Two key business themes for 2014 and beyond will help boost business

I recently gave a talk and was asked to share a handful of key themes that will help remodeling contractors get a leg up now and in the future. As a lifelong remodeler, I have always shared frustrations with other pros about our industry and how diverse the players and competition are. Pros have to deal with low-bidding bottom feeders who go from day to day or even hour by hour. The following two themes are some weapons we can use to separate and reposition ourselves from them in a big way without doing a huge amount of work. Embrace marketing. Many pros benefit from referrals and repeat business from their client base and deservedly so. Without repeat business, marketing costs go up by a huge margin — just ask a specialty remodeler what their marketing costs are. That said, marketing is critical for full-service firms as well, simply because it allows you to take more control of your destiny and blunt the effects of the traditional “feast and famine” we experience. Marketing has also become easier and less expensive in some ways with respect to what remodelers do.

With the advent of the Web, we now have a level playing field through SEO and social media. It is up to us to take advantage of it. Our websites do many things. They usually are the first impression a potential client gets of us. More importantly, a website can be used to build trust, educate and inform clients about your business and give you an advantage before a prospect even thinks of calling a contractor. Having a project gallery and keeping it up to date is a great way to show your capabilities while simultaneously enhancing your chances of being found on the Web.

Lastly, don’t forget to make your site mobile-enabled. When I first started hearing about mobile websites, I thought this would not catch on very quickly, but, as we know, the proliferation of mobile devices and their capabilities has happened extremely fast. I find myself using my device for more and more and more things. I use seven to 10 websites daily from my phone. Imagine how many prospects are sitting in a coffee shop and discussing potential remodeling. What will they do while chatting? More than likely they will search the Web from their mobile devices.

Respond to customers as quickly as you can. Remember when you could proudly tell a prospective client you couldn’t see them for a week and a half? We actually used to use that reality to add value and to qualify potential clients, but today I would argue it is a mistake to be complacent when you have an opportunity. The pace of communication has become quicker, and clients don’t want to wait too long to hear from someone. If they don’t hear from you in a timely manner, they are already judging you even if you have excellent reasons for the delay in response.

Responding quickly involves a lot of elements. If you have an operation with an office manager or additional staff, then you are in good shape. Answering inquiries promptly many times can quickly take potential clients out of the market. I found in the handyman business this was very true. Those with answering devices many times were left out in the cold by firms that could handle a customer on the spot. But what can you do if you are a smaller operation, like many of us are?

For smaller firms, the key to responding is setting expectations. If you receive inquiries via email, as in a typical Web request, use an auto-reply to advise potential customers what to expect in terms of when you can respond. If you receive calls to a device in your office, consider having calls come to your mobile device or both. Technology today allows you to have multiple numbers so you can separate callers and know if it is a lead or a personal call. There are also quick-response tools for websites like “push to call” buttons, that allow users to call you from a link on your website. I have one remodeler friend that picks up calls even if he’s on a ladder! I don’t recommend or endorse that, but he clearly knows that time is of the essence today. QR