Marketing Strategies -- to Help You Move Beyond Referrals

Referrals are fine, but don't ignore other ways of finding business. 1998.

by Anthony Noel

The always reliable word-of-mouth advertising that comes with producing quality work is great, but marketing efforts shouldn't stop there.

In the last article, we had turned our attention to marketing. Not sales, marketing - which, we said, is different than sales. Do you remember why? (You didn't think there would be a test, did you!)

To refresh your memory, marketing is what we do to capture prospective clients' imaginations, while selling is, hopefully, what comes next.

There are almost endless options for marketing our businesses and the products we offer. We mentioned many last time and emphasized that word-of-mouth advertising is perhaps the most valuable form.

However, I've known many woodworkers who were hesitant to do much beyond that to promote their businesses. I'm convinced that one reason is the misconception, especially common among woodworkers who are just starting out, that clients will beat a path to their door once they have finished just a few jobs and the word gets around.

The rationale goes, 'Friends of my happy clients will see my work, and soon I won't be able to keep up.' There is no one who would rather believe this more than me. Unfortunately, things just don't work out that way very often.

Garnering a lot of work based solely on your good reputation does happen, but usually after many years in the business - not after your first five or 20 or 40 jobs. And even when you do get the bulk of your work through referrals or repeat business, you'll still need to hit the marketing 'bricks' in order to add to your clientele.

Building your reputation is a job-by-job process, and you should strive to make every job you do fantastic, whether it is your first or 500th. If there's one thing custom woodworkers can offer their customers that 'cookie-cutter' operations cannot, it is attention to detail and attention to each customer's specific needs.

So if you really want to be consistently busy and profitable, you must pay the same kind of attention to getting the word out about what you do as you would to making existing customers happy. If that sounds like a lot of work, it is. But if you're not willing to toot your own horn at least a little bit, the result is having very little work indeed.

Think about this: Every time you come in contact with another person, it is a potential marketing situation. I've actually met people in other professions who, regardless of the occasion - social, business, whatever - constantly push people for information in search of an opening than might generate a sale (a good example is insurance agents). New salespeople display the temerity that many insurance agents do. But not all of us are made that way.

A more subtle and easier approach is to always have a ready supply of business cards handy and to keep your ears open. If I had a dime for every time woodworking has come up in seemingly innocuous conversations and someone asked for a card, I'd have more dimes than TV's 'Dime Lady,' Candace Bergen.

Now maybe you're thinking, 'Business cards? What do business cards have to do with marketing?'

The fact is, every time you talk about your business to anyone or use any or a galaxy of promotional tools, of which the lowly business card is just one, you are engaged in marketing.

Whether it's a client who was referred through some of that potent word-of-mouth advertising and is already four steps ahead of you, asking, 'Where do I sign? WHERE DO I SIGN??' (this is rare), or the truck driver who delivers your materials, the act of just handing someone your business card is part of marketing. Your goal should be a positive marketing approach, including everything from what you say to the inanimate means you use to help you say it.

Every method you employ should be (a) consistent, in terms of what it says about your company, and (b) designed to capture your prospect's imagination.

'Yeah,' you're saying. 'But business cards?'


Like any other tool in your marketing program, your business card represents an opportunity. Sure, you can use it just to provide your name, address and phone number, but why not say a little more, like what you do and who you are?

Consider summing up what your company does in a short sentence or phrase. My card says, 'Offering design and construction of custom furniture.' An earlier version even had the words 'traditional' and 'contemporary' running vertically down the left and right sides respectively, and I liked those better than my current batch, where I omitted those two words.

And who are you? I'm the 'Owner/ Craftsman' at Noel Custom Woodworking. If yours is also the rarest of businesses - a place where people can still deal with the owner directly - consider saying so. It could really attract attention. We, who have a trade which is anything but impersonal, are crazy if we don't capitalize on it.

In addition to consistency in what you say, remember the power of consistency in the materials themselves, from an aesthetic standpoint.

If you have business cards, letterhead stationery and a brochure, use similar, if not matching stock (and ink) colors for each of those items. This projects an air of organization and professionalism. What's more, marketing materials which show concern for the details make it that much easier to convince prospects that you put the same care into your work.

Another marketing element that is both simple and easily recognizable is a logo. Perhaps you already have one.

Logos are generally more valuable to larger companies than they are to small ones, and I'm not convinced that they impact business much one way or the other for custom woodworkers. Still, logos can add to the overall perception of an organized and succinct approach, so they are worthy of consideration.

If you don't use a logo, at least be careful to keep the typeface you select for your company's name consistent on all your marketing materials. Doing so can make even a long company name something of a logo itself.

In the next article, we'll cover other marketing options. Then we'll consider what messages a marketing program should and should not send.

Anthony Noel writes, consults, and teaches woodworking and journalism, along with doing an occasional custom job in his shop in Macungie, PA.

Have a business related question? Visit WOODWEB's Business Forum. The Business Forum is co-sponsored by ISWonline and is moderated by Anthony Noel. All business topics are welcome, from sales and marketing to dealing with difficult customers.

This article is reprinted by permission of Custom Woodworking Business Magazine.