Repeat customers and client referrals drive the bulk of sales for many home improvement companies, but contractors still must promote themselves elsewhere to sustain success. A sound marketing strategy focuses on purpose before tactics, diversifies risk and measures its effectiveness by the number of qualified leads that are ultimately converted into sales.
Most businesses believe they have distinguished themselves from the competition, but if consumers cannot tell the difference, then potential customers will perceive the company just like any other—as a commodity. Contractors who fail to separate their business from competitors risk becoming just one more company who takes orders and gives estimates.
“[No matter what] marketing you do, [it] needs to differentiate the business,” says Shawn McCadden, a remodeling industry consultant and founder of Remodel My Business, Inc. “It has to differentiate the business because otherwise you’re just like everybody else, so why would I pay you more?”
Possible highlights could include design assistance (as long as the company has in-house options), the quality or even sustainability of products installed during a typical job, and testimonials from satisfied clients. Regardless of the specific callout, contractors should incorporate this information clearly into their professionally designed business website.
“A business [today] really is not legitimate if it doesn’t have a website—that’s the way consumers look at it,” McCadden says. “[But] is your website just going to be a place where you put up all the pretty pictures of your projects, just like everybody else uses their website?
Establishing a website enables contractors to control their messaging and helps present their business in a positive light. The domain allows them to receive customer inquiries and requests for more information directly, and it captures the value of the company name whenever someone searches for the business online.
“We’ve tried to make [our site] more interactive and get more involved with videos and blog content,” says Seth Selesnow, director of marketing for Alure Home Improvements in Long Island, New York. “It’s been an ongoing evolution—every year a little bit more gets invested in the Internet and in digital platforms.”
Many contractors outsource their marketing responsibilities to lead generation services such as Angie’s List because of the time and effort involved. These services aggregate leads but sell each one to multiple contractors, putting them in direct competition with one another for every lead, which might not even be qualified upon closer inspection.
“Any time you’re running anything online, you’re going to get people that fill out a form who aren’t legitimate, [they] don’t have a real interest, or maybe they’re just looking for information, or they’re out of the area,” Selesnow says. “If you can find a company who understands that and they’re pretty flexible as far as return policies, then sometimes you can make that work.”
Contractors should also consider the type of consumer who uses a lead generation service as the primary tool when looking for the right company. Oftentimes these people become fixated on finding the lowest possible price for what they want and will use the estimates from other contractors through the lead service as leverage to drive down the overall cost.
“Why aren’t they asking one of their friends or relatives? What kind of people are they? Are they only after the low price?” says McCadden, who points out another overlooked facet of doing business with lead generation services: Once an agreement is signed, any content posted on their website becomes their own property, even after the contract ends.
“They have the rights to it, so they own all of that SEO value that’s being accomplished on the search engines because they’re the ones putting your business name [out] on the Internet,” McCadden says. “Now they have all that SEO value, and you have nothing.”
Contractors cannot assume a lead generation service will remain profitable and stay in business, furthermore, so they would be wise to do their homework before signing any kind of agreement. Sharing company blogs and other topical content with these services might be the best way to increase visibility and earn some qualified leads at minimal cost.
“What happens if you put all your eggs in one basket, and [that lead generation service] goes belly up and they’re gone?” McCadden says. “Or they suck you in with low prices for your leads, and now that you’re dependent on them for leads, they raise their prices, and you either have to pay it or you have no more leads because the only way you were getting leads was from [that lead generation service]?”
Marketing in the neighborhoods surrounding current jobsites continues to be one of the most cost-effective approaches to generating new leads. Contractors who make sure to adorn their company logo on clothing as well as vehicles, erect business signs on all of their projects and include brochure boxes for more information typically benefit from additional work in the area.
“It’s usually a low-cost way to get started on marketing, and you can get really good results,” McCadden says. “Not everybody is ready to do a job tomorrow; but you’ve got to make the public aware of what you do and how you’re different, so when they’re ready to do something, they remember you and they want your difference.”
Lindus Construction, a full-service construction company based in Baldwin, Wisconsin, has found targeting neighborhoods and product categories can produce substantial leads. The company began tracking this kind of information about 15 years ago and has gotten even more refined in its ability to monitor lead data in real time during the last two years.
“Analytics have to play a giant role in everything you do,” says Andy Lindus, co-owner and COO, who primarily focuses on where, what and why people are buying. “That all has to be under consideration in every decision you make when it comes to marketing, because the dollars can get out of control very quickly.”
No matter which type of marketing contractors undertake, they must know where each lead originated so they can measure its effectiveness, make informed choices and stick with a comprehensive strategy regardless of how much they need a job at the moment.
“That’s the key about marketing,” McCadden says. “You’ve got to keep doing it all the time, including when you’re busy, because if you stop marketing when you’re busy and you burn [through] all your work, then nobody knows about you when you need work.”
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