Beat Your Competition to the Punch

July 12, 2006
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We all know the importance of targeting the right customer, at the right time, to sell your services. However, many of you may not keep up with the latest marketing trends, including online marketing. Are you aware that more than 70 percent of customers are relying less on traditional marketing methods, such as yellow pages, magazine, newspaper, radio or television advertisement and are focusing on the Internet as their primary source to find local services and businesses?

In the course of the year, I work directly with thousands of residential contractors and home service professionals nationwide, and the majority of them are not properly utilizing technology as a profitable source of providing not only customers, but better, more targeted customer leads. According to The Kelsey Group, a research and consulting firm, local commercial searches will grow from approximately 15 percent to 25 percent by 2010 (including online searches for cleaning professionals). Therefore, online marketing will become increasingly important for cleaning professionals. Yet, the majority of you are lagging far behind in your ability to take advantage of this new form of marketing. Online marketing can cut costs and produce targeted leads - leads that your competition will never know existed!

It's All about Positioning

If fewer prospective customers are utilizing the traditional methods to find cleaning professionals, why would you want to spend your hard-earned dollars on those marketing vehicles? You shouldn't. Instead, you should focus your interest on those vehicles that are attracting the customers' attention - namely, the Internet.

Most businesses discover that their road to profitability is paved with sales resulting from marketing their business where the best customers are located. But that means studying the trends and listening to what is going on in your targeted markets. Here are some simple facts that might shock you, but also help your marketing efforts.
1. Less than 50 percent of small businesses have a Web site.
2. More than $4 billion of Yellow Page advertisement is moving online by 2008.
3. More than 70 percent of adults in the U.S. use the Internet as their information source when shopping for local services.
4. The Kelsey Group estimates that local online commercial searches will increase from 15 percent to 25 percent by 2010 (this includes online searches for local home service professionals).

All of this research points to a trend for which you, as a business owner, should be taking note. It means that things are changing and if you do not want to become a relic of days gone by, you must change your thinking about online marketing.

Am I telling you to run out and invest money in setting up a Web site? Absolutely not. Here are some things all small-to-medium-size cleaning businesses should consider before investing in a website:

1. The cost to establish a website that actually produces targeted leads can cost thousands of dollars. There is a science to making a Web site produce sales and it is entirely different than what the average person thinks will work. Just hiring a Web site designer to design your site is unlikely to result in a site that will attract sales.

2. The cost of optimizing your site for search engines, so people can find it when they type in keywords, requires time, research and money. First, your site has to be loaded with keywords and meta tags that the search engines (like Google and Yahoo!) are indexing. The problem is that search engines are constantly changing their algorithms, so your site may become outdated before it even gets started. However, even if the search engine finds your site, there is no guarantee where you will end up in the listing of results (maybe even the end!). Being in the first few pages of results is critical, and that is very difficult to achieve.

3. Pay-per-click advertising (PPC) is another method for small businesses who want to market their services online. This method involves selecting keywords that would result in your online advertisement appearing within search results (these are the shaded blue ads above or on the right-hand-side of search results). You pay for the keyword and each time a person clicks on your ad. There are a few problems with PPC, the first being that your competition can raise the ante by bidding a higher amount for the keyword you have selected, resulting in their online ad being placed above yours. The second reason is that you pay each time someone clicks through to your website, whether or not they become a customer lead.

So what is the best way to position yourself online and realize a return for your online marketing efforts?
1. Something that doesn't cost a lot.
2. Something that provides targeted leads.

We looked into multiple online marketing services to recommend to our clients. Some of the things to look at include:
1. How much does the service cost?
2. Is it a pay-per-lead model or do you pay monthly fees?
3. How do they generate traffic to their Web site?
4. How many people visit the site and how many customers does it actually generate?
5. How does the service present you to the customer?
6. How old is the company? It is a fly-by-night Internet company, or established and trusted?

Obviously, the Internet is not going away, but if you do not start marketing your business online, you might not be around. If you have the time to dedicate to creating a targeted and cost-effective online marketing campaign, go for it. A word of advice: if you think managing a direct mail campaign is hard, it is a piece of cake compared to creating an online marketing program. Make it easy for yourself; find someone who has the knowledge and expertise to do it for you so you can do what you do best - your job!

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