Ask Steve

Ask Steve: How Do I Set Myself Apart from Well-Established Competition?

Marketing (and sales) should be a continuous process year-round

upholstery clearing tools techniquesGood morning, Steve,

I started cleaning in the St. Louis area about 2 years ago. I have lots of competition. In fact, there are several long-established and well known cleaners in my local market area. I have been told I do a much better job than most, but besides that do you have any ideas on how to set myself apart from these other guys? What kind of marketing do other cleaners in competitive areas do?

-Struggling in St. Louis


Good to hear from you, Struggling. And I gotta tell you, all areas are competitive these days!

Here’s my cut to the chase reply. Virtually all marketing “works.” The key is to a) do something, b) test the response and then c) do it regularly! Remember too it takes time to build a business, and you'll always find yourself second guessing yourself during slow periods. Winters especially are usually a little slow for many residential cleaners, so don’t panic.

HINT: Don’t start thinking about your advertising only when it gets slow! Marketing (and sales) should be a continuous process year-round! So a few thoughts that elaborate on the above…

1. Quit searching for the "brass ring": There is no one answer in marketing and even if there was, it would be different in areas and market bases. Which means you must try different things and once again...

2. TEST, TEST, TEST: Sadly, lots of carpet cleaners go through the years spending, spending, spending and never knowing what brings in the results. I think it was David Olgilvy who said, "Half the money I invest in marketing is wasted. The problem is I don't know which half!"

3. Don't panic: Desperation is not a sound business emotion to make decisions with. Calm, reasoned decisions based on testing that shows you the return on each type of advertising is what will bring you success. (Have I mentioned the need to accurately track and test response rates before?)

4. Religiously fund your “PIP”: The way to avoid getting desperate is to have a healthy Personal Investment Plan. (PIP) Otherwise called "paying yourself first!" Try taking 10% off the top of your gross income before you pay anything else and then put it in an investment account. What should be your first investment? Keep six months of living expenses in a money market fund. Ahhh! Now doesn’t having that fully-funded PIP make you feel good as you feel the pressure just melting off when the phone doesn't ring?

5. Get face-to-face: The fastest, cheapest, most effective marketing you will ever find is just good old “belly-to-belly” selling. That's right, if you are slow let some of that desperation drive you out and start making 20 sales calls a day, every day. You'll be amazed.

6. Don't follow the herd: If you've never heard the term "lemmings" just look in the dictionary under "carpet cleaner!" Don't try to compete head-to-head with others in either advertising medium or especially on who can charge lower prices! Look for marketing methods and niches that other cleaners don't do.

7. Get obsessed with making the cheerleader: You say you do “better work” than the rest, Struggling, and I have no reason to not believe you. But remember that 80% of how the customer decides if you did a good or a bad job is based on how they feel about you! (Not the size of your truckmount or even how shiny clean their carpets are!)

NOTE: You will create these Customer Cheerleaders by consistently delivering positive moments of truth on every job. Write me at for a free carpet step-by-step moment of truth carpet cleaning technician check list. I’ll email it to you - no charge!

So ask yourself, Struggling, have you honestly tried to make a delighted friend out of each and every customer you have cleaned for over the last two years? Do you do something extra at every home? You will be amazed at the impact that value-added service and cheerleaders will have in your business since they will sell your services for free to everyone they know!

Let me know how value-added service works for you!

P.S. Remember, the time to think about your advertising and sales is when you are busy! Don't let complacency trap you. The good times do not last forever unless you guide them along the way! My favorite marketing saying: “Sales should be a process, not an event!”

 NOTE: Steve and ICS want to consult for you! For a personal reply write Steve HERE with your questions, problems, struggles and challenges! Your help is on the way! A new “Ask Steve” will debut in the ICS eNewsletter every Thursday. To register to receive it, click here

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