2. You are the expert
Are you using your designations as a marketing tool? You should because that is what sets you apart from the competition. Every company piece that you send or hand out to potential clients should have your designation on it. Put your CGR, CAPS, CGB, etc., behind your name on e-mails, letterhead, business cards, the company Web site and everywhere your name appears.
Also, send a letter to the local media offering your service as an expert whenever they want to discuss remodeling and home improvement. Send consumer advocates your information, emphasizing your designation, for assistance in dispute resolutions.
Display your designation certificates proudly in your reception area, not hidden in your office. Just like doctors and lawyers who display their degrees all over their offices, so should you. Remember: you worked hard for your designation, market it.
3. Personal touches are always remembered
Nothing makes people feel more appreciated than receiving a personal note of thanks or some small token that you actually spent a little time and thought into creating.
While it is true that gift certificates are acceptable business practices, it shows little creativity and will probably go to waste. Instead, after completing the job, send a handwritten note thanking your customers for their business.
If you want to go the extra mile, take over flowers as a “welcome to your new home” gift, give them before and after pictures of the project or make a small donation in their name to the charity of their choice. The list of ideas is endless. All you need to do is put a little time and forethought into something unique and personal and you have a client for life.
4. Publish a company newsletter
Keeping your name in front of prospects and past customers can be challenging. Continuous advertising in just about any medium becomes expensive and has to be carefully planned and administered to get the desired results. For example, sending a holiday card once a year puts you on a level with your paper carrier.
But, sending your past clients and potential clients a quarterly company newsletter will set you apart from the competition and keep your name in front of the client on a continuing basis. Your newsletter should include the latest “news” about your company:
Also include home owner tips and the latest trends in design.
Remember: approach this "project" just as you would any remodeling project. Don’t do it all yourself. Freelance writers are almost as prolific as remodelers. Then find a printer who can do some basic layout and design, add a database supplier for the mailing list and data sorting each issue and then have someone mail the newsletter (probably the same company) with the bulk mail permit you purchased.
You can also use your local and national Remodelors™ Council as a resource for newsletter fodder.
5. Join the technology age
If you are still making a million telephone calls a day and sending out documents through “snail” mail, let me introduce you to a new invention: E-mail! Everyone is using it, why aren’t you?
I know what you are thinking: “E-mail is too impersonal; I like to chat with my customers.” Well, customers do not always have the time to chat. E-mail is quick, efficient and it helps both parties keep a record of “discussions” which protects both sides when questions arise.
E-mail also can save your company money on telephone charges and mailing costs. Today, as long as you have Internet access you can open an e-mail account. Many engines such as hotmail.com or yahoo.com even offer free e-mail through the Internet. Also, e-mail programs such as MS Outlook can manage incoming faxes and many programs such as WINFAX manage outgoing faxes. E-mail is a wonderful tool, add it to your toolbelt.
6. A picture is worth a thousand words
People do not want to hear how good you are — they want to see proof. If you do not have a professional portfolio to show clients your range of work, you are behind the times.
A beautiful, professional portfolio does not need to cost a lot of money. With a little time and effort you can create one by yourself. To create a portfolio, take a quality digital camera with you to your jobs and take before and after pictures. Print the photos on quality paper and create a professional-looking photo album.
There are a lot of options you can choose from, including matting photos to make your portfolio stand out. It also helps to name the home and address of the projects. For example, “The Jones House on Cleveland Road” builds more credibility because a customer can relate to a location near their home. Don't forget to post these great pictures on your Web site too!
To give yourself an edge over the competition who also have portfolios, step yours up a notch by including the “human factor” in your photos. When taking the “after” photo, put the satisfied family in the picture. Or include pictures showing your team working on the project.
Also, show a variety of projects and styles to illustrate that you are a well-rounded remodeler.
7. Market 'outside the box'
While magazine and Yellow Pages ads help get your name out to the public, you may be missing major marketing opportunities. Think about writing articles for industry and consumer publications on trends. Start a mentorship or internship program (free work!) and then publicize it in your local media. Join a speakers’ circuit, visit high schools, colleges and chamber of commerce meetings. The possibilities are endless when trying to gain more recognition for you and your company.
8. Expect the unexpected
Add a section in your contracts that explains the obvious — just in case “your” obvious is not obvious to your home owner. Do not worry about “scaring off” clients; this can help seal the deal. Tell your clients upfront about your bad weather policy ("If a hurricane hits, we aren’t coming."); if you have schedule changes ("John broke his leg, Mark will be there instead."); your expectations for and from the client; out of stock items upfront ("You may want the bamboo flooring but currently they are out of stock. This may delay the projected end date. Do you still want bamboo?"); time delays because of their inactions ("I am sorry, Mrs. Smith, but because we didn’t hear back from you about the bamboo flooring we had to push the project back another week."); and celebrate milestones. ("Mrs. Smith, we finished the bathroom a week early." Or, "Mr. Jones, the kitchen phase is now complete. Your payment would be appreciated before we begin the bedroom phase.")
9. Get what you deserve
Guess what? You don’t have to wait until the end of the project to get paid. Don’t leave yourself in a financial lurch by only asking for an upfront payment and final payment: bill on phase completion or when change orders occur. Everywhere you purchase goods, you pay before you receive them, consumers understand this and will not fight you on it.
10. Know your financials
You are the remodeling expert so you hire accountants to work your financials. That is fine, but you better know what your books say. If you feel you have no “numbers knowledge,” now is the time to invest in learning. You can take Accounting 101 classes at colleges, read “Accounting for Dummies,” hire an intern for one-on-one private sessions or take an online course. While you don’t have to know enough to study for the CPA exam, you need to understand where your money is going, where it is allocated and how much you really have. Don’t accept not knowing.