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By TheRealBCF
August 24, 2007

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I've tried a number of things to extend the reach of my business (structural engineering), here they are and the results. This may be applicable to other businesses, but keep in mind different marketing methods work for different methods:

1. Advertising in newspapers: I do a lot of failure investigations for homeowners (foundation failures). It's always referrals from the repair contractors, but I got the idea once to advertise. Why not go directly to the homeowner? We tried community newspapers, which probably was a mistake. I got calls from old ladies wanting me to build retaining walls, and then they were totally mystified as to what an engineer was. I got a call from a barely literate guy looking for a job because in my ad I mentioned services to builders, and he thought he was looking for a builder and he wanted to be a builder. Maybe it was a waste in a community newspaper that no one reads anyway, but I think if I advertised in a larger paper it would just generate more nuisance calls.

2. Signs on the jobsite: We do this as a matter of course to put our name on the job. However, it again gets me calls from barely literate people that think I am the builder or contractor, even though my sign says "Structural Engineer". It's amazing how many people never got above a sixth grade education, and that don't know what an engineer is. How do these guys go through life when they don't understand any of the world around them? Unfortunately, this is a type of person I deal with everyday on jobsites.

3. Cold calls: Tried early in the business. I found it humiliating, it got no results, and I was afraid of ruining relations with future clients. I stopped it.

4. Dropping in on jobsites: Sometimes I will drop in on a job if I'm in the area to introduce myself to the contractor. It never pays off in work though, so it probably is a waste of time. I haven't done it in two years actually.

5. Networking at Chamber of Commerce, etc...: I found I hated doing this, any business it generated turned sour (real estate agents that didn't pay, small contractors that were a pain in the butt...). I quit that too.

6. Newsletter: This pays and pays for itself. I write a monthly newsletter that goes to everyone I ever did business with and people I add to the mailing list. I usually have the newsletter in three parts: 1. a short article about my company. 2. an article of interest to homebuilders. 3. an article of interest to homeowners. I figure people could give a crap less about my corporate propaganda, or reading articles that are meant to push them to me. So, I write articles about what they care about. For example, I write articles about what I find different municipalities are doing with building inspections and permits, or how to find a good home inspector... After every mailing I get a client back that I haven't heard from for years, or additional work from someone who was given my newsletter. It is absolutely amazing.

I think the success of the newsletter is that it is of interest to people, and not my corporate crap. I get very positive feedback from it, and my clients tell me they love my newsletter. Absolutely amazing.

7. Referrals: This is the main way I get business. People like me and give my name to others.

8. Build close relationships: I don't take clients out for dinner, or shower them with gifts. I did give an architecture firm I work with a painting from China, but that was the only case. I just spend time working hard with my clients to make sure they are happy. Sometimes I just call them to see what's going on and how they are doing. I'm not the only person that does this, I got a call last week from a client I haven't heard from in a while. He's waiting out the home building bust, but he just called me to see how I was doing. It's a good move to do that to keep up the relationships, and just general good practice.

That's my experience FWIW. Again, marketing methods have to be tailored to your business.