Monday, June 15, 2009
With backlogs beginning to dwindle and concerns about where work will come from as we approach 2010, how to get more work is one of the contractor’s greatest challenges right now. Generally the marketing aspect within a construction company is a weaker element of the overall business. Few contractor’s have a dedicated marketing department or even an outside marketing consultant. Historically word of mouth, reputation, project list, etc. has served as the primary components of the marketing initiative. In this article I’ll offer ten effective ways to get your company’s name in front of the right people. These strategies will help to better your chances of getting new work and establishing your place in the market!
The following is a list of ideas you can review to determine if some are right for your company…
1. Talk to your Bond Agent about getting on Bond Companies Preferred Contractor List
Some jobs go bad and contractors go out of business. The bond company is asked to step in and finish the job. Who actually does the work when the bond company steps in to finish? Contractors do of course…why not you? You own and operate a solid, well run financially stable construction company (even still with the challenges we’ve all faced in this current environment). Your bond agent has relationships with multiple markets and knows you, your company and its history very well. Why not have your bond agent (and CPA and others who know the bond companies) get your name in front of the bond companies and perhaps even arrange meetings? Someone has to do that work (and it’s usually very nice work to have from a profit perspective).
2. Company Newsletters
Most of you receive these articles I publish via a newsletter format. There are many applications, such as ConstantContact and CoolerEmail, which make the preparation and distribution of electronic newsletters relatively easy. The cost of such services can range from generally $30 to $100 for a generous number of emails allowed per month including some Customer Relationship Management (CRM) functionality. Like anything, time must be devoted to this initiative. I have seen several newsletters come through my inbox but actually very few from contractors. In fact I can only think of very few contractors who do newsletters on a regular basis. One electronic newsletter I receive via ConstantContact and another through the regular mail. Both of these are well done, feature projects the company is working on (or recently awarded or completed), contain pictures, etc. The electronic newsletter I receive also has a nice feature focusing on one employee each month. The newsletter concept keeps the company name front of mind, highlights who they are and what they do. All of these elements are critical to establishing and maintaining your company’s place in the market. Using these online service providers such as ConstantContact and CoolerEmail is quite easy if you are comfortable with computers. I’m reasonably confident that most contractors have at least one person within the organization who can manage the creation and distribution of a monthly newsletter. They would need help from you in creating the distribution list and assistance with the content. It’s a relatively inexpensive tool which can yield a reasonable return on the investment.
3. Internal Trade Shows
Your company may have multiple services it provides and/or a variety of ways it performs one or many of the services. There is a good chance that, if asked, some of your employees would not be able to effectively articulate what your company does and/or how it does it. If your employees do not understand who you are, exactly what you do and how you do it they stand little chance of bringing opportunities into your organization. One way to help educate your employees is to have each department or group within your company create a “booth” which can be visited by all of your employees. Each booth might have pictures, props, powerpoint slide shows or any other materials/items which would help tell the story of what that group does and how it does it. This is a fun way for all of your employees to interact amongst different departments and learn about your company at the same time!
4. Create a Target List
If you are a Subcontractor, perhaps there are certain General Contractors with whom you would like to work. General Contractors may be looking to work with certain owners. Create a short list of those prospects and begin asking those with whom you do business whether they have any contacts within those organizations on your target list. As we all are aware, it’s a small world and those of you who use LinkedIn or Plaxo can see many of us are interconnected. Ask your professional service providers, employees, etc. if they know anyone at those companies and you may be surprised at the success you may achieve in getting at least one meeting. Be persistent as it may take time, however if you don’t begin trying you will certainly not make the connections you wish.
5. Industry Associations
Many of you have attended meetings with the Associated General Contractors (AGC), American Subcontractors Association (ASA) and many other alphabet soup organizations over time. They are good venues to receive timely information on topics that affect your business, usually come with a decent meal (not great, but decent) and the ability to interact with your peers, those you work for, those who may work for you as well as professional service providers who understand your industry. One objective you may wish to achieve in attending these meetings might be to get at least one or two cards of people who would want to follow up with. Perhaps a casual lunch meeting in a one on one setting might be mutually beneficial. We need to recognize that simply attending an industry association event is not always (or even usually) enough to help you achieve your goals. It may take the follow up one on one meetings or even participation on committees or the Board of the organization to get meaningful business results. You may also decide that such participation is more about achieving personal satisfaction. Like many things, “you get out of it what you put into it!”
Every business can, and should, have a very good website (not just a website). The site should provide a select customer and project list (with pictures), appropriate contact information and be well designed from a graphic and color standpoint. We have all often heard that a receptionist is the “Director of First Impressions” when people call into your office. I’d suggest that the same holds true for your company’s website in today’s internet age. If you see “website under construction” in 2009, that may tell you something. The professional appearance of your website will create, in many cases, the first impression for those looking to learn more about your company. There are many service providers, some who charge very reasonable prices for high quality web design, available such that poor websites for decent sized businesses should be a thing of the past. Email me if you’d like contact information for such services.
7. Employee Involvement and Incentive Plans
I’ve heard more times in recent weeks “All of my employees are business development people.” I think this is a good strategy. The fact is all employees are not business development people…they may have been told they are, but in reality they are not and that’s OK. If that message is delivered to your Project Managers, Field Supers, Office Personnel, etc. and only a percentage of them actually take it to heart and make attempts at getting work and/or contacts for the company you are ahead of the game. I believe all companies should have a business development bonus program. How you structure it is up to you however I’d suggest either relatively small flat amounts perhaps based on contract size or a percentage of the final gross profit (keeping in mind you have back office overhead to cover as well). Those individuals who actually help to deliver results should be awarded for their efforts and productivity.
8. Talk to your CPA, Banker, Bond Agent and Attorney about connecting with their client bases
If you are dealing with service providers who specialize in Construction, ask them if they might be able to make introductions to certain contractors for you. This ties in with the target list recommendation above. You can ask in a generic way without naming a specific connection you’d like to make, however from my perspective you will get more traction if you have a specific contact you’d like help with. They may or may not be able to help, but asking never hurts.
9. Speaking Events
This is a great way to get in front of a number of people at once. If you are a subject matter expert let’s say on government contracting or LEED certification or any topic, many groups are looking for speakers on a regular basis. I know the ASA has a General Contractor talk about their business at least once a year.
10. Advertise in trade magazines, Blue Book, etc.
Obviously there are many magazines and other publications from which to choose and there is no point in aimlessly buying space in a magazine without reasonable comfort that it will provide a good return over time. There are many ways to judge which publications make sense including keeping an eye out in the lobbies of construction firms you respect, reviewing the circulation data published in each magazine, referrals from friends who have had success/traction from certain publications, etc. If possible, find a way to have a specific identifier in each advertisement such that you could measure each placement’s success.
Marketing is perhaps one category where contractors can do significantly better than they are doing today by engaging a few of the ideas (or others of course) above. Some of these ideas are not too difficult to implement. In today’s environment you must pursue every avenue possible to generate more business opportunities for your company.
By Steve Antill
Here’s how to avoid the common mistakes contractors make
It took months of painstaking research. You came up with a budget and a realistic list of must-have features. After narrowing down your search to a few products, you spent the time to see a demonstration of each one, check client references, and investigate the long-term prospects of the developing company. Finally … the best-fit construction
software package has been purchased and installed. In the minds of many contractors, this is where the story ends,
and the business thrives “happily ever after.” In the real world, however, that’s not how it works. Without a thoughtful, stepby- step approach to software implementation, contractors risk replacing one set of headaches with another.
To use a system successfully, it takes more than just a few hours—or even a few days—of initial training. To guarantee that the software investment pays off, it takes the three steps discussed in this article.
Step 1: Implementation Planning
This step occurs immediately after the software’s purchase. During this phase, the contractor should discuss the following things with the software trainer:
• The company’s specific needs
• Expectations for the software
• Requirements that are unique to the business
• Individual users’ responsibilities
• How much time can be set aside each week to train and work on the new software
The planning phase is extremely important because it can save a lot of wasted time and money down the road. When switching from one accounting system to another, for example, the trainer may provide advice on the best methods for converting historical accounting data or how to easily integrate payroll and other field data into the system. With a focus on the flow of information, the processes that are in place, and the people who will be using the software, it is the software trainer’s job to make sure that the system will run as efficiently as possible and meet the company’s needs.
Step 2: Training
Once the implementation plan has been developed, the next step is to have the company’s employees learn the software and set it up for them to use it. During the initial training session, users will learn to navigate the software, perform day-to-day activities, and understand the work flow within the system.
On many systems, training includes setting up reports that will be needed, as well as customizing default settings and user-defined fields. This is where lots of companies make critical mistakes. By not having enough key people involved in the setup and structure, contractors risk setting themselves up for improper data collection and inaccurate reporting down the line. When implementing a new job-cost accounting system, for example, the project manager, estimator, and owner, as well as the accounting staff, should all be included in the system’s setup. Aside from the cost code structure,
the field and accounting staff must agree on the types of reports that are needed, and how the information will be entered and coded.
Generally, software training sessions include tutorials and homework assignments that help prepare both the user and the system for day-to-day use. Some software will even help contractors set up a practice company—using their actual data—so that employees can practice and perform the actual tasks they will be conducting on a daily basis. This allows users to test data flow, run reports, and troubleshoot any problems before actually going live. The last phase of initial training is going live and using the software. As employees begin to use the software, they should have fast and easy access to “live” support. This phase of training can last a few weeks or several months.
Step 3: Wrap Up and Follow Up
This step goes back over everything the client and the software vendor agreed upon in Step 1. After reviewing the initial training phase, which generally runs about 10 to 12 weeks, contractors must decide the following things:
• They are satisfied with the training.
• The system has met their expectations.
Now is the time to go over the implementation plan with the software vendor, point by point, to see if every need was addressed. At this point, the contractor should feel good about the system, confident in the investment, and able to use the software on a day-to-day level to run the business. By no means, after just a few months of initial training, should users expect to be “done” learning the software, however. Ongoing education and training— especially with systems that offer extensive construction-specific features and functionality—are really a given. By following this three-step process, which includes preplanning and postevaluation in addition to training, it is possible to greatly increase a company’s chance for long-term success.