Try Hosting an Open House

Have you noticed the blurring of lines between business and social activities? You may be at your kid’s school concert or soccer game when the discussion turns to occupations. If you mention that you are a designer and/or builder, folks tend to say something like, “Oh, we could use your help!” What a perfect opportunity to find out if they really could use your help, in a nonthreatening and non-sales-like atmosphere. In a relaxed and social setting people tend to let down their defenses and offer genuine information.

What if you could create that relaxed social setting for all of your potential clients? How would you do it and what would you want to convey to them if you could? An increasing number of design/builders are holding remodeling/construction seminars or open houses in their markets to pull in prospective customers. Often these gatherings are held in their office or design center. Some contractors prefer to have the meetings at local restaurants or wine/cheese shops to attract the upscale customer or because their shops would not accommodate such a gathering. Whatever the case, the object is to get your prospects in front of you and your work in a nonthreatening, informative and social setting.

But before you run out and rent a space, think about your message and your audience. Placing an ad in the local newspaper may attract a large crowd, but it also may attract those only looking for free coffee and pastries. Instead, find one of plenty of marketing companies that will sell you mailing lists of consumers. Certainly geographic parameters are a good place to start narrowing your target. Beyond that, you may purchase lists that target specific consumers: families with children; homeowners with a certain income level; homes in an area with older housing stock, etc.

Once you have figured out who you want to invite to your soiree, start preparing your message and the medium by which you will convey that message. Your message should be clear, meaningful and help move the potential customer to qualifying or disqualifying themselves from your services. For example, you may want to give an overview of your design/build process and the timeline involved. If you are an architect or have your own in-house designer, you’re probably not going to work with a client who has his own architect or plans. Likewise, the seminar attendees who want to purchase building materials themselves and have you do the installation should be disqualified.

Now that you have settled on a venue, selected your target market, mailed your invitations and written your objectives, it is time to work on the presentation itself. Be sure to use visual aids including photographs of past projects with before and after shots. Perhaps the most convenient method of displaying these is using a PowerPoint presentation projected on a large screen. That way you do not need to get large color prints made, but can use digital images viewed electronically to convey the information.

One of the most important messages you can express to attendees is not necessarily your product, though. The attendees are at your seminar not only to see what you can do but also to check out you and your staff. Basic etiquette and grooming should be the rule of the day. You and your crew should be clean shaven (or facial hair neatly trimmed) and wearing business casual attire. Don’t allow smoking. Also, it never hurts to pop in a Tic Tac before folks arrive. I know that this probably sounds ridiculously simple to many, but I am continually awestruck by the inappropriate behavior or appearance of some in the construction industry.

Joseph Dellanno is the founder of my Design/Build Project, a Web communication application for design and build teams, and president of my Design/Build Coach, providing design/build business training exclusively for residential designers and building professionals. He is also president of Design Solutions Inc., a national design firm providing professional design/build companies award-winning design services. Dellanno can be reached at (781) 648-5548 or Read his past columns at Read Joe’s blog on Look for Blog Zone and click Dellanno Docket.