A strong marketing system begins with a carefully thought-out message or brand. This is the foundation and should be reflected in every element of your marketing. Other core components include:

  • A budget sufficient to bring in enough qualified leads to meet volume goals
  • A clearly defined audience, with highest priority placed on past clients for additional work and referrals
  • A written plan delineating staff responsibilities as well as who to contact, how, and how frequently
  • Contingency funds for unexpected opportunities

Eric and Leif Jackson hadn't created their mission statement when they formed Jackson Remodeling in 1999, but the Seattle brothers knew from the start that they wanted “to differentiate ourselves from that guy with a dog and a truck,” Leif says. To establish their legitimacy, the Jacksons initially stressed their being licensed, bonded, and insured. In their second year, they sought “award-worthy” projects, entered and won some local contests, and began promoting themselves as award-winning.

Jackson Remodeling's logo — the result of a barter with a graphic designer — appears wherever the company is: on trucks, jobsite signs, marketing materials, and the colorful variety of shirts and jackets that employees are required to wear.

McDowell Inc., in St. Charles, Ill., also seems ubiquitous in its market, 40 miles west of Chicago. The company does big jobs and small and has many projects simultaneously under way, resulting in trucks and signs in constant view. “People think they see us everywhere, which is fabulous,” says vice president and co-owner Sue McDowell.

Specific marketing tactics can be as varied as postcards, door-to-door canvassing, and event marketing. Potter Construction, in Seattle, participates in three home shows and two home tours a year. A new tactic is billboards, which president Gary Potter says “pinpoint a geography” in a more attention-getting way than other broad appeals. He creates an annual marketing budget in Excel, tracking budgeted and actual expenses for every month in 10 categories.

The Referral Circle There are two marketing musts, says consultant and REMODELING contributor Victoria Downing. One is a Web site, and the other is frequent communication with past clients —through newsletters and holiday cards — as well as with other referral sources. Jackson Remodeling's referral circle includes architects and other members of local green building groups. McDowell's circle includes supporters of the local arts and nonprofit scenes, who tend to appreciate (and have the means to afford) the level of service the company provides. Advertisements in auction brochures and theater playbills are also very affordable.

Marketing should be ongoing, to provide a consistent source of leads, even in busy times. Sue McDowell advertises at least monthly in several regional newspapers, stretching her budget by working with the papers' graphics department to assemble ads using her copy and photos. She attributes her success to “repetition, consistency, and not expecting any one thing to bring instant results.” One paper rewarded her patronage with a 12-page section spotlighting the company and funded by ads from its vendors.

Celebrate good news. When they became Big50 remodelers, the Jacksons sent notes to clients thanking them “for being part of our history.” Press releases led to flattering notices in local papers.

Use your expertise as a springboard for other forms of media coverage. Hector Seda of Wilson-Seda Builders, Compton Lakes, N.J., wrote four articles about home maintenance, submitted them to a local newspaper, and now has a column in seven papers.

Market to your employees as well. Sun Design, in Burke, Va., treats its 49 employees — and their families — to several programs that invest them in the company's success. “We want our employees and clients to have a great experience,” says Jennifer Kidwell, director of communications. “You can't have one without the other.”