Did you know that every week, somewhere in the US, many good, hardworking business owners reach the point of no return and end up going out of business?
Recently the US Small Business Administration offered some updated statistics of how hard it is to achieve the ‘real’ American dream. You know, the dream of owning your own business and being successful enough to have a better financial life?
The old stats suggested that 50 percent of businesses fail in the first year and 95 percent fail within five years. More recent numbers suggest that seven out of ten new businesses survive at least two years and 51 percent survive at least five years. The rest? They’re gone.
Will your business be one of those that make it? Or will you be one of those who fail to achieve their dream?
It’s absolutely essential that your roofing company has a plan for success.
Your Marketing Planning Process Will Help Determine Your Results
This article, like others I’ve written on marketing strategy are intended to help you understand the biggest reasons why business owners close their doors and offer some ideas to help you avoid becoming a business failure.
The first reason business owners go out of business is that they lack a clear, executable marketing plan.
They have no program.
So often we start out by working at a job, under another owner, to learn the ropes in our industry. Then as our skill levels increase, we decide to venture out on our own. We see the success the owner enjoys and think “wouldn’t it be great to be able to live like that?”
But a good employee does not always become a great business owner. When you study the owners of successful businesses as I have, you see that the most successful owners understand that their most important job is marketing the business, not working like an employee in the business.
If you’re still climbing on top of the roof, then it’s time to step back and be manager.
The fact is, if you don’t have a marketing plan, you can’t successfully target and reach the ideal customer for your business. It’s kind of like playing hockey without having a net to shoot at. So you either have a plan to succeed – or you face the increased likelihood that you will fail.
Whether you are in the group that goes out of business in the first two years or the first 5 is irrelevant. Eventually your failed marketing planning process will catch up with you. If I walked into your office today, could you show me your marketing plan?
The second reason that businesses fail is that the owners are guilty of not investing enough in their marketing and advertising – or they’ve adopted an ineffective marketing program.
What do I mean by this? Let’s see if you can relate to this example?
A business owner called me recently after we met at a Chamber of Commerce function. We were talking about old versus new marketing models, when he asked this question: “How big of an ad in the yellow pages do you think I should have?”
I suggested that he should accept the free listing that was provided by the phone company or, at most, purchase the smallest display ad available. He replied, “Won’t I lose a ton of business by not being in the book? That’s what the ad rep told me!”
I asked him if he’d ever noticed a stack of phone books in the foyer of a condo or apartment complex where he has been, and he said yes. I asked him if he knew how many of those books were recycled or thrown away on delivery… He said no. I told him about a published report that said as much as 80% of all phone books are disposed of right away.
The fact is, with the exception of a small number of people who are not computer savvy, people today use the Internet to find the goods and services that they need. The ad rep for the phone book probably won’t tell you that.
Four years after this post was published, and the Yellow Pages are pretty much dead.
If you are still investing your marketing dollars in more than a basic ad, you cannot break even on the money you’re spending. Let’s face it: people today use the Internet and will usually look for local providers on Google. If I’m looking for a product or service locally, and I don’t find you there, you might as well not be in business.
So how much of a budget is needed to effectively market your business? As the marketing planning process unfolds, I’d say you’ll find a good number is at least 3% and as much as 8% of your annual revenues. If all of the advertising vehicles you use (Internet, print, radio, TV, mailers, etc.) offer some way of tracking their effectiveness, then you may be able to spend at the lower end of the range because you won’t waste money on stuff that won’t work.
Going forward, if professional marketing companies cannot provide you with clear ways to track leads or sales from your ads, you do not need their services.
If they suggest that it’s “Branding,” laugh and move on. You will never create a brand without spending a truckload on advertising. Not only once, but you will continue that expense for years to come.
Another major mistake I see business owners make is failing to capture repeat customers. Over a period of years, it isn’t unusual for people to require business services periodically, right?
Since we’re a community of roofers, let’s use a roofing company for an example. A roof that’s leaking, some facia board needs replacement, a drainage issue or ineffective gutters, and then that storm that hit a few weeks ago. …However, if you don’t keep in touch with your customers, pretty quickly they forget you.
When the next roofing emergency arises, they jump online and call someone else. Do you have a newsletter or use social media to keep your name in front of your customers? If not, then you are losing valuable business. In my opinion, all marketing dollars should be viewed from the position of the lifetime value of a customer.
Wouldn’t you agree that if a customer is worth many THOUSANDS in revenue to you over a 10-year period, you’d view them differently than you would someone who needs a few shingles and you only make few hundreds on the sale? Sending an email newsletter costs pennies per customer a month, and that is all that you need to remind them of your name, making it easy for them to call you when they need something. Fixing this one problem can boost your annual revenues by 25-30%.
(And so many roofers fail to capitalize on the profitability of maintenance programs.)
The fourth reason businesses close is that they start cutting their marketing budget in a tight economy. When you decrease your marketing budget, you decrease your visibility – and that is directly proportional to a decrease in business. As a result, less people will call you when they need something.
To understand why this is a really bad idea, let’s refer back to our company above.
Why is cutting marketing a bad idea, exactly? A roofing emergency is not something that people budget for. However, when water spills into their attics, panic sets in and people will find the money to fix it. As mentioned earlier, over 80% of the time they’ll be looking on their computer or smart phone for someone to help them with this crisis.
As you know, in a short time a small leak can do thousands of dollars in damage. Most homeowners will find a way to get help immediately to prevent their home from such damages. Did you know that the business owner listed at the top of the search results is going to get the call about 40% of the time?
Not every business owner can be listed first, but this much is sure: that business owner is not listed first by accident. They planned to be found at or near the top of the search results and invested in expert help (search engine optimization) that put them there. The good news is that it usually doesn’t even require much if any new marketing money to get skilled help. How? Simply reallocate money now spent on ineffective advertising models, to your new Internet marketing program.
Yellow Pages ads in my area can run as much as $2000-3000 per month for a full-page ad. A half page usually runs at least $1000/mo in most markets. Print ads in the local paper are also very expensive. What’s more, that money is wasted because almost no one is going to look in the newspaper when they have a roofing emergency.
One major secret of success is to fearlessly eliminate marketing money that is not producing a return on your investment in new customers and move those marketing dollars into something that can be tracked. And works. We call this ROI or return on investment.
The 5th fatal mistake that business owners make regularly is working too much IN your business instead of ON your business. What do I mean by this? Owning a business is different from being an employee. Being the great business owner you are doesn’t always translate into being a successful owner.
You now have a new job: The job of marketing your business. To be the best business owner you can usually means hiring a marketing expert. That’s why your larger competitors have a marketing manager on their payroll. Your role as the owner is to understand all of the functions of running a successful business. But it’s not your job to build websites, write and distribute content for your site, build links to your site or spend time chatting with potential customers on Facebook.
(And, believe me, writing content – stuff that is found on Google and people actually read – is a full-time job.)
Now, even smaller companies outsource their marketing to firms that provide strategy and implementation of the marketing plan. It’s often as simple as moving money from ineffective marketing into something that’s proven to work. (See idea #4)
One small company called us recently and said that they wanted to branch out from remodeling kitchens and bathrooms to also having a plumbing service business. A series of conversations led this business owner to hire our company to create his marketing strategy, write a marketing plan, build his website and ensure it all functioned properly. He wanted to make his phone ring for service calls, and we explained that it would require time and money – but that it was certainly possible.
About a year later, this client is being found on the first page of Google for numerous search terms, and his phone rings daily with new business. He gets a mix of clogged drains, broken water heaters, plumbing leaks and even an occasional repiping job. Perhaps more importantly, he did not need to take the time to learn about everything we do.
He just invested enough time talking to us and found out that he can trust us, and then invested his money in allowing us do our work. While we provide him with monthly statistical reports, he knows what we do works because he receives more calls for new business than ever before.
Finally, the last of the big mistakes I see in companies that can cause the business to fail is the mistaken focus on things they cannot control. This is the .75 on my list of “5.75 problems” that cause business owners to go out of business, and if you’re guilty of it, it’s probably hurting your business badly.
It’s true that the economy has been tough the last few years, but can you fix it? Probably not. Focusing on things you can’t control is like the race car driver who looks at the wall when they’re driving 200 mph. Since the car will go in the direction where the driver is looking, all race car drivers know to look at the track in front of them, not at the wall. Forgetting this will cause them to hit the wall – and that’s never a good thing.
So focus on what you can have an influence on. Things like your marketing plan, being found by those people who have an immediate need for your products or services today, and building relationships with them so they don’t think of calling someone else when emergency strikes.
While there are other things that cause business owners to go out of business, these are the most important ones. Avoid them like you would a rabid dog, and you’ll probably live to see your business grow and prosper. The most successful business owners I know run a sizable business that produces more than enough profit for them to live a great lifestyle.
But every one of them (unless they inherited a successful business) started out as an employee and one day went on their own. As it was in the day when Roger Bannister ran the first 4-minute mile, and in the process opened the door to others who soon accomplished it themselves, success is repeatable.
If you’ve ever seen a business owner who’s enjoying great success, then you know that it’s possible for you to do it too. All you have to do is have a dream, a plan, and the commitment to see it through. If you relate to any of the points in this article and are seeking some answers about implementing a successful Internet marketing program for your roofing business – then please leave comment below so we can talk with you about your goals and plans.