Word of mouth marketing has always been a reliable source of business for tradespeople - and there's no reason to think it will ever stop being the case.
However, if you only expect to find work through word of mouth, you're limiting your opportunities. People are increasingly looking to the web first when trying to find a tradesperson.
There are many ways to promote your trade business online. Some are completely free, whilst others cost money. Below are some of the most popular methods.
Online marketplaces and directories
While weighty directory books are now pretty much defunct, there's a whole range of online directories and marketplaces for tradespeople to advertise in. These websites allow potential customers to find out what you do, and let existing customers review the work you've done. Setting up a listing is normally free and allows you to easily begin finding work fast.
To get started with listing your business on online directories:
Identify a list of online marketplaces that are relevant to your business.
Create a profile on each site and include details of your services, specialisms and location.
Log in regularly and set up email alerts to keep track of leads.
Tradesman recommendation sites
The majority of tradesperson recommendation sites are nationwide and cover most types of tradespeople. That said, there are some industry-specific sites that you could also aim to appear on, such as the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering, to target people that need your expertise.
Some of today's most popular trader recommendation sites include:
Social media for tradesmen
Setting up a social media account is an incredibly easy way of marketing your trade business online. It's generally best to start out with Facebook and Twitter, although you could also try showcasing your projects on Instagram too. The most important thing is to have some kind of strategy in place. Decide how you're going to use the platform to promote yourself and do so in a consistent manner.
As an idea of what you can do, why not try the following:
Display before/after images of your work
Post photos of your current projects (make sure you have your customers' permission)
Spark conversations with customers and giving advice on common problems
Post links to relevant articles and news
Use appropriate hashtags (such as #localtradesman, #builder, #plumber, #tradie) to help people find you on social media.
Google My Business
If you've ever looked up a restaurant, shop or service on your phone before deciding whether it's for you, you'll know how important it is to have your business listed on Google. If people can find you - and see you have decent reviews - it's so much more likely they'll choose to work with you over your competitors.
Follow these steps to get up and running with Google My Business:
Use a Gmail account to create and verify a listing for your business.
Choose a category from the list provided and add your address, phone number, operating hours, and a link to your website if you have one.
Upload photos that advertise who you are and the work you do (make sure you have your customers' permission). These can be professional-looking logos, before and after snaps of projects - and even a photo of you at work.
Once your listing is live, reply to any questions or reviews to show you're happy to help.
Get up to speed with the best online marketing techniques in this quick, helpful video for tradespeople like you:
Having a website for your business is a must nowadays - and you don't need to hire an expensive web designer either. By using tools like WordPress or Wix, you can use a range of (often free) templates to build up your own site. Your website doesn't need to be flashy or complex - just having a place that potential customers can come and find out about you and check you're a real business is so important.
Another benefit of having your own website is you get a domain name. This means you can have a professional-looking email address - customers are likely to view 'email@example.com' as being more reliable than 'firstname.lastname@example.org.'
Why should I bother with a website when social media is free?
It's understandable that some tradespeople don't want to fork out for a website when they can just use social media for free. That said, it's generally more effective to combine social media with a website and use the former as a way of driving people to your own 'online shop front'.
You get more control over your branding with your own website.
People can find you more easily on search engines like Google when you have a website.
People tend to start their searches for services on Google - not on Facebook or Twitter.
A website makes you look like a 'real business' - not just something someone's set up on the side.
What should my trade website include?
Websites are hugely flexible and you can make them as extensive as you want. That said, you should stick to the mantra of 'less is more'. Give your visitors the basic details, then tell them how to contact you to learn the specifics. Trade website essentials are:
A simple navigation that includes:
A company blog: Your blog should include relevant tips and how-to guides where you can establish yourself as a local expert in your trade. Rather than being salesy, your blog content is more about providing your visitors with useful information which positions you as a credible and trustworthy professional.
Downloadable documents and guides: You could provide step-by-step details on how to deal with minor problems, which your visitors can download and print at home.
Photos: Provide high-quality photos of yourself, your team and some of your successful projects (make sure you have your customers' permission).
Case studies and client quotes: Ask your existing customers to provide testimonials of the great work you've done. Customers are far more likely to believe what other customers say about you, than what you say about yourself.
'Calls to action': Throughout your website include buttons and links to your contact page. These buttons should explicitly tell the visitor to get in touch for a quote. Don't go over the top with this - a small button on each page is a great place to start.
Should my website be mobile responsive?
Absolutely, yes. Modern website templates are automatically designed to fit a mobile phone screen. If you've had a website for a while, though, it may still only be optimised for a desktop computer. A lot of customers today browse on their phone for service companies, so if your website is hard to explore on a smartphone, they may take their business to a more up-to-date competitor.
What's more, Google now favours significantly sites with higher levels of mobile-friendliness, so it's crucial to bring your website in line with the times.
Despite all the hype around social media, email remains one of the most effective ways of getting in touch with your existing, and potential, customers - so long as they've told you they're happy to be contacted. Your messages appear directly in their inbox and adding these contacts to a regular mailing list can keep you at the front of their minds in time for their next project.
How often should I email my customers?
No one wants to receive endless, salesy emails, but the occasional nudge every so often is a helpful way to remind your customers you're around if they need help. How often you send emails really depends on your business and the relationship you have with your customers.
The email should not be focused on selling. Instead, provide your mailing list with useful information on a consistent theme - be that your latest blog on maintaining pipes over winter, or details on new Government rules and tips for how to comply.
Marketing has traditionally been a business of throwing things out into the world and hoping new customers will get in touch. Today's online marketing tools now provide much more accurate methods of working out if your marketing is working. That said, they will only ever tell part of the story, and you can get into a rabbit warren of trying to track every single interaction with your business. Keep things simple with these no-nonsense ways to see how your efforts are paying off.
Set clear targets
Before you do anything, choose two or three specific goals you want to achieve through your online marketing - whether that's doubling traffic to your website, tripling the number of leads you receive this year or getting 100 'likes' on your Facebook page.
Google, Twitter and Facebook analytics
These tools all provide you with information about how people found your page and what they did there. If footfall is low or visitors aren't behaving as you'd expect, you might need to adjust your strategy.
Use tracking URLs in your adverts
If you decide to go down the route of paid adverts on Google or social media, you can use tracking features to gather insightful performance data. Make sure you have these features set up properly, so you can see afterwards whether the ad was effective.
Online marketing is a powerful way of helping your company win more work. At Towergate, we aim to help firms grow sustainably. Learn how our tradesman insurance can support you whilst you take care of business.
Alison Wild BCom (Hons), MAAT, MATT, Taxation Technician is a highly respected industry professional who has been working with and advising SMEs in areas including tax, pensions, insurance and marketing for over 25 years. She is a member of the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) and Association of Tax Technicians (ATT) and also has over 20 years' experience as a residential landlord.
Date: September 12, 2015