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Housecall Pro blog

Everything you need to succeed as a Home Services company in a digital world.

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Where to Find Influential Review Sites

February 13, 2018 • Everyone knows how important customer reviews are to gaining more business. The question isn't whether or not you should be asking for reviews, but rather where should you be asking for them. While there are many different review sites, it is important to know which are most important, after all, directing a customer to a review site that has little impact on your business to leave a review, is one review you’re not getting on a review site that does. We recommend four main review sites to focus on for Housecall Pros and home service businesses. Google, Facebook, Homeadvisor, and Yelp. Google Without a doubt, the reviews on Google My Business are powerful. Most consumers will turn to search when looking for info on a local product or service, and Google has the largest market share when it comes to search engines. Within local search results are businesses with reviews appearing almost 95% of the time. If you haven’t registered your business with Google, do so immediately. Near 50% of businesses have yet to do so, and it’s one of the easiest ways to create exposure and more customers for your business. When you’ve verified your business with Google, your reviews not only appear in search results but can also appear on map searches as well. One of the first things someone does when deciding they need a product or service, such as window cleaning, for example, is to search “Window Cleaning {Their City Name}”. 95% of people only view the first page in search engines like Google or Bing when searching for someone. This means if your website isn’t on page one of that search (if you’re a window cleaner), you’re practically invisible. Google My Business reviews are one of the best possible ways to rank higher, which makes a lot of sense since Google will always rank their own content highest on their own platform. Facebook Most know the popularity of Facebook makes it a great place to have a business page, and to get reviews. Whenever someone leaves a review on Facebook, their friends get a notification in their feed and are often curious enough to click on it and see it. Additionally, Facebook recommends pages to users that their friends have left reviews on. Here’s how it looks: This is literally the digitization of word of mouth, and it’s incredibly powerful. Even if people are not searching for your service on Facebook, they’re sure to remember it when they go looking on Google if they’ve seen a friend leave you a review on Facebook. Be sure that your Facebook review tab is visible and activated. If it isn’t, your great reviews will be hidden from potential customers. You may have been on a Facebook page of one of your favorite businesses and noticed you can’t leave a review. It’s because they haven’t activated the option to leave Facebook reviews or feedback. To activate reviews for Facebook, visit the settings on your Facebook page. Next, scroll down inside the General section to where it says reviews and turn them on. HomeAdvisor We recommend focusing review collection on HomeAdvisor since it holds more top 3 positions in search than other home services review sites. This will help your search rankings and increase your visibility on a platform popular with homeowners for finding such services. Angie's List has a significant amount of pages indexed (meaning found by the search engine but not necessarily ranking on page 1), but less than half for top 3 positions when compared to market share in-home services for HomeAdvisor. ThumbTack followed close in third, and Porch.com trailed behind. In addition, as of October 2017, HomeAdvisor has actually merged with Angie’s List, meaning the reviews you collect on HomeAdvisor, will show up on Angie’s List. Yelp In addition to Google and Facebook, one other platform most businesses don’t want to overlook is Yelp. It’s big, and not to be ignored. It’s not advised to request reviews for Yelp as it goes against their terms of service but you can display a badge on your website or offer a link. This indirectly suggests it would be appreciated and complies with their terms. Unfortunately, because of Yelp’s strict policies, they do not allow software to be used to collect reviews on this site. In most cases, however, people find Yelp listing through a Google search, which means if you have lots of Google My Business reviews, Yelp becomes increasingly less important.  Be sure to respond to Yelp reviews and others, regardless whether they're positive or negative. Also be wary of running ads on Yelp. Many users have ironically found these actually resulted in less business and fewer reviews than had they not run the ads since they look less genuine. Many ads on Yelp are fake, which is partly why they have updated their terms of service to prevent review collection, so if it looks like you’re paying-to-play, you might actually be shooting yourself in the foot. The Takeaway Focus your efforts on Google (for ranking high in search), Facebook (for generating lots of online word of mouth), HomeAdvisor (for ranking high in search), and Yelp (because consumers still trust it - this is changing, however, as people continue to increasingly use Google maps instead). Trying to collect reviews on other review sites may have some value just so you’re visible there, but the vast majority (90% or more) should be spent on Google, Facebook, and HomeAdvisor, with most of that going to Google and Facebook. By using these two in a combined approach you can build awareness and loyalty for your company before people are looking to buy with Facebook reviews, and then remind them of this loyalty and trust when they find you in search with Google My Business reviews. You can select which review sites you want customers to have as options to review you on using software like NiceJob.

Connor Wilson, Director of Growth at NiceJob

Utilizing Analytics for Your Business

February 13, 2018 • Analytics has become one of the most powerful tools for service businesses. Not only are they used to better understand your customers, but they also help you to make better-informed business decisions and ultimately more money. If used properly, a service business will be able to stop wasting time and money on what’s not working, in order to shift the focus on what is. In order to beat your competition, it’s important to use all the resources that are available to you. Analyzing your data can seem like a pretty daunting task, especially if you haven’t really had any experience doing it before. Luckily we live in a time where we have the technology and resources to make it easier. To get you started, we’ve broken down the key terms to know in addition to some tips and tricks to keep in mind along the way. Analytics 101 Before we dive into the world of analytics, the following are a few frequently used terms that are important to know. Cost of Acquisition (CAC) - The amount you have spent to acquire one new customer. For example, if you gained 10 new customers from an ad that you spent $50 on, your CAC would be $5 per customer. Lifetime value (LTV) - The predicted amount you will make from one customer. For example, if your customer books a $100 service with you every 6 months and you expect them to remain your customer for 5 years, their LTV would be $1000. It’s important to make sure you’re LTV remains higher than your CAC. Return on Investment (ROI) - Your ROI is the ratio between your net profit and the amount you spent to get it. To calculate your ROI you need to take the amount you made on the job and divide it by the amount you spent. For example, if you made $500 on a job and spent $50 on marketing materials to gain that job, your ROI is 10%. Churn - When one of your customers quits doing business with you. You want to make sure you’re acquiring customers at a higher rate than the rate of those that churn.  Useful Tools Now we can move on to the tools available to you. Like we said earlier, it’s important to take advantage of all of the resources that help grow your business in order to get ahead of your competition. There are a lot of different tools you can use to make navigating through analytics easier, below are a few basics to start with. Google Analytics - This tool tracks and reports website traffic. That way you can see how many people are looking at your website and compare that to how many of those people signed up. Once you have this data you can address any changes you may want to make to your website in order to increase your conversion.   It is also integrated with AdWords, so you can review your online campaigns to see which ones are performing well and aren’t in order to allocate your money to those that perform best. Quickbooks Online (QBO)- Quickbooks allows you to track a number of things including: income, expenses, sales, time, and inventory. You can also run reports on your profit/loss, expenses, and balance sheets. This keeps all your reports and data in one place where you can easily check in on your success and your spend. Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) - A CRM program will help you manage data regarding your customers. There are a lot of different CRM’s out there that focus different aspects of the customer experience. This can make it hard to pick which one your business needs. You want to look for one that lets you keep track of where they came from, any important customer information, and all of their customer history. Avoiding mistakes Unfortunately, it can be easy to make mistakes when you’re using analytics. Businesses can fail at analytics for numerous reasons, but none of them are impossible to overcome. Some businesses are afraid of taking the time and effort to learn how to use some of the difficult analytics tools. Others mistakenly believe that their business is too small to use its data. The companies that have learned how to use analytics tools and realize their importance are often confronted with the challenge of what to do with the data in front of them. Naturally, failing to confront these challenges head-on can have negative effects ranging from a simple set back to a much larger issue. Attempting to run a company without using analytics as a guide is like trying to race a car blindfolded. Without learning how to best leverage your data in the favor of your business will result in falling behind your competition. Analytics are needed to give your business a direction and grow. Doing data right To start using your data effectively, it’s important to focus on what really matters. Leadership should look at the key performance indicators and ignore all the distractions. Some data isn’t necessarily useful for the goals of your business, and data shouldn’t be accumulated for the sake of having it. Instead, you should create data that has a clear and driven purpose.  Keep in mind, the ultimate goal should be to drive revenue. In order to reach this goal, all of your marketing channels (where your leads come from) should be separated and analyzed based on their cost, reach and customer lifetime value. Doing so will help determine which channel is the best for your business and which provides the best return on investment (ROI). Asking the right questions One of the most important things to remember is that data is only valuable if using it helps you gain more customers and revenue. Your data should aim to answer foundational questions such as: Who are my highest paying customers? What is my best-performing marketing channel? How can I increase my customer lifetime value (LTV)? What additional services might my customers want? Answering these types of questions will allow you to create long-lasting relationships with your most valuable customers and ultimately drive additional revenue.  If you utilize your data the right way, it can be your best friend. However, if you aren't harnessing its power correctly, you’re leaving money on the table. That's why it's so important to take advantage of all the new tools available to you, like Google Analytics and Housecall Pro.

Kindra K., Marketing Coordinator

Why Online Booking Matters

February 12, 2018 • To build a business, you have to get the business Running any business has its challenges. When you’re in a field service business, those challenges are compounded because you have to DO work at the same time you’re trying to get new customers. Without dedicated back-office and marketing teams, small businesses need to be creative and resourceful in how they attract and retain customers. One of the most proven ways to increase business is by being there when a customer needs you. And even though you can’t be available 24/7, you can essentially be open for business if you provide your customers with the ability to schedule appointments with you online. This inexpensive functionality you can put on your website, Facebook page, and your other social media channels, makes it convenient for customers, reduces the timely scheduling work you normally do over the phone, and it offers a customer service benefit that differentiates you from your competitors. Online booking is more than just offering customers a handy self-service calendar on your website, however. It is proven to be major advantage in helping businesses manage their time more effectively, increase service jobs, and build trust with customers. Moving from Paper-and-Pen to Digital Building relationships with customers is an important part of doing business, but scheduling a service appointment with them doesn’t require a phone call anymore. Think about your current system for booking appointments. No matter how effective it has been for you, it probably involves multiple steps, and it requires you or a co-worker to be on a phone call. The standard way of booking an appointment with a customer has typically involved phone calls back-and-forth, a written record of customer name, contact information, date/time of appointment, and notes about the services needed. It’s time consuming and inefficient, and doesn’t provide an easy way for you to follow-up with the customer later. By putting the phone down and allowing an app do your booking for you, you’ll give customers what they want and start to eliminate tedious and unproductive management headaches. Your business will also stand out from the competition. Let the technology work for you Inc. Magazine says, “Research shows that 91 percent of people regularly or occasionally read online reviews, and 84 percent trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. And they make that decision quickly: 68 percent form an opinion after reading between one and six online reviews.” The fact is, online reviews and the network effect of customer approval are hugely important to you obtaining new customers. If you’ve built a loyal following and have a presence on Yelp, Facebook, YellowPages.com or other local listings sites and social media tools, customers will find you. But in today’s world, where people want everything immediately, the ability to commit to a scheduled time with you will win their business. Online booking gives them what a phone voicemail message cannot deliver - confirmation and peace of mind. The typical American consumer’s digital usage (smart phone, tablet, desktop) peaks in the hours from 5pm - 9pm; those are hours that you’d probably prefer to avoid customer calls. If all you offer is phone-based scheduling, you’re going to always be playing catch-up through back-and-forth voicemails, all of which will happen when you’re supposed to be servicing other customers. Online booking means that even if you’re sound asleep, or busy with other matters, you can be open for business 24/7. Become the professional that customers want If you can use positive online ratings to attract new business AND provide those customers with an easy way to schedule your time, you will be a go-to choice for customers every time. Be a proven, attractive option that enables fast and easy scheduling, and your business will be competitively indefensible. On top of that, a trend among younger customers that impacts business is the growing reluctance to make phone calls. Many have become accustomed to managing their lives online and phone calls just don’t fit into their daily list of action items. Mobile intelligence firm, Informate, conducted a study that explains that American consumers prefer online communication over voice calls. PatientPop, an agency that specializes in market intelligence for healthcare providers, found that almost 50% of customers prefer online scheduling over booking through a phone call. Why force customers to make a phone call when they don’t want to? Online booking fits the way they operate every day and provides them with convenience they expect. Eliminate headaches & make your business more efficient Every phone call you take to schedule an appointment is a distraction from billable work. And every call you can’t take because you’re busy is a potentially lost opportunity. Using the phone to schedule calls is a constant battle for your attention, and as your business grows, it becomes harder to keep up in that battle. OK, maybe 10 minutes isn’t that bad. But what about a chatty customer? Or a bad connection? That could double the amount of time on the phone. And no customer wants to feel like they’re being rushed - it’s a huge turn-off and negative word of mouth can spread even before you’ve even had a chance to make someone your customer. If business is good and you’re getting multiple calls each day, it can easily become an hour or more of time away from productive work. But also consider the other things you have to do to confirm an appointment. Maybe you have to check work schedules to ensure that an employee can make it to the job site. What if you discover there was a conflict you forgot about while you were making the appointment? Tack on an additional 3-5 minutes to figure those and deal with the back-and-forth of just your internal details. Then consider the potential for an endless game of voicemail tag when you have to call the customer back. An online booking application automatically fills your calendar with appointments that meet your requirements and parameters, all without you having to waste a minute of time in the normal back-and-forth of scheduling details. Online booking from a field service management specialists like Housecall Pro can provide major benefits that will improve how you operate your business, including: Reduce wasted time: With appointments being booked online, you’ll have more time to service your customers. An online booking system collects all necessary information for jobs, which helps you stay focused on billable and productive activities. Attract customers that are committed: Customers that have to wait for a call back may decide to take their business elsewhere. Customers that book online make a commitment to you and the job they’ve scheduled. More effective employee scheduling: Ditch the master calendar on the wall, and switch to online booking which automates schedules and informs employees when and where they’re supposed to be. Lower marketing costs: Give people the option to schedule an appointment through your website, Facebook page, or other social media channels, making you are a customer-first business. Build trust with customers: When you book online, you can trigger automated alerts and calendar reminders to customers so they know you are committed to their business.

Matt B., Marketing Coordinator

How To Ace Customer Satisfaction

February 9, 2018 • Have you ever seen those lists of things like, "Top 10 Dermatologists in the Tri-County Area"? Every time I see those, I have to wonder about how they were chosen; did a bunch of people break down years' worth of data about how successful those doctors were at treating their patients acne? Of course not. Those lists are based on what patients think of their doctors, and what they think is formed mostly because of the way the doctor treats them and how they make them feel. Ultimately, those things are lists based on customer service, and customer service may be one of the most important things you do as a business owner. Most take customer service for granted. But it's not enough to just show up and perform a job. You have to perform it with quality, convey a positive attitude, and be prepared to serve the customer even after the job is over. Small business expert Ruby Newell-Legner makes very clear why it's so important. Her research says that it takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience. Turn that around and you'll see that it just makes sense to provide excellent customer service from the get go. A surprising number of field service companies ignore the importance of customer service. They are happy to just get the job done and move on, but customer service is almost by definition, all the things that happen in your interactions with customers that are not specific just to the work you do. Rather, it’s the details and the work you are doing before, during and after you get paid. According to American Express, 7 in 10 Americans said they were willing to spend more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service - that's really all you need to know. But you also need to be smart about how you make it part of your overall business strategy.   The key to excellent service Being recognized for great customer services is about more than just being a nice guy or gal. It also doesn't mean that you let people walk all over you while you do anything to make them happy. Rather, it's that happy medium where you do things that make you stand out in the mind of your customers. Yes, it starts with the Golden Rule (treat others as you'd like to be treated), but it requires you to be creative in how you imprint your brand on your customers. The best customer service is notable in the same way a great friend is: it's not about how much they spend on you, or even the amount of time they're with you. It's about knowing they have your back, they'll be there when you need them, and you thoroughly enjoy your experiences with them. Let's break that down a little further into the different expectations customers have when they think about the service they receive: Consistency is key OK, this one is kind of basic, but it's easy to neglect. Show up when you say you're going to show up, be fair and straightforward about price, deliver good work in everything you do, and communicate. Being consistent sets expectations, and when those expectations are met repeatedly, it instills faith and trust in your customers. Relationship and trust building Trust is based on honesty and it's the basis for any good relationship. Now, you may need to deliver difficult news to a customer, or maybe the project costs have to change due to unforeseen issues. None of those things is ideal, but if you are up front with the customers, you make them feel like they can trust you. And if you don't pull punches with them, they won't pull punches with you. That forms a relationship that can last a long time. No Alarms and No Surprises People hate surprises unless it's about saving them a bundle of money. The more you communicate, the more the customer can set expectations about the progress of a job, any cost changes, or anything that might be disruptive to their normal schedule.   Friendly, but quick Speed is one of the things customers really value. As much as they may like you, they much prefer to have their problem fixed so they can get back to normal. You never want to look like you're rushing around while in the midst of a job - that could make it appear that you're not paying enough attention. But if you can combine a friendly attitude with fast delivery, then it shows to the customer that you're respectful of their time. Take a little, but give a little You should get paid for your work, there's no question about that. And when you run into unusual situations that are out of your control (you find dry rot, the wiring is not to code, etc), the customer has to take on those expenses. That said, no one likes to add cost onto a project and even if it's not fair to you, the person delivering the news sometimes can look like the bad guy in these kinds of situations. One way to smooth this over is to meet the customer halfway. Maybe the cost of goods is going to run really high, so you agree to cut labor costs by a certain percentage. Or perhaps you can do a little something extra, something unexpected for the customer that will be a pleasant surprise; maybe something along the lines of, "Since I had to go under the house to do that extra wiring anyway, I picked up all this debris." Service beyond expectations We all like when people go above and beyond for us, and in terms of customer satisfaction, this is a huge differentiator. A customer who gets his oil changed at your business won't remember dropping off or picking up the car, but they'll remember that as part of the service, you vacuumed the interior of their vehicle. Or maybe you put in some extra hours on the weekend so the flooring work can get done in time for the big graduation party they're hosting next week. You know how you like to be treated; do the same for your customers and you will forever stick out in their minds. You need to know that being great at customer service takes time and may cost a bit of money initially, but this is an investment in building customer relationships that will save you a ton of time and will create sustainable, long-term sources of income through customer loyalty. But again, there is a bit of work and creativity you need to put into it in order to reap the rewards. Consider these as the building blocks of your strategy: Communication Relationships only work if the different parties are communicating, so you need to ensure you're keeping customers informed of everything that will make their life easier. This includes reminders of service appointments, clear descriptions of your services in invoices, information on dates when you will be closed for business. With the use of field service apps, you can automate much of this communication so you don't have to sit in front of a computer all day sending out emails (yet, you will get the credit for keeping customers informed). Keep in mind that customers think in terms of milestones for many projects, so let them know what the status of things are. If you've spent time with them picking out windows to be installed, a friendly text or email to let them know the windows arrived gets them excited and feeling positive about the project. Maybe follow that up with personal information like, "Jeff will be out to install on Thursday at 10am, as we discussed. Jeff has been installing for 18 years and he's one of the best in the business!"Communication can keep a customer glad they chose you. The personal touch Most of your competitors will think in terms of just showing up; all they're going to get is a single interaction when they operate like that. But when you demonstrate appreciation for the business your customer gives you, it makes them feel valued and establishes the sense that you want to maintain a relationship with them. Leaving a nice, inexpensive gift like a plant or a magnet is a kind gesture, but it's also a way to keep your brand front and center in their minds. Whether it's with an email, a text, or if you take the time to compose a quick handwritten note, a sincere note of thanks from you will also help you stand out from other vendors who appear to take customers for granted. A seasonal card is a great way to remind them about you and it is a welcome kindness (TIP: Everyone sends cards at Christmas, so to truly stand out, consider a different holiday or celebration - a "Happy St. Patrick's Day" or a "Super Bowl Give-Away" will be unexpected and therefore get the attention of customers. Reduce customer pain Customers have a lot of anxiety that goes with many field service projects. Customers may be spending a lot of money, and they usually are doing this for the first time and don't know what to expect. You're the expert, but rather than big-time them, act like a patient coach who is helping them understand what's going to happen, walk them through it while it's happening, and then complete the project with a helpful summary of everything they need to know once you are done. This has to do with every part of a job. Payments can be stressful, and while you don't want to get stiffed, it's a sign of great customer service if you work with the customer on a payment plan that they feel good about. Maybe they have health concerns or are worried that the noise from the project will irk their neighbors. Going that extra step to ensure a safe, clean, respectful working environment makes them have confidence in you. Great customer service never stops, and it's not unique to just some customers. In order for you to reap the benefits that come from being known as a great business to work with, you have to always have a customer-first mindset. From your marketing material, to the way you answer the phone (and the quickness with which you answer it!), to every single interaction during the project and even afterwards, you can stand far apart from your competitors. It takes some creativity but it will drive referrals to you, maintain long standing relationships with your customers, and will ultimately be the most cost-effective way to increase revenue and establish an excellent customer brand.

Kindra K., Marketing Coordinator

Customer Satisfaction odometer

Building Your Personal Brand

February 8, 2018 • When people choose the businesses they work with, they usually do it because they have a feeling about them. It's a combination of many factors, but when pressed, most people will say something along the lines of, "You know, I just get a good sense about them." That feeling is your brand, and if you create an effective personal brand for your business, you will leave an imprint on customers that will turn them into raving fans of yours. To be sure, that feeling customers get includes a variety of things - price, timeliness, trustworthiness, quality of craftsmanship, and many others. But at the end of the day, customers make their choices because of the overall experience they have, and that is precisely the essence of your personal brand. You can have a major impact on the success of your business by synchronizing your personal brand with your business to instill a sense of trust and support. When you are the face of your business, your name and personal reputation are on the line; customers feel comfort knowing that you're going to give everything you have to establish and maintain an impeccable reputation. Think about the great brands in business history. Sam Walton became a billionaire, yet drove an old truck and inexpensive jeans; his Wal-Mart stores were no-frills affairs because he wanted to pass cost savings off to customers. When you think of technology, you might get an image of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, both of whom are personally aligned with their respective companies, Microsoft and Apple. Debbie Fields was a mother with a great cookie recipe; she created Mrs. Fields Cookie stores all over the country with an image of wholesomeness for baking "just like mom used to make." For these and so many other business owners, their alignment with their business gave them a competitive advantage over others who remained as faceless companies without a personality behind them. The elements of a good personal brand: Mark Twain said, “Live your life so that when you die, even the undertaker will be sorry.” Not a bad philosophy of life, eh? Someone like that is memorable, and that's exactly how you should approach marrying your personal and business brands. Your personal brand boils down to those things we value in people, things like admiration and trust. When it comes to business, people have a choice and they prefer to work with companies that they can trust and feel good about interacting with. Some say it has to do with likability, and that's part of it, but you have to back it up with something more than that. What do you like about your favorite people? I'm guessing they are honest, kind, supportive, and fun to be around. They’re also there for you when you need them; they have your back, and people seek out the same qualities in the companies they give their businesses to. It's nice to be around people like that, and when given the choice of working with a business, you're probably going to seek out vendors who act like those awesome friends of yours. This even extends to things like your marketing material, logo, and advertising campaigns. You have to remember two key things: one, you may have great ideas about what type of branding works, but you have to actually test them with potential customers to know if they truly work. Do your messages really resonate with them? What's the feeling they get when they see your tag-line? Do they really get the sense that they'd like to buy from you? Their opinions and feedback can help you massage your image and messages into something that stands out and relates your business to you. Secondly, you need to be genuine in your messages and in how you present yourself. Don't advertise that you can do things you aren't actually equipped to do. Your brand should stick with you for a long, long time; this part of your marketing strategy is not about just quickly getting customers. It's about establishing yourself with a strong personal reputation that you'll be able to continuously backup and attract more and more customers over time. Your personal brand, however, is about more than just being rewarded for being a good guy or gal. You have to work at establishing your brand in a way that draws potential customers to your business. Here are some strategies: Focus on value Teenagers obsess over the number of followers they have on their social media accounts; in their minds, volume equates with success. While there's something to be said for having a lot of loyal followers, quality is more important than quantity. We all know it's easy to click "like" or "follow", but it's more meaningful when our followers actively engage with us and genuinely care about what we say and do. They seek value because we know we deliver value. That is ultimately what you want - social media, website, and just all manner of branding that gets people interested in learning more and staying connected to you. TIP: Be an authentic person in your brand messages, and deliver to your followers information that is entertaining, valuable, and something they can act on. Differentiate yourself We all have an interesting story, and people connect with stories. Especially when it comes to you and your business there's something compelling that should be communicated with your customers. Maybe it's funny - like the time when you were a little kid and your little brother clogged the toilets which caused flooding in the house, but a competent plumber came in and fixed everything, which led to you becoming a plumber. Or maybe it's more heartfelt - your favorite customer stories are the ones where you get to visit with elderly clients and hear their stories over a cup of coffee after you've completed your work for them. You will find that people may connect their own stories with yours; with a connection, you've made a far bigger and more lasting impression than a funny jingle in a commercial. TIP : Remember that your personal story helps to differentiate you, and it is an important way to connect with customers. Be authentic I wish I had come up with a slogan like, "Just do it," but Nike beat me to it. Now, I could try to copy Nike's story and their brand, but people would easily see it as a copycat, and I would lose credibility. The better thing to do is to just simply be authentic and establish yourself for who you are. You can learn from competitors and use their success as a model for how you can shape your own message, but ultimately your story, your vision, and your brand have to be true to who you are and what you stand for. To do that, never lose sight of those things that make you unique and will contribute to a memorable story in the minds of your customers. TIP : Always, always, always be yourself in your marketing and branding. This gives customers a way to get to know you and connect with you. Win with stories While Warren Buffett is identified as one of the world's wealthiest men, he's also recognized for living in the same modest house since the 1950's, and for eating inexpensively at McDonalds. He's at heart, a simple guy, and he tries to run his multibillion dollar empire in a simple way. We connect with him because his life and his business seem to make sense to us. The genius in all of that is that we root for the people we understand and feel like we might enjoy as friends and colleagues, and that can work for you too. Use your brand to emphasize how you are like the people you serve and work with; that kind of connecting is a huge advantage. TIP : Skip the bullet points and tell a story. People will remember it and connect with it far more than your resume. Connect through sharing At this point, you've probably already figured out how important your personal story is, but now you have to tell it. If you want your brand to develop, you must share it as often as you can with as many people as you can. This is how you can use social media, email marketing, your website, and all your marketing collateral. You don't need to constantly provide all your details, but weave your story into all your marketing channels and tools. As people see your name and story more in their lives, they'll bake your name and story into ways they can connect with you. This will happen because in their minds, they will have already validated that you are the kind of person they want to work with. But to do that, you need to constantly share yourself, your story, and your brand. TIP : Use social media, email marketing, and your website to remind people who you are and what your story is. Leverage your community We can't just create our brand in a vacuum. By being around others and learning from them you get a better sense for what works and what doesn't work. Join industry groups, go to regional meetings, meet up with other professionals both in and out of your field; these peer groups are great for guiding you through your brand development and helping you test out how your brand strategy can be excellent. TIP : Talk with people inside and outside of your field to brainstorm ideas for your brand. Learning from people with experience is better than reading it in a book or going it alone. Align your marketing Once you have honed in on your mission and your brand, every marketing channel that you use to project that brand has to be aligned for you to be effective. This is critical to your brand strategy, and to do it correctly, you have to catalog everything you do and apply a consistent story and brand elements to it: TIPS : Let's get tactical about this, and do the following: Make all your logos consistent and ensure they reflect your brand. Images on your website and the pictures you use in social media should be consistent with your brand. Don't waste time with goofy, quirky images if you're trying to communicate a serious tone. Tag lines and descriptions need to be direct and communicate something that is unique just to you. "The best tiling specialist in the Tri-County" doesn't tell a customer very much, whereas, "My home is my sanctuary, so I did the tiling myself. With 22 years of experience and a staff of experts, I'd like to help you make your home special too" leaves and impression. Use the bio and profile sections of your social media channels all consistent.  People work with people in whom they feel a connection. Your personal brand is the best, easiest, and most effective way to create and maintain a connection with your customers. Use it wisely and consistently, and you'll begin to see how impactful it can be.

Kindra K., Marketing Coordinator

Branding License Plate Image

6 Killer Website Tips To Drive Revenue

February 8, 2018 • Having a professional-looking, informative, and engaging website is a necessity for every business these days. It's a way to communicate what you do, keep customers informed about special offers, provide valuable information like pricing, and it can help you stand out from your competitors by highlighting your company's personality. It's also, whether you like it or not, the way that today's customer searches for the vendors they want to use. Having a website is mandatory. Having a website that connects with customers and gets you noticed, however, takes some particular attention that isn't hard, but requires you to be smart about how you approach this critical marketing tool for your business. Your website may be about your business and services, but it's meant for your customers. You have to put yourself in your customer's shoes when you think about the design, layout, and navigation of your site. Consider all the sites you go to that are basically just a random collection of outdated information that's hard to find and doesn't give you any value. Vendors who treat their website as an afterthought give off a first impression of sloppiness. It's definitely not good for business. This is an opportunity to look sharp and deliver an impactful message about your services and also about your business. In order to give people that immediate sense of, "these guys have their act together," consider these tips as you prepare to build a website that delivers customers to you and creates fans out of them: TIP 1: Start with your customers in mind Before you start, remember that websites are meant to be visual and impactful in a world of people whose attention spans are limited. Your site should also convey something specific, and rather than just slapping a lot of pictures on a few web pages, start with the end in mind. In other words, you want website visitors to book an appointment with you - how will you get your website to drive them towards that? First thing is to think about the key messages you want to stick in the brains of your site visitors AND the way you want to communicate them. Do you want them to think of you as the most cost-effective vendor in your market, the one with the fastest response time, are you the most courteous, or is there something else that defines you? Identify the things that are most important about your business, and make sure you state it on the homepage...and thread it throughout the other pages on the site. Keep in mind not to just barf out a bunch of buzzwords; use a consistent tone and voice in your writing. If it's "just the facts", that's fine, but keep the site content direct and to the point. If you want to add some color, use a more informal voice and maybe throw in some humor (who doesn't love the one about the limping joist installer?). Secondly, write out a list of what you actually provide. If you just say that you are a tile company, you may lose people who are looking for a grouting job. You're also missing an opportunity to differentiate yourself if you aren’t specific about the breadth of your services. Explain your expertise in terms that laymen would understand and emphasize your experience, whether it’s in years or in the different types of jobs you’ve done. Let people know not just who you are, but specifically what you can do. It demonstrates to customers that you are confident in your abilities and it instills trust. TIP 2: Gotta look sharp - Images are key People will most likely remember you based on how visually engaging your site is. Busy people scan more than they read, so quality pictures can tell a good story if used correctly. Research tells us that while people only remember 10 percent of things they hear and 20 percent of what they have read, around 80 percent of people remember things they see or do. Think of it this way - in a study of restaurant customers, it was determined that when there are pictures of menu items on menus, customers are 70% more likely to order those items. People like pictures, and busy people looking for a vendor to solve a problem are going to scan a website, not read it in depth. Your images, however, have to look sharp. Fuzzy pictures, or ones with bad lighting will reflect poorly on you. Also, using stock imagery is fine, but it has to relate to the work you do and the feel you want people to have. It's also worth noting that it's a natural inclination for humans to want to look at faces, so make sure you include pictures or actual people doing actual things on your site. It will create a connection with site visitors and portray TIP 3: Organize your website in an appealing way Check out this website and let me know when your head stops hurting. It may not necessarily be the worst website ever created, but it's pretty close. Your website is a reflection of your brand and it's the first point of contact with customers. It simply has to look crisp, be well organized, and communicate professionalism. When it comes to website design and layout, simpler is usually better. You don't need a lot of pages and links, but you do want to ensure it is organized and easy to navigate through. As we mentioned earlier, if you use images (and you should!), make sure they are engaging and clearly visible; high resolution images work best. Create a balance within the site of both written content, pictures, and calls to action. Ultimately, you want to communicate your business and your "story", but you also want the customer to book an appointment. It makes sense to sketch out the order of things you want to communicate and make sure they are reflected on your site. Clearly, it's important for you to make sure your company name and contact information is reflected prominently on every page - probably best to do that in both the top (header) and bottom (footer) of each page. Then, use the homepage to make your most important message; this is where you establish who you are and what you do, and what makes you special. Again, be simple. And brief. You don't need to cram everything into a single page. Create navigation and links within the site that guide people to information that will help them, but will also help you make a customer out of that person. Put yourself in the shoes of a customer; what do you want to know? Typically it's price, menu of work you perform, availability, work samples, references, maybe a blog with your personal insights, and a way to easily book an appointment. Each of these items can be a link from the top navigation, and can also be linked within the content throughout your site. I can’t stress this enough: simpler is better. A website with only 2-4 pages is plenty if it looks great and has a focused message. TIP 4: Make happy customers an effective marketing tool You've built up a loyal customer base over time - those people's comments and references can be an effective way to market your services and demonstrate that you've earned the trust of customers through excellent work and professionalism. Get your binder of references and go to your Yelp and Facebook pages - pull out the complimentary quotes and comments. Then get pictures of your happy customers and their completed projects. Sprinkle those throughout the website, with comments about the work you did for them. After helping with a kitchen remodel, you might, for example, show your happy customers in front of their pantry doors with a caption that reads: "Debbie and John in Middletown love their new kitchen cabinets made by Smith Carpentry!" As we said earlier, people love images on websites, and they especially respond to pictures of actual humans. This is also an opportunity to tell a compelling story. Create a separate page on your site called, "Customer Stories" and populate it with short stories about some of your customers. You can use images like the one mentioned above, but accompany it with descriptions of the work you did. Emphasize the details of the job and how you worked closely with the customer to deliver just what they want. Explain how you delivered it quickly and to the customer's satisfaction. Perhaps you made recommendations to improve the product or service that the customer loved. Seeing people rave about your work may be the most effective way to communicate your excellent work and that you are easy to work with. TIP 5: Create a clear call to action You'll get a customer's attention if you can prove you are available when they need you. Even though you can't be available 24/7, you can essentially be open for business if you provide your customers with the ability to schedule appointments with you online. Your website can become an effective customer-generator if you direct users to opportunities to book online and make appointments. Online booking and appointment making is an inexpensive functionality you can put on your website easily. It makes it convenient for customers, reduces the timely scheduling work you normally do over the phone, and it offers a customer service benefit that differentiates you from your competitors. Your website should make it clear that a site visitor CAN book an appointment, and direct them clearly to WHERE on the site they can do it. Make sure there a link to it is prominently featured in the header, footer, and throughout the website. You don't need to beat people over the head with annoying pop-up boxes, but make it simple to find. Again, the simpler, the better, and if users can find you, they'll more easily want to book with you. TIP 6: The network effect: Use social media to share your content Social media is such a part of people's lives today that it now influences how people search for goods and services. In fact, 74% of of buying decisions today made with the help of social media. This is good news for a well-organized website because you can easily integrate social media into your online marketing strategy. This is fairly easy and all website creation tools provide this functionality. All you need to do is add social sharing links in our content so users can "like" it and share it. What happens is that action of liking shows in your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social feed; each like is validation that you are a valued vendor. When a user shares the content through sharing tools, it shows up in their feed in their own social account. Your business is automatically tagged and a link is provided. Those people's contacts and followers will see their approval of you and your business. With the right amount of activity, you'll be able to benefit from the network effect and have your company's content and pictures showing up in front of people who could also become prospective customers. These end up being current testimonials and are current because of the nature of the fast moving social media usage. Once you start seeing traffic in your social media feeds from these people, you can thank them in those same channels and even like and retweet their own content. It becomes reciprocal and engenders a connection between you, your customers, your potential customers, and all the people who follow them.   A website is a necessary tool for your business, but it doesn't have to be difficult. With the right mix of content, images, testimonials, social media, and effective opportunities for calls to action, your website can become a central destination for people seeking to know more about you. Done correctly, your website will convey that you are, indeed, a vendor of choice and one a customer can trust. If you can do that, you'll win business and create even more happy customers.

Matt B., Marketing Coordinator

Webpage being built

The Art of the Upsell/Cross-Sell

February 8, 2018 • As we've seen in the article 7 Ways to Guarantee Customer Loyalty, keeping the customers you have is far less time consuming, requires much less time investment, and eliminates much of the stress of trying to get new ones. Studies have shown that it's 7x more expensive to get a new customer than to keep an existing one, and the probability of selling to a new customer is 14x higher than trying to sell to someone new. The evidence is quite clear: investing in customer retention strategies will give you much more bang for the buck and help ensure long-term, sustained business for you. We've looked at a variety of ways to keep your existing customers happy and reward them for their loyalty, but a particularly effective way to maintain a longstanding relationship with customers is to increase the amount and type of services you can sell. This is the art of cross-selling and up-selling, where you identify complementary services and products that will improve the customer experience and increase the value you can offer them. Think back to every time you've ever been asked, "Would you like fries with that?" THAT'S all about selling more, in context, and for more value, and it's as common in business as sending an invoice. Effective cross-selling and up-selling will provide a tighter bond with your customers because doing it effectively puts you in a position of being a trusted advisor. It also increases the amount that customers will spend on your services over time because it gives you an opportunity to educate them on the wide range of things you can do for them. When done right, this type of selling and servicing will get increase customer’s likelihood of calling upon you when services are needed. Let's think about the distinction between the two types of selling. When you  cross-sell , you give customers additional products or services to the ones they are originally looking for. It might be similar to what Amazon does when it constantly tells you, "Customers who bought this product also bought this OTHER product", although, for those in field services, it could be done during service calls and in marketing collateral (according to Amazon, recommendations like this increased sales by as much as30%). While the services you market during cross-selling are relevant to your customer's needs, they may be a bit different from what the customer originally engaged you for. For example, if you were hired to clean carpets, this would be a good opportunity to explain that you also clean drapes, how effective you are at cleaning them, and how adding a drape cleaning service to the carpet cleaning service will garner them a bundled discount. Up-selling , on the other hand, is all about increasing the overall amount that a customer spends for a particular service. The idea here is that after you have engaged with the customer, you find ways to sell more of the same service. You have to make sure you are smart about pricing so as not to be a turn-off, but it's an effective way to get the customer to buy more while they're already committed to working with you. Let's look at the carpet cleaning example again. Maybe a customer has hired you to clean the living room carpet because it has a stain; this would be a good time to ask, "When was the last time you had all your carpets cleaned? Since I'm here and have my equipment, I could do the entire house for a discounted rate." What Are You Selling? It's important that you and your employees know the context for what you sell. First off, you should recognize that there's a difference between selling products and selling services. If you are a carpenter hired to build cabinets for a customer's kitchen, it would make sense to use your expertise to advise a better quality of wood than what the customer originally wanted. It may be that they chose their wood based on price alone; you can offer them a good deal on a better quality of wood that will actually last them for many more years and will endure much more wear and tear. That's a great way to up-sell with materials. In that same example, the customer might request your services to deliver the cabinets unpainted; they want to save money by painting it themselves. You could up-sell them by offering to paint the cabinets before you install them - you might explain that, while they might save a few bucks doing it themselves, they'd need to paint a lot of cut-outs and they will need to purchase or rent an expensive spray paint machine that will eat into whatever savings they have to realize. In this case, you can work with them to come up with a mutually acceptable price. You get paid more, the customer feels like he got a deal, and you have an opportunity to demonstrate a broader set of your services. Knowing what you are able to offer, and the appropriate times and places in which to offer them is critical to customers trusting you. When, Where, and How to Up-Sell and Cross-Sell Have you ever heard a good salesman use the acronym, "ABC"? It means, "Always Be Selling," and for many, it's a behavior they live and breathe. You should not do that, however. Look, you want to sell more goods and services, but if you make a pitch every time you see your customers, it'll just become annoying and that's a sure-fire way to lose business. It's also disingenuous and frankly can border on being sleazy if you are just trying to constantly sell more, more, more. You should be ruled by the notion of providing value, not just getting a bigger invoice. Much of the time, you'll be hired to do a job, and upon completion of that job, you're done with that customer for the time being. That's just basic business. But there certainly will be times when you see an opportunity to offer additional and/or complementary goods or services, and when you do, you should be jumping at the chance. To do that, you need to know your selling points and their distinct value. Another critical aspect of up-selling and cross-selling is to know your customer. Understand their needs, and have a sense for their budget. Trying to cross-sell something that costs 3x the price tag of the original service is way out of whack and will be a turn-off. A good rule of thumb is that anything you sell as an additional product or service shouldn't exceed the original price point by more than 25%. If you go much beyond that, it becomes too big in the customer's mind and can become an immediate "no." Up-Selling, Cross-Selling, and Intelligence Gathering Every time you attempt to up-sell or cross-sell, you're going to learn something about the customer. You'll get smarter about their likes and dislikes; you'll come to understand what they value and what price points make sense for them. A good business person will use every up-sell or cross-sell situation as an opportunity to gather intelligence about the customer. It would make good sense to catalog that information and use it to get smarter about how you provide services to that particular customer. You'll start to understand if your customer wants a great bargain, or if they like convenience. Perhaps they like to negotiate, or maybe they totally recoil when you even bring up additional services. What's important, however, is that you're engaging the customer and in so doing, you're helping navigate the future of your relationship with them so you can provide better and more tailored services for them, and they can come to trust you. Some businesspeople are reluctant to engage in up-selling or cross-selling, but these are effective ways to retain customers and generate additional revenue. By offering additional and complementary products and services in an appropriate context, you can demonstrate value, capability, and your ability to be a trusted advisor to your customers.

Pat Flanders, Guest Author

Money growing from the upsell and cross selling

How To Master Your Discounts & Offers

February 8, 2018 • Everyone loves a good deal. No matter what the service or product is, customers are attracted to the idea of getting something for less than its regular price. When searching for a vendor to work with, we know that customers do considerable research to find a good match, but we also know that a good deal can usually get the attention of a potential customer better than many other tactics. In a study done by BIA/Kelsey’s Local Commerce Monitor, more than 30% of SMB sales come from promotions such as discount deals, daily deals, coupons, or similar discount offers. Additionally, the study found that through special offers, small businesses can create loyalty programs that are incredibly effective at building repeat business with existing customers. Discounts and offers provide an effective way to stand out from your competitors and to burnish your company name into the heads of potential customers. They can communicate that you are eager to get customers' business and that you are willing to take a financial hit to get it. That tells customers that you’re willing to give up a little to get their business. Plus, when a customer can save money, you've already got them in a good mood and eager to work with you. Who should you target with your offers? Your customers fall into two categories: new and existing. Pretty simple, but they are generally treated differently in terms of your marketing. New customers have an issue that needs solving quickly, and they are usually going to compare multiple vendors and will weigh different factors before they make a decision. Existing customers can rely on your past performance and if you've done well enough in their eyes to get their business again, an occasional discount can be a way to show your appreciation for them and encourage repeat business. In all cases, price is a critical factor in who the customer chooses, and you gain an upper hand if you offer a discount. The discount itself is enticing, but it doesn't force you to cut your fees and prices for regular services. It's usually a one-time offer that grabs the attention of potential customers, gets them engaged with you, allows you to get their business, and you then have the opportunity to gain their trust. Using special offers sporadically with existing customers can help strengthen that trust and encourage repeat business. Keep in mind, however, that a discount or special offer means that you sacrifice revenue in order to get a customer. That's not a great long-term strategy, and it doesn't make sense to shoot yourself in the foot by discounting too much. Doing so can devalue your quality in the eyes of a prospective customer and cause them to question your ability even before you get started. Make sure you give some serious thought to how you apply your discount and offer strategy. Shopify provides a variety of suggestions for special offers, and while there are many ways to use them, we recommend the following in order to be most effective at getting more customers and retaining the ones you already have: Percentage discounts: These types of discounts require you to understand your cost of doing business and knowledge of what you're willing to give up. Consider a 10% discount. In the eyes of a customer, 10% off a $100 fee may not seem like a lot, but 25% does. In offering a 25% discount, you're willing to forgo $25, which may be the cost of an hour of an employee's time. You can probably absorb that. Now, a 25% discount on a service that costs $1000 could be a killer for your bottom line, whereas you can probably withstand a 10% discount. Do the math first, but percentage discounts really stand out in the minds of customers. Flat discount: A flat discount is usually for a set amount of money; something like, "$100 Off Duct Cleaning Service." In this type of discount, you can generate business at times when certain services aren't being called upon (air conditioning maintenance in winter months), or perhaps move excess inventory ("50% Off All Parts for All Lawnmower Repairs"). Flat discounts can also be time-limited in order to create greater demand. Referrals: You can use these types of discounts to actually generate incremental business. This is where you can offer a discount for a customer referral. For example, if an existing customer refers a new customer to you, the existing customer is rewarded with a special offer or discount. This is a great way to recruit your customers to both do your marketing for you, and to become more tightly engaged with you for longer-term commitment as they become part of your “army” of evangelists. Complimentary: Sometimes, customers just love to be recognized for choosing you. In this case, you can provide a customer with a special discount as a way to thank them for being a valued part of your business, or even for holidays and other milestones. Quirky: This is where you and your customers can have some fun. During particularly hot months, you can offer a free case of Coke with any service call. That will set you back only $10, but the customer will see it as a freebie (which everyone loves), and a kind gesture. Or you can go the wacky route and raffle for some unknown prize. When the winner is chosen, perhaps he gets a bag full of hammers. And then the next month, the winner gets 10,000 paper clips. OK, I realize those are totally useless as actual prizes, but they don't have to cost much and they will be huge for promotional value. Holiday and seasonal offers: People organize their lives around holidays and different seasons. You can use discounts as a way to insert your service into their personal organization. For example, the start of summer is when a lot of road trips happen; it's a great time to get the attention of car owners who will need an oil change. When fall hits, the kids are back in school and it's a good time for carpet cleaning. Encourage people to use their time effectively by offering discounts to drive more business to you during these periods. Abandon/retarget offers: Some people will begin to book online with you, but won't complete the process. Your online booking app will provide you with data about abandoned attempts, which you can use to re-engage. This might come in the form of an email that says, "We saw that you started to book an appointment. While we hope your problem has been solved, if you still need our services, we'd like to offer you 15% off your first appointment." It's great customer service and will make a lasting impression. Email and website subscription offers: On your company website, you can easily add the ability to capture the names of site visitors with a tool that says, "Join us for future discounts and special offers", or if you have a company blog, you can offer, "Sign up to get updates when we publish a new blog." Upon collecting those names and email addresses, you can effectively target those people with special offers as a reward for having signed up to stay connected with you. Welcome aboard: It's hard to get the attention of potential customers, but an offer of a discount can help you break through the noise of your competitors. In these types of discounts, you might be willing to part with a larger percentage of revenue because it's so much harder to get a customer than it is to keep a customer. But if you can get the attention of the customer, it's also an opportunity to put on a dog-and-pony show and demonstrate how awesome you are. So while you may forfeit some profit, you have the opportunity to more than gain it back in the long run. Reminders: Reminders are helpful, but not always welcomed. You can turn this around and demonstrate to customers that they actually need, say, a furnace tune-up and get them to commit to one if you market it in a seasonal way - in September, for instance, you can encourage them to prepare for the winter with a "Prep for Winter Sale - 20% Off Furnace Tune-Ups During the First Week in October." Your time is valuable and you should get paid for what you're worth. You also don't want to be seen as the company who discounts everything because that may signal desperation in the eyes of customers and competitors. But with a smart strategy for using discounts and special offers, you can be viewed as a strong, attractive vendor who is willing to go to great lengths to win people's business.

Kindra K., Marketing Coordinator

Percentage signs hanging

The 4 Secrets To Unlocking Free PR For Your Business

February 8, 2018 • In a world where the media never stops and people crave more and more information, there's an opportunity for businesses that want to put in a little extra work for a big payoff: use public relations as a way to differentiate your business, tell your story, and get far more exposure than those who ignore it (which is pretty much everyone). Isn't this a secret that's gotten out yet? Turns out it's not. Very few small business put any effort into PR; they think PR is only for huge companies . That's a mistake because media outlets need stories, so you have a receptive group who's willing to create content for you. And more importantly, consumers are more likely to make decisions based on decisions from press reports than paid ads; in fact, 80% of decision-makers about the vendors they use trust articles and press information over ads. From a cost basis, and for marketing purposes of instilling trust, it's hard to do better than effectively using PR to get your name out there. But why PR? Doesn't social media give you the same thing? Actually, PR provides two advantages over other sources of information that consumers frequently use: People trust what they read in a verified press source because the press uses fact-checking, their stories are coherent and readable, and they spend time finding things that are interesting, which means readers WANT to read their content. In other words, the press is authoritative, and in a world where dogs have their own Twitter accounts, people seek that validation; Media outlets use their own social media channels to promote their stories, so in many ways, a story in a press outlet will get additional coverage simply because that media organization needs the clicks and eyeballs too. You're getting a built-in, free social media campaign out of the press organizations you work with. Keep in mind though, the press isn't just sitting around waiting for you to answer interview questions. You have to be smart about how you position your business so you not only get attention, but so that the attention aligns with your own story and puts you in a positive light. Here are four ways you can effectively work with the press to promote your business: Size doesn't matter If CNN did a 30 minute special all about your business, you most definitely would see a huge uptick in business. But as much as I hate to break it to you, that's probably not going to happen any time soon. But then again, you don't need a major news outlet. The "press" is really just anyone with an outlet and an audience, and you'll find it in a variety of people and sources, and many of them are very niche in who they cover and often emphasize local stories. Seek out these kinds of PR opportunities: Grass-roots:   I guarantee you that you'll find websites and bloggers on any and every topic. There's a great blogger named   who focuses on saw sharpening; here's a   on gutter installation and maintenance; there's even a list of the top   about HVAC topics (which clearly tells me there has to be hundreds more of them). These people need to keep their blogs fresh, so reach out and offer to be interviewed or to even write a blog for them. Clubs and associations:   Every type of business has an industry association meant to further the interests of members and to provide information for customers. A quick Google search will help you   find find   ones that relate to your business. There's more than likely a person responsible for sending out a regular newsletter or publishing information to their website. Here again, connect with those people and see how you and them can initiate some mutual back scratching. Community groups:   Many regional areas have groups like HOAs, community advocates, or other types of organizations that highlight quality local businesses and people. These groups carry a lot of weight among their constituents because the people involved in them are usually also local and have to engender trust. Make effective use of blogs Bloggers need one key thing to stay in business - content. The more content, the more traffic, and the more traffic, the more they can sell advertising. Consider also that 47% of buyers viewed 3-5 blogs before engaging with a sales rep, and that small businesses that get their content on blogs get 67% more leads than those that don't. Now, there are good blogs and there are a ton of lousy blogs. They key is first to identify those bloggers who are influencers in your industry. You may already know who they are, but if not, search for blogs in your field and you'll probably see the same names continue to pop up. Look for ones that don't necessarily promote products (they might be a pay-to-play kind of deal which could lose you some credibility), but instead maintain a neutral stance about topics and vendors. These bloggers almost always provide a way to contact them on their website or through their social media channels. The best approach is to connect, ask if they have any content needs, and offer your time to chat for an interview or provide of your own original written work. You should also start your own blog for your website. It gives you a valuable platform and one you can use as currency to work with other bloggers. As I said, bloggers need traffic and engagement, and if you offer to highlight their content on your site in return for them doing the same for you, you'll become much more "findable" on the internet, and in the context of those topicsyour potential customers will be searching. In this kind of situation, you truly are offering them something of value, and it gives you the ability to launch your own personal PR platform. Create and work the network As we've established, the beauty of PR is usually that it's free, and the people who own the PR channels usually need good stories in order to keep cranking out new content. There's an element of reciprocity that can serve you well if you network yourself and your stories effectively. Now, don't think that website owners and online publications are waiting around for you to call. Others like yourself are going to be working to get coverage too, so you have to bring something to the table to make your story compelling. On the internet, the greatest currency is traffic, so find ways to offer to promote the websites of media outlets and they will be more inclined to promote you. This is certainly a nice thing to do, but from a tactical standpoint, it's a critical element for bloggers and website owners to stay relevant. The more links to their site, the better they will do in Google search results. Look for other types of businesses that are not competitors, but are complementary to yours. Offer to promote special offers or a link to their blog on your website in return for the same treatment from them. The more of this you can do, the more your name will be seen by potential customers, and your brand will be validated by virtue of being associated with reputable companies. Don't expect a few links to your site or a story about your business to create an avalanche of new customers. It takes time for the effort to have an effect, but it has to be a continuous effort on your part. The more press outlets and friendly businesses you reach, the greater your overall potential for getting exposure. When you reach out, it's okay to be direct and ask for attention, but be respectful and find a way to connect. You might want to try one of these formats: For email, go straight to the owner with an email that is to the point, but that makes you and your business appear compelling. Something along these lines: Hi Mike...I love your blog and think you're providing a great service for our industry. I operate a four-person ____ business in the ______ area, and I wanted to let you know about a new service we're operating that might be of interest to your readers. We call it, "Thank a Vet," and it's a way for us to serve those who have served our country. We're offering a 40% discount on all services for anyone who is serving, or has served, in the armed forces. We are also taking out ads in local publications where we thank these veterans with a picture of them and a thank you note. We'd love to consider including ads on your website as well, so wanted to see if you might be interested in talking with us about possibly highlighting our program and our business in a forthcoming blog. I'd be happy to chat with you any time. Thanks for your time. Or maybe try a text, in which you can be briefer and get straight to the point: Mike...it's ____ from _____. We have a really interesting program we've initiated that thanks veterans. Seems like it could be of interest to your readers. Would you be interested in learning more? You have to make the ask in order to get the attention, and while you may have to send quite a few requests before you get a response, the outcome will likely be more than worth it. Get local There's a big movement towards going local and it's an important thing for you to tap into. First off, there are apps and websites like Nextdoor, Hood, and JustMyNeighbors that verify people's locations and help them connect about things to do and vendor recommendations. These are more specific to neighborhoods and communities than Craigslist and other services because these hyper-local ones go to great lengths to keep communication and engagement just for people living in their communities. Find apps and services like these and identify opportunities to introduce yourself and your business within your community. While this may be more like social connecting, it's also an opportunity to let people get to know you and your brand without trying to specifically sell them something. Next, identify local groups that have publications and/or meet regularly. This would incline homeowners associations, Rotary clubs, chambers of commerce, and others that serve the interests of locals. Offer to write articles with tips and helpful hints about an area where you have expertise. You don't necessarily need to promote your services, but let's say your business is installing hardwood floors. Maybe you want to publish articles about DIY floor maintenance and the best products to use to keep hardwood looking new and vibrant. Here again, these publications are usually in need of content, and by offering your expert advice, you're providing them with a service. Don't neglect local arts and crafts fairs, and downtown merchant's nights; most towns and cities host a variety of activities during good weather to bring people out to learn about local vendors. Consider setting up a booth with flyers and other marketing collateral. Print up DIY information and distribute it with your name and brand prominently displayed on it. Remember, to serve IN your community, you have to be part OF your community. The key word in public relations is "public." You have a great business, and it can get bigger and better, but you need to make the public aware of it. Doing so with media and community outreach will humanize your brand and allow people to get to know you and your services. While it requires some work, it's also generally free or at least cost effective. Most importantly, though, it gets you front and center with potential customers through trusted sources.

Matt B., Marketing Coordinator

Newspaper article on how to get free attention

7 Ways To Guarantee Customer Loyalty

February 7, 2018 • It takes a ton of effort to get customers, but small business owners know that the secret to building a business is keeping the customers you have. Consider that, on average, loyal customers are worth as much as 10x as much as their initial purchase or service fee, and it can cost 5x more to acquire a new customer than it does to keep one you already have. Being dependable, competitive with pricing, and delivering great customer service is no longer enough to create a sense of loyalty among your existing customers. Today's consumer is constantly weighing their different options and expecting vendors to cater to their unique needs. Businesses can use a variety of methods to maintain relationships with customers and continuously demonstrate their value. With the right mix of social media, marketing activities, and good old customer service, you can stand out from your competitors in the eyes of your customers and be their go-to vendor. With the following tactics, you can position your company to develop deep customer retention and ongoing loyalty: 1. Have a mission and deliver on it Whether you like it or not, your business is not about you. Your business exists only because of your customers, so you have to communicate to them that you are focused on their needs and on the things that make them satisfied. This should be a major part of your efforts to brand your business, and almost half of small businesses believe that building brand awareness is a top marketing priority. That also means it's getting more competitive to stand out from the crowd. To do it, however, you must establish a customer-focused vision for your business that emphasizes your commitment to trust and excellence o. Think about what customers like about you and your business and then translate that into a vision for what your business is all about. For example, customers probably love it when you make it a point to be on time and do follow up calls after a service visit. Not every provider does that, so that helps you stand out. But why they like that is what's especially important. When you're reliable, that means they can arrange their schedule around a visit and rest assured they'll still be able to pick their kids up from school on time. It means that they can get their own business back to normal quickly because you can fix issues that prevent them from working normally. Make sure you communicate not just the part about being on time, but explain that make it’s a core part of your mission to be on time specifically because you value their time, or that you understand that their problems are costing them money. 2. Use "leave-behinds" to stay top-of-mind Not everything is online these days. Customers still keep files, and they like the convenience of referencing paper-based content. Because of this, and because it helps you effectively communicate your brand, you need to create marketing collateral that you can leave with customers. It is an effective way to keep your company name front-and-center in their brains, and it acts as a reminder for the next time they need your services. One of the most important things about paper marketing collateral is that it stands alone. A customer isn't comparing multiple vendors when they pick up your brochure. Rather, they're seeing all your company's attributes, special offer opportunities, and other information, all in a very visual, compelling way. Marketing collateral can come in a variety of formats, but it should all look professional and accurately represent your brand.l. Content should be informative and needs to deliver direct information about your services, pricing, and what makes you stand out from the competition (this is where you can thread that customer-centric mission throughout the collateral). The look and design should be visually compelling, but it should also provide offers for customers to engage with you in the future through special offers and discounts. When a customer sees that they can save money on their next visit, you're already half way to booking them again. 3. Use marketing tools to say "thank you" While you are an expert in your particular field of service, the root of any business is all about how you interact with people. And people want to feel like they are appreciated, and saying "thank you" is one of the most effective ways of doing that. Most of your competitors will think in terms of needs; they need you, and you need their business. While that's true, that mindset is very much about a single interaction - engage, solve, leave. Yet, when you demonstrate appreciation for the business your customer gives you, it makes them feel valued, and establishes the sense that you want to maintain a relationship with them. It's also just plain, old-fashioned good manners, and that's appealing to everyone. Whether it's with an email, a text, or if you take the time to compose a quick handwritten note, a sincere note of thanks from you will help you stand out from other vendors who appear to take customers for granted. 4. Referrals and reviews do the work for you In a survey of 7,500 North American business owners, 85% said that word of mouth referrals are the single most effective way to acquire customers. In today's market where consumers have more choices than ever before, they increasingly rely on proof points and validation from people like them. Especially with the popularity of online review sites like Yelp, Facebook, Angie's List and others, customers have many outlets to voice their opinions, good or bad; it's the new word of mouth. Happy customers are usually happy to refer you. The problem is that they may not always be aware of the outlets for doing so, and they may not always think to initiate it on their own, so it's up to you to direct them. As mentioned above, collateral can be an important tool for this. Every time you finish a job, present your customer with instructions for how to provide a review on one of these sites. A visual step-by-step diagram will make it easy for anyone to log on and leave a positive review for you. You may also want to offer an incentive; perhaps a discount on future services or the opportunity to be included in a raffle for customers who submit a review of your company and its services. Besides creating more validation for your business and greater word of mouth opportunities, these types of reviews and referrals also create a tighter bond between you and the customer who is providing the referral. When a customer speaks highly of you, it creates another form of positive validation and a reminder that you are their go-to vendor for future service. 5. Use social media and content to stay connected Do you ever call your customers just to check up on them? Sounds like a nice thing to do, but it would suck so much time that you wouldn't be able to handle the workload in front of you. Social media, however, is an effective and inexpensive way to stay connected with customers and increase awareness of your services. Facebook, for example, now influences more than half of the buying decisions for customers' good and services needs, and AdWeek says that it could be detrimental to avoid social media in your business. The first thing you need to do is create the basic social media accounts: Twitter, Facebook company pages, and Instagram all allow you to communicate messages to users and use visuals effectively. In your marketing collateral, encourage customers to follow your accounts, and you should follow them in return. Look for local accounts and engage with them as well. Social media is a great way to deliver personalized messages directly to the accounts of your followers and others who might benefit from knowing about your services. Social media also provides a great channel for delivering content to stay engaged with your existing customers. Perhaps you want to send them winter maintenance tips. Doing so through the U.S. Mail is costly and email can be time intensive. But you can direct this content (whether it's a downloadable piece or just text in a message) to your users and customers so they benefit from the information and stay tightly connected to you. 6. Create an enemy OK, take this with a grain of salt, but everyone loves to hate the bad guy. Most experts say that tension makes people pay attention, and in a business context, an enemy helps create this awareness. They also want to quickly avoid the pain that comes from knowing the bad guy could strike at any time. This isn't about actually finding a person or industry to target, however. This is about the culprit that gives you business in the first place. For a carpet cleaning company, kids' shoes are evil. They track water and dirt all over the house...let's go to war over kids' shoes! Or an HVAC company can align themselves with hot, uncomfortable customers to combat a heat wave with air conditioning...and possibly the opportunity to more effectively keep ice cubes cold in your margarita! Customers like quirky and fun campaigns like this because they are original and entertaining. It also gives you the ability to stay highly connected and stand out from competitors who stick to standard, basic messages. While you aren't actually trying to instigate anger in people, having a common enemy (no matter how funny it is) is compelling and increases a customer's appreciation for you as a vendor. 7. Make your employees your best ambassadors Don't forget that one of your greatest assets may be your employees. They represent your business and everything they do can either help or hurt your business' chance of retaining customers, so it's critical that you invest time to train them in customer service that stands out. A Gallup poll indicates that almost half of employees are unaware of their own company's branding, which prevents them from being a great ambassador for you. To make sure they are consistent with what you think is important, walk your employees through the entire process of engaging with a customer. It starts with marketing collateral, your website, social media - anything that a customer might see before they decide to work with you. That material should reflect the type of business you want to and it should look professional, be clear, and demonstrate a level of trustworthiness. Then, an employee needs to keep in mind all the little things that go into making a lasting impression: great the customer with a handshake, introduce yourself, be communicative, and do an outstanding job. Courtesy and willingness to go the extra mile will make your business stick in the minds of your customers possibly more than anything else. If you can put together these seven pieces of advice into your ongoing, regular business practices, you are going to find that customers seek you out. Their loyalty will translate into long term loyalty and ongoing support which will save you money and ensure repeat business in the long run.

Pat Flanders, Guest Author

Happy home owner in kitchen