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Remote HQ: How to Be Productive When You’re On-The-Go and in the Field

July 18, 2018 • I spoke at a local high school career day recently, and when I asked one young man what he wanted to do as a career, he replied, “I mostly just want to have a huge desk in an awesome office.” In high school, I wasn’t all that different, and in the mind of a 16 year-old, you can see the appeal. But if you’re a small business owner, especially one who spends most of his time in the field, you know that there is no corner office; for you, work gets done wherever you are. With today’s easy-to-use mobile technology, the new headquarters is remote and on the go. A phone, some supplies, the right apps, your vehicle, and you’ve pretty much got what you need to get business, service customers, and get paid. Of course, there is paperwork to be done and calls to be made; those things are all critical to generating new business and taking care of the business you have in front of you. Because you’re on the road or at job sites most of the time, you rarely have time, space, or the resources to get everything done. The key for you is to rethink your workspace and embrace the idea of the remote headquarters. People operate in a much more agile way these days, and this works to your advantage. The tools required to be successful look a lot different in today’s world, but by employing the right tools in the right way, you will drastically cut down on costs and other logistics issues, and you’ll simplify your life so you can focus on the activities that make you money. Let’s look at what you need to be productive (average cost included): Smartphone: As you already know, you’re on the phone all the time. It’s not just for communication, but as we’ll see, it’s pretty much for any and every activity you’re involved in. Make sure you negotiate an unlimited call and text plan with your network provider, and if possible, spring for unlimited data. An iPhone 8 is $700, which you can pay interest-free in monthly installments over two years. That’s $29/month + approximately $75 monthly fee = $104/month. Good earbuds: You’re going to be on the phone a lot. Get ones that are comfortable. The highest rated earbuds on Amazon are $20 Apps: I’ve installed apps on my phone that let me scan/store/fax documents, bill customers, maintain a history of invoices and bills, do payroll, pay bills, chat with employees, and create/deliver/track marketing emails. Get those apps and make it a habit of using them; later in the blog, I’ll point out some of the features of the Housecall Pro app, which may end up being the most valuable one you use. At most, you’ll pay $10 - $20 for lifetime usage of the apps you need. Let’s just call this a $20 cost. Big, well-made bag: Welcome to your new office. Get a solid, durable bag and pack it with cell phone chargers, laptop (if you use one), the folders for active projects, pens, pencils, paper, stamps, envelopes, water, and Advil (for those rough days). A RedOxx bag is $175. This Asus laptop is among the highest rated on Amazon and is only $319. Everything else you need might set you back $30. There, quite literally, is your toolkit for being productive while you’re in the field or catching up when you have some down time. You need to also throw in some process so you have a strategy for being productive while you’re in the field. So, when you’re operating out of a remote HQ, put these things into place to stay on track and focused: Contacts: Make sure all your customers and hot prospects are in your phone contacts. TIP: Add information about the contact in the “notes” field. That way, if you forget the person’s name, you can search on the terms you remember, for example, “Red house, rotting roof shingles." Customer response: Calling back customers is easy to put off. We often say, “I’ll get to it when I’m back in the office.” Later never seems to come, so carve out time regularly (doesn’t need to be every day), put it on your calendar, and force yourself to make calls. TIP: You already know this, but if you ignore customers, they will ignore you. Make the calls you need to make. Schedule: You have a calendar. It may be paper-based, it may be in your smartphone, it may be on Post-Its. I’m not judging, but unless you have a personal assistant reminding you when and where to go, you are going to miss stuff if you don’t abide by your calendar. TIP: Schedule everything, including phone calls. Also, put alerts on everything you schedule so you won’t miss them. Billing/invoicing: You don’t work for free, so make a billing app your friend. The Housecall Pro app, for example, allows you to create invoices on the fly and deliver automatically to customers. It also keeps track of all invoices so you know what has and hasn’t been paid. It’s an accounting system that automates most of the work. TIP: Deliver your invoice immediately to the customer after the job is done so you don’t forget. Automate marketing: Put your contacts to use and use an automated approach to creating good-looking, trackable marketing materials (like emails and postcards that go out in the U.S. Mail). TIP: Read our blog about marketing and customer loyalty. OK, so you may not have that corner office with the huge desk that teenagers think is so swell, but who needs it? When you get to meet with people every day, do interesting work, and be up and around, you know that being tied to a desk is no fun at all. Doing all these things with purpose and a plan will make your working hours more productive and your non-working hours more relaxing.  

Pat Flanders, Guest Author

Cafe

How Virtual Receptionists Increase Your Business

June 4, 2018 • Running a home services business is not like running just any small business. To be sure, life is plenty busy when you’re operating a local dance studio or tutoring center, but owners and operators of home services businesses have a unique constraint: you’re out of the office a lot. The better business is going, the more you’re absent from your desk.  And that means two things, primarily: a lot of work (estimates, invoices, receipts) waits till you get back to the office, and a lot of calls and emails are missed. Client management software that runs on your phone, like Housecall Pro, handles the first problem; virtual receptionists resolve the second.  If you’re not yet using a live answering service, here are 5 major ways it can help you increase new business and make your current clients happier. 1. Capture & qualify leads New leads are coming from referrals, Yelp, Google, Thumbtack, Facebook, and many other sources. You might even be paying for placement on these sites. When someone sees your business and calls about your services, if you don’t pick up, they’re off to call the next business. If they’re filling out web forms, often the company that wins the business is the first to respond. A receptionist service can ensure you’re responding to new leads as soon as they come in. A great receptionist service doesn’t just pick up the phone, though -- they also qualify the lead. Are they in your service area? Are they willing to pay your hourly rate? Do their service needs align with the services your business provides? These are just a few of the questions you can use to filter out the great leads from those that won’t convert to real clients. 2. Intake new clients So, your receptionists have captured and qualified the lead. Now what? It’s time to get that new client in your system. Identify the information you need from all new clients, like basic contact information, plus information that will help you build a quote or book their job. If you clean carpets, for example, you’ll likely need to know the carpet type, room size, whether pets or kids are present, and more.  Your receptionists can capture this information and pass it directly into your CRM or client management system. If you’ve created a client intake form within your CRM, your receptionists can complete and submit the form on behalf of each client. 3. Appointment booking & reminders Once a client has agreed to your fees, they’re going to want to book an appointment as soon as possible. Your receptionists can not only handle this step of the process, they can also call clients to remind them of upcoming appointments and maintenance reminders. If you really want to go the extra mile, nothing delights customers more than having a check-in call from a business. Remote receptionists can call recent clients you serviced and see how they’re faring. If they respond positively, this is an excellent opportunity to ask for a positive review on one of those sites that generates leads for your business. 4. Provide work status updates Some home-service work isn’t done in a day. Perhaps you’re a roofer, landscaper, or floor refinisher. It doesn’t necessarily have to be you following up with current clients to share work status updates. Are the new roofing tiles in? Bad weather coming and a job needs to be rescheduled? A virtual receptionist can make these calls for you while you tend to other matters that do actually require your personal attention. 5. FAQs & first-tier customer support Even when you’re available to take calls and return emails, that doesn’t mean answering them is the best use of your time. How many times a week do you field the same questions? Sure, the answers are on your website, but sometimes new leads want to hear them from a live person.  A remote receptionist armed with answers to common questions asked about your business can handle these inquiries. Not only can they answer questions from incoming callers, but they can also call people back. Just forward those emails to your receptionist service and ask them to make the calls on your behalf. Now, let’s talk about those calls from unhappy customers, because everybody gets them. The first step to soothing an irritated customer is to answer the phone and not let it go to voicemail. Nothing is more frustrating to customers than not feeling heard, or not being able to reach you. A virtual receptionist service ensures that your calls are always answered during business hours. The receptionist can take down all relevant information and send it to you or a member of your team to respond to as soon as you’re available. Another benefit here is that this buys you time to resolve the issue, rather than being put on the spot while the customer is on the phone. Choosing the right virtual receptionist service It’s important to note that not every live answering service offers lead qualification, new client intake, and outbound calls. Make sure you ask about these features when shopping around.  What’s special about Smith.ai Smith.ai virtual receptionists offers all of these services, and also integrates with Housecall Pro. Professional, U.S.-based receptionists answer, transfer, and return calls during your business hours, and all appointments are booked directly in your Housecall Pro account, so you’re fully in sync. What’s with the “ai” in the name? That stands for “artificial technology,” and it powers the following features: Automatic spam blocking of 20 million numbers Live call transfer requests via SMS and Slack Easy status changes via SMS (e.g., text “Do Not Disturb” when you arrive at work site) Instant call notes via email, SMS, or Slack Unlike most live answering services, billing is per-call, not per-minute. Leads who need to explain their work request in fine detail? New clients who need to complete an intake form? Existing clients who need a work status update? These calls can take 5 to 10 minutes or more. You get consistent billing when you’re charged per-call, and you never incur post-call wrap-up charges while the receptionist completes notes and appointment bookings. Every Smith.plan includes: Inbound & outbound calls Lead capture & qualification Appointment scheduling & reminders Customized call handling procedures for each business (and even each professional or technician on staff) Coverage Monday to Friday, 6AM to 6PM PST / 9AM to 9PM EST Call screening, prioritization, and VIP lists Instant call summaries and end-of-day reports Voicemails transcribed and sent to email or SMS With plans starting at $60/month, small businesses get the experience and quality of an in-house receptionist at a small fraction of the price.  Here’s what one of their long-time clients had to say: “I've worked with many answering services over the 7 years that I have been in business. This one is hands down, my favorite. The messages are clear and concise. They are great at handling clients. Fees are reasonable and realistic. I could not be happier.” - Cathy Green,  UpperCrust Laundry Get started with Smith.ai virtual receptionists If you’d like to sign up for Smith.ai, you may do so online at https://smith.ai, by phone at (650) 727-6484, or by email at support@smith.ai. Housecall Pro users get $50 off their first month with code HOUSECALL! This code can be used in combination with their 30-day/10-call free trial. Contact Smith.ai Questions about virtual receptionists? Wondering how it will work with your Housecall Pro account? Smith.ai support is available Monday through Friday between 6 AM and 6 PM PST at (650) 727-6484 or support@smith.ai.

Maddy Martin, Head of Marketing and Partnerships at Smith.ai

old phone booth keys

8 Content Marketing Strategies For Home Service Businesses

May 10, 2018 • Every home services company needs good web content, but most get discouraged because they don't have the budget to hire an expensive content marketing agency. Fortunately, you don't need an expensive blog to drive web traffic. You already have all the tools to make a good blog all on your own, you just need to use them. When brainstorming new ideas for publishing content to drive traffic towards your website, companies often miss the mark. Companies will start by brainstorming topics that they find interesting.  However, in order for fast-moving, innovative companies to drive the right traffic, they need to create content with their customer in mind. Getting started is often the hardest part. These eight easy content marketing ideas are great starting points for any home services company. 1) Sneak peeks at new products and services A hard sales pitch is a huge faux pas when publishing content. People hate sales pitches, that's why the strategy behind content marketing is to inform first, then gently nudge customers where you want them to go. A good way to do this is to focus on the products you work with or by talking about the services you provide.  If a company claims to be an industry leader, its content has to back them up. One example of doing so would be giving a sneak peek at a new innovative product or service. You might even consider giving a video demonstration of it. This reminds your customers of the services you provide and shows them that you're ahead of your industry, making them more likely to book you without having to give them a hard sales pitch.   2) Company stories Creating content about services you offer isn't the only way to promote your business through content. Creating content about the history of your company and your accomplishments is a great way to connect with your customers. Most companies don't realize it, but content tells a story from start to finish. Everyone has a life story, and good content is the life story of any successful brand. Giving historical facts about a company's founding is a good start, but it's the company narrative that matters most when driving traffic. The idea is to tell a story that draws in your audience, sharing where your company came from and the motivation that drives it.   3) Team profiles Building a successful home services staff is a journey, so why not share it with your customers? Content marketing is most effective when readers genuinely empathize with brand. By sharing your employees' stories your customers will feel a more personal connection to you and your company.  Q&A articles are good examples of how to write team profiles that truly entertain. Keep it simple. You don't have to get their entire life story. Focus on questions about their hobbies, family, and any industry related skills or accomplishments. The home services industry depends on building long-lasting relationships with customers, and showcasing each team member is an easy win (plus your employees will be excited to be featured).  4) Blog lists You don't always have to create a full blog from scratch. Many content creators will publish blogs that are simply a compilation of other blogs. For example, a company might have 'maintaining your tile floor' as their topic and will write a list of the best blogs for DIY tile floor maintenance. You just have to write a short intro for your list and explain what each one teaches. Make sure to link your copy to the right blog. Often those bloggers will return the favor with similar posts resulting in more exposure for you both and an ongoing relationship for future opportunities to work together. 5) Frequently asked questions Effective content can also be writing a series of posts on frequently asked questions (FAQs). Try to get creative in your FAQs. You don't just have to stick to questions about your company, go outside the box and answer common questions you've been asked about your industry. By giving your customers a little more insight into what you do, you're presenting an opportunity to connect with them even more.  By creating content on FAQs you're also giving your company the chance to differentiate your brand from your competitors, by explaining any common misconceptions and sharing what makes your company unique.  6) Tutorials Good content can also be as simple as informative tutorials. A couple of options for formatting this are to create a video demonstrating a home improvement tutorial or you could create a list of tips and tricks from your industry. For example, if you're in the carpet industry you could create a post about preventing stains on different types of carpet flooring. Or if you're in the plumbing industry, you could share a tutorial video on how to fix a leaky faucet.  Website visitors will appreciate a company that shares a few trade secrets with them. By doing so you're driving traffic to your website, while also building up your reputation and gaining your customer's trust.   7) Contests The best content is both informative and fun. Companies can differentiate their brands by giving website visitors a fun, entertaining read, and contests are a good example of how to publish entertaining content. Contests are a good way to drive traffic to your blog, promote your services, and create more engagement with your customers.  This is your chance to get creative. Think outside the box to create fun, entertaining contests. For example, if you're in the carpet industry, you could hold a contest for the dirtiest carpets. Ask your customers to send you photos of their carpets and award the winner with a free cleaning. Each contest entry becomes a new lead, you'll be able to show before and after pictures for the winner, and you'll gain more engagement with your customers. Plus, your customers will be looking to your blog for future contest opportunities.  8) Events Trade shows, networking events and business roundtable discussions are ripe content topics. If you go to any industry-related events, make sure to share what you learned. This gives you and your company more credibility and authority. The idea is to support your brand's claim of professionalism by showcasing your company's knowledge base.  Overall, content marketing is about driving the right traffic from the right readers in order to further grow a business. While you want to produce the right content for your company, it doesn't need to be perfect. The biggest mistake you can make is overthinking it. Use these nine content marketing ideas as your foundation, get writing, and start publishing. Once you do, you'll begin to gain new customers, drive more engagement, and direct traffic to your website.

Kindra K., Marketing Coordinator

Coffee table person typing

3 Ways to Boost Your Professional Network

April 13, 2018 • Many of us fear the thought of "networking.” The whole idea of chatting up people we don't know is awkward and time-consuming. And for the most part, we might get a great collection of business cards, but the whole process is random; we end up connected with people who don't truly understand what we need to be more successful in our business. A better way to create mutually beneficial business relationships that can help you grow your business is to focus on creating a pro-to-pro network that actually puts you in touch with like-minded professionals who understand your challenges and can support your efforts. Customers are always a great source for referrals, but when another trusted vendor recommends you to one of their clients, they immediately validate you and create an opportunity for you to get work without having to do any marketing. People in the field services industry are constantly asked if they know someone who can perform this or that. If they know you do great work and are trustworthy, they can recommend you and deliver a customer primed to do business. It also gives them a new way to deliver value to their own customers. Even though many of us spend our days focused on solving customer problems and organizational issues, the real work we do is all based on relationships. If we can demonstrate competence, integrity, and a willingness to truly connect with the people we work with, it creates positive results in the form of goodwill, loyalty, and support. When we spend time developing relationships with other professionals in our field, we have a real-time sounding board and support system that can help us figure things out when we're stuck, connect us with customers through word of mouth, and give us perspective about how we run our business. Relationships are critical to everything we do, and when we are good at relationships, we can use them effectively in building our network. It sounds great; a bunch of people who understand the trials of building and running a successful business who you can bounce ideas off, and who sends potential customers your way. In turn, you do the same for them, and it's like you all have a built-in growth tool. The reality is that you have to work at it to create and sustain a successful pro-to-pro network. Here are three things you can do right now to get started: Create a structure that works for colleagues and customers Imagine this scenario: a homeowner wakes up to discover his toilet has flooded the bathroom floor overnight. His first call is to a plumber; it ends up being a quick fix. To do it, however, the plumber needs to cut into the drywall to access the pipe. Rather than wait for the customer to freak out when he sees a hole in the wall, the plumber preps him by saying, "I'm going to need to cut a 2'x2' chunk out of the wall, but I work with a very competent drywall installer who can fix it easily, and because he and I work together, I can get him here today and he'll give you 20% of his regular price."  That plumber just solved two customer problems and two business are going to get paid that day. Think of the opportunities you'll have to get your name in front of customers who are in need of your service, and the recurring potential for being put in touch with those people because you're also doing the work to get colleagues gigs as well. The impact of your network gives you opportunities that others won't have because you are being delivered directly to a paying customer by a fellow professional who vouches for your work. The potential monetary rewards are great, especially because your investment in building these relationships is relatively small. While you still need to maintain your regular marketing efforts, you should recognize that when other professionals are sending you business, it can almost be considered like incremental revenue on top of what you're already earning through regular customer acquisition efforts. Use a smart strategy for creating the right network To put yourself in the best possible situation, you have to first know "the guy" who gets the business. You actually have to know a lot of guys who get business, and you yourself need to be "a guy" who can get business for others. Remember that being successful is mostly about preparing to be successful, and a few helpful tips: Choose wisely An important piece of this is to pick the right people to be in your network. Avoid competitors. They can still be your friends, and while many are certainly good people, they aren't going to send any business your way. Look for complementary businesses and get to know those owners. If you're an HVAC guy, maybe you want to connect with plumbers or air duct services. Find ways to make the relationship win-win for each other, and for your customers. Network to build a network Reach out to people by every means necessary. You can do this through social media (retweet and like the things your colleagues post - it may sound like high school all over again, but it works), online discussion forums (get in there and ask if people want to partner), and local clubs (your Chamber of Commerce most likely hosts mixers and open houses frequently, which you should make a habit of attending) are all opportunities to connect with people you may want to include in your network. Get out there If anyone is going to recommend you, they have to know and trust you. In addition to online efforts, there are all kinds of things you can do to get in front of potential supporters. Go door-to-door among your work neighbors or host an open house at your office; invite people to come in for some free food and to see your work. Stop in on businesses and make phone calls. It may not sound like fun, but remember that in addition to building your own network, you're also helping others build theirs. Pay it forward...and backward Remember that a network is kind of kind of like a loop, and you have to keep feeding it in order for it to feed you. So with your own network, you need to be providing value as much as you're getting value. It's important that you're giving leads to your colleagues and helping them build their own businesses. There are a few key ways to do that: Preferred pricing Give the people in your network the ability to offer discounts for your services on your behalf. This is will be a huge value to the customer, which will then be an incentive to work with you. It also makes your colleagues look good because they delivered a deal to their customer. The customer, of course, loves it because they get a sweet deal and didn't have to waste any time looking for a vendor. Say thanks If you develop relationships with these other businesses and they drive business your way, make sure you show your appreciation. Showing up at their place of business with a gift basket or a gift card for a nice restaurant is a nice way to demonstrate that you value what they've done for you. These aren't kickbacks and don't present a conflict of interest; they're just a friendly gesture that goes a long way towards cementing a successful and long-term relationship. Automate it It's one thing to just say, "Yeah, I know a guy who can do this job." It's of far more value, however, if you can connect the customer and vendor with actual details about a potential job. It prepares both parties and offers context to prepare the customer and your colleague for engaging. Housecall Pro offers a feature called Send a Job that enables a vendor to connect his colleagues and customers through his contacts. A simple text is delivered with job details and contact information. This puts the business into the hands of the people who need help and those who can provide a solution. It's also a great way to track how you've recommended, and the jobs you've received from others As the song says, we all get by with a little help from our friends. If you dedicate time to building a pro-to-pro network and foster good relationships within that network, you will develop opportunities to generate new customers and in turn, become a resource for other professionals. The network effect will provide customers with access to preferred vendors and will give you a new, robust channel for new business.

Pat F

Board Game Networking

How Driving Reviews Elevates Your SEO

April 12, 2018 • It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently. - Warren Buffett This quote from the great investor Warren Buffett may be the single best piece of business advice you can receive. To a man with 50+ years of experience looking at some of the planet's best-run businesses, it's notable that he chose reputation as the thing that makes the biggest impact on a business' success or failure. Not to take away from your expertise as a craftsman or superior manager, both things that are critical to business success, but perhaps the best thing you can do is use the caretaking of company's reputation as your guiding principle towards business success. Reputation, however, can be complex, and it requires you to be smart about how you build and promote it. It makes up pretty much how you do everything: the work you deliver, the way you deliver it, the timeliness with which you deliver it, the fairness of your pricing, your reliability, the ease of working with you, and your overall willingness to do what's right for your customers. Put all those things together and they make up your reputation. And it's kind of a fragile thing; you could have competitive prices and deliver excellent work while being the nicest guy on the planet, but if you flake on your appointments, your reputation will take a hit. However, once gained, a positive reputation can be your single biggest marketing tool. Reputation today is made or broken online. Consider that 93% of people make their buying decision based on online reviews. That's excellent news if everyone loves you. If you have a lousy reputation, however, you're going to need to go into full-court press mode and start doing major damage control. In today's hyper-connected, social media-charged world, there are a lot of ways for your reputation to be promoted (either good or bad) so it's essential that service professionals monitor online reviews, interact with reviewers, and manage comments and feedback in order to monitor damage control and learn how to improve. Deliver for customers and they will deliver for you In the field service business, most customers are ready to buy once they begin looking. Either there's a problem that needs fixing quickly, or they are focused on a project they're eager to get started; either way, field service customers generally know how to research and find the vendor that will serve them best. Since you have an audience that's prepared to make a buying decision, you make your odds of getting the business a whole lot better if you show up front and center in online reviews as the provider with the best reputation. The impact of online reviews is growing rapidly. A survey by BrightLocal found that 88% of all consumers trust online reviews more than referrals from friends and family members. This is a remarkable statistic, especially because the reviews are coming from total strangers. Yet, the impact is huge, especially in light of the fact that only about 10% of the entire U.S. population does not regularly read online reviews when picking the businesses they work with. Consumers regularly look to online reviews to guide them towards trusted vendors. In fact, 58% of consumers look at online reviews at least weekly in pursuit of building up a solid list of potential field service providers who will be able to serve their needs. To earn the attention of those consumers, however, requires that you have solid ratings and reviews from actual customers. A survey indicates that a business must have a rating of at least 3.3 stars before a consumer will consider engaging with them. Even if you already have great reviews already, every business has to work continuously to be considered superior and to create customers who are willing to share their positive opinions about you. It's also important because reviews are changing consumer behavior in how they conduct reconnaissance into learning about vendors. In fact, a recent survey notes that people are increasingly less likely (a drop of 17% from 2016 to 2017) to visit the website of a business after reading positive reviews. This means that once they find the validation they need, they are ready to move forward with you. Because consumers are able to decide quickly and based on this kind of available information, helping them book an appointment directly from review sites will increase your likelihood of acquiring more new business.  Reviews and SEO The actual reviews you receive can be a great boost to your company's reputation and a channel to get new business. But they also help boost your findability by increasing your Google search engine rank. Search engine optimization (SEO) is critical for you to stand out from your competition and connect your message with potential customers. Almost 50% of consumers who do a local search of potential providers connect with a vendor that very day, so being prominently displayed in search results is key if you want to get noticed. The challenge is that search engines are indexing billions of web pages, and one of the best ways for you to rise to the top of search results is to have your name mentioned on other people's websites. The key is to encourage customers to provide reviews, and then ensure you are using them as an effective marketing tool. Reviews on your website and on social review sites like Yelp, Facebook, CitySearch, and others will pack search engines with favorable content about you which positions your business to outrank competitors in SEO results. We also know that sites that consistently get positive reviews get more links to other websites, and the more "link love" you get, the greater prominence you get in Google.  According to ReputationLoop, using your positive reviews in social media profiles and updates is a major factor in increasing where you rank in search results. In fact, positive reviews could be the difference between being found and being buried. Consider this: Five Star Customer reviews stand out in social media and beg to be read. Customer reviews give you content that promotes your business without the hard sell. Positive customer reviews remind your followers how great your business is. A customer review post is a great way for followers to share your business with people they think could benefit from what you sell. More than 90% of consumers indicate that product and service reviews impact how they choose vendors. Building a consistent five-star rating and getting positive reviews will affix in the minds of customers that you are a vendor of choice. Get more reviews and better ones Let's start with a little analysis and identify those things that give top rankers their positive results. Step 1: Search on reviews for your particular field. For example, try "plumber reviews" in the search bar: Step 2: Review the results and identify those review sites that are delivering the highest rankings. From these results, we can see how valuable it is to get top ratings from Yelp, HomeAdvisor, and CustomerLobby and where you should invest your time building your rankings: Step 3: Understand the search ecosystem Most review sites share their reviews with other websites which makes your original reviews more valuable than if they just remained on one website. This becomes an exponential impact with more customers seeing reviews and Google giving you multiple opportunities to be seen. Take a look at this graphic of what the search ecosystem looks like and you'll see how valuable it is: Step 4: Learn how the review sites work Now you should spend time understanding how the major review sites work so you know how to coach customers. It's also helpful so you can tailor your own marketing messages and outreach to fit with what these review sites are looking for.  Here are review guidelines for some of these sites so you can understand how to stand out when customers are using them: Yelp CitySearch YellowPages Facebook Step 5: Start getting reviews Now it's time to start getting reviews. Thankfully there are a number of proven ways to get reviews and make them stand out for your business. They include: Add review-generating links on your email marketing: With your email marketing efforts you already have a captive audience, so use that to advantage to drive people to these review sites and encourage them to write positive reviews on your behalf. Make it simple with instructions that walk them through the steps to add their comments. It might be as simple as something like this: Spread the love! We love serving you and hope you feel the same about us. If you do, we would appreciate your positive comments on Yelp. It's super easy, and you can follow these steps: Find your business on Yelp and you can just click Write a Review to find your review page. https://www.yelp.com/writeareview/biz/{your business ID} Links to review sites on social media: Here again, your social channels like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others can be used as an effective tool for routing an engaged audience directly to review opportunities. Something simple will do the trick, and you can have some fun with this too. Maybe something like: Love working with ABC Flooring? Well, we love u 2! We'd appreciate your positive reviews on Facebook [or any other site] so we can serve other great customers. Just go to https://www.facebook.com/{your business page}/reviews/ #weloveourcustomers #spreadthelove #moreflooringmorefun Train your team: Make sure that, without being annoying, that your office staff and field employees remind customers about opportunities to provide reviews. Automate the message: Use review automation platforms that will make it easier than ever to generate reviews without lifting a finger. NiceJob, Podium, and others provide an efficient, automated way to get and submit reviews. How to manage your reputation Part of this process is exposing yourself and your business. In some respects, there's some risk in that; I mean, you might actually get some bad reviews. That's okay, but you need to manage that and minimize the impact. At the same time, remember that any time someone provides a review, it's done as a favor to you, so make sure you offer your thanks and gratitude. If you're using an automated system for review generation then you'll get alerts delivered directly to you about new reviews. This will allow you to be responsive and keep your pulse on what people are saying about you. If you aren't using any of these automated systems, you should set up a monitoring system like Google Alerts, or use the built-in alerts in Facebook, Yelp or other sites so they can send you an email or text when a review has been posted. The reviews you get will all blend into your overall reputation. Positive reviews will help you build a positive reputation which could ultimately become your most effective marketing tool. But they are also a chance to learn what you're doing right and what customers appreciate. Double-down on those things, make investments to continue doing them and ensure they are baked into how you market your business. Positive reviews will also give you a chance to create loyalty programs and reward employees who are called out in reviews for excellent work. Now, even the best businesses get negative reviews. Starbucks has built a multi-billion dollar business, but there are still people who think their coffee tastes like aquarium water. That said, ignoring negative reviews or becoming defensive about them is a bad strategy. Here again, use these as a way to learn more; bad reviews are an opportunity to find out what you're not doing well and rectify any issues you may have. In some cases, you may discover that employees aren't conducting themselves according to the expectations of the business. Better to learn that from one negative review and fix it than to let it linger. Once you know what customers think, you can move forward with focusing on what to do right. As you can see, reviews can become a major part of your marketing strategy, but the whole process requires some discipline and management. You don't want it to be overwhelming, so automate as much of it as you can. Find ways to leverage reviews for things like online booking opportunities and internal training. Remember that your company is a dynamic thing; you're always building it, and with the feedback of customers, you can grow it in the direction you want and get it to achieve the kind of reputation that truly reflects the uniqueness of your business.

Pat F

Building Legos