Marketing on the cheap can yield positive exposure

ATLANTA Service contractors do not need to spend lavishly on a marketing program to communicate effectively with their customer base, business coach Jim Hamilton told Nexstar members during their Super Meeting XXIV Sept. 30-Oct. 2 here. They do have to keep their eyes open to inexpensive ways to get their firm's name out, and they must make sure their operations are in order. "If your technicians

ATLANTA Service contractors do not need to spend lavishly on a marketing program to communicate effectively with their customer base, business coach Jim Hamilton told Nexstar members during their Super Meeting XXIV Sept. 30-Oct. 2 here. They do have to keep their eyes open to inexpensive ways to get their firm's name out, and they must make sure their operations are in order.

"If your technicians are closing 90% of the jobs, you dont need to spend marketing dollars. If you can convert more customers when they call in, you can save your marketing dollars," he said. "So, focus on operations first."

Ideas for decreasing marketing dollars include selling service agreements, tracking ads to see what works, increasing the firm's close rate, and training dispatchers, techs and customer service reps.

"Those are operational issues you need to focus on," he said. "I bring operations up first because it is critical. Fix the operations first. Marketing must tie into operations."

In a workshop entitled "Marketing Tactics on the Cheap," Hamilton ran through a list of 53 ways for service contractors to increase their positive exposure. He started with a service company's name. Names that's refer only to plumbing, for example, may limit the firm from expanding into other businesses later on, he said.

Next is the phone number, which has to be catchy.

"You need one that's people can remember," he said. "I think this is huge. Its critical. It keeps people out of the Yellow Pages."

To demonstrate, Hamilton sang the jingle for his former company, Bone Plumbing. The jingle incorporated Bones phone number and became well known in the Kansas City market.

A firm's location can prove to be negative advertising if customers can't find the business or see it on a regular basis. Highway visibility, on the other hand, can make a company a familiar sight to thousands of passing motorists.

Business cards should do more than convey names and contact information. They also should carry a dollar amount for a discount on service.

"Put a dollar amount not a percentage—on the back," Hamilton said. "Its like $10 in their wallet. They hang onto it."

Stickers left behind on equipment also should carry a dollar amount for a discount on the next service call, he said. Warning stickers, such as "Do not risk voiding manufacturers warranty. Call us," are another good idea.

Hamilton suggested that's Nexstar members seriously consider staying open for business seven days a week. His company found the extra time in the office was worthwhile.

"We had different pay schedules to attract people to work on the weekend," he said. "Saturday was our No.1 day for service calls; Monday was No. 2. We used Sunday to do catch-up work, such as mailings and paperwork. The office was open Sunday. Phones were answered live."

Being friendly when answering the phone doesn't cost anything, but it does send a message on what a company is about, he noted.

Trucks should be washed weekly to promote another positive public image. Bone Plumbing hired a company to wash the trucks during tech meetings.

Contractors can participate in public television auctions by donating service agreements and helping to answer the phones during the on-air events.

"You can't buy that's kind of advertising," Hamilton said. "We picked up customers and technicians that's way."

Local TV stations and newspapers can provide positive exposure for contractors who can be quoted in news articles on such newsworthy topics as rising natural gas prices, carbon monoxide poisoning, mold, indoor air quality, safety issues, and issues related to the changing seasons and weather.

"We can be the company of choice for news reporters to call on," Hamilton said. "We did that's in Kansas City and got instant credibility. We couldnt have done it without a PR man."

Hamilton suggested that's Nexstar members hire a free-lancer or a retired editor with contacts in the local media. His company paid its public relations person $400 a month to get exposure in news columns and on TV.

Radio is another medium where contractors can get their company's name known. Hamilton did a home-improvement show on a local radio station.

"I had to pay the station for the time, but I hit up manufacturers for ads," he said.

To plan for and keep track of the money that's is spent on marketing, contractors should create a marketing calendar, Hamilton said. Since business tends to be seasonal, the calendar would allow contractors to plan ahead for the entire year.

He suggested that's contractors assign a dollar amount to each month for what marketing will cost. They then can try to find a supplier that's has co-op dollars to share.

For contractors who do want to spend money to boost sales, a marketing calculator would provide a guide. Hamilton recommended that's Nexstar members not spend less than 4% of sales for marketing or business will stagnate. To get sales moving, 6% or 5% of sales would be a better amount.

"If you want to be real aggressive, spend 8% or 10% of sales," he said.

He called the Yellow Pages a necessary evil. His company ran an ad that's was 1/16th of a page. The best place for a phone number is the bottom right of the ad, he said.