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Marketing articles

Articles that are either authored by Biz-comm, or where Biz-comm was interviewed as a source. 

Also, be sure to also check out Biz-comm's blog.

Communicate

Effective communication is your single best means of getting referrals and repeat business. These five common courtesies are easy and will gain you priceless good will:

Return calls promptly. No one likes to feel they're being ignored. Design Construction Concepts (DCC), Northbrook, Ill., returns all calls within 24 hours. “We're firm believers that no client is any less or more important than another,” says DCC partner Andy Poticha.

Address the client's concerns directly. “You can't avoid issues, and it's better to address them immediately,” says Poticha. You're the professional, and you set the expectations. Don't equivocate, and don't make excuses. “We're big boys and have no problem taking the blame on issues that are our own,” Poticha adds. “Clients respect that.”

Make explanations easy to understand. Even if it takes a few extra minutes to explain a process or reasoning, take the time. An informed client is easier to deal with.

When the client wants something outside the contract, don't immediately say, “It's not in the contract,” or, “Sure, but it'll cost you extra.” First consider whether it can be done with extra materials on hand and how long it will take. If the change is possible, then explain your change order process and ask if they'd like you to prepare an estimate.

Leave the cell phone in your pocket when talking to the client. To answer the cell says you have little regard for him or her.

—Stephen Wilson (biz@biz-comm.com) is a partner in Biz-comm Inc., a marketing/communications firm specializing in the needs of remodelers.

Author: Stephen Wilson
REMODELING Magazine (5/1/2005)  -- Link

All Business is Hyperlocal

Steven St. Onge couldn’t care less if the website for his company, Rhode Island Kitchen & Bath, gets thousands of hits from all over. “Our strategy is hyperlocal, ” he says. “We’re all about reaching our local community, ” which he considers an hour-or-less drive from his 10,000-square-foot showroom and office in Warwick, R.I.

He’s onto something. With more homeowners searching for contractors online, and more contractors there waiting for them, successful search engine optimization (SEO) means cornering the tiniest of markets on the gigantic World Wide Web.

For RIKB, a key SEO strategy involves sponsoring local charities and hosting events, such as cooking demonstrations with wine pairings co-sponsored by restaurants and a wine store, at the company’s well-located showroom.

Besides listing the activities on RIKB’s website, St. Onge has a PR agency on retainer that promotes his company to local media outlets. To that end, “We find the best way to get local buzz is being listed on [newspaper] community calendars, ” he says. Those listings also garner RIKB free coverage in the “social scene” section of a lifestyle magazine — nice alternative to an expensive paid ad. As many as 80 people attend the showroom events, St. Onge says.

Other basic strategies for hyperlocal SEO:

“Incoming links are golden, ” says Patrice Olivier-Wilson, a construction marketer with Biz-Comm. As with RIKB’s fruitful community calendar links, this means getting your URL on the sites of local media, vendors, partners, and membership associations -- anywhere your target market is likely to look for remodeling information.

“Internal links are also golden, ” Olivier-Wilson says. On your home page, for instance, hyperlink “Hear from our satisfied clients” to your testimonial page. Work “green building” into several pages that link to a page that focuses on your green expertise.

Content trumps keywords. “Google ignores a dump of keywords, ” Olivier-Wilson says. If a likely search term for your buyers is “kitchen remodeling in Boston, ” find different ways to use that phrase in sentences. Google also ignores punctuation. You could end some sentences with “kitchen remodeling. ” And begin others with “In Boston. ”

Get beyond eye candy. Burying portfolio photos in a Flash movie or slide show “is a total waste from an SEO standpoint, ” Olivier-Wilson says. Better: give each photo its own page with a descriptive caption (“Buckhead wine cellar, ” “Pasadena kitchen with Sub-Zero appliances”).

All of these strategies resonate with Duane Johns of Advanced Renovations, of Charlotte, N.C. He uses Google analytics to analyze where his site visitors come from, what brought them there, and where they spend the most time, and he tweaks accordingly. “Our site is a huge source of leads to us, ” Johns says. He is also leveraging social media — Facebook and Twitter, for instance — to attract even more Charlotte-area traffic to his site.

—Leah Thayer, senior editor, REMODELING.

Author: Leah Thayer
REMODLING Magazine (04/13/10)  -- Link

Kick-Starting Leads

So your phone isn't ringing, and you want a quick fix. These steps will make people call, perhaps not with cherry jobs, but with jobs that keep cash flowing. Then, when the cherries come, you'll be in business to capitalize on them.

* Determine your budget. If you can't find a few thousand dollars for a campaign, your cash flow will sink you anyway.

* Develop an ideal-for-now job around what's popular. Ask the pro desk at the DIY warehouse about what projects consumers are buying materials for. Visit your permitting authority. Thumb through six months of permits. These two sources will help pinpoint what's selling.

* Develop shopper/coupon book ads. Negotiate the best deal with shopper's guides

. * Create ads that speak to that ideal-for-now job. Run ads in weekly papers. Local readers read weeklies faithfully. Ads in them are relatively cheap.

* Develop a direct marketing postcard that speaks to your ideal-for-now job. Print enough for mailings over the next few months. Consider that "more is better" -- in other words, cards are cheaper the more you print and the more you mail (via business class bulk mail).

* Put your message in front of as many prospects as you can, then you're in your potential client's face as often as twice a month.

Remember, this shouldn't eliminate any branding efforts or other marketing components key to winning business over time.

--Stephen Wilson is a partner in Biz-comm Inc., a marketing/communications firm specializing in the needs of remodelers, biz@biz-comm.com.

Author: Stephen Wilson
REMODELING Magazine (10/1/2003)  -- Link

Is My Mailing List Working?

Phone not ringing, or not as often as you think it should? There may be a solution. Here are four questions to ask yourself if you think your mailing list isn't working.

How long have you been using the list, and what are your expectations? It takes time to "prove" a list. A single mailing doesn't make a campaign -- and usually won't end with the desired results. It takes repeated mailings for results. A 1% response for a campaign that is well-planned, tested, and executed is a respectable result.

Have you maintained your list? Purge old, or bad, records; examine data elements for relevancy; add new records. Smart marketers always look for new sources. Some collect golf club directories; others, new mortgage data.

Is your message geared to your client profile? You can have a super list but be sending the wrong message. Sending a message about second-story additions to a replacement window market is a waste of time and money. What is your potential client looking for?

Are your methods and technology up to date? Using easily accessed information, you can predict from what segment of your market sales could materialize. Are stock market portfolios up? OK, aim messages to the affluent. Are interest rates low? Your message may win better results aimed at middle America. Is your target a 20-year-old middle-class neighborhood? Feature basic home improvements.

—Stephen Wilson is a partner in Biz-comm Inc., a marketing/communications firm specializing in the needs of remodelers, biz@biz-comm.com.

Author: Stephen Wilson
REMODELING Magazine (5/1/2004)  -- Link

Names and Faces

As effective as testimonials can be, some clients are best kept under wraps. “We have found that folks are much more open to providing a testimonial if they know their full name won't be used,” says Patrice Olivier-Wilson of Biz-comm, a marketing agency with many remodeling clients (www.biz-comm). “It all comes down to a privacy issue, for the most part.”

Wilson suggests using initials instead of full names, and says that even “homeowner” is fine, especially on materials that have a long shelf life. This protects you as well as your clients. As glowing as their recommendation may be at any one time, their opinion can change, later. And “there's the name out there, printed in full, for all to see.”

Discretion is especially critical with high-profile clients, says Peggy Fisher of Fisher Group, Annandale, Va. She works with ambassadors and other prominent figures whose confidentiality she is careful not to breach through marketing materials or even casual name-dropping.

Fisher focuses instead on winning her clients' trust — a goal that applies regardless of their social status. She listens to their concerns, respects their wishes, and tells them “that they're our marketing program — that it's very important that they be satisfied.” More often than not, they refer Fisher Group to their friends, Fisher says, “particularly if they're in a like-minded community of people who take care of one another.”

Author: Leah Thayer
REMODELING Magazine (2/1/2007)  -- Link

Focus In

Does it make sense to conduct a focus group? The answer is yes, but let's qualify that: What do you expect to learn? The best remodelers' focus groups address six issues:

* Appraising marketing and public relations campaigns;

* Getting a grasp on purchase decision-making;

* Discovering customers' product or service needs and preferences;

* Understanding people's attitudes, behavior, and intentions;

* Identifying your business strengths and weaknesses;

* Evaluating branding.

To run a successful meeting, find the right moderator, define what you want to learn, choose participants, select a location, and, then, evaluate what you learn.

The moderator is key. Group leadership and interpersonal skills are paramount. The moderator guides conversation and manipulates dynamics. Develop a list of questions for the moderator.

You should choose a broad range of six to eight recent clients. Include those who had a less enthusiastic experience, and be sure all job sizes and types are represented.

Pick a neutral location, like a private room at a restaurant, where the group won't be distracted. Feed them, but don't offer alcohol.

Take copious notes and consider recording the session.

Should you attend? Perhaps, but only if you can let the moderator do her job without intervening. But sit on the periphery, and keep quiet. If you can't, stay away.

Should you pay participants? I would suggest that you don't. You're not a major corporation and you are feeding them, plus offering them a chance to spend their evening doing something other than watching television.

--Stephen Wilson is a partner of marketing communications firm Biz-comm Inc., biz@biz-comm.com.

Author: Stephen Wilson
REMODELING Magazine ( 6/1/2003 )  -- Link

Track Those Leads

Lead tracking is a basic component to any successful marketing effort, but studies show from 40% to 79% of leads never reach a salesperson or are allowed to languish. It doesn't matter which percentage you think is right, the fact remains: Thousands of leads are wasted.

Doug Nelson, a $3-million-a-year Burnsville, Minn., remodeler, gives six reasons to track leads. Doing so means you can:

Pinpoint the best sources

Maintain lead quality

Analyze marketing performance

Manage future sales

Manage and modify marketing plans

Assess individual sales performance

Through lead tracking, you collect and monitor information systematically. You don't lose track of what happens to any call.

To track leads, begin with a paper lead sheet that helps whoever answers the phone collect information such as who called, what their interest is, where they can be contacted, when they called, and how they heard about your company.

Make an owner or sales manager responsible for collecting leads daily. Then compile leads into meaningful information. Nelson uses an Excel spreadsheet for this. He assigns each lead to a designer and tracks the designer's progress from follow-up to conclusion. Once assigned, the designer fills in other important information, such as project timetable and the client's budget, and makes progress updates. By collecting all the spreadsheet requires, little is left to chance.

--Stephen Wilson is a partner with Reston, Va. marketing/communications firm Biz-comm Inc., biz@biz-comm.com.

Author: Stephen Wilson
REMODELING Magazine (7/1/2002)  -- Link

Yellow Pages Secrets

The phone rings. It's the local Yellow Pages rep. You wonder if it's worth the time or cost. If you say "Yes," be sure to follow these tips.

Watch out for a "continuation clause." Expect the rep to bring this up if she senses you're a no sale. This clause allows publishers to "automatically renew" ads unless you specifically tell them otherwise.

Demand special treatment. Publishers save "red folder treatment" for clients left out of the book or for those who have experienced problems.

Take nothing for granted. Have the rep document everything offered, in a fax or an e-mail.

Make your ad the first seen. Give your clients a sticker with your company particulars, and ask them to slap it on the front of their phone book.

Most finger walkers look for someone close to them. They also open the book to look for the phone number of the company someone referred. The best Yellow Pages listings are a single line in bold type with a company address and phone number.

Refer prospects to the white pages in your marketing materials. If you say "See my ad in the Yellow Pages," you've sent them to your competitors.

If you must have a display ad, make it stand out. Use humor. For example, "Yes! We fix others' mistakes! Call us second!"

Lead tracking is critical. If you have ads in multiple directories, it's difficult to know which ads produce. Put different four-digit numbers in the upper corner of each ad. When a prospect says, "I saw your ad," ask for that number.

--Stephen Wilson is a partner in Biz-comm Inc., a marketing and communications firm specializing in the needs of remodelers, biz@biz-comm.com.

Author: Stephen Wilson
REMODELING Magazine (12/1/2003)  -- Link

Wooing clients with a web of marketing

A well-executed Web site is a powerful tool. It inexpensively presents a project portfolio and establishes credibility by presenting your profile, testimonials, and awards.

But a remodeling business rarely draws clients solely because of its Internet presence. Few clients log onto the Internet and search for "remodeler."

Traditional marketing materials need to drive prospects to your site -- yard and truck signs, stationery, business cards, direct mail, newsletters, and ads. Every element of a strong marketing package should include your Web address. Most homeowners will use it to learn about the firm before their first call. Wayne Booze of DesignLine Remodelers, Richmond, Va., says his leads use his Web site (designlineinc.com) as a clearinghouse, to critique the company. "Homeowners like the anonymity of the Internet," he says, "and when they are 'sold' on the company, they then make contact."

Here are some tips on how to avoid sending mixed signals with your Web site and materials:

Make sure everything carries the same visual and text message. It's disconcerting for a Web visitor to be impressed with a well-designed and well-written site, only to be disappointed by follow-up materials. Inconsistency threatens credibility.
Be faithful to your corporate identity. Don't use one logo or color scheme on your Web site, another on your stationery, yard signs, or direct mail. You'll confuse branding efforts.
Incorporate your newsletters into your Web site. A past client whose home is featured may not want to give her only copy to a friend but may send a link to an online article. Directing a prospect to your online portfolio keeps the lead warm until a face-to-face meeting. A dynamic, useful, informational site can help usher a client into your closing room.

--Patrice Olivier-Wilson is a partner with marketing/communications firm Biz-comm Inc., www.biz-comm.com.

Author: Patrice Olivier-Wilson
REMODELING Magazine (10/1/2002)  -- Link

Monthly Marketing Checkup

How long does it take to know where you stand? Where your next job is coming from? How you'll meet payroll? Not as long as you might think.

Don't call your accountant. Take two minutes and determine the answers yourself. You already know the answers, so they're not difficult to come up with. You'll especially want to focus on the following areas.

Leads. These are your life source. Without a steady stream of qualified leads and signed contracts, you're dead. How many new leads did you come up with this month? Where did they come from? How many sales calls did you make? What about closes?

The funnel. Keep it full. Qualified leads go in the top, and a select few come out the bottom as contracts. The ratio varies, but if you can maintain a 10-1 ratio, 10 leads to a sale, you're flying. Your marketing is working. Your sales technique is proven. How many jobs are waiting for contracts? How much are they worth? How many jobs do you have scheduled? How much are they worth? How many jobs are in production? Again, worth how much?

The future. If several jobs end in 30 to 60 days, that's gut-wrenching. If a sizable number end in 90 to 120 days, you could face a cash-flow crisis. If job completions are spread over six months and your funnel is full, congratulate yourself. So, determine, How many jobs end in 30 days? 60 days? 90 days? 120 days?

Pick the same day every month to do this checkup. When it's time, don't procrastinate. Review your findings with those of previous months. Then, take action.

--Stephen Wilson is a partner in Biz-comm, a Reston, Va., marketing and communications firm specializing in the needs of remodelers. Contact him at biz@biz-comm.com.

Author: Stephen Wilson
REMODELING Magazine (9/1/2003)  -- Link

Put Your Newsletter to Work

A quality newsletter, sent regularly, is one of the best ways to present yourself as a trusted professional. It helps you develop and maintain relationships, say thanks for referrals, make announcements, publish testimonials, and notify clients of home tours. Three elements make a successful newsletter:

Content is king. First and foremost, the newsletter must be well written and feature articles relevant to your market. It must contain useful and varied topics. It needs to be unique. Remember: Readers are sophisticated. Your newsletter shouldn't be a big advertisement.

Design influences how others view your business. If the newsletter is stapled copy machine pages, the audience will see you as amateur. Is there enough white space, or is everything crammed together? Use two fonts —sans serif for headlines and a serif font for body text — for ease of reading. High-end audiences expect high-end marketing. If that's your market, use color on glossy paper, printed by a competent printing house.

Integrate the newsletter into your other marketing materials. Your newsletter should reinforce your brand and be in character with your other marketing. Its design should look similar and carry a consistent message. A well-executed newsletter almost always results in phone calls, and often leads. Focus on past jobs, using professional photography to generate interest. Cover timely topics from your perspective. Write about your process.

—Stephen Wilson (biz@biz-comm.com) is a partner in Biz-comm Inc., a marketing/communications firm specializing in the needs of remodelers.

Author: Stephen Wilson
REMODELING Magazine (11/1/2005)  -- Link

5 Lead Tracking Mistakes

When leads come in and you have a name, phone number, and best time to return the caller's inquiry, what happens next? Here are five lead tracking mistakes that companies often make, along with remedies.

Not tracking. Most remodelers intend to track leads but don't. People assign values to leads based on marketing costs ($12,000 in marketing brings 120 leads; each is worth $100), but a lead's true value is the project it brings in. So if 10 leads bring in $1.2 million, each is worth $120,000, no?

Collecting incomplete information. Put a "pencil lead sheet" tablet next to every phone in the office, as well as in your truck. Collect detailed information you can use to make decisions: who, what, where, when, scope, timing, budget, history with past projects, how the prospect happened upon you.

No lead management system. Put the same efficiency you have for tracking payments into tracking leads. Collect the information, then (if it's a specific project, not a spur-of-the-moment call) put details in a spreadsheet. (Download a sample pencil lead sheet and Excel lead tracking spreadsheet at biz-comm.com/leads.)

Lack of follow-up. When a lead hits, follow up within 24 hours. With a pencil lead sheet, you can learn within five minutes whether the client is a fit or whether you need to tell the prospect you're booked solid. Courtesy goes a long way to furthering your reputation.

Wrong person on follow-up call. Can your receptionist answer questions about your company, process, budgets, and time lines? Prospects are calling you, or someone you've trained as your agent. Train them well. Make sure they know what makes your company special, can articulate your process, and are versed in the art of salesmanship.

--Stephen Wilson is a partner in Biz-comm Inc., a marketing/communications firm specializing in the needs of remodelers, biz@biz-comm.com.

Author: Stephen Wilson
REMODELING Magazine (1/1/2004)  -- Link

Making Product Campaign Cards Work

Direct mail helps maximize leads, and, later, sales. While 81% of Americans read newspapers, 96% have phones, and 98% have TVs, everyone has a mailbox.

Three direct mail venues provide the most return: traditional “duster” cards, product campaign cards, and newsletters. This month, I'll tackle the product campaign card.

Product cards — with photos of baths, kitchens, master suites, or other projects —are more effective when used over a span of time and directed at a large audience. As with any marketing, you must appeal to the correct demographic and remember the basics.

These two product card direct mail samples use dramatic photos and a call to action to entice recipients to consider kitchen remodels.

The look.
Outstanding photography, an attractive layout, and convincing copywriting are essential.

The timing.
Don't mail during the holidays. Mail in conjunction with newspaper or magazine ads and articles. However, a 12-month plan puts something in a prospect's hand — and mind — every month.

The list.
Using past clients, vendors, colleagues, and at least 2,500 others that fit your client profile, come up with as many as 4,000 recipients.

You can also add a little extra by including home maintenance tips or a quick statistic. For example, by correctly citing this magazine's annual Cost vs. Value Report, you can include information that lends near-instant credibility and help prospects justify remodeling investments. If you can tell prospects that kitchen remodels are expected to recoup 135% of investment in the Washington, D.C., area, you're giving them another reason to remodel.

—Stephen Wilson is a partner in Biz-comm Inc., a marketing/communications firm specializing in the needs of remodelers, biz@biz-comm.com.

Author: Stephen Wilson
REMODELING Magazine (12/1/2004)  -- Link

Look Good: Present Your Best

At some point in the sales dance, you have to present yourself. A presentation portfolio, done well, can help bring the meeting to a positive close.

Look professional. You're not well served by photocopies and Polaroids. Once you determine content, purchase a portfolio case in a size that best represents your material and allows you to add more pages.

Tell a story. Set up the book in a sequence that explains who you are, shows what you've done, presents your credentials, explains your process and systems, and ends by asking for a commitment.

Make the story flow. Each page should transition into the one that follows. Presenting in this manner ensures you don't miss critical items and provides the image of continuity and stability that solid companies offer.

Protect your image. Your reputation also is conveyed in images. So use your digital camera for "before" pictures, but hire a professional photographer for the "after" photos.

Keep it tidy. Replace outdated pages, keep the acetate fingerprint-free, and replace the portfolio when it's overstuffed or the zipper quits.

Hang on to it. Don't leave your portfolio at a prospect's house. It's an investment to prepare a proper presentation portfolio. If you don't get the contract or aren't invited back, you may not see it again.

When you have your portfolio together, practice your presentation in front of friends. Expect questions and objections. If you anticipate these in the portfolio's sequence, you can be prepared to answer questions in a way that drives prospects to a close.

— Stephen Wilson is a partner in Biz-comm Inc., a marketing/communications firm specializing in the needs of remodelers; biz@biz-comm.com.

Author: Stephen Wilson

REMODELING Magazine (3/1/2004)  -- Link

Own Your Neighborhood

Jim Pitcher, president of Castle Rock Construction (http://castlerockconstruction.com) in Suisun, Calif., doesn't have a lock on his northern California market, but his strategy is to act like he does. Pitcher has five rules.

Know your market intimately. “I focus my marketing efforts on homeowners who meet my client profile in a narrow geographic area,” Pitcher says. “Working in Napa Valley is great, because just about everyone fits my client profile.”

Participate in your community. “I'm game to support most any community project that's worthwhile,” Pitcher says, “so I'm planning to participate in RemodelingAmerica.org next year.”

Take advantage of local advertising opportunities. Pitcher advertises in neighborhood and homeowner association newsletters to reinforce jobsite and truck signs, and he sponsors events, too.

Keep your brand in front of your market. “Every home in Napa Valley gets a reminder that I'm here and available for their remodeling needs,” Pitcher says. He uses direct mail and will soon complete his fifth project in one country club community.

Seek out projects that produce the best margins. Pitcher controls costs, ruthlessly tracks leads, and makes smart decisions. “I spend my marketing dollars on homeowners within communities where I have built a solid reputation and where my margins are highest,” he says. “I maintain at least $1 million in my ‘marketing funnel' and have an equal amount sold and on my books at all times.”

—Stephen Wilson is a partner in Biz-comm Inc.,stephen@biz-comm.com. Download complimentary marketing tools at biz-comm.com/downloads.

Author: Stephen Wilson
REMODELING Magazine (10/1/2004)  -- Link

Warm Calls

Past clients have always been strong remodelers' best source of business, and during the slower economy, that still holds true. If your phone has been uncharacteristically quiet, make some calls yourself. There's nothing “cold” about calling people who already know and trust your business.

“We have encouraged our clients to reach out in personal ways,” says Patrice Olivier-Wilson of Biz-comm, a marketing consulting firm. “Call past clients, inquire how their projects are doing, thank them again for their work, and ask if there is anyone they could refer.”

Don't expect a silver bullet, she cautions. Ideally, maintain a constant presence with your feeder base through print or e-mail newsletters or any other friendly, informative means of staying in touch.

Do get creative. “My leads have been constant and the phone is ringing,” says Leslie King of Greymark Construction, in Houston. In a marketing twist that has also generated calls in the past, she kicked off 2008 by mailing 275 contacts a $1 scratch-off lottery ticket on company letterhead (shown in part). “I got a fantastic response, with clients calling me and saying they won, or that they wanted another one since they did not win anything,” she says.

Many of these responses have brought King referrals as well. There's another excuse to call or write — to express your thanks, Olivier-Wilson says.

Author: Leah Thayer
Remodeling Magazine (2008)  -- Link

Meet the Press

There's a general assumption that getting your company mentioned in the local paper is free publicity. Yes, it's publicity — but it ain't free. In fact, if done poorly, it can be a most costly experiment in futility.

The vehicle for most public relations efforts is the tried and true press release. Press releases do work. The Columbia Journalism Review found that a single issue of the Wall Street Journal had 111 stories taken from press releases word-for-word and only 30% of these stories had additional facts collected by reporters. More to the point, an estimated 80% of all published newspaper and magazine stories began as a press release to promote a service or product and build image.

A press release is a written document with a clear headline, quotes and facts with attribution to support a news story, background on the featured company, release date, and basic contact information for followup.

Can the average remodeler do his own press release? Without question he can. The question is, should he? If he understands the process, absolutely, but that's a big if. Most remodelers have no experience and lack the skill sets required in journalism, making the result less than satisfactory.

Here are eight tips to help you prepare your next press release and increase your chance of seeing it in print.

Make sure it's newsworthy. Avoid blatant, self-serving “puffery.” That helps you lose credibility with an editor.

Write it so it doesn't have to be rewritten. Save the editor time. Make it stand on its own.

Use a style guide. Most newspapers follow the Associated Press Stylebook.

Develop a great lead. Make the editor want to read further.

Use the “pyramid.” This means the most important information is up top; the least important, at the bottom. Editors are forced to select articles that fit the column inches available. With the pyramid approach, the editor can cut off as much as they need to make it fit without diluting the message.

End with a boilerplate paragraph about your company — who you are, what you do, and contact information.

If photos are available, include them either attached to an e-mail, on a disc, or in the form of prints.

Proof carefully. Then proof again.

If this is all more than you bargained for, there are good reasons to hire an agency: An agency provides experience; it can prepare the press release in a manner recognized by an editor as professional; it's seen as a third-party submission; an agency may have a relationship with editors and maintain a media list; the cost of a professionally prepared press release (not an in-depth article) is small compared to the level of effort for an internal job; and, most important, staff at an agency know how to spell and punctuate.

—Stephen Wilson is a partner in Biz-comm Inc., a marketing/communications firm specializing in the needs of America's remodelers, sbiz@biz-comm.com.

Author: Stephen Wilson
REMODELING Magazine (1/1/2005)  -- Link

Select Your Best Advertising Vehicle

Choosing a print advertising vehicle has everything to do with your target market, your product, and your budget. Next time you're at an ideal client's home, note the local publications they read —the newspaper on their stoop, the magazines on their coffee table. These outlets are where your target market will look for your service first.

If you aim to sell major remodeling services, position yourself as the remodeler of choice and the answer to a need, not a problem. Your best advertising vehicles are:

Daily newspaper “home” sections

Local and regional magazines

Hybrid home and garden magazines that use outstanding photography

If you sell minor home improvements, replacement products, or handyman services, position yourself as the solution to an immediate problem. Your best vehicles are likely to be coupon “pacs,” yellow pages, daily newspapers and weekly shoppers with “business card” ads, neighborhood newsletters, and church or synagogue bulletins.

Many remodelers have little confidence in advertising because they expect immediate results on a one-shot ad. A single ad is not a campaign. Further, you must track leads to know if your ads are working. For that reason, always try to tie your advertising to an integrated marketing campaign. Use the same message and images in your ads and direct mail. Send your direct mail piece so it arrives in mailboxes at the same time the ad appears in magazines and newspapers.

Success hinges on positioning yourself to be selected and then putting a consistent message in front of qualified homeowners.

—Stephen Wilson (biz@biz-comm.com) is a partner in Biz-comm Inc.

Author: Stephen Wilson
REMODELING Magazine (7/1/2005)  -- Link

Remodeling Pictures, Worth Thousands of SEO Words

You'll sell more remodeling projects with photos than with words, so naturally you have plenty of well-staged, well-crafted project images on your site. But what good are stunning project images if nobody sees your site? How can you leverage your images to push your search ranking higher, anyway?

We wondered this yesterday, in reading about the improved functionality of Google's image-search tool (see the video, below, for a demonstration).

For starters, label your images with project type and location, according to Patrice Olivier-Wilson of Biz-Comm, which provides communications and marketing services, including search engine optimization (SEO), to remodelers and builders.

"Remodelers sell locally. The most important SEO tip is to weave in the names of the towns/states into all their project descriptions" and project images, she said in an email exchange yesterday.

If your image is a kitchen remodel in Asheville, N.C., for instance -- and assuming you want more such projects -- rename the image from IMG4455.jpb to kitchen-asheville-nc.jpg. Why the hyphens? "Hyphens in domain names, name pages and image names are a good idea because Google prefers 'real' words," Olivier-Wilson added. Just as kitchen-asheville-nc makes more sense to a search engine than kitchenashevillenc, so is contact-us better than contactus.

Another tip for image-labeling: Also use "alt text" on all images, for when images are turned off. The screenshot below shows both the name-tag and alt-tag labels on a photo.

One more tip from Olivier-Wilson regarding hyphens:

"I also advise my clients to buy two versions of a domain name, e.g.: smithcabinets.com and smith-cabinets.com." This doesn't require two web-hosting accounts, she added. "The smithcabinets.com is aliased to smith-cabinets.com. So no matter what is used, they both go to each other and look the same. Email can be sent to either versions without any problem."

Thanks, Patrice!

Author: Leah Thayer
Daily5Remodel.com  -- Link

The Basics of Newsletter Creation

Marketing experts believe it costs six to seven times as much to make a sale to a new client as it does to an existing client. Newsletters communicate effectively with past, current, and prospective clients and reinforce a remodeler's brand. That's why sending newsletters to your clients makes sense. By keeping in touch, your clients will think of you first when it's time to build that new second-story addition or when a friend asks for a recommendation.

To create an effective newsletter, develop a system that will aid readability and generate both interest and leads. The two most critical elements to consider are the design — the overall look and feel of the product —and the content — the articles contained therein.

Design
A good newsletter first captures the reader's attention with great design and a dramatic photo. This compels the reader to take a few minutes to read at least the cover story and not throw it into the trash.

Develop a template with a look and feel that carries over from issue to issue.

Leave lots of “white space.” Don't try to fill every square inch of printable area.

Limit the number of fonts. More is not better; it's just cluttered.

Use high resolution photography.

Content
A good newsletter article captures the reader's imagination with information that is interesting and relevant. Write from your client's point of view.

Give all appropriate attribution.

Edit and proofread again and again.

Avoid a blatant advertisement.

Give your customers “the basics” in the feature or lead article. What was special or different about the job? Was there an unusual circumstance or a particularly difficult problem to be solved? Did you use, or were you forced to use, an unusual product or method? Was there something special about the design? What did the homeowners want to accomplish with the remodel? What about the homeowners: age range, kids, special needs, etc.?

Visit biz-comm.com/downloads for sample newsletters and other marketing tools.

—Stephen Wilson is a partner in Biz-comm Inc., a marketing/communications firm specializing in the needs of remodelers, biz@biz-comm.com.

Author: Stephen Wilson
REMODELING Magazine (2/1/2005)  -- Link

Purchasing Direct Mail Lists

Marketing via direct mail requires a quality list, but where can you find one? There are five main list sources.

The best is your own compiled list, providing you've kept it purged, merged, parsed, and it includes past clients and prospects. It's even better if you added neighborhoods as you worked through a community.

The next best is an online compiler such as MarketShare, a division of Experian, one of three main companies that compile credit information. Lists from online compilers offer many advantages for a reasonable price. The cost is about 16 cents per record, but there's lots of information in each record. Market-Share also has a CD-ROM version of its online product.

Other sources include brokers, owners, and list managers. Use caution with this option. The cost is usually so many dollars per 1,000 addresses, plus extra for specialized sorts and additional data elements. Cost per record will vary. A fourth option is a CD-ROM of every American household (InfoUSA), purchased at Office Depot or Staples. The PowerFinder CDs ($300) are little more than a phone book on steroids and are difficult to sort.

Last are list exchanges where local compilers, usually other small businesses, share lists with exchange members. Cost is minimal, but they're seldom worth the effort unless the exchange is organized. (Most are not.)

--Stephen Wilson is a partner in Biz-comm Inc., a marketing/communications firm specializing in the needs of remodelers,biz@biz-comm.com.

Author: Stephen Wilson
REMODELING Magazine (4/1/2004)  -- Link

Working with consultants

Most remodelers are not skilled in every aspect of the business world — and they don't need to be. Part of learning how to thrive and grow in a competitive market means seeking outside help, and there are consultants who can help you become more effective in just about every business area. Many times, these consultants can help identify solutions to problems you didn't even know you had.

“In the past, this was an industry of tradesmen, not businesspeople,” says Lee Odess, vice president and general manager of CB Services in Washington, D.C., a business management company that provides consulting on issues that include insurance, scheduling, and project management. “But today, home building and remodeling are big businesses, so you have to be smarter to survive, and many homeowners expect a certain level of professionalism from their builder or remodeler.”

The trick for most remodelers is to know when they need help dealing with a challenge so their business stays healthy or is able to transition to the next level. “A lot of contractors don't know they have a problem until it's a crisis,” Odess says. But the early warning signs of trouble are often fairly obvious: Business may be down for you but not for your competitors; customers may not be as happy as they used to be; costs may have increased; or there may be trouble getting trades and vendors to provide for you. Paying attention to these challenges can alert you to problems before going to work turns into a trial by fire.

Consultants say that their relationship with every remodeling company is different. What follows are five case studies in which remodelers used consultants in various ways.

Wake-Up Call

Business challenges are often bigger than they seem. Melanie Hodgdon is a Bristol, Maine–based QuickBooks adviser, but she says that her business is “not all about QuickBooks.” Remodelers usually call on her to help them learn the software, but once she's on the job, Hodgdon often finds more profound problems and ends up sticking around to provide help with general business and organizational issues.

A case in point is Goode Enterprises in Damariscott, Maine. When owners Paula and Stuart Goode hired Hodgdon to set up QuickBooks this February, they had already been in business 10 years and had picked up a few bad habits during that time. After an initial four-hour consultation, the Goodes understood that they needed to rethink many of their business practices. For instance, they had worried that raising prices would drive customers away, but Hodgdon showed them that they would have to bring in more revenue if they wanted to be profitable. This came as a shock at first. “It was like I doused them with cold water,” Hodgdon says.

But they didn't drown. To help justify the cost increase to customers, Hodgdon recommended using more detailed contracts for all jobs, regardless of size. It worked. “This has put customers at ease about how we do things,” says Paula Goode. “We were struggling, and Melanie truly helped turn our business around. She showed us that if you present yourself in a professional manner and show your work confidently, you can get what you deserve.”

More Is Better

When Jim Pitcher, president of Castle Rock Construction in Suisun City, Calif., decided that he needed a more professional image and atmosphere for his growing business, he turned to Stephen Wilson of Biz-comm, a marketing consulting company in Fairview, N.C. Although business was growing, Pitcher decided that he wanted to go after bigger, more expensive jobs but didn't know how to make the transition.

One problem was that Pitcher was still spending some time in the field, so Wilson immediately told him to refocus his attention on business and to leave the hands-on work to his employees. That's typical. The first question Wilson asks any potential client is, “Have you hung up your toolbelt yet?” He says that any remodeler who wants to implement an effective marketing plan has to be totally focused on the big picture. When Wilson goes to work with a new client, he starts with an initial interview and follows up with a 50-question survey that touches on all areas of the business, including questions about the remodeling company owner, the competition, and the market area. The questionnaire not only helps Wilson understand where problems might lie, but also helps him weed out consulting relationships that won't work. “Consulting relationships go sour when the owners don't know what they're looking for,” he says. “Until you can articulate where you want to be, we can't work with you.”

Pitcher knew that he wanted to create a presence and a brand for his business, and Biz-comm ended up writing a 50-page report telling him how to get there. Some of the marketing initiatives that the consultant outlined included a newsletter, a redesign of Castle Rock's Web site, and a series of postcard mailings to everyone within a half-mile radius of ongoing jobs.

These efforts seem to be paying off. After more than two years working with Biz-comm, Pitcher has seen sales from his 12-year-old remodeling business grow from $1.2 million to $2.3 million per year. And he's getting better jobs. For instance, Wilson wrote a business initiative report for the remodeler, in which he suggested that Pitcher seek work from some of the 400 wineries and vineyards in the area. Early this summer, Pitcher finished his first wine-tasting room.

Talent Development

Putting the right people in the right jobs is something that all successful companies aim to do. Joe Zanola, president of Zanola Co. in St. Louis, specializes in helping them do so. He says he helps remodelers become more efficient by evaluating key employees and making recommendations for internal shifts in responsibility.

Amie Riggs of St. Louis–based Riggs Construction has been working with Zanola for three years. Amie, who says she had “no formal training in anything,” was working in a number of roles within the family-owned business that she runs with her father, president Tom Riggs. When Amie and Tom determined that they needed to hire a salesperson, they called on Zanola to help with the selection process.

One tool he suggested was a computerized assessment program. As it turned out, the test identified Amie as a strong candidate, and she is now sales manager. Others who did well were her brother Bill, and a kitchen and bath designer whom they had contracted with in the past. Both are now full-time salespeople with the company.

Zanola has also worked with Mosby Building Arts in Kirkwood, Mo. Upon Zanola's recommendation, Mosby developed a new division to focus on smaller jobs and used his assessment tools to help identify the company's production manager, Rich Layton, as a top candidate for the director of sales position. The new Total Home division brings in about $2 million in annual business. Layton also credits Zanola with helping the 59-year-old business reach the $6.2 million it is at today. He says the company's annual growth has been at 33% in the four years it has been working with Zanola.

Core Values

Theresa Gale is co-owner of Transform Inc., an executive coaching company in Laurel, Md. Her forte is leadership training, while her partner, Mary Ann Wampler, functions mainly as a sales and general management coach.

Transform has worked with Sun Design Remodeling Specialists in Burke, Va., for about 10 years, and has helped the company grow its volume from $422,000 in 1995 to approximately $7 million today, according to Joe Gorman, Sun Design's controller.

Wampler attends the company's monthly sales and design meetings in the capacity of sales coach, while Gale hosts a series of nine one-hour management leadership sessions for groups of employees on an as-needed basis. Transform also periodically assesses Sun Design's employees, a job that includes going out in the field to observe what's working and what's not.

Employees are often uncomfortable with consultants looking over their shoulders, but, as Bob Gallagher, one of the company's owners, points out, “People need to understand that different personalities bring different strengths as well as different weaknesses.” He says the assessments help the company make best use of the talents of its 50 employees.

Gale says that in some companies that Transform works with, employees have learned to use the consultants to get messages to management that they're reluctant to bring up directly. For example, the production manager may worry that the owner is not bringing in enough sales, but needs help communicating that in a constructive way. She feels that a consultant who has earned employees' trust and confidence can help do that.

“Asking for help from the right people at the right time in the evolution of your business is critical,” Gale says. “So many people think they can figure it out for themselves, but someone else can help you get to where you want to go and do it faster.”

The Next Level

George Black is president of Intigro, a consulting firm in San Antonio. He describes what he does as “integrated business engineering.” Black, whose background is in finance, started out in the consulting business as an outsource CFO. One of his clients was Scott Barr, owner and general manager of San Antonio's Southwest Exteriors, a company that specializes in siding and replacement windows. Barr's business was deep in debt when he called Black for help in 1996, but within three months Black was able to help him create a plan to get out of debt. That plan included consolidating some of the company's debt, raising prices, and putting job cost controls in place. Barr says the business is financially doing better than ever.

Experiences like this helped Black realize that a company's finances are only one piece of the puzzle and can't be separated from the other parts of the business. For instance, he has worked with companies that are quite profitable on paper, but where the owner works 100-hour weeks. In that case, his goal may be to make the company more efficient and keep the owner from burning out. To do so, he assesses business owners to determine their strengths and passions, so they can focus on what they do best and bring in help where needed. “To me, everything is owner-centric,” he says. “If you can get some relief so that you can pursue your passion more and more, you can succeed.”

Charlie Wardell is a freelance writer in Vineyard Haven, Mass.

Author: Charlie Wardell
UPSCALE REMODELING MAGAZINE (10/1/2006)  -- Link

Homegrown Leads

Leads have to come from somewhere. They're the foundation of business. One of the best lead generation systems is your own database. Here are 10 tips for keeping one.

Use simple, versatile software (for example, Microsoft Access or FileMaker Pro).

Set up separate fields for first and last names, address, street name, city, state, and ZIP code, so you can sort by field.

Learn to use the software to perform mail merges, print labels and reports, and schedule calls, mailings, and marketing events through a personal information manager like Microsoft Outlook.

Add more information to the database, like neighborhood, country club and church membership information, or chamber of commerce memberships. You can purchase lists with demographics for up to 50 cents per name from companies like Cole Information Systems (www.coleinformation.com).

Use data-mining techniques to cross-match and find common and attractive combinations for your market, as well as to make assumptions about net worth, earnings, or disposable income.

Keep it current and make one person responsible for updates.

Back up the database weekly.

Keep it clean. Go through your database often. If you talk to a prospect four times and their needs constantly vary, drop them. Every two years throw purchased lists away.

Use it for direct mail, newsletters and special offers, lead tracking, scheduling client/prospect follow up calls, and referral requests.

And whatever you do, don't share your list with competitors.

--Stephen Wilson is a partner with marketing/communications firm Biz-comm Inc., Reston, Va., biz@biz-comm.com.

Author: Stephen Wilson
REMODELING Magazine (6/1/2002)   -- Link

Finding Your Sweet Spot

The origin of the term "sweet spot" is unclear, but sports sages attribute it to finding the exact spot on a baseball bat where a pitched ball should strike, then exit the park via the back fence.

A marketing "sweet spot" is similar: identify and capitalize on services that produce the greatest profit and are the easiest to sell. When sweet spots get sweeter, they can become the service that makes a remodeler renown.

Michael Menn and Andy Poticha of Design Construction Concepts of Northbrook, Ill., have defined their sweet spot: Projects in the $450,000 to $1 million range, within a certain geography. They include either a first- or second-story addition with a kitchen, a bath, or both. Prospects understand the quality of their product and services and are willing to pay for it.

To identify, and sweeten, your sweet spot, answer these questions:

* How would I characterize my sweet spot, and what evidence supports that conclusion?

* What's the growth rate of my sweet spot over the past few years?

* What have I reinvested in my sweet spot as opposed to the rest of my business? Reinvestment is capital expenditure, plus marketing and research/development costs.

Once you've nailed your sweet spot down, spend 80% of your time, energy, and dollars marketing to prospects that fit within its confines. Use the remaining 20% to develop new sweet spots as your business grows and matures.

--Stephen Wilson is a partner in Biz-comm Inc., a marketing and communications firm specializing in remodelers' needs, biz@biz-comm.com.

Author: Stephen Wilson
REMODELING Magazine (5/1/2003)  -- Link

Make That Phone Ring

Prospects with recognized, admitted needs can be turned into contract-signing clients, but you need to get their attention. What works? Marketing messages based on your target. Here are four tactics.

Fulfill a specific need. Do they need a kitchen, bath, or master suite? Direct mail focusing on a bathroom or kitchen generally works better than a "we're available" campaign. For reasons we've yet to pinpoint, we find this is especially true in metropolitan areas. Our clients in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City received almost twice as many results from targeting a specific need vs. a general approach.

Speak to quality. "Only the finest for you," "You earned it, you deserve it" campaigns address a client's desire for the best. How you present your company attracts certain clients. If you look like a quality remodeler, prospects assume you are until proven wrong. Prove them right with above-average work. Custom, as opposed to canned, newsletters are on point for this marketing tactic.

Address financial issues. Equity and investment fit in here. Take advantage of the current low cost of borrowing money and frame a marketing campaign around remodeling as an investment in the home.

Solve problems. Some prospects are interested in affordability. They can't write a check for a $12,000 bathroom remodel, but they can afford $189 a month for 10 years, says Bill Simone, Custom Design and Construction, Los Angeles. Develop a package with your lender that you can present this way. Provide solutions and ease fear of the process; sales will follow. Advertising, not direct mail, works best for this approach.

--Stephen Wilson is a partner with Reston, Va., marketing/communications firm Biz-comm Inc., biz@biz-comm.com.

Author: Stephen Wilson
REMODELING Magazine (1/1/2003)  -- Link

Direct Mail on a Shoestring

Here are five tips that can help you develop a direct mail campaign on a tight budget:

Go pro. You may have the software, and you might think you have the savvy to create your own mailer, but they're not enough to deliver the right message. Outsource copywriting and design -- a competent graphic designer can do this better than you can. It's a professional's job to know how to create and position graphics and write copy that sells. You'll pay anywhere from $50 to $125 an hour for this service.

Print in two colors. Choose black and white or single-sided color. Doing so reduces print costs by as much as 33%. It also helps to plan printing around your printer's schedule. You may negotiate a reduced price if you give leeway to fit your job between other print jobs where the printer can reduce set-up, and therefore cost.

Save on labor. Labeling and stamping cards costs more than you think. But if someone in your office can do this and manage the business mail process, you'll save money.

Mail on the cheap. Mailing permits come first, standard, third class, and pre-sort, plus other categories. Pick the right class and you'll save. A pre-sort vs. first-class mailing of 1,500 postcards might save you as much as 15%.

Narrow the list. The list you choose is the most important decision you'll make -- and can potentially return the greatest reward. By tightly targeting whom you mail to, you'll save money, because you aren't wasting resources mailing to homeowners who will never be legitimate prospects. Spend your money where it does the most good.

--Stephen Wilson is a partner in Reston, Va., marketing/communications firm Biz-comm Inc., biz@biz-comm.com.

Author: Stephen Wilson
REMODELING Magazine (4/1/2003)  -- Link