Unless you market your business successfully it is unlikely to thrive and will almost certainly go through some very lean patches. Word of mouth is a great way to get your name known in the local area, and every time you do a good job the likelihood is that people will tell their neighbours and friends, but few people in the decorating business can rely on this alone to bring in a constant stream of business.
One of the rules of marketing is to promote your business in the good times and the bad. If you wait until work dries up to advertise it will be too late. Make sure your business is seen in the right places all year round and you have every chance of keeping the work coming in.
Making it pay for itself
If you think marketing has to be expensive, think again. The whole idea of advertising and marketing is to help make you more profitable - so overall it should more than pay for itself in the long term.
With the right business profile you are more likely to be able to pick up the plum jobs. If you employ people they are less likely to be sitting idle while you pay their wages, and with continual work you can operate more efficiently and cost effectively.
Putting together a marketing plan
Most small businesses, not just decorators, find it tempting to do ad hoc advertising as the need arises, but if you do this you are not in control. It is far better to put together a simple marketing plan so that you know what you are doing all year round and exactly what it will cost.
One of the benefits of doing a marketing plan is that it gets you thinking about your business and what you want from it. Here are some questions worth asking if you haven't already:
- Where do I want the business to be in three years time?
- What are the main opportunities and threats to my business?
- What things are we good at, and which areas need improving?
- What do I want to achieve from my marketing?
The obvious answer to the last question is 'more business', but it doesn't have to be that general. You might want to think about the kind of business you want to attract. For example, if you wanted to target affluent areas with large properties then that would mean you would want an upmarket image for your business in terms of branding and stationery. It would mean a difference in the style of advertising you did and where it was placed. On the other hand, if you wanted to convey 'good honest value for money' then you would adjust your marketing accordingly.
A good guide is to adopt the 4 Ps - Product, Pricing, Promotion and People. What exactly are you offering, is it at the right price, how can you reach your customers and is your staff presenting the right image for your business?
The sections below outline some of the various marketing options available so that you can put together a marketing plan tailored to your needs, ready to be implemented.
One way to think about branding is to imagine the response of somebody who has never heard of your business before. If you give them a business card how does the design of the card alter their perception? Are you clearly offering what they want from a decorating service? Does the logo and paintwork on the van reflect the kind of company you are? Does your staff give a good impression when they meet clients for the first time?
The branding is really the personality of your company and is composed of every contact you have with the public - whether it's an ad in the local paper or the way you answer a phone enquiry.
Ideally, the personality of your company should be reflected in a logo and strap line. A logo is useful because it projects a consistent image in so many places - your stationery, your advertising, your vehicles, maybe even your work wear. So if you're not confident of your own design skills it's worth spending a little money to get it professionally designed.
If your stationery is good quality then customers are likely to think your work will be of an equally high standard. Remember, whether its letterheads, compliment slips, business cards or invoices, these may well be kept by clients for years, and can therefore act as repeat advertising. Well designed stationery will project a professional image whereas cheap looking stationery can lose you customers.
Stationery is one of the key conveyors of your branding so it should be consistent. Stick to the same typefaces, colour schemes, logo and letterhead design on everything. If you are a small company that doesn't require a lot of stationery you may be able to design and print it yourself with a colour printer. But keep it simple - elaborate typefaces, complicated images and lots of colours usually look cheap and amateurish.
Whatever the size of your business, having a company website will make it look bigger and more professional. It's a sales tool that's accessible 24/7, and is an ideal way to showcase your company in quite a detailed way so that your customers know exactly what services you offer. You can put your website address on any advertising you do, your van and on stationery.
But make sure your website looks well designed, is easy to navigate and kept up to date. You can find more about websites in the 'Going Online'€˜ pages.
Think of advertising as the lifeblood of your company. As a decorator it is likely that most of your business will come from the immediate area so concentrate on local media. This can be anything from an ad in the local paper to a postcard in your nearest newsagent, supermarket or post office. And never forget that your van is effectively a mobile billboard. Make sure it always looks smart and clean, says clearly that you are a painter and decorator and includes an easy to read telephone number, email address and website if you have one.
One advantage of being a decorator is that people will actively seek you out when they have work that needs doing, so make sure you have good presence in all the relevant directories such as Yellow Pages and internet listings.
If you know of a local residents' association newsletter or parish magazine it's often worth taking out a small ad in these as the costs will be low and these publications carry a lot of goodwill with their readers.
The more obvious route of course is your local newspaper. There are a number of options here which are broadly as follows:
A simple text advert that appears in a specific section, often at the back of the paper.
This is larger than a classified advertisement and can include pictures and designs. Display advertisements also tend to appear on a page that is a mix of editorial and advertising.
Also called 'advertorials', these look similar to editorial pages but are paid for and feature your own story. Best used if you have something newsworthy to say about the company.
Local newspapers often include leaflets or promotional flyers for companies. These are supplied by you and placed inside the newspaper.
If you are thinking of advertising in your local paper ask for a media pack. This will give you a breakdown of the publication's circulation, readership, ad sizes and rates. (It's always worth trying to negotiate on the quoted rates.)
The most popular local directory is Yellow Pages and every decorator should make sure they at least have a listing. If you can afford it, take out a display ad as this will make you stand out in a very crowded marketplace and allow you to say something about your services.
Also worth considering are other general directories such as Thomson, as well as Local Business Directories such as those produced by the local Chamber of Commerce.
More and more people are looking to the internet to source services, and there are many directories available - some a lot more worthwhile than others. Yell.com and ThomsonLocal.com are two of the most established, but you could track down many more by putting 'decorator'€˜ and the name of your town into a search engine.
Many search engines, including Google, Yahoo and MSN, have 'pay per click' advertisements which come up when people are searching for key words that you have paid for. Just visit the search engines to find out more about these.
This can be an excellent way to target a specific group of customers. For example, a housing estate which is reaching a certain age might respond well to a leaflet or flyer offering your services. With direct marketing you can soon tell what is and isn't working, so be prepared to try out different approaches. A limited period offer such as 10% off all work can often attract business and make people respond more quickly.
There are a number of ways to distribute your direct marketing communications. If you have an address list you could post them, or you could do a door-to-door leaflet drop, or even hand them out in the street.
Generally leaflets get a better response when they are distributed through the postal service which you can do by postcode sector. Information on the Royal Mail's door-to-door service can be found here.
Don't get so involved with attracting new business that you forget your existing customers. Ask anybody who works in a service industry and they'll tell you that Client Retention Management is one of the key routes to success. Keep in touch with your valued customers through advertising and promotions to make sure they stay with you, year after year.
The above information is correct at the time of writing (July 2009) but please check the details are up-to-date with the various organisations listed.
The contents of this guidance are for information only and no guarantee, representation or warranty of any kind is given (whether express or implied) in relation to any of the information, advice or opinions expressed in it. Whilst ICI Paints AkzoNobel have made all reasonable efforts to ensure that statements appearing in this guidance are accurate, ICI Paints AkzoNobel disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the information, advice and opinions contained in this guidance. ICI Paints AkzoNobel reserves the right to make any amendments or alterations to this guidance at any time, without notice.