How to Minimize Home Performance Business Swings with Strategic Marketing.

Fall leaves changing imageOne of Energy Circle PRO’s marketing specialists was recently chatting with a contractor about the seasonality of the Home Performance business, and they found themselves joking about how even squirrels can prepare for winter, but contractors have a hard time doing it.

This is largely because many Home Performance contractors work largely by referral (like many other types of contractors). It's also largely because humans are by nature a pretty spontaneous bunch: they don't think about their heating costs until it's cold. They don't think about their wet basement until it's wet. These factors taken together present something of a quandary: when the referrals dry up, with no marketing plan in place, you’re up mold creek without a ventilation system. A sustainable marketing plan will help drive leads to your business year-round by reminding homeowners of the importance of your services year-round. Even when their pipes aren't freezing.

So how do you minimize the negative impact of Home Performance’s inherent seasonality? What types of marketing efforts should you be investing in, and when should you pull the trigger on them to generate sustained leads throughout the year? Although we argued back in August that you should have your marketing plan for the winter in place by Labor Day, it’s not too late to start gearing up for the winter and the spring right now.

Here are our recommendations for a sustainable, low-cost, effective marketing plan for your Home Performance business:

The Always-On List: Things You Should Start Now, and Keep Doing Consistently.

Having a strong, search-engine-friendly website.

Your website is the hub of your online presence. It should be well-designed to maximize conversion, and it should be optimized with strong, keyworded services pages, a robust "About Us" section and an easily found contact page.

Local business directories.

Local business directories are often integrated with regular websites in search enigne results. First and foremost among these is your Google Places page -- claim it as soon as you can, add content including information about your company and photos and videos, and encourage your happy customers to add business reviews there to help your listing stand out from the competition. 

Regular blogging.

Don't let the "blogging" part of this scare you: you don't need a daily chronicle of your life. But fresh content is one of the most important things you can do to send signals to Google and other search engines that your site is an active space run by a legitimate, active company. Blogging is an easy way to keep your content fresh and keyworded. If the term "blogging" intimidates you, consider adding a "news" section with company updates, or helpful tips for homeowners.

Social media.

Social media is a powerful way to connect with people in your community, and with your industry peers nationwide. You don't need to go overboard (publishing your breakfast every day isn't mandatory), but having some presence and regularly checking in, engaging with fans and followers, and adding fresh content occasionally is a must-do for today's businesses. Home Performance businesses are no exception. 

Ongoing branding: truck magnets, lawn signs, etc.

A strong logo and a consistent brand name are crucial for growing your business. Getting your name out there with truck magnets and lawn signs is one of the most powerful business-drivers you can utilize. Think about it: your business is inherently local; the more frequently people see your name and your logo, the more comfortable they'll be letting you into your house (and the greater the possibility you'll be the first business they think of when they finally decide to tackle those drafts). 

Basic Pay-Per-Click advertising.

Pay-per-click advertising (advertising on Google and other search engines) is typically far more cost-effective than traditional advertising channels. First, you can set a budget (say, $5 a day), so you don't spend more than you want to; second, the advertising is automatically targeted, meaning that your ad will only show up for people that are already searching for your core services, meaning that they'll be far more likely to click your ad and call your phone than if they had just seen your ad in the paper.  Third, you only have to pay when people actually click on the ad. (Wouldn't it be nice if you only had to pay for a TV ad if people actually called your phone?)

We recommend starting with a "branded" PPC campaign: set up your campaign so that your ad will only show up when people search for variations of your brand name. Most likely, people will click your website in the "organic search" section anyway, but you'll be less likely to lose traffic to competitors. 

Hitting the Gas: Seasonal, Focused Marketing Investments.

PPC campaigns around specific, seasonal topics.

If you're anticipating a slow season coming up, consider starting a pay-per-click (PPC) advertising campaign based on seasonal topics. For example, if your home performance jobs typically dry up in the spring, take into account the fact that in the spring many people are dealing with flooding basements and the resultant moisture and mold problems. Try a PPC campaign based on search terms around those topics (eg: "Moisture problems in your house? Eliminate the problem at the source through the "whole house" approach: call XYZ Home Performance today.") 

Sending periodic newsletters.

Newsletters are a great way to keep in touch with existing customers, and to convert leads into customers. We recommend including a prominently placed "sign up for our newsletter" form on your website, so visitors who are curious about your company but aren't quite ready to schedule an energy audit can take some action and make it onto your lead list. Brief, periodic newsletters with helpful information for homeowners (eg: "Think you need new windows? Think again. Air sealing by a professional home performance contractor can achieve the same results at 1/3 the price") pretty easy to execute. Before you find your business drying up during a slow season, send out a newsletter or two to help remind people about your services and their benefits. 

Speaking to chambers of commerce and other local organizations.

One of the barriers to mainstream penetration of the Home Performance methodology for energy efficient home improvements is the simple fact that most people don't know about it. What better way to spread the message than by connecting with local thought leaders in your community? Chambers of commerce, colleges and universities, and other local organizations are a great, low-cost way to connect with influential members of your community. You might even sign up a couple new customers right there. 

Special offers.

This may seem like an obvious one, but the key to special deals is planning ahead. Know when you'd like to send out special offers so you can do them on a schedule rather than scramble at the last minute when the jobs dry up. Think about spreading your offer to a broader audience through group-buying platforms like Groupon (just be sure to research the intricacies of the service to make sure you don't get a raw deal), and use all of the above media to maximize the impact of your offer. (If you have a strong Twitter or Facebook following and announce on either of those platforms that you're offering a special deal, you'll have immediate access to a broad, targeted audience.) One Home Performance contractor we know put a great twist on a special offer (it's a great special offer, too: he does the work for the cost of labor and materials and gives up all profits) -- the customer gets a great deal, but he can do the work whenever he wants. You can bet he'll be busy well into next summer based on that deal alone.

Anything we missed? Let us know in the comments.

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