week, meanwhile, as our business takes its Christmas break, I'll spend some time on the new Construction Marketing Ideas blog site, fixing the links, background resources, and setting the stage for the Wordpress site to be our primary blog. Again, however, if you think this blog will simply disappear, it won't, though I expect in a few months posting frequency will decrease.

Right now, I'm continuing to post totally different content on the new blog, so if you want "more", feel free to visit the new site, and book-mark it or reference it for future reading.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The solstice

Winter's here -- and for many of us, the Christmas break means relatively light business volume for the next couple of weeks.

I've got a few days of intense work getting our January issues to print before things slow down, then will use the quiet time between Christmas and New Years to catch up on some projects that have needed attention for some time. These include the review of galley proofs for the Construction Marketing Ideas book, and the migration of this blog's primary focus to the Wordpress site.

(If you go to you'll see I am now updating that site daily with fresh content -- during the holidays, I will create the enhancements, links and resources necessary for it to be the primary site. I'll continue maintaining this site afterwords, at least until the new blog takes second place on relevant search engines!)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Upcoming events

Please consider marking your calendar for two special events in January and February.

On Jan 12 in Ottawa, I will be giving a special presentation to the Construction Specifications Canada Ottawa Chapter about Social (online) Media and AEC Marketing, and on Feb 16, we are sponsoring a special Webinar with Business Consultant Bill Caswell on Taking Your Construction Business to the Next Level.

We'll have more posted on both events within the next few days. Fees are modest.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Best blog competition deadline

Tomorrow (Dec. 20), is the deadline for nominations for the Design and Construction Report Best Construction Industry Marketing Blog competition. We've received dozens of responses -- and over the holidays, as this blog 'migrates' to the Wordpress site at All relevant blogs will be referenced and hyperlinked. The voting will open early in January and continue for the month.

The eligibility rules are simple: The blog must relate to the Architectural, Engineering and Construction Industry. It needs to be updated regularly and have been published at least three months with original content. I will screen out any blog which appears primarily to be a search engine optimization exercise. (SEO is a great reason to start and maintain a blog -- the links through this competition will certainly help -- but should not be the primary reason for it to be around.)

Even though the new Wordpress Construction Marketing Ideas site isn't official yet and I need to do much work over the holidays to add the features and content it needs, you might want to begin checking there daily now as I'm posting fresh content there you cannot see here. For example, see the report on the new Construction Marketing Ideas group.

Friday, December 18, 2009

How much is it worth?

How much is the Congolese cup worth? I'm sure the local Congolese traders would value a deck of playing cards much more than one of our newspapers, however.

In 1976, after graduating from university, I signed up for an overland truck tour of Africa. Twenty mostly young people (I was 23) rode in the back of a Bedford truck through the Sahara and the Congo, arriving in Nairobi, Kenya about three months later. (I continued on my own to South Africa via then-Rhodesia, setting the stage for my true life-changing adventure two years later, when I returned to Africa and found employment on The Bulawayo Chronicle for 18 months as Rhodesia turned to Zimbabwe.)

As we drove through what is now known as The Democratic Republic of the Congo (but then was called Zaire), guides told us that the local population, especially pygmy tribesmen, eagerly wanted western conveniences like mirrors, pop bottles and the like. They would gladly trade fresh pineapples and other tropical delights.

But little did I know that I had the most valuable currency around, a somewhat tattered deck of playing cards.

At one stop, I pulled out the cards, and a group of local young men gathered around to engage in the fiercest bidding war I had ever seen. Finally, I counted my loot -- a genuine monkey-skin bow and arrow, an incredibly hand-crafted guitar, again made out of monkey-skin and local wood, and several other objects, including this little cup with a monkey tassel.

It seems I had discovered the ideal status/value symbol in the African jungle.

Alas, most of my African artifacts are lost or buried in some storage box somewhere, but I still have the little cup, a couple of arrows, and many memories.

I had learned the relativity of value in trade. We can presume what people (our potential clients) want -- but do we really know what is in their hearts and minds, especially if we are crossing cultural barriers.

And if we can risk crossing these barriers, and experiment with value perceptions, we may find that things we think of as worthless have incredible value, and things we think are truly important, aren't.

I'm not sure how much my African artifact is worth in U.S. or Canadian dollars, but the experience has proven to be nearly priceless.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Holiday Season

We're in a final intense few days of work before the Christmas season hibernation begins, and this blog makes its move to the Wordpress site.

In preparation for the changeover, and before you head off for vacation, consider nominating your favorite construction industry blog for the Best Blog Competition. All blogs relevant to the industry with the exception of this one are eligible.

(Well, there are a couple of other rules to deter spam blogs and others set up purely for Search Engine Optimization: The blog needs to have been around at least three months and updated weekly with primarily original content.)

During the holidays, I will use entries for this competition as the base for the Wordpress blog links. Readers will have January to vote on their favorites. Finalists will receive special recognition in the Design and Construction Report.

There is no cost to enter the competition.

After the switchover to Wordpress in the holidays, I will continue maintaining this blog with less intensity -- but it will still certainly remain online.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cultural norms and industry conventions

Why are time share condos sold by high-pressure, slick, manipulative salespeople? Why are most used cars sold at dealerships (or divisions of dealerships) which appear scuzzy, with cheap brightly coloured pennants? Why do most contractors rush out to public bid competitions and hope to win by "bidding low?"

I wish I could have a straightforward answer to these questions, but the questions provide their own insight. Different industries have different marketing conventions and norms. Breaking free of these standard practices and trying something different is risky and uncomfortable. It is much easier to revert to the norm of, for want of a better phrase, the industry brand.

So most contractors don't advertise or employ conventional sales representatives (and those that do, often in the residential environment, perhaps with door-to-door canvassers, play the game at the sophistication and client interaction level of time share operators.)

The construction industry marketing norm, it seems, is either not to market at all other than to provide great service and value and hope for referral and word-of-mouth return business, or to use the cheapest, most irritating and intrusive marketing methods known to any industry.

Surely, there has to be a better way.

Yes, some used car dealers have spruced themselves up and now behave and look much more like their new car counterparts. I'm not sure about the time share guys -- maybe it is impossible to do better for a product that has such high conceptual/emotional value at the time of sale, but so little resale worth.

Maybe, however, just a few contractors have discovered the magical combination of providing a level of service that invites referral/repeat business AND enough marketing and advertising to prime the pump, encouraging the referrals and repeat clientele and drawing out new business.

But this type of marketing feels risky. And it requires you to invest time, energy and money in what at first seems to be a secondary activity.

So you don't do it until you are desperate and need fast results. And then, sadly, you reach out to the worst industry conventions and practices from other sectors and think your marketing must be like a conventional used car dealership or time share operator.

Most of us simply won't change, and when we "change", we follow the predictable, wrong path.

That's sad.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The recession's human toll (2)

You can access the recession survey results in real time by completing the survey yourself (you don't need to identify yourself to participate). If you wish to see some raw data and comments, visit the other Construction Marketing Ideas blog at the new primary Wordpress location,

In the last day, we've received another 31 survey responses -- and again, the stories are disturbing (and sometimes inspiring.)

On average, it seems that most people who answered found the year was about what could be expected, and next year will be about the same (or slightly better).

But there is something more in the results -- and that is the extreme diversity of response.

"Average" is exceptional - and while many more found the recessionary year to be "much worse" than "much better" than expected, the overall results are slightly to the positive side of the equation.

Surveys of this kind are not scientific, of course. Participants self-select and we should not dare read statistical validity into the results. (Though I really also wonder about so-called scientific polls because I know that I have a simple policy whenever someone phones me to respond to a survey: I decline, and hang up!)

The survey results put my own business experience this year in a different perspective. When you are putting out your own fires, you often don't see the problems affecting others -- and we had our share of fires to extinguish.

The business balance sheet here is still not as healthy as it should be and there are other costs, in staff turnover and change (some required by the company, and others decided by the employees) which have impacted on client service and quality (not good). As well, austerity has meant that some IT and systems upgrades that really are necessary have been deferred far longer than they should, and this is causing stresses.

On the other hand, we're still here!

Despite the ups and downs, I've been able to maintain this blog and my voluntary writing (and learning) for the SMPS Marketer.

Is the blog helpful for business? We're evaluating two sales candidates with undeniable competence who both have remarked to me they've formed their impressions of this business through the blog. Our hiring and business management systems, while straining with staff turnover and outdated technology/hardware, have held up surprisingly well.

We're rebuilding our team with enthusiastic and competent employees, and continuing to develop new products/services and markets while maintaining our key current operations.
In context, it seems we are doing about as well as you.

You can still complete the survey here and when you do you will be able to access real time results.

And I've posted more raw comments on the other Construction Marketing Ideas blog (where we will move at Christmas), at

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The recession's human toll

I've been reading through some of the 27 responses so far to the survey about how the recession of 2009 has impacted your business and life, and am both inspired and disturbed by the answers.

Some readers are really struggling, despite all their best efforts; a few are thriving, and several have successfully adapted to the changed environment. Geography is certainly a factor; some areas are harder-hit than others. But some of the most disturbing business failure stories occur in what should be relatively strong markets; and some of the most inspiring successes are in weaker areas.

Readers who complete the survey can see overall results in real time.
The survey asks just four questions, and you should be able to complete it within a minute.

You can read some of the raw data answers on the Wordpress version of this blog at

The recession: How bad is it, really?

We've set a simple four-question survey and you can see the results right away. No need to identify yourself. You can reach the survey at this link.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Old ane new: Employee (and employer) accountability and communication

Last night, I reviewed the departing memo from our former administrative employee. She described the woeful inadequacies of our computer systems and the horrible state of our office. She also had a few less-than-enthusiastic words about my own behaviour. Ouch.

Her complaints are well taken, and I appreciate the initiative of another of the company's senior employees in co-ordinating the exit interview/report (to be given to me only after the departing employee left). After all, as company president/owner, I am truly accountable and responsible for everything that happens here, and it is important for me to learn what is really happening, not what people simply tell me because I am signing their paycheques. (Spelling here is Canadian.)

Nevertheless, what should I do with this information, and why do we have these problems?

Part of the issue of course is the recession's lingering austerity. Systems/office maintenance and upgrading are expenses that can be deferred, at least short term, and when cash is in short supply, they are. Another issue is the communications dynamics between me and the former employee; our business operates on a fairly loose and entrepreneurial manner, employees are encouraged to speak their mind, advocate for change where appropriate, and then, where possible, to take action themselves to solve problems.

(In earlier years, I interpreted this philosophy far too loosely, causing employees to act from self interest rather than the company's best interests -- now, these are aligned through the business planning and meeting system.)

I've forwarded memos and discussion papers to the new employee and explained straightforwardly the negative reviews of the previous employee (though of course respect confidentiality and haven't sent the actual review to anyone else). My goal is to allow the new employee to know exactly what she is taking on and give her time, as she works out her notice at her current employer's place, to think about strategies she might want to implement to solve the problems.

Next week will be interesting, in that word's bigger sense. As we wait for our new administrative employee to arrive, we are evaluating a new sales candidate in the office, and a temporary employee must fill the administrator's desk -- as we conclude production of our January issues in time for the Christmas deadline. I hope things won't be too chaotic. On the other hand, I'm excited about the energy this change brings to the business, allowing us to set the stage for a dynamic New Year with much growth and progress.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hiring choices

If you client experience is the most important element in construction marketing -- and for most of us, it is, because of the vital importance of repeat and referral business -- your front-line administration and reception employees are indeed among your most important marketing representatives.

So choosing who you hire for this work is vitally important, but never easy.

Of course, many more people "qualify" to be receptionists/administrators than competent sales representatives, designers, or tradespeople. The "entry level office position" is akin to the construction labourer -- yes, you need some important skills, but this isn't an area where you normally think of "labour shortage".

Indeed, with the recession still impacting the economy, a single posting on the Canadian government's free Internet job bank resulted in more than 100 resumes, within a couple of days.

We've developed some systems to manage the process.

First, everyone who sends a resume (unless they are obviously unqualified), is sent a questionnaire with math and grammatical puzzlers. The prospective employee is also asked whether all references from immediate previous supervisors can be verified, and if not, why.

Many don't bother completing the questionnaire. We had a laugh when one candidate sent an email with spelling and grammatical errors saying, effectively, "Why are you asking these questions -- they aren't necessary for the job." Well if you can't understand basic grammar and arithmetic, how are you going to add up the daily deposit, or send a client a letter reflecting well on the business?

We simply scan the questionnaires, and throw out all the applications who answer incorrectly.
Then we review the resumes for inconsistencies with the questionnaires. I only read the resumes AFTER the questionnaire -- we ask candidates to resend their resumes with the questionnaire responses so we don't have to fish through the big pile of initial inquiries.

Here is where things get trickier, however, and here is where I had a tough decision last night.

After a screening phone interview, we invite finalists in for a few hours of paid work. This is real work, reflecting operations, but varies day to day.

As its, I stopped reviewing resumes and sending out questionnaires after three days; we had three finalists in for work. The first candidate worked well through the day, but my "sixth sense" had real doubts. The second person showed up, looked at our messy offices, and told me that he doesn't think he would like working for us, and left. (Frankly, that rejection was painful.) The third person arrived yesterday but unfortunately I had to leave the office before the outgoing administrator and the prospective new employee could actually do any work.

At 4:30 p.m., my departing employee recommended the first candidate. But in my heart I sensed the third would be best. Nevertheless, I needed to make a decision.

I called the two candidates (rare evening phone calls) for final interviews and talked with a key employee who is staying. In the end, I decided to invite the first candidate in for a few days temporary work (she is available now) and possible on-call support later, but went with the third candidate, subject to reference verification.

What weighed my decision?

Recommendations from departing employees always carry much less weight than current and new employees
People leave an organization for a variety of reasons; maybe they have a much better offer, but maybe they simply don't fit into the culture. Their recommendations then carry the weight of their values. Sometimes they are angry and they want you to work with someone who will make things worse (I don't think that is the case here).

If I am wrong, what are the consequences?
We will have some business/operational disruption, but there is no shortage of administrative employees now. By offering the first candidate temporary work, I can fill some immediate needs and create a back-up should the second candidate not pan out. But a wrong decision here won't be a disaster.

Has the candidate met all the essential qualifications?
Bending the rules on references is never wise, equally hiring someone just because they look good or say the right things is dangerous. Here, I had a yellow flag as the outgoing employee said the person I thought best didn't understand some basic job-related requirements. But again I looked through the assessments, and concluded in my final interview that these problems would not weigh heavily on my decision.

What does my "gut" tell me?
Yes, intuition counts -- and when things are in doubt, can be the most important tie breaker.
Note that wise and selective hiring is never easy -- and you need systems to handle the process. I hope I have it right this time.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"Cold calling is killing me"

The Greater Ottawa Carleton Home Builders' Association Boat Cruise last summer. Relationships developed within this association have been vital to my business -- If you are going to cold call the association's members, (or for that matter, if you plan to call the members of any association) however, results will be much better if you join first.

This posting on touches close to my heart.
Cold Calling is Killing Me

Okay I printed out the entire list off the local Home Builders Association website. On the "L's" right now and dammit I'm tired, I could work a 10 hour shift and not be so wore out haha. Out of about 50 so far I have a few e-mails to send two guys to meet and that's about it.

I have also have put out upwards of 3000 door mailers/flyers and 3,000, two months ago, and 6,500 more to come.

Dammit this stinks we have NEVER had to go out and look for work and we have been in business for eight years. Any ideas, guys.
As the thread progresses, we learn that the contractor had moved from Atlanta where his business thrived on word-of-mouth, to Knoxville, TN, where he is struggling to build relationships.

My quick and somewhat superficial advice: Join the HBA before making the cold calls to fellow members, and possibly look for relationships based on shared geographical experience.

The latter idea is something anyone who has moved should consider. I will never forget the clearest example of its importance.

I was watching (alone) a cricket game in Bulawayo Rhodesia/Zimbabwe in 1979 when I heard a voice: "Mark, is that you, Mark?" I looked at the person, and needed a few minutes to connect the dots. A couple of years ago, we had worked together but not closely on the student newspaper at the University of British Columbia.

My former student newspaper colleague had somehow found his way to the same remote (at least to anyone from Vancouver) African city at the same time. He had become a police officer (to be closer to a South African woman he knew) and I had found employment as a sub-editor on the local newspaper . Despite our different careers and place in life, we naturally had plenty in common, now, and so formed a close friendship which continued through our time in Africa and upon our return, at least until our paths separated again.

With the Internet, news groups, and existing client bases from your "old towns" you can I believe forge useful relationship-building connections by relating the old and the new, and then your word of mouth will take hold.

My first suggestion, to join the HBA before cold calling its membership, is more obvious but in some ways more challenging to execute.

The reason is that just joining a HBA or any association with the hope of creating immediate business is likely to be disappointing and frustrating.

Certainly the renovation contractor would be much better placed to get his foot in the door and the opportunity to win some bids -- certainly, the HBA in our area, the Greater Ottawa Home Builders' Association, adheres to its motto: "Be a Member -- Do Business with a Member", and the amount of business we've obtained through the years through this membership is impressive.

But association memberships, and many other marketing methods, require you to focus on what you can give rather than what you can sell; you need to think in terms of contribution, support, sharing, and the like -- and I know these qualities are probably farthest from the mind of the contractor simply trying to find enough business to keep the doors open.

Still, I think the contractor would find real value in joining the group -- and possibly connecting with his community associations in the areas where he lives or wishes to serve. The latter are much less expensive, and a little voluntary work can go a long way to cementing relationships. Maybe, in fact, he'll find some people he knows from Atlanta at an association event -- and start building even closer relationships.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Niche market expansion

The Official Show Guide for the Home Renovations Show (from Caneast Shows) represents a significant "jump" in our market focus, but the initiative shows how businesses can effectively expand into new areas without compromising core values and priorities.

Last year, through a client referral, we made a big business stretch -- from publishing purely business-to-business regional construction newspapers (and websites), to producing a large-circulation local home renovation magazine, Ottawa Renovates.

This task represented such a major shift from our market focus and model, I had real fears about the impact of the expansion on my business, especially because I appreciate the risks of diversifying from your primary focus and the dangers of expanding into untested spaces.

Nevertheless, we proceeded, with the risk reduced through a joint venture initiative, and the new publication has been a success.

Ironically, Ottawa Renovates started as an initiative of the Renovators Council at the Greater Ottawa Home Builders' Association, where we have published their internal newsletter, The Impact! for close to 20 years. And they sought out the magazine idea initially to produce a publication to be distributed at the Home Renovations Show, produced by Caneast Shows Inc.

Caneast didn't entirely like the Ottawa Renovates magazine idea, especially since as publishers we are not constrained to promoting only show exhibitors. This creates a challenge for any show operator, who rightfully wishes to restrict marketing activities on the show floor to anyone who does not exhibit at the event. Working with the GOHBA Renovators Council, we found the logical solution: Ottawa Renovates is only distributed from the Renovators Council Exhibit Area at the show. (This complies with show restrictions, but still proved to be effective as most show visitors head to the GOHBA area, which is prominent at the event.)

Fast forward to this year, and discussions between Daniel Smith of our organization and Caneast. Caneast wondered if we could produce an Official Show Guide, this time complying with the show's wish that advertising be restricted only to exhibitors.

I raised the possibility with my joint venture partners at Ottawa Renovates and they declined to participate. However, looking at our business/production schedule, the idea fit perfectly to create some non-conflicting revenue for the slow (in our business) pre-Christmas/early New Year period.

So we have started the project.

The publication is differentiated by its own website, produced using easy-to-use template design resources at (which we can host under our own name without third-party advertising for $60 a year).

This initiative is something of a marketing and business irony. It originates from an existing client request, which morphed into a significant joint venture partnership, and now has evolved back to a niche product operated separately from the joint venture, but appealing to the same market as the joint venture.

(If your head is spinning from that description, so is mine!)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The economic turn-around

Hindsight purportedly provides amazingly clear vision. Looking back, we should not have any doubts or uncertainties: the facts are supposed to speak for themselves.

Of course it never works quite that way, as historians appreciate. History is interpreted and revised based on current perspectives, technologies and resources (and sometimes contemporary ideologies).

I certainly thought of this dynamic a couple of years ago, comfortably seated on a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Tel Aviv. Certainly, there was plenty of security, but not the form that Hitler would have ever imagined.

Today, some -- perhaps most -- of this blog's readers are still fighting the Grand Recession of 2010. Aa few of us see the light at the end of the tunnel and have resumed growing. How have our perspectives changed, and where do they take us in reinterpreting the past year, and looking forward to the future?

I'd like to say we've matured, learned from our experiences, grown leaner and more effective at our work/business/life, and positioned ourselves for much better times ahead. But some of us are probably holding on, still, for dear life, wondering when this mess will end.

Here is how things have changed in my perspective:

The "new media", with social networking, the Internet, and convergence between visual and written media, have truly changed the way we communicate. Even though we continue to publish printed newspapers, I rarely read them like before. POINT: If you are thinking one-dimensionally in your marketing, and that the old approaches are still okay, watch out for the storm that is about to hit you.

Word-of-mouth and existing relationships still count for much, but your network and knowledge can (and should) be much deeper.

Research is much easier these days than before; I can write comprehensive stories on significant topics in days rather than weeks or months when I pull together online resources; these qualities are apparent in the story on social networking and technologies for the Design and Construction Report. OBSERVATION: If you aren't comfortably using at least some of the new media (you most likely are, if you are reading this blog), you will soon be left far behind the competition.

Bad, untalented, stuff is still out there; it may seem there is much more of it, and it is much more visible. But good stuff still rises to the top. Before, publishers would have screened your work before letting it see the light of day; now anyone can post, write, and observe. But other gatekeepers, whether it be search engine algorithms, spam blocks, or simply the "voice of the crowd" (see Wikipedia) manage things so that you don't waste your time with stuff that doesn't help your business and life.

CONCLUSION: Remember your strengths and focus on them. Just don't forget that your strengths are not what you want to be, but the combination of how you feel best about yourself and how others who matter to you think about you. We don't live in isolation.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Which is the right course?

The Construction Marketing Ideas blog moves to a new Wordpress site/format in the Christmas/New Years week. In the meantime, you'll see many unique postings on both blog sites. This blog will be updated daily until the holiday period.

If you head over to the Wordpress version of the Construction Marketing Ideas blog (as we prepare for the primary switchover during the Christmas Holiday period) , you'll see poll with a a set of four questions.

All the answers are correct, but please select the one that is most relevant to you.

Remembering the basics

If you haven't completed this poll, answer the question and see the results. If you have completed it, consider again the implications of the overall results, which remain consistent even as more people complete it.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Culture clashes

As we prepare for the switch to the other (Wordpress) version of this blog, I posted this entry: "Culture Clashes" there.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Your favourite construction industry blog

Nominations close for this competition within a couple of weeks.

You can link to the nomination form here


Yesterday, because of my screw up, I created stress and emergency planning responsibilities for others. As manager of my son's minor hockey team, I booked the team into a "contact" tournament, when our league plays by non-contact rules.

Not everyone reading this blog knows much about hockey, but it is the major sport in our region and at professional level can be quite intense and physical. Body contact rules are in place to ensure younger players and those without training in the more forceful aspects of the game are not put at risk.

But, in going ahead with the tournament booking, I failed to check a website which would have confirmed we were heading into the contact space (at age 11-12, many leagues consider the kids old enough to play contact hockey, but our district doesn't, at least for recreational or house league play.)

Parents arriving early saw intense body checking and naturally were fearful for their kids.

On arriving at the scene, our coach convened emergency meetings with parents and the tournament organizers. He took responsibility and leadership to obtain the tournament organizers' co-operation in arranging unofficial rule modifications, gave the players a crash course in some things to watch out for, and (after concurring with the parents), decided to go ahead with the tournament, with the understanding that if conditions appeared unsafe on the ice, we would leave the game immediately.

As it is, all went well, the kids had a great day, and we ended up dead last.

Can lessons be learned from this experience relevant to Construction Marketing?

Details are important, even for non-detail people. A simple check with one website would have avoided the problem.

Mistakes can create opportunities. We all learned from the experience, and I think grew. Our kids saw how hockey can be played differently -- but were reassured after the day that we would properly revert to our own league rules.

Cultural and rules variations can exist within specialized areas. Smiths Falls and St. Isidore are the same distance from Ottawa, but the separate leagues play by entirely different "contact" rules. We should not forget these nuances in our marketing because they can be important.

One person's error can affect many. Here I feel the pain (and relief that all went well).
We must accept responsibility for our decisions and actions. No one else is to blame. Notably, our coach accepted responsibility for MY mistake; he needed to quickly adapt and adjust the program to accommodate the special circumstances here.

Friday, December 04, 2009

The "on behalf of" call -- and other ineffective sales tricks

As Chase and Daniel Smith continued to work at Construct Canada yesterday, I spent some time in the office putting out fires and catching problems. Screw ups in our invoicing system, a mistakenly placed ad (which I caught with the help of our administrator just in time), and the writing of marketing materials for future projects took up much of my time.

And there was the inbound call I did not return.

"Hi, I'm calling on behalf of the Society for Marketing Professional Services . . .",
I listened a few more seconds, then hit "delete".

But wait. Readers here know that I'm a true believer in SMPS and will do everything I can possible to support the organization. Surely, it would take me only a few minutes to return the call. I'm busy, I know, but not that busy.

But I had good reason to delete the message, and this is my message to my staff and anyone else that sells for a living.

If you can't clearly state why you are calling in a message, and you dare to say you are calling "on behalf of" a respected organization, you are most likely selling some way overpriced marketing or promotional stuff, but don't have the courage to be direct about it in your call. You really don't know me, do you . . . Since the answer is 'no', I might as well save my time and not answer at all.
(If the rep is persistent and calls again, I will return his call, but the answer will still be 'no.')

Frankly, I'm afraid that in the past, our less-than-effective sales reps fell into the same trap when they called from a qualified, relationship-focused list we provide them. It almost is the natural thing to do, to find yourself reading from a mental script, and repeating your 'standard' message.

In some cases, I suppose, the process still works. A few will buy, and a few will say 'Yes"; so you can handle the "Nos", the "no answers" and the banality of rejection.

The same generally ineffective (but far too common) sales process applies in many other situations.

Every year, at Construct Canada, a few people approach our booth -- and every other one in the show -- cheating the rules and trying to sell us something. If they are caught, they can be kicked out of the show. We are usually reasonably courteous to them, however, because they are in our face.

Other reps send scripted, "personalized" emails, which reek of standardization. (The really bad ones don't even bother with purported personalization. They join the ranks of services which tell me I've won a million in the lottery, or can have my sexual powers increased with little blue pills.)

And bad canvassers, knock on my home door, with the clipboard in hand and big name tag on their shirt. (I slam the door on them, though readers here know that I acknowledge canvassing can be cost-effective and in fact a truly valid business survival strategy in certain circumstances.)

If you are a sales representative, you must be getting a little frustrated with this posting. How can you reach the real decision-makers when they give you this sort of rather blunt and unfortunate response.

I will give you one simple, but effective, answer.
Know who you are calling, and why, as an individual, and know why they really should listen to you before you make that call.
Think of this carefully.

If you spend more time carefully considering and relating to the needs of your potential client you will have a much greater chance of achieving a valid connection and results.

You may say this model works for extremely high ticket relationships, and not smaller ones, and I agree, to a point. But some effort to learn about the individuals you are calling can be relatively easily achieved often with simple online resources ( is truly effective) and the time you spend on this research will be far better spent than griding through the lists.

Back to my first example.

I'm not exactly invisible on the Web, of course. The caller working the SMPS list could have quickly learned of my relationship with the association and some of the things I've done, and communicated by a personal email before phoning.

(We are currently evaluating a sales candidate who passed this initial screening test brilliantly. Seeing the public advertisement for the salaried opportunity, he checked, discovered much about me, and then sent a highly personalized email. I invited him to continue with our evaluation process, which he is doing, now. He has earned his introduction.)

Simply put: If you are a sales representative and have a "call list" put the phone down and hold off the introductory email until you actually know who you are calling. And when you do, have a valid reason for connecting, hopefully to give value rather than sell stuff. I promise I won't hang up on you or ignore your call if you follow these rules.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Construct Canada 2009 Day 1

Daniel Smith with one of our special booth guests handing out papers and calendars.

I flew home yesterday evening, leaving Chase, Daniel Smith, and a group of Hooter Girls from the Niagara region to hand out calendars (with highly gender-specific images) and sample publications, as they met other exhibitors, attended seminars and programs, and generally "connected" on the Construct Canada show floor in Toronto.

This show, at least theoretically, represents a Home Run marketing opportunity. Most of our clients, after all, are businesses seeking to market their products and services to the construction industry in Ontario, the demographic profile of the greatest part of our business. As well, because we can help attract visitors to the show, the co-ordinators are happy to accept trade-outs of booth space for advertising, reducing our costs significantly.

But here is a sobering number. Last year, I asked the sales representatives attending the show to keep close tabs on the leads they acquired and the results they attained. We'll start with the really bad news. Two of the three representatives attending didn't bring in one piece of measurable business in the year following the show (they are no longer employed with us).

The third representative, our most successful salesperson, achieved $4,000 in sales.

If you add up the costs of hotels, food, travel, and time, we easily consumed that much in show costs. In other words, we paid 100 cents on the dollar -- hardly a route to profitability.

In planning this year's show presence, I considered these numbers in assessing our plans, and we devised some changes that should reduce our show-related expenses by about 50 per cent.

Of course, events like Construct Canada have other advantages. They allow us to reconnect with existing clients, scope out the competition, and observe larger trends and issues. So it is still worthwhile attending.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Time and place

We're at Construct Canada, booth 3027.

Today is the first day of Construct Canada, the largest Canadian construction trade show. After a five hour drive to Toronto yesterday, we completed the booth setup and will be ready to go when the show opens at 10 a.m. this morning. Our booth number is 3027.

This is approaching our first decade at the show, and there is some symbolism about the booth location, a spot near where one of our former competitors had a regular space.

In the earlier years of our business, I didn't think of participating in the show, but received a phone call out of the blue from the show organizers asking us if we could generate some positive advance publicity for the event. With no association with the event (and no advertising commitments from the show organizers), my initial thought was "Why should we do this?" but a sixth-sense instinct took hold and I treated the show organizer's request with respect, producing a really positive story for them.

Then I learned that one of our then-new competitors had a booth at the show, and decided that I would see if we could match the competitor's presence.

The show organizers had red faces. They had unwittingly entered into an exclusivity contract with the competitor, barring us from the show. (They thought the restrictions would apply to another publisher, not us -- they didn't know about us until shortly before their request for publicity.)

In other words, we had provided the show a favour without expectation of return, and the show, bound by a conflicting contract, had to favour only our immediate direct competitor.

One rule of business is that any situation which is obviously unfair and unreasonable will "correct" even if legal contracts suggest it shouldn't be possible. This is the art of interpretation and is how judges work around messy situations in the court room, and how honorable business people work around messes in practice.

The show organizers quickly worked with us on some special co-operation, including granting me a special "unofficial" presence on the show floor as an exhibitor without a booth! Next year, they discovered a work-around; the show had another section where we could participate. The location wasn't quite as good as our competitor, but they threw in free carpeting, electrical and other goodies, reducing our costs and making the whole experience worthwhile.

This year, our competitor is not at the show. And we now have the competitor's former space.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Strengths and weaknesses

We all have strengths and weaknesses. Of course we need to work within our weaknesses, but in business, we should focus on our strengths.

I thought about this yesterday evening, returning home from a board of directors meeting of the Ottawa Construction Specifications Chapter where I committed to a Jan. 12 presentation on social media and online marketing.

Our son, Eric, had just arrived home from a hockey practice that I had directed his entire team (I am the team manager) to attend.

Trouble is, I had sent him -- and the entire team -- to a practice that had been rescheduled, and two other teams were booked for the ice.

The "rationalization" for this scheduling error which disrupted the lives of 15 kids (and their parents), is the league co-ordinators revised the practice schedule several times and I had an earlier version. But this is not a good excuse. My job includes a responsibility to be careful about the details. (The other teams helped out last night by allowing our team to share the ice.)

I'm simply not very good at details.

This means I would not make a very good accountant. Sure, I can grasp the big picture and make sure that the overall business can run properly, but you wouldn't want me to balance the books!

Should we focus on our weaknesses, however, and let them dominate our minds?

No. The challenge is to figure out how to use our strengths to over-ride the weaknesses.

In this case, my wife (who is a detail person) agreed to check the schedule -- then she had to call on me to show her how to read the computerized entries (my strength, her weakness).
You certainly can enlist others to help.

Other weaknesses require your own attention and effort, generally if they impede in your ability to achieve your fullest strengths.

Sometimes you just have to get experience. I don't have experience in public presentations, but know it is important to develop this ability -- so the Jan. 12 presentation is a good start. If I fail, it isn't the end of the world; if I succeed (I will . . . ) it is a stepping stone to larger things.

Finally, sometimes you need to give special effort and hard work to overcome your weaknesses. the best way to do this is to use your strengths as a motivation.

I am a competent writer, and really good at journalism, but lacked any social skills or interpersonal relationship-building talent as a young person. This could of course be a rather serious barrier to a successful life. I solved the problem by fully expressing my strengths with an African adventure -- which then allowed me the opportunity to overcome many, but not all of my weaknesses.

The basic rule is this:

Do what you love, and you do well, and you will find your weaknesses either become insignificant as others compensate, or you have the energy, resources, and ability to work around them.

But my son still gave me a (well-deserved) glare when he returned home from the practice that wasn't supposed to be.