Cost Effective Marketing for Painting Contractors

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Like any small-business owner, painting contractors face many challenges in growing their business. Among the common complaints voiced by contractors, such as finding good help and low-priced competition, generating leads is often the biggest obstacle.

Leads are the lifeblood of any contracting company. Without a steady flow of quality leads, a contractor can easily be tempted to resort to strategies that are detrimental to his business in the long term. For example, he may cut his prices and develop a reputation as a discount contractor.

Painting contractors have many opinions on what works when it comes to marketing. Some swear by direct mail, while others insist that Internet marketing is the only effective marketing tool in today’s technological society. While these marketing media can certainly be effective and should be a part of your marketing arsenal, there is no magic bullet. However, there are three marketing methods – customer retention, proximity marketing and referral programs – that are cost-efficient and effective in virtually every market.

As the name implies, customer retention focuses on retaining past customers. Many contractors believe that if they provide good service, past customers will continue to call when they have further painting needs. This may often be true, but customers can hire a competitor for many reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of your work. For example, the customer may forget your name or he may not be able to find your number. The purpose of customer retention is to prevent this from occurring.

Most likely, you have experienced retention marketing yourself. For example, Jiffy Lube sends postcards to remind customers when they are due for their next oil change. Amazon and other online retailers send regular emails promoting sales and other specials. If you need your oil changed, are you more likely to go to Jiffy Lube or a business that has done nothing to solicit your patronage?

“There are three marketing methods – customer retention, proximity marketing and referral programs – that are cost-efficient and effective in virtually every market.”

For a painting contractor, there are many options when it comes to retention marketing. Let us consider three of these options.

  1. Newsletters: Newsletters are one of the most effective means of retention marketing. Newsletters allow you to provide useful information about new products, home maintenance and similar topics without explicitly selling your services. Newsletters also have “shelf life” – they may be retained for future reference.
  2. Postcards: Postcards can be effective for promoting a seasonal special, announcing a new service, thanking a customer for his business or delivering some other short message. Companies such as can print and mail postcards to your customer list.
  3. Email: Companies like Constant Contact make it easy to maintain a customer email list, as well as develop and send professional-looking emails.

Whichever method or methods you use, you should keep your name in front of your past customers.

It is equally important to market to “losers” (i.e., customers who received a bid from you but did not hire you). Often, customers will have a bad experience with a contractor, and when they have future painting needs, that experience may motivate them to call you again. As an example, my company receives four to six jobs a year from such customers. In fact, one customer wound up spending more than $50,000 over a two-year period. The profit from that single customer paid for all our retention marketing for nearly five years!

A second cost-effective marketing method is proximity marketing – marketing around an upcoming job or a job in progress. With few exceptions, the neighbors of your customers also need your services. Your presence in the neighborhood provides an implicit endorsement from your customer – after all, he did the research and hired you.

Proximity marketing can involve direct mail, canvassing or fliers. It can be as simple as placing fliers on 10 to 15 houses around the job site each day or as involved as staggered mailings to hundreds of homes. By using a combination of these methods, you can expose a homeowner to your company’s name multiple times within a few weeks.

You can develop a proximity marketing plan that fits your budget, and expand or contract as your lead flow dictates. Services such as allow you to target homes around a specific address.

Many contractors rely heavily on referrals. However, if they do not actively engage in generating referrals, their lead flow may be sporadic. As with all marketing, a proactive approach is necessary for consistent success. By soliciting referrals you can expand the number of referring customers. Networking can also be used to increase referrals.

A passive referral program is, in reality, not a program. It involves no active effort on the part of the contractor and simply lets referrals happen when they happen. While this can result in some referrals, predictable results are impossible.

An active referral program seeks to create referrals by asking for them. We should not assume that customers will give us referrals. They may, but they may not. If we develop a systematic approach to asking for referrals we will likely generate more referrals.

The key to an active referral program is solicitation (i.e., asking for referrals). You should not be afraid to ask for referrals, and you should do so at every opportunity. The more consistently and persistently you ask, the more referrals you will get. Obviously, some common sense should be exercised. You don’t want to badger your customers or beg for referrals.

There are many methods for soliciting referrals. A letter thanking customers for their business can include a request for referrals. Postcards can be mailed periodically after the job has been completed. Phone calls can be used, as can face-to-face meetings.

By developing a system for your referral program, little ongoing effort will be required. Letters and forms can be preprinted and then mailed or used at the appropriate time. Through developing word tracks and assigning responsibilities, numerous people can be involved in the program.

The key to any marketing program is consistency. Inconsistent marketing creates inconsistent results. If you want a steady flow of leads, then your marketing must also be steady. APC

Brian Phillips has owned and operated a paint contracting company in Houston for 25 years. He has taught workshops for the Certified Contractors NetWork, the National Alliance of Professional Painters,- and Pittsburgh Paints. He owns and operates, a website that provides information and resources for painting contractors who want to build a better, more profitable business.


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