Internet Marketing Methods to Grow Your Home Improvement Business

Last month 22,200 people searched online for “Home Improvement contractors New York” and 33,100 people searched for “Contractors New York” indicating a strong demand for home improvement related services. The fact is another Contractor in your local area is ending up with this business. Most Contractors entered into the profession thinking that they would open up a business and the business would generate from word of mouth and referrals. This may be true for a select few Home Improvement businesses, but it is more likely that if you want to compete, you need to market your services.

Traditionally, Contractors are not marketers! But if you do what I recommend in this article, you can not only stay competitive, but you can also potentially blow away your competition. According to the Wall Street Journal, only 4% of Contractors market their business, and most are NOT doing it effectively. The key to Home Improvement marketing is to acquire, retain, and re-market. If you do all 3, you will have a steady stream (or even a flood) of leads coming into your Home Improvement business.

The best way to grow your Home Improvement business is by using Internet marketing. Forget TV ads, expensive Radio, or Newspaper advertising. We know very few Contractors for whom these marketing mediums have actually ever worked for. In fact, their lack of accountability, measurability, and limited geo targeting capabilities will leave you wondering where your investment went. You need to be where your prospects and clients are, which is online searching for the products and services they need.

Marketing Methods:

Conversion Focused Web Design

To effectively market on the internet, you need a conversion focused web site. What you DO NOT need is a website that collects dust. Think about it, just about every home improvement business has a website of some kind. Most are poorly conceived by graphic designers or stock templates, and were implemented with no strategy, no calls to action, and are basically just like brochures. A brochure is not going to cut it as we move forward into a more competitive marketing space on the internet. Most of your competition has a brochure, but to convert traffic into prospects and then into customers, you need a much stronger pull to get the prospect to want to do business with you.

An internet marketing consultant can help design and organize your site to move you beyond a simple brochure to a highly productive lead generation machine. Also, an effective web solution should put you in control of your site and content. Make sure your site is built with a Content Management System (CMS) that will allow you or your control staff to make simple edits without having to hire your designer at $100+/hr for each little web change needed.

Organic Search Marketing

Organic or Natural Search Marketing is similar in concept to Pay Per Click, but for organic search marketing results you do NOT have to pay per click. It is a much longer and slower process, but it is where 80% of your prospects are going to find you. Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is a process by which your site is engineered to show up for certain keywords in the search engines. Organic search results can lead to a consistent stream of leads for your practice, but patience and time working on your site (and off of your site) is required to take advantage of this strategy. Make sure if you outsource your SEO work, you deal with someone who understands your business, will not spam the search engines, and is someone you can trust with your message and reputation. One wrong move here could leave you black listed by Google and the other major search engines.

A solid SEO strategy is rooted in delivering good quality keyword rich content to your site. Writing content for the web is a lot different than writing content for a brochure or off line marketing collateral. Make sure you work with an SEO team that understands the complexities of search engine optimization, can create a realistic plan, understands your business, and can measure the results.

Pay Per Click Marketing

Thousands of potential customers are searching online every day for Home Improvement contractors and related services in your local area. With the right message and a conversion focused Pay Per Click marketing campaign, you can get immediate leads and new clients into your practice. Pay Per Click marketing delivers ads in the search engines to prospects that are not only local to your business, but looking for exactly what you are offering at the exact time they want it! It is highly targeted, and a highly measurable marketing technique unlike anything else in existence.

The problem is Pay Per Click marketing, or PPC, is extremely competitive and you really need someone who knows what they are doing to make it successful. If you are going to invest in PPC, you need to make sure you track conversions (emails, phone calls, web forms, downloads, etc.). Without tracking this data, you will not know how effective the campaign really is. Also, PPC marketing needs to be constantly monitored and optimized every day to avoid stagnant and lack luster results. If you do this, you will not only compete in your market, you will dominate.

Landing Pages

Internet marketing for Home Improvement business is competitive, and if not done correctly, you can squander your marketing dollars pretty quickly. Developing a custom landing page is a technique to develop a small 1 or 2 page website focused around a very specific service (Plumbing, Roofing, Kitchen Remodeling, etc.), and developed around a strong call to action.

By utilizing a focused page to send targeted traffic to, you are properly aligning what someone is searching for in the search engines with the exact result they are expecting to see when they click on the pay per click ad or organic search result. Conversion rates can increase 100% or more using a landing page strategy. Landing pages tend to work best when used in conjunction with a Pay Per Click marketing campaign. When it comes down to it, effective marketing is all about doing it better than your competition. Landing pages, when used correctly, can dramatically accelerate your lead generation efforts and squeeze more out of your Pay Per Click budget.

Social Media

Social media sites are where your prospects and customers are spending a lot of their time. So how come most contractors are not utilizing this marketing strategy? It is most likely due to a lack of time and lack of knowledge on how to use Social Media to your advantage. Get on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, and at least start engaging with your prospects and customers. Post relevant articles and quick tips on troubleshooting your AC unit, or post excellent bathroom tips for remodeling and renovating your bathroom. You can realistically post whatever you want to talk about that helps present you as an expert. Social Media is all about engagement. Also, Social Media can help your organic search results, build your email marketing database, drive more traffic to your website, and help with reputation management.

Email Marketing

Email marketing is a great strategy to use for retention and re-marketing, and a way to present yourself as an industry expert. You need to stay in front of your existing customers and potential prospects every month. The average prospect needs 6-7 touches from a business before they actually do business with them. Mailing out letters is not the answer and it is very expensive. Email marketing is quick, measurable, and extremely effective. Keep your customers engaged and aware of all the services you have to offer and any new exciting breakthroughs in the field of home improvement.

When developing an email marketing strategy, you need to plan it out carefully and make sure every campaign is created with a strong offer or call to action. Don’t be too pushy or overburden people by sending out more than one email campaign per month. Email marketing is a key piece to the internet marketing puzzle and can help maximize all of your marketing efforts.

If you are a Home Improvement contractor, I encourage you to implement all of these proven marketing strategies into your business today. The longer you wait, the more your competition will gain a larger share of the market (and their friends, family, co workers, etc.). All of these strategies need to be worked on and improved upon over time, so do not think that what worked today will always work tomorrow. Create a clear strategy to maximize your internet marketing investment and set realistic expectations. With the right plan and execution, internet marketing will not feel like you are taking a risk by spending your money on it, and hoping for something in return. Internet marketing is a tried and true investment that will deliver consistent returns for your business.

Bradley Eisner is a Certified Internet Marketing Consultant (IMC) with WSI and has a passion for helping Home Improvement professionals market their businesses more effectively using the internet.

Reinventing the 312 Home Improvement Loan Program

Over the last thirty years the community development field has moved away from its early focus on helping homeowners maintain and improve their properties towards the development of new affordable housing. Fueled by the resources of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program (LIHTC) and a confident economy, and in flight from lead remediation requirements for housing rehab, non-profits as well as for profit developers and local governments began to shift towards the promotion of new construction – both rental and homeownership – and away from housing rehab aimed at assisting individual owners.

The time has come to shift back.

Hundreds of thousands of foreclosed properties, declining property values and the loss of home equity, the absence of conventional credit, the need to make older houses energy efficient, opportunities to stimulate the local small construction trades and building supply markets – all of these factors demand that we look again at housing rehabilitation as an important policy option.

We need tools to promote the repair and rehabilitation of our older housing stock. Historically, the federal government played a leadership role in promoting home rehab and we need the Federal government to play this role again. A key role government can play is to authorize a significant amount of funding for the Section 312 Loan Program. We need to revisit this old tool and reinvent it making it relevant to the current situation.

The 312 Loan Program was authorized in the Housing Act of 1964. It provided loans from the Federal government through local municipal governments to home owners and landlords at 3% for a twenty year term. The per unit rehab cost allowed was $27,000, which in the 1970s and 1980s was a significant amount of money. It was used often in Urban Renewal Conservation Areas to assist homeowners in improving their properties and where it had a fairly major impact. It also served as a key component in the Federally Assisted Code Enforcement Program (FACE) to help owners bring their properties into code compliance. And it was the source of financing in the Urban Homesteading Program where vacant properties owned by the Federal government where auctioned off for a dollar.

The 312 Loan Program had some issues. It was cumbersome and time consuming for borrowers. It took a long time to get loans approved and people often deferred work while waiting for approval. People who were savvy enough to use architects, i.e. people of higher incomes, were often the most successful in securing funds. As local governments began to use Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to support housing rehab, 312 became diminished as a tool and fewer funds were allocated to it. While the 312 Loan Program currently exists in the HUD menu of programs, it has no money allocated for it.

This needs to change.

Today we are confronted with a situation that demands a significant response. We as a nation want to overcome the effects of the foreclosure crisis and return more properties to productive use. We want to increase the energy efficiency of residential properties, and we want to stimulate the economy. These efforts are hampered by the absence of capital, but they are also hampered by an anti-government investment ethos on Capitol Hill. Why should government do what the private sector can do? Why bother funding an obscure program, the kind of “legacy program” that HUD in its strategic plan wants to shift its focus from?

Here are ten reasons:

1. It is a stimulus that everyday people in cities and inner ring suburbs can see and understand. While earlier stimulus efforts have created results that people can see, a national home improvement loan program can benefit thousands of citizens directly.

2. It promotes confidence. When someone sees their neighbor down the street put on a new roof or rebuild their porch it makes them feel more confident about the future of the neighborhood and it may lead them to seek to make repairs on their own. We need to put this dynamic in place.

3. It’s simple. Unlike several of the initiatives being developed by HUD that are marching down the same sad path of prior Federal interventions in cities, it is simple and understandable. It helps people and not just developers. It’s not social engineering and it doesn’t have a lot of moving parts. It can effectively be described in thirty seconds.

4. It’s a loan and not a grant. People paid on their 312 loans. Money invested in a national home improvement loan program will get substantially returned.

5. It has a multiplier effect. It creates jobs in the construction industry as well as in the building supply and manufacturing sectors of the economy.

6. The process can be improved. We know more than we did in the 1970s about how to bring products to consumers. With new technologies around developing the scope of work, loan origination and servicing software – and the potential for outsourcing these functions-all are potential ways this program can be more accessible and user friendly. We also know more about marketing and how to effectively promote such a program.

7. A delivery system exists to get this money out. We have a host of institutions like NeighborWorks America organizations, community development corporations, Community Development Financial Institutions, as well as delivery systems that still exist in local governments that can be organized to help citizens access these resources. We also have financial institutions that have been a delivery system for tax-exempt housing bonds that also could be part of a delivery system.

8. It can generate revenue for this delivery system. Charging loan origination and rehab service fees can generate revenue for cities and other providers.

9. It can promote widespread energy conservation. Borrowers could be required to have an energy audit and make changes based on the audit findings. Borrowers who choose to install solar heat could receive an interest rate benefit for their whole project.

10. It is more “shovel ready” than many stimulus efforts. Large public works projects require significant planning. Home improvement projects require planning and bidding out jobs but this process is usually less complex.

A national home improvement loan program based on the 312 Loan Program is not a panacea for urban ills. It is not an anti-poverty program – it is a home improvement program that can benefit low-income as well as other income homeowners – and as such can have a larger constituency.

Can’t the private market do this? Sure, but it isn’t. Capital is not flowing like it once did. Lenders aren’t doing much in the way of home improvement lending and both supply of capital and demand for such capital is down. Equity lines that financed home improvement in the last several decades have dissipated, Demand needs to be stimulated. Providing an attractively priced loan product that is marketed well can stimulate that demand.

So how much would this cost? An initial allocation of $2.5 billion would potentially generate 50,000 loans with an average loan size of $50,000. Fees charged to borrowers for rehab services and origination could produce $100,000,000 – $125,000,000 in revenues throughout the delivery chain. $20,000 in materials purchases on a $50,000 rehab job could provide $1 billion in materials purchases for 50,000 projects, along with various sales tax revenues those purchases generate. This kind of volume would provide work for thousands of contractors, laborers, architects, building suppliers, and manufacturers of building supplies. It would also provide an interest rate return for the Federal Treasury.

For a redesigned 312 Loan Program to be effective in today’s environment it would need a few changes. First, change the name. 312 means nothing to anyone outside government. The name does not encourage one to borrow money. Second, raise the interest rate to 5%, but retain the ability to finance projects at 3% if they meet certain criteria, like the installation of solar energy or the rehab of a foreclosed property. Third, raise the per unit amounts to $57,000 per unit, and $75,000 for the rehab of a vacant property. Fourth, make the loan available in cities and older suburbs with no qualifying income requirements, so that people would not have to be low-income to borrow the funds.

This is a conservative program. It is about conserving what we have – our rich and diverse housing stock – by promoting maintenance and improvement. It is easy to understand. It supports rank and file homeowners and not just developers. It engages all homeowners and is not limited to low income borrowers. While driven by the Federal government it allows for partnerships with local banks and non-profits with consumer lending capacity. It has the potential to stimulate local economies and lessen the cost burdens on municipal governments. But most of all it is a loan and not a grant program. It will return money to the Treasury.

Innovation is not only inventing new things. When we look ahead for change sometimes we ignore what worked in the past. We assume that just because something was done once, its shelf life has expired and can’t be done again. Reinvention is also innovation. Repositioning old products to make sense in a new situation can be just as innovative as inventing complex new programs that look good on paper but don’t deliver. Let’s get real. Let’s keep things simple. Let’s reinvent 312.

How To Self Generate Qualified Home Improvement Leads

Home improvement business ventures have a very high rate of failure! Why? Contractors lack marketing knowledge to attract qualified leads, and sales systems to gain the business. No leads… no sales… no business… doors close.

In this article you will learn what is working today, and also lead generation methods via digital marketing strategies. Many leading edge companies are seeing their percentage of leads from web marketing strategies and tactics becoming the major source of their home improvement leads and revenues. There are even lead generation companies farming leads solely from internet marketing and selling them to home improvement companies and general contractors! The good news is you can learn what it takes to generate leads using internet marketing strategies for yourself!

Listed are the most productive lead sources/options for generating quality home improvement leads. Companies who acquire the best “lead mix” for their business, balance these sources and focus on budgeting for best return on investment. Keep in mind that all lead sources should lead to a call center and customer relationship management (CRM) software. If you do not have CRM software, a free source is RenexPro.

Top Home Improvement Lead Sources

Canvassing: Canvassing for leads has seen a tremendous resurgence in the last two years (since 2009). Years ago this was the predominate method going door to door and offering a free estimate, inspection or gift for an appointment. Canvassing can be done with sales personnel or special teams trained to just get the lead.

The canvassing team is usually comprised of a Team Leader, Canvassers and a Van to take them to the territory.

  • Team Leader: Full time employee. Recruits,trains, and supervises his/her canvassers (trains by example, maintains goals, base salary plus incentives.
  • The Canvasser: 19 or older high school graduate – college students are great, clean cut dress code, part time (1,000 hour rule), hourly plus incentives.
  • The Training: Must have a scripted, short presentation. Training and practicing the script is imperative. Canvassers are not selling anything but the appointment. The “hook” for an appointment is a free service and/or gift.

Canvassing for home improvement leads is a great way to get quality leads when the program is done right. Some companies today are exclusively using this method.

Direct Mail: Direct mail is what most home improvement companies use today for the main percentage of their lead generation. Although still a great way too generate leads, it is getting more costly per lead. As long as your service has the margins, direct mail with letters, brochures and post cards should be considered. Caution: Use expert services that have a proven track record for your industry. Don’t skimp and try using a company with no track record. One failed mailing could be devastating to your budget. If you bring it in house, make sure you have experts on the job that test and measure before sending out a mass mailing.

TV & Radio: If you have the budget, these leads are expensive but high quality if the campaigns are branded with a great call to action. TV is hard to measure; however, what branding recognition you gain! The best tip here is to humanize your commercials. Let the viewer know who you are and what the benefits are when doing business with your company.

Radio is the same way. Humanize your ads. The last company where I had an inside view of lead source statistics showed an ever growing benefit to radio ads when the CEO began conducting the ads and bringing his charm to each campaign. Today, I hear him every time I go for drive so I know they are still getting tremendous results.

Shows, Events, Mall Kiosks: Your presence in the community is vital to your business. Use every opportunity you can to make physical contact for lead generation. Have professional marketing materials and eye catching displays. Some companies get so many leads from these venues that they focus most of their efforts there. They know that just like canvassing for leads, you must follow and personalize a script. Train your people to be up-beat, friendly, informative, and persistent in closing the appointment… not a sale!

Telemarketing: Cold calling for leads is not very productive; however, responding to inquiries from printed material, incoming calls or email is a must in your business. If you do not have the budget for a call center, its not very expensive to outsource this task. Once again, close for the appointment… not a sale. And, do not ball park pricing. This is a disservice to the prospect and your company. There are too many variables with products and installation. Professional eyeballs need to be on site!

Digital Marketing Syndication: Digital marketing syndication for home improvement lead generation is becoming a major source and factor in lead capture. Today, more and more companies are developing digital marketing strategies to boost profits by driving highly interested and qualified traffic to their websites. AND, we are seeing companies that gain almost all their leads from their internet strategies and tactics.

Almost all sources for leads find their way to your web presence. Think about this, when a homeowner wants to remodel any part of their home, how do they get the information to contact a contractor? Today, more an more prospects search the internet… OR… they respond to an ad from all the other sources I have mentioned in is article, and check up on that company by going to their website! Have you experienced prospects wanting more than one estimate? 90% of the time the prospect wants to get other proposals or estimates so they do an internet search for competitors. Who do they find and pick… the best websites that are on the first page!

What if you dominate the internet space in your area? What if you have a website that is so appealing to the viewer, and it has a Call To Action on every page? What if you have campaigns, articles, videos, announcements, informational sites, press releases, Pay Per Click ads, banners, links from manufacturers and other service/product companies pointing to your interactive website? Your overwhelming presence on the internet will get more leads than you can handle! You will grow your business!

Referrals… Another article on this. Get good at this. Training required!

All home improvement lead sources discussed in this article are important for your business. Find what works best for you, and make sure that your business has a dominating web presence that is syndicated for maximum quality lead conversion!