Your phone isn’t likely to ring these days unless you do something to make it ring. And calling your office line from your mobile phone doesn’t count.
Many remodelers say referrals are their lifeblood — and they pride themselves on that fact. Still, it doesn’t hurt to take some action to stimulate those referrals if they’re not currently making your phone ring off the hook.
More than 100 readers responded to our online survey and shared their ideas for making the phone ring. We’ve collected a sampling of those ideas below. In some cases we’ve refined or combined several of the thoughts, but they nevertheless represent the collective thinking of Qualified Remodeler readers from around the country
1. Contact past clients. Remind previous customers of all the services you offer; they may not remember everything you do. Personal phone calls, letters, even a postcard can do the trick. For many, the allure of having your personal attention to their project might make it worth their while to remodel now vs. later, when backlogs may again impact schedules.
2. Advertise locally. The more local, the better. Place new advertising in a local or neighborhood magazine and offer a discount coupon. Many readers also cite the impact of trying different advertising venues, such as shopping carts or benches, in areas where your target customers are likely to see them.
3. Offer financing. There is a common misperception that tighter credit markets have led banks and other home improvement lenders to exit the industry. Not true. There is a range of secured and unsecured financing products available to your customers. A well-advertised offer of low interest rates will certainly get some consumers to pick up the phone.
4. Tout affordable jobs. Not all remodelers are set up for small projects, but the time is certainly right. Offer a low-cost small addition that the average homeowner can afford and will add value to their home. Dormer jobs and finished basement projects are quicker and therefore can be offered in prices ranges that would spur many into action.
5. Optimize your Web site. Remodelers are discovering that their most qualified leads come to them via the Internet. Success involves incorporating keywords that drive your target customers to your site. This process is called search engine optimization or SEO. For more information, see our Exterior Contractor column on pg. 42 of this issue.
6. Keep in touch with your entire network. Use a monthly e-mail newsletter or blog to regularly connect with all current and past customers as well as your prospects. If your company is the first they remember when they’ve got a project, you are going to get the call.
7. Canvass, canvass. Target neighborhoods in the same price point as past customers. The old ways of doing business still work. The key is to be consistent and to incorporate it into the normal course of business — before and after sales calls. The messages can incorporate points of courtesy: “We are working on a job down the block; let us know if there is something we can do to reduce any noise or disruption,” or “We’d be happy to stop by and offer an estimate.” Leave a flier if no one answers the door.
8. Target mailings promoting Web sites and seminars. Do targeted mailings that direct potential customers to your Web site and to seminars and special events that you sponsor. The goal is to move them through your system of evaluating them as qualified leads. Once they have more information about your company, the more likely they will be to call.
9. Show your stuff and establish yourself as a remodeling expert. Participate in a local home show and present a seminar on the remodeling process, design trends or another topic of your choice. This establishes you as an expert and gives you more exposure than a pass-by at your booth.
10. Home sweet home tour. Take part in (or create) a local remodelers’ home tour. You will find motivated clients in people who tour, and they will already be familiar with your work. Many NARI and NAHBR chapters have remodeled home tours that generate a lot of local traffic. These events typically generate local news coverage and the promotion costs are shared with other remodelers.
11. Join the club. Establish a referral incentive with service organizations, discounting the price and donating to the club.
12. Constant contact. Current customers are more satisfied when you stay in touch. Satisfied customers are five times more likely to refer you to others. Keep in contact via a series of planned touches: personal site visits, phone calls, end-of-project walk-throughs, monthly e-newsletters and special offers for past clients. Schedule follow-up warranty visits and use them to start conversations about new work.
13. It’s in the mail. If you have never used coupon mailers, now may be a good time to give them a try. Use coupon mailers like Valpak or other direct mail services, and offer a discount or freebie.
14. Wrap it up. Use truck-wrap signage with big logos and full wraps to increase your visibility in your community and in the areas you service. With the widespread use of mobile phones, your phone number on the side of the truck when associated with a strong marketing message is more powerful than ever.
15. Special services. Try ads in the “special services” section of your local newspaper. These often offer better rates than display advertising and keep your name in front of potential customers for a longer period of time for a reasonable cost.
16. Person-to-person networking. You’d be surprised how many remodelers don’t take the time to network the old-fashioned way. Join the Rotary Club, chamber of commerce, Toastmasters or similar groups. Make it your job to take people who are centers of influence to lunch, such as property managers or interior designers.
17. Seek complementary partnerships. Partner with a local home furnishings company to hold remodeling seminars in their showroom, or work with a financial planner to present a seminar about aging in place — financing remodeling and growing a nest egg so that older persons can remain in their homes.
18. Stop the presses. Submit press releases for awards, training classes and anything else you think might be newsworthy. Develop a relationship with reporters — business, lifestyle, home, for example — so that you become their source for remodeling information.
19. Association ties. Leverage the ties you have to professional associations. Use those affiliations and professional designations, such as CR, CGG, CKD, etc., in your advertising and promotional materials.
20. Promote lower ticket items. If homeowners aren’t in the market for a full kitchen or bath remodel, suggest countertop or sink packages as an alternative to a full remodel.
21. Make it personal. Instead of — or in addition to — mass mailings and advertising, send personal notes to potential clients as well as to previous customers.
22. Offer what the house needs. Provide handyman services. If homeowners aren’t remodeling, they still need maintenance and repair work. Make sure architects, designers, trade partners and previous as well as current customers know you’re offering this service.
23. Sign up for Internet referral services. Advertise online and sign up with a lead-generating company such as Yodle.com, ServiceMagic.com, EveryContractor.com, RenovationExperts.com and Contractor.com, to name a few. Your phone will not ring, but your computer will ping. Remodelers find that being fastest and first to respond is critical to proper utilization of these leads. Second best is not good enough in this arena, so your team must be set up to jump on local leads as soon as possible.
24. Keep it moving. Send a letter to past clients and prospective clients who were hesitant to commit and urge them to “keep the economy moving” and offer them a discount on projects signed by a certain date.
"Instead of mass mailings, send personal notes to potential clients as well as to previous customers.”
25. Google AdWords. Use Google AdWords to drive traffic to your Web site and increase your visibility. This can be thought of as the broadcast advertising of the Internet. Whereas search engine optimization tends at its best to drive qualified leads to your site, Google AdWords can give you much greater traffic that needs more qualifying. It will certainly make your phone ring, but it can be expensive.
26. Target advertising. Advertise in publications that specifically go to the clientele for whom you want to work. There is a plethora of high-style local social magazines. Most are mailed to the most affluent zip codes in your area. Some publications are offering excellent rates now.
27. Volunteer. Volunteer where it will expose you to your target market and demographic. Be a leader in the organization and honor the commitment you made to the organization. The close rate on these leads is generally higher than that for other leads.
28. Target middle-income, recession-proof households. Focus on those homeowners who are not affected by the economy and layoffs. These include people who would not typically fit your income profile for full-service remodeling. Police officers, along with federal, state and local government workers, for example, make dependable incomes and are thus more confident to make decisions right now.
29. In-Deed. Do a direct mailing to those listed in the deed-transfer section of you local paper. Choose the areas you wish to mail to and include references of past jobs. Statistically, new property owners are likely to consider remodeling and repair work.
30. Go to church. Not everyone searches the Internet or the Yellow Pages for a remodeling contractor. People, particularly older clients, still read church bulletins.
31. Don’t forget multi-family. Consider a mailing or a personal visit to condominium association managers and managers of multifamily rental properties. According to the Remodeling Futures Program at Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, rents are on the rise and therefore multifamily rental properties remain an area of strength in the remodeling market for improvements as well as maintenance and repair.
32. Home inspections. Offer home inspections and energy audits. Show them how repairs and upgrades can save them money and offer a payback at a better rate than a stock investment on the current market. The inspections don’t necessarily have to be free. Some remodelers are charging up to $500 for a full energy audit. This pays for your time in the field and many homeowners consider the service a bargain. Plus, they tend to view you as a real professional.
33. Money talks. File this one under the tried-and-true methods. Offer a cash incentive for referrals from previous customers via your newsletter, e-mail campaign, or any other methods you use for keeping in touch with past clients.
34. Keep up on warranty work. Fix small items for existing clients without fuss and they will always provide a referral or two.
35. Publish or perish. Self-publish a hardbound book that highlights your work. The expense might not be as great as you think. There are a number of Web-based companies that offer to publish limited-run editions. Make sure to use high-quality professional photography. The quality of the finished publication speaks to the quality of your work.
36. Open house. Invite the homeowner’s guest list as well as the surrounding neighborhood to a wine and cheese tasting part at the end of a great project. Homeowners typically love this as a way to show off their new place and to thank their immediate neighbors for any inconvenience and noise the project may have caused.
37. Become a talk jock. Radio is still effective, especially in small towns. See if you can host a remodeling talk show that deals with tips, products and ideas for homeowners. You may be able to do a remote broadcast if you have a showroom, or you can host the broadcast from the studio.
38. Think small. Focus your marketing on a smaller area. By concentrating your job signs, trucks and presence in a smaller area, you concentrate impressions, making your company seem larger.
39. Host community events. If you have space such as a showroom, host events like art showings that attract the kind of demographic you’re looking for.
40. Adopt a highway. Adopt a road in the area where you do most of your work. It keeps your name visible and creates goodwill.