The contracting business would be easy if there were a simple formula to follow to generate more leads, increase closing ratios, and improve profits. Actually, there is such a formula, and that well-charted path begins with marketing.

The hard-to-admit fact is, you’re not running a contracting business. True, you perform contracting services. Many do. Many fail. Yet the ones who distinguish themselves have made an essential mental shift: You’re running a marketing and sales business that specializes in contracting.

None of this denigrates the customer or minimizes the difficult task you do in contracting. Quite the contrary. To establish yourself as a marketer specializing in contracting means you begin to “see” the customer first and foremost as the path to your success. It’s not the tools. Nor the credentialed logos you stick in your ad. Not even the awards. Marketing asks how you can elevate the customer experience, benefits, and services and then educate them on how you get them there. Quickly and painlessly.

Acquire. Too much “acquisition” money is often spent in yellow pages ads, which typically produce underwhelming results and make you a slave to the weather. Your budget is eaten by a media that produces leads when you need them least. The thermometer is doing most of your marketing, which is exaggerated further by the yellow pages.

Lead generation is driven by your reasons why a prospect should call, mostly in direct response marketing. These reasons are your differentiation. If they can’t tell you apart, why should they call you? Offers, guarantees, and competitive advantages pull customers to you. This uniqueness translates into many things, even including your presentations to close more sales. A strong direct response campaign in newspaper or direct mail is both inexpensive and astoundingly effective.

Retention means once you earn customers, you focus on keeping them instead of thinking they’ll stay if you just leave them alone. They won’t. That’s what 71% of the customers who leave you say. They have other choices, but they chose you last time. Build the relationship and they’ll choose you next time. This is not done purely with sale mail either, it’s done by treating them like customers.

A customer retention newsletter sent two to four times a year to your active customers can work wonders. They’re quick, inexpensive, and saving even one customer can pay for years of newsletters.

As you send a newsletter to every customer you acquire — not as prospecting tools — your main goals are three-fold: 1) To keep your ranking high in their mind for future calls, 2) To extract referrals, and 3) To convert them to maintenance agreements.

Maintenance agreements are a luxury whereby your customers pay you to remain a customer. What a concept. You build massive, predictable work in the off-peak season from your in-peak conversions. Customers love it, systems love it, techs love it, and you might like multiplying every customer you get by roughly $180 each. It adds up. Oh, and your business now has reduced the nail-biting off-season while it has built bankable value.

Repeat. Track your ad results so you’ll know what to repeat. You know which media pulls, your message timing improves as you measure results, and your referral business swells from your retention program. New cluster markets loom, so you merely repeat what you did before to extract results.

Doing these three steps is easier with a plan, but 77% of contractors admit to not having one. Most contractors treat a marketing plan as a necessary evil . . . until they need sales. Then they treat it like a necessary evil with an impossible deadline. By creating an annual marketing plan, you can beat the season, the market, stay within budget, and beat the pants off your competition.

The biggest mistake we see contractors make is that they believe that if they’re good at their trade, they’ll be successful. Nope. If you’re great at your trade but the phone’s not ringing — you’re doing yourself, your family, and your market a huge disservice. Continuing this way, you eventually go out of business. The solution is to bring a new, better, different message to your prospects and give them reasons to respond, stay, pay, and refer. It’s all done with high performance marketing

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink “Creative Marketing that Works.” He creates custom ads, newsletters and gives marketing seminars. Readers can get a free marketing calendar with an easy-to-follow marketing plan by faxing their letterhead with the request to 334/262-1115. You can also call Hudson, Ink at 800/489-9099 for help or visit www.hudsonink.com for other marketing articles and reports, including a free 16-page report called “Get More Leads in Less Time.”