Online Marketing Gains Momentum with Small Businesses

Small businesses have long turned to door hangers, magnets and can koozies as the main marketing effort for their company. While such methods offer contractors an opportunity to keep their company's name in front of customers and potential customers, contractors must be aware one untapped marketing source—the Internet.

Lauren Vitale, of C&L Sweeper Service located in Jackson, NJ, and Grayson Carter, of Bill's Sweeping Service located in Orange, CA, offer contractors several tips for conquering the challenges of online marketing. Whether contractors utilize e-blasts, blogs or social media they can enhance their company's image while reaching to an unlimited source of potential customers.

E-blasts maintain contractor's presence

An important marketing outlet contractors should consider is e-blasts. Contractors can form marketing lists from the e-mail addresses they obtain for communication between clients and potential clients. C&L Sweeper Service has found great success in e-blasts utilizing them to maintain contact with clients.

"E-mail marketing, such as e-blasts, is a great way to keep in touch with our current customers," Vitale says. "It is a way to remind them who we are and what we do. They may only use us for a sweeping job, but they may forget that we also do crack filling and sealcoating. By sending out monthly e-blasts they are reminded of all the services we offer."

Vitale sends e-blasts to several types of clients. "We target builders, municipalities, mainly any company interested in sweeping, line striping or paving," she says. "Homeowner associations are also a big market. We've gotten leads from them and shopping centers. We are going to start hitting engineers."

When sending out e-blasts, contractors must be aware of their audience. "We cater each e-blast to the specific market," Vitale says. "When I send out an e-blast, I don't want them to feel like they are just receiving a commercial e-mail. I like to tailor the e-mail so it is personalized—every e-blast includes ‘Dear' and the contact name for each company. This makes it look more personal by being addressed to a specific person."

To make the e-blasts relevant, Vitale sends them for various holidays including a link to the company's blog and website. "I might include something such as ‘Hope you have a safe and happy holiday...Just a reminder, we offer this service, this service and this service," she says.

Open rates are the best way to calibrate the success of e-blasts. "I like to see an open rate between 25-30 percent," she says. "There were a couple of e-blasts that I thought were great, but then they turned out to be complete duds. It's all a learning experience."

While not every e-blast will have the open rate you're looking for, Vitale notes that it only takes a few clicks to see the return. "All you want to do is hit two or three people, just so they call and say they like what we're doing."

Contractors must also regularly clean up their mailing lists. "I like to go through them once a month and eliminate all the bounced e-mails, the reason being is that certain companies I deal with have changing employees," she says. "The decision makers at the lower level may not be with the company a month from now. You could have someone moving to another company or a different position in that same company. Because of those reasons, it's important to constantly keep updating the list at least once a month."

Blogging to establish industry expertise

With competition increasingly intense, contractors must prove to clients they are an industry expert, complete quality work, follow safety procedures, etc. before that first call is even made. How can contractors prove to potential clients they have everything needed to complete the job? Blogs.

Carter has spent the past year learning the ins and outs of blogging. Prior to blogging for Bill's Sweeping Service, he began with his blog, "Blacktop to Laptop."

He started blogging at the end of 2011 with a focus to help small business owners improve their marketing efforts. "It touches on sweeping and the industry in general by understanding what sort of problems and challenges they have along the way," he says. "It's not like we have huge marketing budgets to hire outside firms to do this for us. We're expected to run the business and be able to do marketing, advertising and customer service all at the same time. Finding efficient, cost-effective ways to do that is what I aim to do."

The blog has been extremely useful in preparing Carter for a Bill's Sweeping Service blog. Carter believes that blogging about any topic is a successful way to prepare for a company blog. While it can be intimidating, Carter says that contractors can only get better the more they blog. "Even if the most you are doing is writing about a hobby, just writing about it online will naturally improve your writing," he says. "You will have some of those basic skills to transfer over to your business blog. Getting out there and starting to write on any topic is the biggest step you can take."

Much like most online efforts, a strong viewership won't happen instantly; however, contractors must understand that blogging is still extremely useful. "You are still creating your own authority in the industry," Carter says. "There are certain benefits you have just by having a blog up. You can point to your content and tell a client about the material you've written. Then, let them know you can discuss the topic and how you can help them with X, Y and Z."

Facebook and Twitter extend reach

C&L Sweeper Service has a Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn account. Vitale uses the sites to share content about the company. Vitale also shares blog posts as well as photos with both sites. "We have a Twitter account that I use regularly," Vitale says. "I'll post a blurb about our business or use it to respond to other conversations. Twitter is a two-way conversation."

She also suggests that contractors include social media logos with links to the company page in employees e-mail signatures. This will promote the social media sites to anyone employees communicate with.

Vitale only sees an opportunity in social media. "This is an untapped market," she says. "It's so easy to reach thousands of people. We have 148 people on our Facebook page. So, anytime I post a blog to Facebook it goes out to 148 people."

Although social media and online marketing consist of a large part of C&L Sweeping Service's marketing plan, the company continues to use traditional marketing techniques with a fresh spin. "We order a lot of give-a-ways for trade shows," Vitale says. "There are people who like koozies or bottle openers. All of those little give-a-ways have our website, Facebook and Twitter addresses on them. So, our company is always in front of the customer."