Online Marketing Gains Momentum with Small Businesses

Two contractors discuss their success with e-blasts, blogging and social media

Grayson Carter, of Bill's Sweeping Service
Grayson Carter, of Bill's Sweeping Service

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

Another important marketing outlet contractors should consider is e-blasts. Contractors can form marketing lists from the email address 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.

"Email marketing, such as e-blasts, is a great way to keep in touch with our current customers," she 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 email. I like to tailor the email 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 experts

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 email 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," Vitale 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. Now, there is one person who likes or comments on my blog post through Facebook and it has reached their friends. All it takes is a few minutes and a post."

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."



5 Tips for Read-worthy Blogs

Grayson Carter began writing his blog "Blacktop to Laptop" in 2011. Through the blogging realm, he helps small business owners improve their marketing efforts with a slight focus on sweeping and the pavement industry. He offers contractors five tips to successfully making the jump into blogging.

  1. Start now! Carter encourages contractors to start blogging immediately—whether it's redesigning the website to include a blog or coming up with topics and writing entries. "The Internet is fairly forgiving as long as you are being genuine," he says. "So, do what you can to get started right away."
  2. Be helpful. Provide value first and look to help the people reading your blog. "Don't use blogging as a long-hand sales pitch," he says. "You're going to get real benefits from your blog by genuinely helping the readers. If you're using it as a way to pitch your company and services no one will pay attention to you."
  3. Write to a friend. When writing, try writing the topic as if you are explaining it to a friend. "Blogging doesn't need to be like writing a history book," he says. "Write as though a friend is sitting across from you and use vocabulary they will understand."
  4. Read more. Find bloggers you are interested in that writes well. "You can mimic their style," Carter says. "I learned to write by following people I like and taking note of how they structure arguments. I like how they have a casual tone of voice without being unprofessional, and seeing if I can modify the way I write to fit that style."
  5. Video and photos. Be sure to include video and photos in your blog. "I use both video and photos, and the more creative you can be the better," he says. "If you're comfortable with video, do video. Try them all out and see which one gives you the best response."