We do zero paid advertising, as I believe works best for a high-end custom cabinet shop. But we are trying to smooth out the cash flow by selling a line of RTA cabinets alongside the custom work. As we are directing this product toward homeowners I think some paid advertising is needed.
I just paid a nominal fee for a trial run with HomeAdvisor. We pay about $35 for each lead they send us. Unfortunately the very first lead was total garbage. I paused the account until I can be sure we won't be paying for a high number of junk leads.
Is anybody using this service with success? If so, how have you configured it to work effectively?
The leads are mostly junk. It's probably better to spend your time calling on designers and builders and stick to high end custom work.
In order to make the semi-custom line work, you need to have a retail location where you become the designer and can spec out your line of cabinets. Advertising on home advisor won't get you there, not even close.
These guys have called me several times to attempt to sign me up. A little discussion with the telemarketer easily uncovers the fact that it's about a half step away from a Nigerian prince scam. They're not quite sure what business you're in until you tell them; it doesn't matter, as they'll be happy to take your money. "Leads" may be people who gave up their contact information for anything. Advertising is probably a good idea, regardless of the size of your business or customness of your work; the wrench is finding the advertising that will reach the people who want your work AND are willing to pay for it. Home Advisor and their ilk ain't it, for most of us.
I wouldn't say all custom shops shouldn't advertise, but conditions in our market don't seem to support it. Most people outside of the building trades have no concept of what our product costs, so we can waste a lot of time writing estimates that go nowhere. So we prefer to spend our resources pursuing building professionals who can bring repeat business.
Our rep with HomeAdvisor swears that we will get useful leads and that we won't have to pay for the bad ones that slip through. I looked into a paid account with houzz but it's relatively expensive and requires a full year contract. We have gotten some leads from our free houzz account, one of which was very good and another 20 that were tire kickers. I'm not going to commit to spending $4800 over a year for that kind of performance.
So if not these services, where have you all found the best qualified sales leads?
My impression is that there simply isn't an advertising medium that efficiently targets your ideal customer - designers and builders. The advertising channels that do exist, like HomeAdvisor, Houzz, Adwords, etc, all target the end customer.
Why not spend your advertising dollars to hire someone to cold call designers and builders in your market? They do the grunt work and pass on warm leads to you to follow up on.
I don't recommend angie's list, the price point these folks are looking for is about the same as craigslist. I've been repeatedly contacted by houzz, but wasn't sure how much their service cost. Sounds pretty high to me.
Be sure you all have a listing at WOODWEB's Woodworker's Directory!
You can create a free web page there for your cabinet, architectural millwork, finishing, boatbuilding, wood products manufacturing, etc. company. Your company will be part of a searchable database for visitors looking for the services you may offer.
Again - it's free, there is no risk, and we offer it as a service to you all.
I look at this thread and just chuckle. What I see is my competitors, frozen like deer in headlights, worrying and arguing about paying $35 for a potential job lead that could result in sales in the tens of thousands. If you cannot afford to spend that on several leads to get your next job, you simply are not charging enough for your work and will always be struggling to earn enough just to cover wages and rent, not to grow a valuable business that will pay you a six figures salary each year and continue to reward you handsomely.
While we now spend thousands every month for advertising and sales/marketing expenses, it wasn't always that way. We started by spending hundreds each month then grew the budget as more sales were coming in. You see, advertising and marketing expenses are scalable. If you do it correctly, the more you spend on marketing, the more you will generate in sales dollars and profits. It's really just that simple.
We realized a long time ago that if our business was to grow and thrive, we needed to constantly bring in new clients. We offer full custom high end turn-key remodeling and new construction solutions, but don't stop there. We have budget minded choices for those who cannot afford and or don't value the high end some of our clients demand.
We also learned very long ago that we cannot control what someone has in their wallet or as a budget figure. So we decided to have a price competitive options for everyone that enters our radar screen, regardless of what they have to spend.
Does it always work? No we don't sell everyone something. But we do sell enough of them to not only recapture our marketing costs that got them in the door, but to provide jobs and wages for our employees, managers and officers, cover our overhead and material costs PLUS a profit after we deliver what they order.
For those of you who understand that sales and marketing is a standard business practice and has costs that must be built into your pricing as overhead and salaries, I am preaching to the choir. For those of you who don't understand and practice adding sales and marketing costs to each project, please keep discussing and arguing about the value of spending a few dollars here and a few dollars there looking for the magic advertising solution that will neatly deliver a solid qualified lead. I have a news flash for you…such an advertising or marketing solution doesn’t exists. You will need to gather and qualify your own sales leads.
Whatever you do, please don't start an advertising budget and actually spend it. And never consider selling a product you don't produce that would compete with others, like the big boxes or discount showrooms. And please don’t start to actually process several sales leads every week to screen out the bad ones to find the good ones. While you are busy arguing and discussing the value and virtues of various advertising and marketing companies and techniques, I'll be busy advertising and selling to your potential clients and earning profits you could have had, if you would have simply treated your business like a business and done what is necessary to find and sell the next job.
I'm going to ignore Biz Owner's condescending tone and focus on the point, which I'm starting to think is largely true.
When I started out 10 years (and a couple of day-jobs) ago, I didn't care much about money and was intent on staying small. Fast forward: marriage, mortgage, kids, etc. and I need to make a good living. In the SF Bay Area, that means six figures, just to own a house in a good school district.
Looking around, I see a few kinds of cabinet shops. There are the vets who busted their backs to get established, and still don't get paid when the business slows down. Some of those guys are 50+ and had to work long hours on the shop floor to keep the doors open through the recession. Then there are the shops with shiny trucks, showrooms and fancy CNC equipment. The guys who started those companies only have callouses from their golf clubs. There's a lot more than advertising in the differences between these companies, but none of those vets who are still pushing 4/4 through the old Unisaw seem to believe in advertising.
I have all the respect in the world for the vets, but I don't want their back problems. Having struggled for this long, I'm realizing that I'll become one of them if I don't do something different. As my SBDC advisor said, "There are very few problems that can't be cured by more sales".
Right now, we are recovering from an extremely slow summer, but we have plenty of contracts. I'm trying to keep that momentum. We'll have to start small because cash is tight, and for that same reason, it has to be effective. Which is the very reason I started this thread...
I don't know if we're still talking about the RTA stuff or not. But, generally, I'd get my website working - really working. Generating inquiries rather than hanging around as an online portfolio. You have nice projects, but no stories about them. Nothing for people and search engines to engage with. No word to find or spread. What neighborhoods they are in, what were the clients looking for, what is special about them, what the client was trying to attain. For example. Solve problems, answer any question you get asked 2 times a week on your blog. Illustrate what it is like to have you do custom work - the process - from the client's perspective. Axe your shop photos and equipment list - that's woodweb stuff.
Read Inbound Marketing from the Hubspot guys, then do it. Cheaper than advertising in the long run, with long residuals, in my experience.
Thanks Jim, I think I underestimate what the website can do. I haven't really changed it much in five years, and have just assumed that nobody would find it anyway. It's probably time to do a complete refresh, the current design was done in an iWeb template, has zero SEO and the blog is a pain to update.
So, let's say I do an AdWords campaign (assuming I can figure out that mess) and a landing page as you suggested. How do I qualify the sales leads that result?
Generally, I'd suggest some pre-planning on your conversion funnel. And tailor the qualification accordingly. The ad may catch people browsing for information and the landing page can delineate some additional details/advantages and have some call-to-action response (an web form where folks can ask about "x" and leave their contact info is good stuff on any web page) that is in itself a form of buying signal. You know, interest informed by the additional info they just got. So your tools are pre-screening from the start. They may be just shopping, but they ARE indicating interest in your direction.
[Google will not be controlling your leads like Thumbtack or Houzz, but putting your ad up where people can click on it and enter an online domain you control - your website preferably. Do a Google search and click on some results on the top of the page that says "Ad" and see how other businesses are doing it.]
From there, you get into a conversation with them - by phone or email. Following up, building a relationship, getting and giving details. We get about 5 email inquiries a day, and reply quickly by email even if they gave us a phone number. We ask some question in our reply, often innocuous, like "Does your (x) get lots of use?" If they get back, they are a top-list prospect.
(If you are doing the RTA thing, I'd make the call to action be a button they click that takes them to your on-line store where they can place their order. Or a web form where they can click boxes for their options and 'get a price today'. (but i don't know how you plan to offer that).
I know many people that have used Home Advisor. Some find it very useful and others do not quite frankly. One of the keys is having an agreement with HA as to what type leads will be forwarded you. Make sure it is very tight. Beyond that you need to test it long enough to form a good opinion. One lead is not realistic for that. This is marketing and it costs money to test it. Just make sure you have covered the bases before you begin and do your homework to make sure there is a decent chance of success.
We are definitely not going to proceed with HA. Of the approx. 8 leads I have followed up with, none have resulted in more than wasted time. HA has been agreeable to refunding the fee for the leads that were clearly wrong for us, we will end up paying for the rest.
My project for the holiday downtime is to rebuild our website. At least this little HA debacle has pushed me to do that.
we have been very successful with Houzz. Started for free and now pay 350.00 month for Miami and Miami beach area. Always on top of page, easy to set up a site and update photos. I have 42 great reviews which is one of the most important drawing cards here in south Florida as there are many fly by night shops and it's the scam capital of the nation. As a paying client I also get a site with a dashboard showing clicks per week for each photo and I can add or delete photos that are getting more traction. I have made relationships with more designers through HOUZZ and the clients are more educated and have more disposable income and are looking for high quality work. HA and service magic, which I think was their name before, and most leads companies have never worked for me and some were downright scams. Try houzz for free and see if it works for you. I get a few jobs every month and one 20k kitchen more than pays for the monthly fee.
Evan, nice job on your site. Mine is a horrible place holder, something scheduled to change in the next couple of weeks.
We've been on Houzz for a while and are beginning to get inquiries. Every one we've gotten so far has been worthwhile and in the economic range we are comfortable with (despite the crappy site, we're higher end custom). We will be looking at budget over the next few weeks with the intent of including a subscription to Houzz.
I've had a couple of "contractors" contact me with home advisor leads. These guys have managed to score some bids and are now looking for cabinet shops to do the work. Red flags have been popping up all over the place. Not only do I not trust these "contractors", the work they've been proposing would cost me money. From every indication I've gotten, home advisor is a craigslist clone and I'm not a handy man service.
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