By Diane M. Calabrese / Published February 2019
An app gives customers direct access to your business. A word from a happy customer brings a new buyer to your door. Marketing a business spans the A to Z of possibilities.
With so many options for increasing sales, where does an owner begin? Given the magnitude of the question, we sought the expertise of Beth Borrego, vice president of See Dirt Run! Inc. in Germantown, MD, who has written extensively about marketing (including a multi-part series for Cleaner Times) as well as lectured on the topic. Could she distill her robust advice to a point of departure for those getting started and for others seeking to replace a less-than-methodical plan? Happily, yes.
“Marketing is a multi-faceted approach to making the phone ring, so that you can sell your services,” says Borrego. “It is important for any business owner to understand the market they wish to compete in before trying to market their services.”
Understanding the market means more than just knowing that contractors can be seen coming and going and doing—and that, in turn, distributors must be serving them. “Don’t forget to study the demographics in your area,” explains Borrego. “If you truly have defined your market, then you should be able to target customers with economic precision.”
The precision targeting is just the beginning, though. A company may have several different types of buyers.
“Remember that how you market for one service may be very different than how you market for another service,” says Borrego. “Not all potential clients will look for services in the same place. Think about how clients looking for specific types of services will search for your business. As a very broad example, marketing for residential business is different than marketing for commercial business would be.”
Couple the aim of precision with prudence. There’s a reason that experts talk about a marketing budget. Just as with every other cost center, the marketing line item must be justified by the revenue it returns. Know what you are doing and why.
“The key to making good decisions with regards to not only marketing but also other areas of your business is to remember to study and do your research before implementing anything,” explains Borrego. “It’s easy to try new things, but those new things may cost you time and money and may not be the best thing for your business. This leads to, as they say, throwing good money after bad.”
Getting caught up in the excitement of the new or different just because it is new or different can be costly. “Avoid reactionary decisions, and take a more learned approach to what you implement,” says Borrego. “You will save time and money and have a healthier business.”
Seek and welcome help, too. There’s no reason to try what does not work or to ignore what does.
“Network with peers outside of your immediate service area and see what is working for them,” says Borrego. “Develop relationships with these peers, and if you need one, find a mentor who can help you whenever you may need it, regardless of how long you have been in business. Remember that no one has all the answers, and we all need help from time to time.”
Marketing is a means to an end. It is not an end in itself. DJ Carroll, who provides sales and management coaching through Coach Carroll in Louisville, KY, believes it’s a point that bears emphasis.
“Sales is the number one most important aspect of business,” says Carroll. “You must understand that until a sale is made, nothing happens.”
Visibility is important to making a sale, but it is not the same as a sale.
“Marketing and advertising give you the ability to make a market of prospects know who you are,” explains Carroll. But when a contractor is boot strapping to get started or a distributor is confronting a local economic downturn, a budget for doing marketing and advertising may be limited.
“When you have more time than money, I recommend doing cold calling as your marketing,” says Carroll. “That’s how I started my first business. A business can’t survive without customers.”
Every expert on marketing has some favorites among the tools that fill the marketing sphere. “I’m a huge believer and user of social media advertising,” says Carroll. “I believe it is so important that I started an AdTech company in 2016 to create more content for my businesses.”
Despite the negative media coverage that has surrounded some social media, Carroll retains his enthusiasm for the outlets. “Facebook and Instagram are underpriced for the amount of conscious attention on the platforms,” says Carroll, “meaning that people will pay attention to your advertisements.”
The endorsement of social media does not mean that Carroll embraces them to the exclusion of other methods. “I still think direct mail works if you are using the tactics I teach my students,” says Carroll. “Bright colored envelopes, no return address, hand addressed and stamped.”
What about word-of-mouth advertising? Is it still the best form out there as many experts say?
“Best? That’s a stretch,” says Carroll. “Most cost-effective, absolutely.”
Is it possible to look at social media advertising as a contemporary version of word-of-mouth? “That’s another reason I love social media advertising,” says Carroll. “You have the multiplier effect. I love when people tag their friends in our ads. It’s like free press.”
Cost-effectiveness matters. Carroll explains that lead-generating services (e.g., Angie’s List, Thumbtack, Home Advisor) may not be cost effective. “They are non-exclusive leads and are typically very price sensitive.”
Business owners should also understand the difference between B2C (business to consumer) and B2B (business to business) marketing, says Carroll. “They are completely different.”
For example, a contractor selling services to a residential or commercial customer may be chosen primarily on the quality of the work in his portfolio. A distributor selling to other businesses—as in a solution for wastewater management at a manufacturing plant—will be evaluated by quality of work, too.
But the plant owner may also want the distributor to demonstrate integrated management protocols are in use. Why? Suppose something goes awry and the plant owner needs a new part or an answer to an unanticipated technical question. The last thing the plant owner wants to learn at that juncture is that the distributor got a part from a vendor who no longer exists.
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA.gov) offers an enormous amount of free advice on how to market a business. Anyone rethinking an approach or making a new marketing plan will benefit from perusing some of the advice there.
From the SBA.gov site, we add four tips in the never-forget category. First, names do matter. Phonemes are simply the sounds a person hears when language is broken down phonetically, but they can sink a company.
When naming a business, be sure that there is nothing in the sound of the syllables that will be misheard (and misinterpreted). Coining words can be dangerous, especially in our diverse nation where not everyone is a native speaker of English.
Yet clever names for business can be a boon if they create an image in a person’s mind of the task to be accomplished. Borrego’s company has a name that conveys the image of the task that will be done. Dirt is already moving out of the picture in our mind when we read or hear the company’s name.
If stumped for a clever name, making the company a namesake is a reasonable idea. For example, ‘John Smith’s Window Cleaning Service’ tells prospective customers both who you are and what you do.
Second, when moving, be sure that you can be found. It’s a bit alarming to visit websites and professional listings that still include old phone numbers or email addresses. If a customer who has not called in six months wants to buy from your business, he may become frustrated trying to connect and may go elsewhere.
Third, keep selling. Veteran contractors have told us many times that one of the biggest liabilities for new contractors is their tendency to get swept away by euphoria when they land their first big contract—for a public entity or a commercial site. Even as they are working on that job, however, they must be lining up what they will do next. Cash flow is everything.
Fourth, fill any lull in work with activity that will boost the prospects for your business. Yes, holiday periods are a good time to double-check routinely maintained equipment and ensure all parts of the physical environment are in order. But also make certain marketing tools are performing optimally. Scrutinize your website (e.g., check links, try to find pages in search engines, study visitor statistics to find out what’s attracting possible buyers and what’s not). Make changes accordingly.
Marketing is a process… a dynamic one.