I'm not that good of a planner. I'm really not. When I started this business, my attorney poked some fun about that shortcoming. "And with your so-called 'plan' in place, how do you intend to gather customers?" He used the little two-fingered hand sign for quotations marks when he said "plan".
My response was, "Largely by not talking 'down' to people who have hired me." I returned the quote mark hand gesture thing when I said "down".
There was a momentary pause. Then we laughed about it, and still do on occasion. Friends can laugh at each other in a way that's not, if you know what I mean.
No, my "plans" weren't very specific back then. They basically included, "Don't go bankrupt" and "If the phone rings, answer it" and other motivational sentiments like that.
Through grace and wonderful clients, things have worked out. Yet I still spend a couple weeks asking — and answering — questions about the upcoming year.
Interestingly, two of my questions are the same as the top two we get from you. And in case you wondered, yes, we rank your questions, in order of frequency. There's a hint in that near-obsession that your phone trafficker and techs should be sharing with management.
The number one marketing question we get is, "What do I do next?" And the second is, "When do I do it?" After that, you ask, how much to spend and in what media. Essentially, all the answers are contained under a single umbrella called planning.
Some of you may roll your eyes and say, "I've heard it before" or "How do you plan a business that's so season dependent?"
Well, if you've heard it before, it's like the preacher who'd given the same sermon 21 times in a row told his congregants: "I'll give a new sermon when you all start doing this one." And by the way, seasonality makes your business far more plannable, so that's two excuses down the tubes.
To make you feel better, please realize that a little planning takes the stress out of your year. The "last minute gottas" put most of us in a frenzied, unproductive mode instead of having the plan laid out in advance and running, absent our involvement. Not a bad mental image, is it?
A simple marketing attack plan gives you a strategy that considers the needs of your market and provides a year-round plan to meet those needs. It gives you a calm, rational approach to anticipate and counter slow times, and ways to level off or stretch the busy seasons. Both are done through a marketing plan.
The trouble is, three out of four contractors don't have one. Why? I've heard every excuse: too much time, trouble, effort, not worth it, don't know how, too costly, too busy. That's all clutter, and none of it is getting you any closer.
It's time to de-clutter your mind and make a couple of New Year's agreements at the same time:
1. Quit thinking your "old" marketing will suddenly have "new" results. Amazingly, contractors crumble up thousands of dollars in dead ads a year. If it's not helping your image or your lead count, chunk it. Get fresh and watch your market respond.
2. Quit depending on the Yellow Pages as your salvation. More than 70% of contractors spend half their entire marketing budgets here. If it's not pulling an equivalent lead count, that's a big mistake. Trim it down to 24 to 31% of your marketing budget. If you can get away with less, do it.
3. Quit thinking of co-op as your main requirement for advertising. Use co-op to supplement your advertising message. I encourage you to brand your company with your own ads, your benefits, and why customers should choose you, not just the equipment. Your company is worth its own unique message.
4. Lose the fear of being different. How in the world are you supposed to stand out if you blend in? This is so obvious, yet contractors still use the competition as a model. Parade your unique benefits over the same old thing offered by your boring competition.
5. No more manic marketing. Instead of panicking at the last minute, or throwing something together, have ads ready to run in different media. All it takes is a little forethought. You already know the seasons, your product line, the service offerings, and perhaps even the financing offers. So why not have ads ready that fit the situation?
6. Set a marketing budget. This is so simple; yet not one in eight contractors do this right. If you're aggressively pursuing market share, it'll cost you 8-10% of your sales; moderate marketers spend 5-8%; conservative marketers spend 3.5-5%. If you're trying to be aggressive, but only spending 2% of your sales on marketing, you're looking for diamonds at the price of cubic zirconium. Spend what it takes.
7. Set a marketing plan in motion, no matter how small. At the most basic level, divide your year into quarters, and define which ones are your peak seasons and which are off-peak. Figure exactly what you'll spend to promote what during that time. Then decide how you'll deliver that message (which media). You're ahead of most of your competition just by doing this.
If you can accomplish just three things on the above list, you're probably off to a fantastic year. However, you may have planning problems that go beyond marketing. So if you're really stuck, here are some tips.
• Find a colleague who's had, and beaten, the problem you're facing. Quit fiddling around industry chat rooms complaining to others who enjoy the complaints, but aren't even remotely qualified to answer. Find someone who has actually been there and won. That's the advice you need.
• Invest in your life and pay a consultant who's recommended by people you trust. Not all consultants fit all people. I have a copywriting coach who's a level three genius on that topic, but I wouldn't ask him for a word of advice on building relationships.
• Combining the above, consider a "MasterMind Approach" where colleagues — even if from different industries — meet and exchange ideas. Joining an aggressive member group, attending trade events, and mutual sharing can keep the fires burning all year.
At this time of year when we all plan for the coming year, please know that you can either make plans, or they can make you. But it's your choice. Have fun with your marketing in 2007.
Adams Hudson is president of Hudson Ink, a marketing firm for contractors. CB readers are being offered a New Year gift — fax your letterhead with the request to 334/262-1115 for a 2007 Marketing Planning Guide and Calendar. You can also call 800/489-9099 or visit www.hudsonink.com for additional information.