If you’d like to build a more profitable service business, the place to start is with your marketing.

It’s not easy for contractors to market proactively. The telemarketing do-not-call rules are reducing outbound telemarketing opportunities. The emerging spam laws reduce the potential to use e-mail for prospecting. Radio is a good option, but VCRs and digital video recorders give consumers “zap” power over television broadcast advertising options. And then there’s print.

Print advertising and marketing options have traditionally been an effective means of soliciting new business for contractors. Print marketing can take the form of newspaper, direct mail, brochures, flyers, door hangers, billboards, and even your trucks. It offers you several advantages:

  • It can be highly targeted
  • You can turn it on or off at will
  • It allows for the combination of emotional pull with logical reason.

In short, print marketing gives you the ability to sell!

Yet good print marketing is rare among contractors. That’s being polite. In many cases, contractor print marketing is a train wreck. Fortunately, it can be improved.

Marketing can be learned. You don’t necessarily need to become a marketing expert or a graphics designer, but you should know enough to recognize good marketing from bad marketing.

Improve your marketing and you’ll build a more profitable service business. Here are 16 ways to make your print marketing stand out.

  1. Figure out what you want to say before you say it.
    Marketing is a conversation between you and your customer. Who do you want to talk with? What do you want to tell them? Make sure your point is clear.
  2. Remember that people don’t care about you.
    Don’t bore people with unnecessary information about your company. Talk about their needs, problems, and desires. Remember, consumers are ignorant about HVAC. They don’t care about SEER. They’re tuned into WII-FM (What’s In It For Me) 24/7/365. They do care about lower utility bills or, better, extra cash to spend on other things they want.
  3. Remember that you’re not the buyer.
    You don’t necessarily think like the buyer. It doesn’t matter if you like or dislike something. What matters is marketing that works, not whether you like it personally.
  4. Pretend the customer is a teen.
    If you have a teenager, you’ll understand. Like teenagers, your customers have selective hearing, need repetition, think you’re a little dense and out of touch, think you don’t understand them, and act for their reasons — not yours. Customers, like teens, are narcissistic. To them, it’s all about ME!
  5. Concentrate on the headlines.
    Five times as many people will read the headline as the copy. Great copy under a losing headline is doomed to go unread. The headline (and supporting graphic elements) must capture the reader’s attention.
  6. Write interesting copy.
    Don’t write stiff, formal copy when communicating with your customers. Lawyers write stiff, formal copy. Look what it has done for them. Instead, have a conversation. Write as though you were sending a letter to a close friend. Tell a story and engage the reader. Be interesting to create interest and stimulate desire.
  7. Give people a reason to take action.
    Homeowners delay replacing HVAC equipment beyond the date it should be inducted into a museum. They delay out of inertia and because no one gives them a reason to act. Tell them why they should act now.
  8. Include soft offers to test media.
    Marketing fails when you’ve got the wrong audience, timing, or offer. Including a soft offer (e.g., something free, or a can’t lose no-brainer) helps you determine if you’ve got the right audience or media, but the wrong offer.
  9. Write long copy.
    While it’s true that we live in a sound byte society, people will read long copy if it’s well written and speaks to a recognized need or desire. Long copy gives you the ability to inform and educate, that is, to sell. Don’t ask people to invest time into your marketing and then withhold the critical information they need.
  10. Focus.
    You might want everyone to know about everything you offer. Stop! People won’t remember it all. If your spouse calls you in your car and asks you to pick up one or two items at the store on your way home, you might remember. If the list grows to five or six items, you’re bound to forget something. It’s worse with your marketing. Focus on a clear point you want people to remember.
  11. Learn the rules of graphic design.
    A touch of good graphic design can make a huge difference in the readability and effectiveness of your print media. This includes the design principles of contrast, repetition, association, and alignment. Print marketing should have a focal point that the entire layout is designed around.
  12. Don’t go overboard.
    Just because you have 1,000 fonts and 10,000 colors on your computer doesn’t mean you have to use them all. Limit yourself to two fonts for most print designs. Use color sparingly. Leave some white space.
  13. Buy good lists.
    Contact a list broker and spend extra for a better list. Free lists are nice, but when you’re doing a mailing that costs you 37 cents each, you can end up spending a lot per lead if you only get a 1% response rate. Spend a few dollars to buy a better list that bumps your response rate to 2%, and your cost per lead drops significantly.
  14. Start a swipe file.
    Collect junk mail. Pick up brochures when you’re in retail stores. Look for examples of good marketing and bad marketing. Grab whatever catches your eye. Swipe files help you generate ideas if you’re designing your own marketing. They also help you communicate with a graphics designer if you’re hiring someone else to create your marketing.
  15. Look around.
    Ideas are everywhere. Study the marketing of other service industries. List problems your customers have that you could solve. List the products and services you offer. Each is the potential subject of a marketing piece. Look at the calendar to see if there’s an upcoming holiday or event you could tie into with a marketing piece. Run searches on the Internet. There’s a wealth of information and idea sources available if you’ll just look around.
  16. Don’t worry when someone gets upset.
    Somewhere, sometime, someone is going to get upset with your marketing. This probably will not be someone who is a potential buyer. Don’t worry about the people who won’t buy. Gauge your marketing
    effectiveness by the people who do buy. You don’t need to please everyone. Unless you’re in a very small
    market, 5% to 10% of your market is enough to make you very wealthy.

Matt Michel is the CEO of the Service Roundtable (www.ServiceRoundtable.com), the country’s largest private contractor group, and the publisher of Comanche Marketing (www.ComancheMarketing.com). Visit the Service Roundtable’s website for more marketing ideas, including 50 Comanche Marketing Tips For Building Your Service Business, currently available as a free download. Matt can be reached at matt.michel@serviceroundtable.com.