Building a Marketing Funnel — How to Avoid a Slow-Down
If you have been in the painting business for more than a year, you know that there are cycles; busy times, and slow times. Feast or famine, right? It is the beginning of November, and if your business is anything like mine, the phones have been busy, and everyone is working hard to complete projects before the holidays. But what happens in January in your business? Do you still have plenty of work, or do you sit home? For many of you, you will be sitting at home or will start doing odd jobs. Instead, this is the time you should be working on building your winter pipeline.
Why does this happen every year?
If you are a commercial painter, you may not experience this cyclical slow-down. BUT, if you are one of the thousands of painters that focus on painting for homeowners, then you have experienced this, and need to understand why it happens. In every industry, there are cycles of buying that are affected by other things. In the summer, we have a slowdown of phone calls due to families going on vacation. In the Spring, we get a flood of calls due to homes going on the market and people wanting to freshen things up. The fall is our busiest time of the year due to families getting together for the holidays. Winter slows down because: a) there are no exteriors to paint, and b) people have just spent a bunch of money on the holidays.
What happens to most painting contractors is that they get super busy before the holidays, they over-commit to what they can actually produce, get too busy to continue to market, and then start advertising (or doing what they can afford) in January. They then pick up one or two jobs (that do not pay well) just to keep their guys busy and hope they can wait it out until spring. Sound familiar? But, there is a better way….
Build a marketing funnel
The best way to avoid a slowdown is to always have plenty of new job opportunities. With 11 teams to keep busy, marketing is a huge focus for me. It takes a considerable effort to make sure we always have enough work, and we continue to grow. We have hired on average one new painter a month for the last year and a half. We have not kept them all, but we have grown our production team from 8 to 16 in the last 12 months. To do this, you need to build a marketing funnel: a plan that has multiple touch-points for customers to find you, that communicates your value proposition, and constantly makes the phone ring.
You cannot book new work if you don’t bid for new work, and you can’t bid for new work if no one knows about you. The other factor is that it takes time for marketing to become effective. You can’t just start a campaign and hope to have new work tomorrow. That is why, even when we are swimming in too much work, I do not let up on the marketing gas pedal. Let’s look at some marketing activities you should be considering for your marketing funnel.
Word of mouth
“I rely on word of mouth advertising, isn’t that the best?” Yes, word of mouth is the best, not only because it is inexpensive, but because you are twice as likely to book those projects. The problem is, it isn’t very scalable — you can’t predict that doing more of some activity to get more word of mouth referrals. You can create a system, and you should as a part of your marketing funnel to re-connect with past customers to stay top-of-mind. Do you do that? Two ways to do this would be:
1) Send out an email blast once a month with helpful information, tips, community events, or home service recommendations. If you do this, don’t talk about your painting business — they already know who you are and what you do. Think about it: if you receive an email once a month from a service you used in the past and all it said was “Buy my stuff!” you would start to ignore emails from that person. Be helpful and solve problems. Recommend a carpet cleaner, or highlight a local festival, or remind them to clean their air ducts. Keep it simple. Keep it short… and don’t be self-promoting.
2) Start a Send-Out-Cards campaign. Send a card to every single customer you have ever had at least once a quarter. Be fun, be funny, be creative, say thank you, but don’t self-promote. Again, the aim is to simply stay top-of-mind.
Most painting contractors have no idea how to use social media to grow their business. Everyone talks about it, but few do it well. We think it is great because it is free right? Wrong. It takes time to get a good revenue stream from social media — and to really work well, it costs money. The idea behind social media (and most people forget this) is that it needs to be social and a little fun. If it’s not fun, no one will share it, and that is kind of its big strength.
As a painting contractor, you need to understand three things about social media:
- It is not a fad, and it is not going away
- You are not too old to participate
- It is NOT a diary about what you did today, yesterday, or last week.
I hear guys say, “It’s not my thing.” Or, “No one wants to hear about what I did yesterday.” Or some say they just don’t have time. Well, it is here to stay (just like the internet), it’s not that hard to figure out, and you DON’T need to be on every platform – just pick one or two.
There are a lot of options for social media, but I will highlight two: Facebook and LinkedIn. Both of these platforms have been around a long time, and both should be staples for every person reading this. Firstly, Facebook has lost some appeal from younger people, but for those who have the money, Facebook is the ‘Mack-daddy’. Secondly, Facebook is doing some great things to stay relevant and to get users to stick around and stay engaged. The game has changed over the years on follower engagement, but if you know what to do, Facebook can be a cash machine that consistently brings you new prospects.
On Facebook, I have been able to acquire over $500,000 in business with about a 12X ROI on our ad spend over a two year period. Facebook is great for painting contractors because you can spend as much as you want, it is easy to use, and you can target your perfect customer.
LinkedIn (LI) on the other hand, is more for the professional, and if you consider yourself a professional painter, you need to have a presence there. LI is a great tool to elevate your personal brand and your business above the fly-by-night contractors that are here today and gone tomorrow. You will be able to connect with business leaders in your community as well as other contractors. I have gained so much knowledge by connecting with other painting contractors on LI from across the county. It is not only a good marketing move, but it will help you grow your business in ways you never thought possible.
Direct mail gets a bad rap in my eyes. It is a bit costlier, but it is great for targeting specific neighborhoods and can be a great program to set up and forget. All you need is a good list, a good mail house, and good graphic designer, or you can just call my friends at PostcardMania, and they will handle the whole thing – on auto-pilot. The keys to a good postcard campaign are:
Lots of people try direct mail, but they just try one list, get mediocre or bad results, and call it quits. Once you find the sweet spot, it can be like printing money.
I think we have all tried the BNI group or the local chamber of commerce, but when I say networking, I mean finding out who are the best people to refer your business, and then get in front of them. For painting contractors, I believe that to be real estate brokers, interior designers, flooring salespeople, and contractors. You need to be well known in these circles, and look for ways to refer business to them. To do this, you need to be constantly asking your clients if they have any other needs. Try to become the “I’ve got a guy” guy. You want your customers to think of you whenever they need a contractor to work on their house. This keeps you top of mind.
If you do a good job at feeding other contractors work, do you not think they will want to reciprocate? It may not happen as much as you want (I know it doesn’t for me), but if you start consistently getting high-quality customer referrals out to other contractors, you can rest assured, what goes around comes around.
‘You are who Google says you are,’ is a popular phrase in marketing circles. If you do not have a strong internet presence, you are truly missing out. Not only is it a great place to send customers to learn about your services, to see pictures of past projects, and to lend credibility to you and your company, but it is also a 24 hour a day, 365 days a year salesperson for you and your business. It takes time to build good content that helps customers engage with you, but it can pay off big in the long term. A few things you need to consider when building your web presence:
- Keyword research
- Consistent new content
- Creating helpful content that your target audience wants to read
There are several ways to focus on this, and here are a few resources that can help start you on the right path:
- ahrefs.com can be used to find keywords and will rate your site on its effectiveness. I use it to track my progress and to keep an eye on my competitors.
- moz.com helps you do all the work. They also have some free tools to use.
- backlinko.com will teach you about creating links: how to do it, and why you should.
- google.com We all use it to search, but it can be a tool to help us figure out what others are searching for. Just start typing, and Google will tell you what others are searching for.
All that to say…
Marketing is critical to building your painting business. Don’t be one of those guys that just says, “I just get all my work from word of mouth, it’s the best advertising.” Those guys are usually broke, and NOT busy. I have doubled my business in the last year by focusing on marketing, and you can too. It just takes time and dedication to build the machine. But the good news is that once you build it, it will continue to get easier and easier. Remember, all this information is useless unless you take action. So Go! Take action right now.
Until next time… Keep dreaming big and building that beautiful business of yours.