Throughout the course of your business, you will find that building, maintaining, and enhancing your reputation is arguably the most important job you’ll have. Your reputation will be established by the quality of your work and the way you treat your clients.
Make sure each job you do is done well. Treating clients fairly, and working to resolve any concerns they have, will help you gain referrals. Remember: over time, you may have many clients, losing some and gaining others, but you get only one reputation. Guard it carefully.
1. Get Visible.
Literally, get visible. Take pictures of every job you do, from start to finish. You can quickly build an impressive portfolio in both hard copy and digital form (think email and website use). Photos illustrate your work quality and are valuable communication tools to explain your construction methods to clients.
To become more visible to potential clients, work first at tightly identifying your target markets, then determining the tactics that can best introduce your company and services to them.
2. Pick Your Targets.
Define your target markets and what, specifically, you intend to do for each. For instance, one market may be ''homeowners in ABC neighborhood (or town) with houses valued at more than $200,000.'' You may decide to market basement finishing and bathroom and kitchen remodeling to that market.
Another market could be general contractors who work in a certain area, specializing in basement finishing, with revenues of a particular dollar amount. To that group you plan to market yourself as a subcontractor.
Take a lesson from successful companies, large and small: the more you target, the better your results will be. It is much easier to grow from a known base than attempt to do everything for everyone. Think hard about your specialty area(s) and your competition. Home in on what you do best, what you want to do, and for whom.
3. Pick Your Tactics.
Choose tactics designed to meet your objectives. A good public relations program can help with awareness and reputation goals, but don’t expect it to bring in short-term leads in and of itself. Advertising may help bring in some short-term leads, but remember that there’s a reason we see the same ads on TV and hear the same ones over and over again on the radio. Repetition works in communicating a message and in building a name — and it’s frequently costly.
- Business identity: Once you have chosen a business name, it’s time to develop an identity, a logo, and a package of base communications materials that are consistent in look and feel. Whether your logo is a graphic or a straightforward text-only presentation, keeping it simple is best. Make sure any logo you consider is distinct, readable (from near and far), and reproducible (print, copy, fax, email). Your best bet? Use a professional. You don’t need to spend a fortune, but it’s a wise investment to make sure you get something that works in every medium, from letterhead to a potential website.
- Signs: Surprisingly few contractors post signs outside current job sites. Once you have appropriate electronic company-identity files, a business/office supply store can help with a good sign. Many contractors say they get much of their best work from people who call after seeing their signs.
- Website: Today, it’s possible to obtain a URL and company email addresses on a shoestring. Web-hosting companies and Internet service providers often offer very low-cost packages. You don’t need to start out with a full-blown website, but a presence on the Internet, ability to professionally handle electronic communications, and consistency in your business’s look and message are key to success.
- Brochure/flyer: As with signage, you can leverage current job sites (where permitted) by attaching a small brochure box, available at office supply stores, to your sign. Prepare a simple one-page summary of your service offerings to include inside. You may find you need to create separate summaries for your separate target markets. You can move up to a three-fold flyer or brochure that contains before-and-after photos, case studies, and references. Again, for results, use the services of a professional. Plenty of independent communications professionals are in business today to help other small businesses and offer reasonable pricing.
4. Be Consistent.
Inconsistency can be deadly. Remember that just as Rome ''wasn’t built in a day,'' it takes perseverance to build a business. No matter what tactics you choose, be consistent, and realize that this work is a process, not an event. Results come from long-term, consistent, continual efforts versus random, one-time shots.
Use the same name, logo, imagery, message, and style in all materials, including brochures, business cards, your website, and any ads you might run. Presenting a consistent, repetitive message, look, and feel lets prospective clients know you are professional, serious, and in for the long haul.
Make sure you have realistic expectations of each tactic. For instance, direct mail generally does not work with one mailing, and a 1% or 2% response is considered very good. If, however, it is done professionally and prepared for your target market (versus for you), done as one part of a full program, and done consistently each month for a year or two, it is likely to produce results.
5. Ask and You Shall Receive.
One of the most-neglected tactics among contractors is requesting referrals. When you do a good job (which should be always), and your clients tell you so, thank them graciously, and do not be afraid to let them know you’d appreciate their referral to friends and associates as appropriate.
About the Author
Dean Bennett is president of Dean Bennett Design and Construction Inc., a design/build firm based in Castle Rock, CO. Specializing in custom residential design and construction, the firm’s projects include remodeling, interior and exterior additions, conversions, basement finishes, landscaping and fencing, and custom finish carpentry.
Dean Bennett Design and Construction offers concept-to-completion design, including working drawings, blueprints, securing of permits, and inspection coordination. Working with a business model of a single principal on site throughout the project, from architectural design through final construction, Bennett effectively integrates design and construction while eliminating the need to hire separate general contractors, subcontractors, and architects.
Bennett has worked with a national client base, including many clients for whom he has worked for multiple years, since 1996. He holds Master of Architecture and Bachelor of Environmental Design degrees from the University of Colorado. Bennett is also an accomplished fly fisherman, golfer, skier, and snowboarder and enjoys swimming, running, cycling, cooking, and photography.
He can be reached at 303-513-2065 or firstname.lastname@example.org.