Taking Small Jobs as a Marketing Method

Can taking on small repair jobs or punch-list work help you get larger, more lucrative projects? September 15, 2011

I recently completed a couple of repair jobs that are leading to more work. Has anybody tried this as a marketing strategy? It felt like I was being paid to make a sales call. My thinking is if somebody needs a door re-hung, they probably need bookshelves, entertainment center, new kitchen, etc. I get to go in, showcase my talents while being paid by the hour and usually a good discussion ensues about their kitchens, etc. I don't want to advertise in penny press. I was thinking some online blog or forum and was wondering if anybody had success with this approach. Otherwise, I am just sitting at home and waiting on contractors and architects.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor O:
I have been doing repairs as well as kitchens and other ďcarpentryĒ work for a while. Is it a good strategy for introducing yourself to perspective clients? Sure it is, but I have found that I feel strange saying ďhey you know, I can also do fine carpentry as well as fix things around your house.Ē I donít know maybe itís just me but I feel funny doing it, although I do.

When push comes to shove I have responsibilities (bills, etc) so when I donít have anything going for me in the shop I do handy man stuff. It can actually be good. It can provide a modicum of pocket change or gas money for the truck. I just got up enough nerve over the last few weeks to do this sort of thing during the down (mentioning my carpentry) time so I canít really say if Iíll get any calls from it, but I can say for sure that I havenít yet found an ideal form of advertizing.

From contributor R:
I made a pretty solid effort on the "I'll repair stuff to get the real work when it comes around business model" and it absolutely did not work for me. I pushed this with several realtors, property managers, and home owners. Maybe they needed to repair a property prior to selling or perhaps they could refer me to the buyer or tenant for their upgrades or changes. I got a few calls for some door kick ins, window leaks and soffit repairs. I figured out, I'm in the cabinet (or whatever) business and need to stick with my core business, and pursue that venue.

From contributor D:
For the last few years I've gone out on jobs I passed on before and have acquired some great jobs and clients. A few jobs were not worth the gas to look at them and they were getting five bids. Make room for a DW or modify the refer cabinet or some small thing can lead to more. I have noticed most shops don't want small jobs say under $500 so when a real person shows up and performs the folks usually tell me they have had a hard time getting anyone out and they appreciate the service.

From contributor O:
Thatís sort of my situation at the moment too, but like I say, in between this and that I have to pay the bills. I also get a lot of work thatís not worth the gas money but I sometimes get the occasional bathroom makeover and cabinet job from it too. Hopefully the people will start answering my quotes for fine furnishings more often with a positive answer.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the responses, I just think there are a lot of people who by the time they look for help on some small issue actually need a lot of work done. The people who I have done this for actually needed help with things that a handyman would have trouble doing competently. When I casually showed them my latest work on my phone they both literally dragged me into their kitchens and asked me what I could do there. I'm wondering how I can find more people like this, preferably online and without spending great deal of money, as I don't have any right now.

From contributor U:
You are on the right track. After reading the other comments as well, I do believe that you cannot go out and promote yourself as a handy man, unless you really are. However, if you have a specialty trade, small jobs can be a great way to show people your qualifications and skills. It lets people in the community know you are around, and if you do what you are supposed to, customers can see that you are dependable and willing to attend to the details of the small things.

One of the biggest complaints I hear about the bigger shops is they too often do not do the small things right. Like come back and make adjustments, or build the small cabinet that was needed after the move in. Small repair type jobs are a great way to build trust, this is very important. I listen to my customers while I am around doing my main line of work and I selectively choose which things I am willing to do, or rather those things I can do well. These are great fill-ins for slow days.

The things I cannot do, I refer someone else which is also a great way to spread your name, if you refer the right people. This year alone we have fixed an antique chair, an antique desk, replaced drawer slides in an entire kitchen, refinished a kitchen, just repaired a sheetrock wall and painted it and I am currently in the process of building a dining table. All of these I consider outside of my main business. Also these jobs are sort of fun for me as I use any profit from small jobs as mine. Word of caution though, never take a job you will not see through, and never take work you do not have the skill to do well.

From contributor B:
Call up past clients to make appointments for photo shoots. Offer to clean and make adjustments/touch-ups while there. Itís a great way to get in front of them and pick up new leads from them or their friends. If you have a referral program make sure to mention it to them while you leave them with a couple of business cards.

I found this out by accident a couple of years ago when making updates for our website and marketing materials. I also found out that we had missed out on several jobs because we had not done this earlier and had not done a good enough job educating clients on the diversity of work that we do. We would go and shoot a kitchen and they would say how happy they were with it and while there I would see a new wall unit installed. Asked why we didn't get called and they would say "you do wall units too?" or vice versa. This led to a follow up campaign with new brochure showing the diversity of what we do which also led to new work.

From contributor S:
My thoughts on this topic have changed over the years. When I was new and needed all the work I could get I swore by the idea that small jobs would bring in bigger jobs. In hind sight it is not true. Doing small jobs and repairs will mostly bring in more small jobs. People will know that you are one of the few shops willing to do repairs and piece work. Then others will ask for more of the same. Occasionally these small jobs will give you a lead to a big job, but there is another way to look at this.

Big jobs will give you more leads to big jobs. High end work will generate leads to more high end work. So instead of spending time and resources on these small, less profitable jobs, you could have been focusing on your marketing for the bigger, more profitable jobs.

I am not saying doing small jobs is a bad idea. If you have a small shop and you are good at onsite work it can be a good market. When I was a one-man shop I probably made as much profit per invoice dollar on the small jobs as the big ones. But there is usually close to the same amount of non-invoiced work for the small jobs. Meeting clients, ordering materials, designing, driving to job site, bidding and invoicing make the true net earnings much less on these small jobs. I would rather do all that non-shop work for a 10 or 30K job than a $500 dollar job. My main point is that I think it is a fallacy that small jobs lead to big jobs. Big jobs will much more likely generate more big jobs and small jobs will much more likely generate more small jobs.

From contributor D:
Small shops don't do the huge jobs as often, although I can tell you as a one man shop I have done many McMansions full of cabinetry over the years - it can be done. Up until about 2007 I turned down kitchens and jobs on a regular basis and never really had to go out and do any fixit jobs unless I wanted to. But today is not the same. I'm in Southern Oregon, and the last few months I have noticed more activity and calls in general and currently have some decent cabinet work. For me after 29 years in business I have a good client base with many referrals. I stopped bidding lower than normal and am charging full tilt to any former clients, especially if they want more.

From contributor W:
In my experience, in order to be successful at turning small jobs into larger jobs or making small jobs lead to other bigger jobs, you have to have a few key ingredients in your "recipe for success". You must be honest and reliable and have an uncompromising adherence to moral and ethical principles.

Profit - no matter what size the project is, make sure you can make a profit on the job before you commit yourself to doing the work. Don't waste your time chasing work that won't earn you a profit. Focus your marketing efforts on attracting clients who have a high net worth. Don't take on work that you are not capable of handling. If you can't handle the work, do your best to make sure a competent contractor does the work. Either GC the job or put your client in direct contact with the right contractor for the job and collect your referral fee from the contractor.

Be the "go to guy". Make sure all your clients know that if they have anything that needs to be done in, on or around their home you are the guy they need to call first. This means that either you will do the work or you know the right person for the job. You must have a network of reliable and competent contractors for all areas of home improvement and repair - plumber, electrician, landscaper, mason, heating, A/C, audio/video, roofing, sprinkler repair, septic service, well service, tree removal, etc. Either be the best of the best or know the best of the best in your area. There are people out there who don't want the best. Don't waste your time on people who want crappy work. You don't provide this type of service. Make sure every client is overly satisfied with your products and services.

Never cut corners. Use this as a key benefit for someone to hire your services. Sell the quality of your work. Educate your clients on the benefits they will receive from using your products and services and why it is a better value than using someone else's "quicker and cheaper" product or service. Treat every client like a king or a queen.

At the end of every job, before you ask for payment, ask your client if they are satisfied with the work and ask if you can use them as a reference. If they say "no", ask "why?" Then get back to work and turn the "no" into a "yes". After they say "yes", it is time to ask for payment.

If the client wants a "fixed price" for work that should really be done on "T&M" give them a fixed price that will be in your favor. If you based your fixed price on the worst case scenario of 12 hours labor and the job only takes you four hours to complete, amend your agreement and charge your client for four hours. If you are working on "T&M" and you do something wrong that causes the job to take longer, the clock stops running and you fix it on your time not your client's time. Charge a premium rate for your premium products and services. To do this, you have to be able to run circles around the "competition". One hour of your time is worth more because you can deliver more in one hour than most people can deliver in two and what you deliver is always better than what the "competition" delivers. There is no competition because there is no comparison when you are selling "apples" and the other guy is selling a "lemon". Make sure your clients know this and can see this in your work.

Manage your time wisely. Don't waste your time chasing after people who are "price shopping", these people are not your customers. Do your best to prequalify your prospects before you set an appointment. You should know how to quickly and accurately estimate small jobs. You should know how to close these sales and collect a deposit during the initial meeting. You also should know how to close on small T&M jobs and get them scheduled during the initial incoming phone call.

You have to be able to sell your customers on the value of hiring you for the entire day to take care of all their home improvement and repair needs. Have a one hour minimum and charge more per hour for the first hour of your time. The labor charge on five or six small jobs that take about an hour or so to complete should cost about the same if not more than the cost of one eight hour job.

Talk with your clients. Make sure they know that you are the right person to hire for their next project. When your clients talk, you listen. Ask questions. Identify problems and offer solutions. Find out what the needs and wants are of your clients and then fulfill those needs and wants. Discuss the features of your product or service and sell the benefits. When you are with your clients, use this opportunity to program your company's name and phone number into your client's cell phone so they won't lose your name and number.

Ask your clients for referrals and ask them for bigger and better jobs. If you are going to be a cabinet maker and a handyman, you have to know how to handle these two types of jobs separately. They are two entirely different animals. It is better to market yourself as a professional cabinet maker who also provides a professional handyman service than it is to market yourself as a professional handyman who also provides professional cabinet making services. And remember, your clients can call you whatever they want as long as they call you first.

From contributor T:
My business has two faces - high end antique furniture restoration, and cabinetmaking/custom furniture. I have generated many large cabinetry jobs by being a restorer, and many restoration jobs by being a cabinetmaker. The advantage with both is having the opportunity to pitch the other services you offer.

Always sell yourself with confidence. No matter who it is or what I'm looking at, I always let them know all the services we offer. You would be surprised with what can come of it. A simple chair repair can turn into a new mahogany study. A simple small vanity can turn into refinishing a whole room's worth of furniture.

It is foolish to not sell yourself at all times. Big jobs, small jobs - it matters not. Taking the same approach to both situations only leads you to more opportunities to get jobs, meet people, and do more work. That's what a business is supposed to do, right?

From the original questioner:
Thanks to all for responding. Contributor T you described what I want to find perfectly - highly specialized repair work. Other than word of mouth, I am wondering where to advertise (online) to generate more. I am not abandoning reasonably sized cabinet jobs- but I think it is heartening to go out a few times a month and solve somebody's problem, be well-compensated for my efforts and possibly lay the ground work for some future work. I am in a large market (NYC) and I know the people I wish to reach are out there. I want an efficient way of finding them.

From contributor I:
One of the best sources of repair work I've found that leads specifically to more cabinet jobs are modifications to existing cabinetry for new appliances. I do work for an independent family owned appliance retailer and they are constantly calling me to modify, repair or completely redesign portions of cabinetry to accommodate new appliances that have been sold that don't fit the existing rough openings. Generally the most difficult part of these types of jobs are when finishing is required and getting it to match the existing and be "right on".

You need to be neat, clean and coordinate things very well between the homeowner, appliance retailer and their installers. But when you do and everything looks seamless, you come out looking like a hero. Everybody's happy; the appliance retailer is able to sell their product, the homeowner doesn't have to remodel an entire kitchen, and you get paid for a job as well as increase your exposure for cabinet work. The downside to these jobs are they can be time consuming, especially when you get busy with larger projects that are the ones you really want to go after. It becomes difficult to turn down this source of business, but that's the price you have to pay to generate jobs or future leads from this type of work.