Small reminders keep your company top of mind.
Consistent cash flow is critical to your business. There are many ways to ensure that you have consistent cash flow. One is putting service-agreement dollars in an interest-bearing account.
Another way is through continuous marketing, or drip marketing. Whether busy or slow, you should do some marketing activity every month (phone book advertising doesn’t count). The activity can be a major campaign or a small reminder about your company’s products and services. The small reminders, or drips, keep your company’s name in front of your customers and prospective customers each month.
I often see contractors make the mistake of dropping marketing activities during extremely slow times. This means the slow times get slower. Customers aren’t given a reason to think about how your company can help them.
And when you are busy, you still need to keep a baseline of activities to ensure that you will have work for the slower times of the year. One commercial contractor learned this lesson the hard way. The company was so busy that it felt it could stop selling — so it did. Later, when the work was finished, there was little in the pipeline for future work. Work stopped. When the company examined its sales cycle it was almost nine months long.
Granted, residential contractors usually don’t have nine-month sales cycles. But those cycles can be a few weeks or months long. Don’t stop selling when you are busy. It may seem crazy to continue marketing, but if you don’t, your work — and ultimately your cash flow — will dry up fast.
Another contractor found that when his purchase orders dropped his sales were about to drop, even if the financial statement showed a busy, profitable month. He learned that you must continuously sell even when you are busy. Purchase orders were his key indicator.
Drip marketing requires planning and execution. Part of your drip-marketing plan will be aimed at your current customers. Keeping your company’s name in front of them is important because they are familiar with your company, you’ve already solved a problem for them, and you want them to remember to recommend you to a friend or neighbor or to call you again if they have another problem.
Drip-marketing to prospective customers is more difficult. First, decide who you want to target. It’s better to target specific neighborhoods, ages of houses or swap customer lists with a non-competitive company that targets the same type of customers you do. Additionally, you can purchase mailing lists with names and addresses of your chosen target market.
One of the keys to drip marketing is consistency of message. This means coming up with a slogan or phrase that you use everywhere. The slogan or phrase ties all of the different activities that you do together. Obviously it should be printed on everything that a customer or potential customer sees including letterhead, invoices, business cards, traditional advertisements, and trucks.
With drip marketing, the key is to do something every month. Traditional forms of marketing (print media, broadcast media, billboards, and phone books) can all be part of the plan. Relying totally on these methods of advertising can get very expensive if you use them exclusively every month. However, they can be part of an effective drip-marketing campaign.
1. Give out at least 500 business cards per year. You can put them in your bills (even the person at the power company may need an hvacr repair), give them out when you go to restaurants, etc. I was recently with a customer who, at the end of the meal, put a business card in with the paid bill. He said to the waiter, “I put a business card in here. I would appreciate your giving it to your manager. We are in the plumbing and air conditioning business and he might need our services sometime.” He does this whenever he goes out to eat to spread the word about his company.
2. Make sure that all of your customers have a magnet with your company’s name and telephone number on it. You might even use a magnet as a mailing piece to potential customers one month. The magnet stays on the refrigerator (or office filing cabinet) and is seen each time the refrigerator door or filing cabinet is opened. When the customer or potential customer needs your services, all he has to do is go to the magnet to look up your telephone number. He avoids the phone book and seeing your competition.
3. Newsletters are another drip-marketing idea. These take more planning. However, there are several custom media companies that target our industry and will write, print, and mail them for you. Most let you write some of it (i.e., a letter from the president.) But if you are not comfortable writing, they will take care of it all. Newsletters at most should be sent out quarterly. If you do other activities, you might want to send them out only twice per year.
4. My favorite drip-marketing technique is postcards. They don’t have to be fancy. Just use brightly colored paper with a message and a reason to call you printed on one side. If you consistently send out postcards, people will get used to seeing them. Within a few months they will begin tying the message to your company and remember it.
You might think that drip marketing is hard on cash flow in slower times of the year. It can be. However, look at your results for a longer period of time than one month. There will be months that everything works and you get many telephone calls. There will be months that you think nothing is working and that your drip marketing campaigns are wasting money. They probably aren’t.
Drip marketing evens out cash flow. It takes planning. However, you will see consistent growth in your customer base and consistent cash influxes when you execute the plan.
Ruth King has over 25 years of experience in the hvacr industry and has worked with contractors, distributors, and manufacturers to help grow their companies and become more profitable. She is president of HVAC Channel TV and holds a Class II (unrestricted) contractors license in Georgia. Ruth has written two books: The Ugly Truth About Small Business and The Ugly Truth About Managing People. Contact Ruth at firstname.lastname@example.org or 770.729.0258.