The past year has been a tumultuous one for the construction industry. Many residential and commercial projects have slowed down considerably or stopped all together and, while these numbers are starting to rebound, contractors should not sit idly by and wait for the economy to right itself. They need to take action to keep their businesses on past clients' radars and to win new clients for when they're ready to move forward on projects they've tabled until funds became available.
Perhaps one of the most important and effective ways to get your construction business off the ground, or if you've been in business for a while, introduce your business to a wider range of potential clients is employing an integrated marketing program. Traditionally, these initiatives have been focused on print media outlets, but people are no longer picking up the newspaper or phone book to find what they need. They're turning on their computers and plugging what they need into a search engine. Marketing on the Internet has proven to be a valuable asset for business owners looking to reach new and existing clients or gain exposure for a new service. Here are just a few ways to use the Internet to take your business to the next level.
1. Target Your Ideal Clients
Ask yourself who your ideal client is and how your business can benefit them. Doing so will help you determine how to get your services in front of them. For example, if your ideal client is a middle-aged, single-family home owner, think about what services they are going to need to keep his/her property in top form. Then, use these keywords on your website and in your marketing materials as much as possible. The higher the frequency, the better, as it increases the possibility that search engines will turn up your business and these ideal customers will get in touch with you to learn more about what you have to offer.
2. Tap Into Social Media
It's hard to go even one day without hearing someone talk about someone who just "friended" them on Facebook or something interesting they read on Twitter. Even if you've never heard of either of these services, the numbers don't lie-Facebook has more than 300 million active users and Twitter is expected to reach 18 million users tweeting in 140-character increments by the end of 2009.
How can these platforms help your business? Start by creating a fan page or group on Facebook featuring background information about your company, client testimonials and before and after photos of past projects, then send clients invitations to join. If those who view your page are satisfied with the work you've previously done for them and see photos of a renovation or addition that a friend of theirs has been talking about, it's likely they will pass along a page invitation to that person. The more people you invite to join your group, the wider and faster your social network and potential client base will grow.
An excellent example is one of our consultants in the Baltimore, MD, area who began working with a residential contractor in February. The company had no web presence at the time, but since then he has created a fan page for the company's mascot and conducts a contest each month for the page's nearly 1,400 fans to submit photos of the mascot in various locales ranging from inside a central air unit to in the crowd at the Tour de France! These efforts have not only built a strong web presence for the company but have introduced the brand to people of all ages. Now, when someone is looking for a contractor, they'll remember the Facebook page and call this company instead of a competitor.
Twitter is also a great resource because you can see what people are talking about in real time. If you run a search for specific words or phrases pertaining to your line of work, you'll see who is tweeting about those topics at that very moment. This provides a great icebreaker for you to reply to their comment with a link to your site, with details about a related promotion your business is running or even just a friendly hello to start building a relationship!
3. Think About Related Industries
Your clientele may be faithful, but let's face it-your business isn't the only one they patronize, so start building relationships with business owners in related industries. Painting companies, house cleaners, home inspectors and landscapers are just a few of the many possibilities, and you will be able to access entirely new sectors of potential clients that already know and trust the companies you are partnering with. Given that level of familiarity, these clients may be more inclined to give your business a chance.
4. E-mail in Moderation
Collecting e-mail addresses from your clients is a great way to stay connected and keep them abreast of any new happenings at your business that may affect them. A newsletter at the beginning or end of each month detailing specific products or services, announcing new craftsmen, highlighting a client or project of the month or inviting them to connect with you on the aforementioned social networking sites reminds them that you value their business and are thinking of them even if you aren't currently working on a project for them. Be forewarned that many customers may be hesitant to provide their e-mail addresses, because they fear doing so will mean an onslaught of spam. Put them at ease by assuring them that you will only be e-mailing once a month, during or after a project or another set amount of time. These boundaries will make them much more receptive to opening the lines of electronic communication.
5. Monitor and Reply to Feedback
Portals like Citysearch, Yelp and Angie's List are invaluable resources for you to monitor what your clients have to say about your business. If the feedback is positive, send a thank you e-mail and perhaps a voucher for a discount on a future service. If the comments are unsavory, however, you need to react quickly. In April of 2009, Yelp began allowing business owners the opportunity to publicly comment on reviews about their businesses and provide additional context about specific reviews. This has proved extremely useful for countless business owners because replying shows they care about their reputation and are willing to go the extra mile to ensure their customers are happy. And since this is done publicly, people searching the site see the vested interest these business owners have in their operations and may give the business a chance at a later date.
The Internet is a vital tool for businesses, whether they're brand new and ramping up or are established and looking to reach a wider demographic of clients. If used properly, the immediacy of this medium can work to your advantage in ensuring your business's success now and for years to come.
Construction Business Owner, February 2010 Issue