Tips that work, from a contractor turned business consultant.
Do you need some good ideas for promoting your business, something effective that won’t cost a lot of money? Former contractor turned business consultant Brad Humphrey, owner of Pinnacle Development Group and author of “The Contractor’s Best Friend”, said many owners overlook the obvious. He offers several simple tips.
- Rotate truck placards
“A lot of guys have their names and phone numbers on their trucks but it’s amazing to me how many small contractors don’t,” Humphrey said. Instead of having the information painted on the truck, however, he advocates magnetic signs that can be changed frequently.
And if you specialize in two or three different building types or services, don’t write that information all on one sign. Instead, “have two or three different versions for your company,” he said, “and change those signs out every two or three weeks.”
Why? “Most contractors are going to the same coffee shops, convenience stores… and by changing out their signage they’re actually changing their ‘billboards’,” he explained. “People get used to seeing the same sign on a billboard, and after awhile they stop looking at the billboard.”
- Develop a consistent look
Although you can change the message, you should remain consistent with the basic design developed for your company.
“You have to keep the same logo,” he said. “Be consistent with your logo, with your website, with your business cards. I’ve seen contractors who have a logo or color on their website that is completely different than what’s on their business cards or stationary, etc. Be consistent with that.”
- Work place signage
Yard signs at jobsites are another simple way to advertise your business. It requires an initial investment, but it pays in the long run and using them doesn’t require much time or effort.
“I’m surprised at how many contractors don’t put signage up when they’re working on a project,” Humphrey said. “There may be some customers who don’t want a sign on their property, and that’s fine, just abide by that, but if they don’t care if you put up a sign, make sure you have the signage.”
Select a good place for the sign, however. It does no good if it’s poorly placed.
“I had a contractor I worked with a couple years ago,” Humphrey related. “The sales guy who sold the job didn’t put the sign up, he had the crew do it. Well, the crew put it up in the most convenient place they could, which happened to be in some weeds. They were on the same project for two weeks and on the last week the weeds were so high you couldn’t read the sign.”
- Run a clean jobsite
Running a clean jobsite isn’t just a good safety measure for working crews, it also sends an important subliminal message to visitors and passersby.
“People are really impressed when they see a clean jobsite, when they see workers with an organized jobsite,” Humphrey said. “I spend a lot of time on jobsites around the country and within 15 minutes I can tell how organized the job is and if the job is behind or ahead of schedule and what kind of relationships there are on the job. Typically, messy jobs, disorganized jobs breed problems. Personality conflicts and other negative things are ramped up when you have a place of chaos to work in.”
Additionally, a clean jobsite is good advertising. “Most people associate construction with dirty and unorganized,” Humphrey said, “so when they see it clean and organized, they actually pay a lot more attention to your sign.”
- Business cards for all employees
“I would get business cards for every one of your employees, even the laborers,” Humphrey advocates. “These employees may go to church, they shop the grocery stores, their kids are in Little League baseball or soccer, they buy liquor at the liquor store, they buy gas [at the gas station].”
Such daily routines breed ideal opportunities. “It’s amazing how many times that somebody who’s a laborer is in a community environment and someone sees their baseball cap or a shirt they have on with the company name and they say, ‘hey, you work for so-so. We’re looking for someone to do our concrete work. We’re looking for someone to add on a man cave to the back of the house.’ It’s amazing to me how many employees who have business cards actually give them out … because they don’t think they can sell, but they can hand out a business card with the company name on it and say, ‘Oh, by the way, talk to Bob, he’s our sales guy.’”
Having employees with business cards also can increase their own sense of worth.
“I’ve found employees, especially laborers who typically don’t have business cards…they think that’s kind of cool. Not everybody reacts that way, but at least you give your employees an opportunity to be involved,” Humphrey explained.
Even some of the biggest corporations are now focused on the power of employees in the marketplace.
“I’ve worked with a lot of large GCs, billion dollar companies, and there’s been a huge movement, especially in the last six years, to turn every employee into a business development person, because everybody’s hurting for work,” Humphrey said.
- Learn something new: The value of final product reviews
A company that doesn’t learn from its own mistakes is destined to repeat them, and every mistake can result in bad marketing for the company. To counter that, Humphrey advocates always sitting down with the customer upon completion of a project and ask for feedback. “Go through the job and try to identify what were some of the good things that the [customer] appreciated and what things they would like to see better.”
But don’t keep the information to your self, share it with your crew. “Sit down with the guys on the crew … and take on some learning. Smaller contractors—if they want to learn something from the big guys—the big boys are spending more time on: what did we learn?” Humphrey said.
- Help train the next generation of builders
Job retention is a major problem for many contractors and yet the solution may be as near as the closest high school. And while you are helping to train the next generation of builders, you are simultaneously exposing your own company in a positive way to the community.
“If just more contractors would get involved with contacting the career counselors at high schools, the wrestling coach, the basketball coach, the football coach,” Humphrey said. “High schools in a lot of parts of the country have gotten away from vocational classes, whether its welding classes or wood craft, but there are a lot of kids that are not necessarily interested … in going to college. I’ve found that the construction guy or gal, typically some of them have gone to school, some of them didn’t last, some of them are not book learners, but they’re really good with their hands.
“The idea of going into the schools,” Humphrey added, “you don’t do it to advertise, but you’re actually getting the word out that your company is engaging young people, that you’re growing and you’re looking to get the best. And you’d be surprised at how much rumors go around. Kids come home from school and they say something like: ‘Mr. So-and-So from Walker’s Rebuilding came and talked to our class, and man is he a cool guy.’ Pretty soon, all those types of discussions start to generate some names and recognition. That’s a large part of advertising.”
- Best Internet practices
Of course today you can’t discuss marketing without including the Internet.
“There’s no doubt that the Internet is affecting everything,” Humphrey said, adding: “The problem that a lot of contractors have is that they just turn their website into an electronic brochure. What they need to do is spend a few more dollars, either with someone in the office or someone they contract with, but they need to update those websites on a regular basis. Post new pictures of new projects, new jobs, new services they’re offering.”
And don’t forget to have a Contact Us spot on the website.
“Always make sure [people] have opportunities to send a question or let you know they’re interested in getting a bid. Always keep those doors open,” he said.
Social media, the hot-button topic for the past couple of years, is not so hot for contractors at the moment.
“There’s talk that [social media] isn’t having the impact that was expected. It’s more for networking,” Humphrey said, adding: “I don’t think it’s a bad thing, but I’m not sure a lot of contractors have clients who want to be on a Tweet account with them. I don’t think it’s there yet.”
- Share your expertise with others
For contractors, human interaction is still an effective style of promotion. Humphrey suggests volunteering to talk to local organizations or to write a small article in the local newspaper. “Depending on the size of the town you’re in, a lot of [newspaper] folks would love to take an article from someone who has some expertise on a particular topic,” he said.
Humphrey knows that this works because it is how he got his own start. “I was a contractor and I started doing a little public speaking for free, and I started writing some articles,” he said.
For Humphrey, his marketing prowess sent him on an entirely new career path. His advice caught the attention of companies who liked what he had to say and how he said it. After working 10 years in the construction business, first as an asphalt contractor in Kansas City, then expanding into the erection of smaller steel buildings, he decided to focus on consulting. He has been a regular speaker at the World of Concrete for two-and-a-half decades and can be seen at the International Roofing Conference and more. He has owned Pinnacle Development Group for 26 years and now has clients around the world.
Last year Humphrey started a new research division with his son. The Center for Construction Innovation and Development (CCID) helps contractors focus on identifying their geographic markets and competition. It’s a successful venture and Humphrey has an impressive list of deep-pocketed clients, but he insists: “my heart and sole is with the small guy, because that’s what I was.”
Because of that commitment he offers yet one more piece of free marketing advice:
- Know your company, its vision and its market
“Sit down and have a strategic meeting,” he said. “Contractors need to have a vision. Where do they want to go with the company? What kind of image do they want to have in their community? How far out do they want to permeate? Do they really know who their customers are?
Although you can hire professionals to do it, small contractors can take a do-it-yourself approach to save money. But, the importance of doing it is important to any business large or small, especially at a time when the competition is tough.
“More and more contractors need more and more ammunition going in to make a call,” Humphrey explained. “To shoot from the hip is a wasteful amount of time and money.”