When business slows down the instinctive reaction of many business owners is to cut cost. This is a great way to help pay the bills and sail in slower times. However, the biggest mistake is to cut advertising. The best approach is to lower and not add fixed expenses.
Negotiating with suppliers or finding new materials and suppliers can help cut costs. Improved equipment maintenance will improve performance and, in turn, save on repair costs and gas. Trim your crew to a level that performance and quality are not affected. Reevaluate the need for large equipment purchases or expanding the business to new locations.
As a business owner, you must be creative as to where you can find "new" customers and increase sales without spending too much money trying to acquire them. Try advertising in the venues that worked for you in the past or increase the reach and size of your ads for more visibility. Requesting referrals from existing, satisfied clients can double your client base with very little cost. Offering "first time" incentives can be extremely effective and do not cheapen your services.
The Internet is by far one of the most cost effective and quick-to-market opportunities for businesses.
Most consumers are relying more and more on the Internet to find many local contractor services. The homeowner is choosing the Internet more frequently because they can read profiles, see images and read ratings and reviews. Placing your business on the Internet enables new, non-traditional clients to find you. With no contracts to sign and usually a one-time low fee to pay, it is easy to see why this alternative is a great choice in times when the economy has slowed.
Consumers are increasingly realizing that information is the key to good decision making. The Internet is the premier source to find anything from clothing to services. E-mail and Internet searches are a daily occurrence for most individuals. Search and Internet have become synonymous; "I'll Google it" is a phrase that is used even in our pop culture and movies.
With ratings and reviews readily available for anything from food and consumer goods to services, it is imperative that the contractor community understand that an online presence is not a luxury, but a necessity. We are in an information age and all businesses must capitalize on the opportunity to showcase to the masses. Having great reviews and ratings and a complete profile online are as important to your sales and marketing efforts as your brochures. Consumers want to know more and know how to find it, so the challenge for a contractor business is to shine a bright light on your business by displaying as much information and many images and video of your business as you can. If you can have thousands of potential clients reading about your achievements, business and other user experiences, you will get more estimates and close more sales.
There are several online alternatives from which you can choose. General directories like Yahoo and Google get tremendous traffic but can be quite costly, and you must have a website in place to direct the consumer. Your website must also deliver the leads to you based on design and information. It would be a shame to spend thousands of dollars in a month to get traffic, and then your website falls short of delivering you the actual estimate request or lead.
There are also "niche" directories, which are a cost-effective alternative. They usually offer several profile options to fit any budget. The website has usually been designed to direct the consumer to "Request and Estimate." These sites are in the business of lead generation and are very cost effective, usually only costing a few hundred dollars for the year. If you were to achieve the same traffic yourself, it would cost several thousand dollars per month.
If you already have your own website, you can benefit by having a link on these highly-trafficked sites. This will help your site develop traffic on the major search engines and deliver benefits, like increase in page rank (PR), which is how Google ranks websites on importance and relevancy. Look for a contractor/home improvement site that has a page rank three or higher. Having your profile and website link on a site with a good PR (usually three and up) is extremely helpful in promoting your own site and increasing traffic.
So when you break down the cost of a profile, you should keep in mind that some of this money is going to search engine optimization (SEO). This is key to maintaining a successful presence on the Internet. The directory where you are listed is probably doing this, and you can benefit from their efforts.
The bottom line is that the Internet is the future and should not be ignored. All benefits can't be measured quantitatively, but there are qualitative benefits that are incalculable by having a prevalent presence on the Internet.
Construction Business Owner, December 2008