As a contractor, advertising is probably not your strong suit.  At the very least, you most likely did not start a contracting business because you loved marketing.  Nonetheless, you will have to have a basic understanding of how to market yourself in order to drum up work in a very competitive field.  There are the old stand bys: yellow page ads, newspaper advertising, local publications, and cold-call letters.  In addition, today’s market increasingly requires an understanding of the internet and its potential.  No matter which of the above ideas you focus on, there is no question as to which is the most productive form of advertising: Word of Mouth.

Your very best advertising is free.  It is the referrals from your satisfied clients.  Can you think of a more trusted source than a close friend or family member?  Imagine you wanted to remodel your home or build a new dream house.  Would you turn to the yellow pages or would you talk to your sister who just had a major remodel done on her home first?  I would stick with the family reference and it turns out, so would the majority of people out there. There is a science to word of mouth referrals.  They often happen on their own with no help from you; however, a contractor who waits for the referral to show up is most likely the same contractor who waits for the job to show up!  Be proactive and get referrals from every job.

Start the referral process before you start the job.  On every job, start with a conversation between you and your client.  Let them know how important your reputation is to you and just how important their referral can be.  When they know in advance that you want them to refer you to their friends and family, they may think about it all the way through the job and pay more attention than they might have otherwise.  Of course, this means your crew will have to perform at top notch on every job.  This is a benefit for you (referral and more efficient crew), your crew (job security), and the client (better performance from the crew).

I have already mentioned the concept of meeting with the neighbors around your job site prior to the start of construction.  I want to touch on that again here as it pertains directly to the concept of word of mouth advertising.  It is one thing to keep your client happy, but another to keep the whole neighborhood happy.  If you can handle that, chances are nothing will shake you.  That is the kind of contractor most people want running their job.  In addition, working with the neighbors means that what might have been a referral from one client turns into a referral from 3, 4 or more parties plus the client.  All from one job.

This is the first step to creating your own niche in a saturated market, something that is essential for success.  How do you plan to stand out amongst the other contractors?  When I look in my yellow pages, there are 55 subheadings under “Contractors” and each sub heading has roughly 2-5 pages of ads.  That is like trying to find the perfect blade of grass in a soccer field!  A flashy ad may catch someone’s eye, but it will never captivate their interest the way a referral can. If you are a general contractor, one amongst perhaps 500 in your area, what can you do to get noticed?

If you follow the structure of this training, you will find that creating your niche is not so much about having a flashy ad, or a catchy name as it is about understanding the details where they matter.  Of those 500 contractors, how many meet with the neighbors of a job site prior to the start of construction?  How many have a communication station at each job site?  How many hold weekly meetings with their clients on site?  How many work as hard as you do to be professional and to show up beyond their clients expectations?  That is your niche.  You are the most professional contractor out there and that is worth an entire page of yellow page ads if you use it right.

The question is how to best use that “contractor capital” to your advantage.  The answer, already hinted at here, is to be proactive.  Don’t sit around waiting for the referrals to come in.  Tell your clients up front, you want a written score card at the end of the job and a referral you can use in your advertising.  Give each client a packet of information at the start of the job that includes phone numbers, a description of how the job will proceed, score cards, and other pertinent documents.  In that packet, be sure that you point out the items directly related to the referral and make sure the clients understand how important their referral is to you. As the job moves forward, check in with the client from time to time to make sure you are meeting their expectations.  Do whatever you can to make the client trust you and feel comfortable with their biggest investment, their house, being in your hands.  Their peace of mind alone is worth referring you to everyone they know.

After the job, once again bring up the feedback form and referral.  Be sure to stay on top of the little details at the end of the job, the final punch list of items that need to be completed.  This list is often the Achilles heel of any construction company because it is hard to get the subcontractors and even your own crew back to the site for the small items that still need to be addressed.  Show your clients that you take the completion of the punch list seriously.  Better yet, have a deadline for the punch list completion and then beat it!  Nothing makes a client happier than beating a deadline and/or saving money, both of which are possible.

Finally, after about two months have elapsed, contact the client again and ask how everything is going for them.  This gives them time to settle in and see how the house fits them.  Don’t be surprised if there are a few additional punch list items that show up during this contact.  In fact, count on it.  Have a crew member ready to immediately jump on any issues that have come up and complete them quickly. Once again this is something most contractors do not do and it will separate you even further from the pack.

Finally, contact the neighbors once again.  Do this around the same time you contact the client and complete any new punch list items.  This is a good excuse to swing by their home and drop them a business card.  “I was just checking in to see how Mr. and Mrs. “old client” were doing in their new home and thought I would swing by and see if you have any construction needs my company might be able to complete for you.”  This proactive approach may flush out an otherwise quiet neighbor who wants your help but does not know how to approach you.  Every lead is a good lead, even if it does not turn into a job.  Treat any lead or job, no matter how small, with great enthusiasm and professionalism and the rewards will start to flow your way.

Okay, so the neighbors know about you and their family members and friends do too.  What can you do to “push them off of the fence” and sign a contract with you?  I find that a professional website is a great tool.  For years, contractors have carried books full of 4×6 pictures of their completed jobs; however, if the pictures don’t inspire the potential client, you have missed an opportunity.  Many potential clients lead busy lives and may not have time to flip through your scrapbook with you.

A website that has a professional layout and is easy to navigate can be the ticket to a signed contract.  Have a welcoming home page that shows you and your crew; just make it something special, not the run of the mill shot of the whole team in front of your office.  Remember, you are creating a niche market for yourself, so don’t miss that opportunity here either.  Have a page that talks about what it is like to work with you.  This is a great place to have a long list of referrals and quotes from previous clients.  “The Construction Company was the most professional team I have ever worked with.  They finished the job early and gave me $2000 of free upgrades!”  That’s strong enough to push most people off the fence, especially when they see that they recognize the name of the person who said it.

Be sure to include a photo gallery.  Notice I did not say have a page with some pictures on it.  This page should be elegant and should highlight the quality of your work.  This of course means that you will need  good pictures of your work.  If you are terrible with a camera, hire someone after each job to photograph your work.  You can even factor the cost of the photographer into your construction budget.  The owners will be thrilled to get a professional photo album at the end of the job and you can use those photos on line in your gallery.

Include a page that describes the process, in general terms, of hiring your company.  Tell the potential clients how you help them work through the bank process by interfacing directly with the mortgage broker as needed.  Show them how familiar you are with the construction funding process and give them a list of banks and brokers you have worked with in the past.  Include a list of contact names and numbers for the mortgage brokers and bankers.  Tell them about the inspection process, the bank draw process, and what they can expect during construction.  The more of the answers you give up front, the less the potential clients will have when they leave your website.

Be sure to list your website on every piece of advertising you have from the yellow pages to your business card to the packet you deliver to each client and neighbor at the beginning of a job.  If you make the website the corner stone of your marketing, you will see the rewards roll in.  Nothing is more easily accessible for most people than the internet.  They can surf your site in the evening when the kids are in bed, during a lunch break at the office, or even while relaxing in bed (I hear many people read the internet in bed now instead of books or newspapers!).  The point is that the potential client can have access to you, your knowledge, and the beauty and craftsmanship of your homes whenever and where ever they want.  They don’t have to take time away from their day to meet with you or wait for a returned phone call (which you should always do immediately, by the way, even if you cannot take on any work at that time).

Let’s discuss that a bit.  Let’s say you are completely booked for the year of 2010 and there is no way you can take on another job.  You receive a phone call from an interested party who would like to work with you. Even though you are so busy, it is important that you stop what you are doing (at an appropriate time of course) and call that lead back.  A quick phone call to say that you cannot accept work until the spring of 2011 will uphold your professional reputation. Seeing that you are that busy also sends a message to the potential client.  They see you are in demand and they may be willing to wait for you.  Under no circumstance should you simply ignore the call because you are too busy.  Remember, you are never too busy to build your reputation and create your niche.

By all means, advertise in the yellow pages, local periodicals, newspapers and more; however, do not let them become your cornerstone.  Depend on word of mouth first and foremost.  Use your website to promote your company at its best.  Drive traffic to your website by putting it on your business cards, your yellow pages ad, and everything else that has your name on it.  Don’t find your niche or wait for it to show up.  Create it, build it up, and hold it out for the world to see.