Once again I find myself in the midst of an email and postcard marketing "campaign". Word of mouth was fine in the old days, but now it seems harder. What works for you guys? Yellow Pages ads seem really out of date. How about networking groups?
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor S:
The answers to the following questions would dictate which way you should approach "finding work". Who is your target? (Direct to home owners, through home builders or remodeling contractors, through architects or designers, through commercial contractors, etc.).
What is it you plan on selling? Do you want to expand into new geography or sell to other types of customers? How long have you been in business and what is your reputation among your targets? (Assuming they may have heard of you).
What is your unique advantage over your competition? What works for someone else in their particular chosen market may not work for you in your chosen market. There is a huge difference in the way you'd approach "finding work" in selling a new kitchen to mom and dad homeowner and furnishing casework to a new medical clinic.
If you'd be more specific, I'm sure others will offer suggestions, and when others offer their suggestions, please take it with a grain of salt. Unless you understand the market dynamics in their areas and how they fit in, you won't be able to replicate their results in your area.
I make and install custom built-in cabinetry, custom kitchen and bath cabinetry, studio furniture from time to time, and also offer finish carpentry services. Seventy percent of my one man show is residential, the other 30% being commercial. I have never done any government work nor work in any medical environment. My goal is to keep a steady flow of work going.
As far as new geography, I'd rather stay within my 20 mile radius as the cost of looking at a job much further away becomes a real time issue (especially when you don't get the job). My reputation is solid and I have been in business for four years here in the Bay Area and for 14 years total elsewhere in the States and abroad.
How did you get those jobs? In other words, how did that prospect find out about you? Who were the decision makers on those jobs? Who was you competition on those jobs? Why do you think they bought from you instead of the competition?
What I'm attempting to do here is to help you identify at least one (or more) prime targets you can go after. If you've addressed them in your business plan, and your business plan works, feel free to share that here too. Flyers might be part of the answer, but until you identify exactly the kind of target you want to hit, flyers could be a huge waste of money and time.
What I do most of the time is make and install high end custom built-ins, some commercial work (kitchens and low to mid end cabinetry), kitchen re-facing, and basically residential cabinetry. How I have acquired jobs throughout my career has been completely random it seems to me - a friend, friend of friend, neighbor's friend, babysitter's parents friend, and the less random - contractors, designers and architects.
Who was my competition? I do not know, I am never told who I am bidding against. I do know I have been higher than others in the bidding wars in the last few years, and I can only explain this by thinking other companies may have lower paid employees doing the menial stuff like sanding (yes I know sanding takes experience too).
In the end I think it comes down to price over my sunny disposition/reputation/competence. Please enlighten me. I have (it seems) been trying to re-invent the wheel since the beginning of my self-employment and have never had any business education. I guess I am doing something right though as I have stayed self-employed through the years and am supporting a wife and kid.
You also mentioned that you had some success in selling through contractors, etc. in your networking group. (Wholesale selling - where you probably don't have a direct contract with the property owner, but your customer does). In dealing in these kinds of markets, unless you are working with a brand new architect/designer/contractor, you are looking to replace their current supplier. That's not an easy task.
Secondly, in working wholesale markets, you need to realize that your client will mark up your work to their ultimate customer. Had you found that same ultimate client, you not only could have sold the job, but you could have also kept the additional markup as part of your selling price.
Trying to make a profitable living in studio pieces or ultra, ultra high end furniture is possible, but your market for such work is very, very limited. For every very successful studio/furniture artist, there are hundreds or thousands who don't make enough sales to put bread on the table. Even guys like Sam Maloof were not one man bands. Sam had at least three or four shop employees and a significant number of marketing and sales people working with him when he was in his eighties. At that time, his chairs were selling for tens of thousands for each one and dining room sets were in the hundreds of thousands. He certainly was in the top 1% of the top 1% of studio woodworkers.
Let's back up to a few more questions. Aside from your networking group, what kind of advertising or marketing techniques have you tried in the past? What kind of advertising and marketing has worked for you? What hasn't worked? What have you given up on? How do you think you can attract more of the same kind of profitable clients you have had in the past?
If you want a constant flow of new business, are you prepared to do something to market, advertise and sell every week? (Including the weeks you are extremely busy in the shop).
Selling to contractors is done at a lower price and offering more choices. It can be a good trade off as they in effect become your marketing department. Either way the one most effective thing you can do is to mail/email to your former customers. Keep your customers physical/email addresses and mail to them once a month by mail and once a week by email.
If you try any advertising, don't expect too much. What advertising to the general public generally gets you is a chance to bid low end work for very little money. The only real source for real decent work for guys like you and myself are referrals from past work. I do not consider what you said about your referrals to mean that you are stuck working for personal friends, relatives, or friends of friends. That was an incorrect characterization of what you said. You have simply relied on healthy referral feedback from the good work you have done in the past.
I noticed that one man shops on this thread said that specialization is overrated. I cannot think of a more cogent reason to specialize? Maybe there is something to know about this subject? I have surveyed some of the local guys that I have noticed are expanding and they are all doing it on the internet and they are all specialized.
As I said before the best advertising you can do is along the line of what Contributor B says, which is staying connected to your former customers. For me that has been a mailing to my former customers every month. Most web guys do this once a week with something.
The primary thing people talk about is how much different and better it is now. "You should have seen it before!" is what they say. What your customer needs at this point is some tools to really prove their case. Your website should have a page dedicated to their project with before and current pictures - emphasis on current. This gives you a reason to constantly update your client with progress reports.
The more contacts you have with your client the better the bonding will be.If your website has really great pictures of before and current your customers will show these pictures to everybody. If the pictures are on your website they will ricochet your website around the office to solicit opinions, receive validation, and etc. Somebody else in that office is also planning a remodel. Those people will turn event more pages on your website and eventually call your friend to ask what you were like to work with.
If all you have to offer is a mediocre link to a free upload service then nobody is going to be excited to see your pictures. Full screen high resolution images are a completely different story. That's how you use a website and photography to create referrals. The pictures have to be on a website page and you want to send the link to your customer during business hours. Opening the image at 7 PM at home is not as good as opening it at 1PM during business hours. The 7PM photo does not get ricocheted. The 1PM email will make the inter-office rounds.
1. Does the guy have what I want?
2. Will it fit in my budget?
3. If yes to above, then what do I do next?
Figure out how to talk about money. Money is the first thing on anybody's mind. Compare this shopping experience with going out to buy a coat. As soon as you see something you like you have that price tag in your hand in about a nanosecond. You probably do not spend an extra second on coats that are not priced. If the work on your site looks very expensive consider dumbing it down a little. Times have changed since you built those masterpieces and customers need to be able to relate to your work. If it looks too expensive it could scare them off. At least don't lead with it.
Contributor B and Contributor G are spot on - stay in touch with your customers. Set up a photo shoot six months after the job ships. This will give you an opportunity to bond with your customer while they are not in the thick of it and are more relaxed.
Whoever mentioned offering the twelve month tune-up is also pretty savvy. This kind of after-sale service is unheard of and will create lots of buzz amongst your former clients, but also amongst their friends. It wouldn't hurt to spend some time learning photography as well.
How exactly you do that is part of proper planning. I applaud you for cold phone calls you made to the group of designers you identified. What is your follow-up plan for those you spoke with? How about the ones you missed? Are there other designers that you should also contact? What about doing the same kind of thing with builders, remodelers, and other groups? Developing a weekly plan to expand those kinds of networks will go a long way in filling your prospect funnel so that an occasional new sale can drop through.
The next step beyond contacting individuals you can identify would be to get messages to others you cannot identify personally. That's where advertising would fit in. Advertising differs from marketing in that you don't know specifically who is receiving reading your message. Marketing is getting your message to a known person or company.
If your goal is to get your client to evangelize for you then you want them to open that big picture at work when they are surrounded with their peers. This is what enhances the chance that one of these peers will ask about you for their project. You want these images to be big and accessible. Sometimes office email protocol will not allow large attachments. In this case a URL will slip under the radar easier. Having your images on your website also makes it easier to navigate when you are trying to steer a meeting with a customer. You can sometimes just point them to the link or page while you have them on the phone. It’s much different than emailing large files and trying to remember what has been sent or finding it when you need it.
One thing I will stress though is get it professionally made. There are hundreds of free website services you can use, but they actually cost you jobs in the end. Think about the times a homeowner has showed you things they have built that just look horrible. They are so proud of it, but you as an expert can see every flaw in it. That is what happens when a guy in the IT field looks at a homemade website.