Engagement is a hot business buzzword, according to marketing consultant Adrienne Zoble. She says that one way to engage your referral base is by hosting open houses at recently completed projects. “Leverage those compliments” from pleased clients, says Zoble (970.282.1150; www.azobleassoc.com). Hire a caterer, take care of the invitations, and show your gratitude with a written note as well as a gift certificate or other token of appreciation. Be creative: one Zoble client who targets a certain neighborhood hired a bus to shuttle prospects to and from homes it had remodeled.

Another Zoble client is Kitchen Solvers, a kitchen and bath franchise out of La Crosse, Wis. The company's new “neighborhood marketing concept” is designed to “build credibility and trust with neighbors around existing or past clients,” explains Bill Weber, director of marketing. In one variation on this theme, Kitchen Solvers of Orange County (Calif.) invites neighbors to visit jobs in progress. Basic steps of the strategy:

  • Get the client's written permission to use their name and address, and to invite neighbors to see their project while in progress.
  • One to two weeks before the project begins, mail letters to 100 neighbors. Describe the project and invite them to stop by or visit the Web site.
  • On day two of the project, walk around the neighborhood with door hangers (shown).
  • While the work is under way, post a Kitchen Solvers sign in the yard, and have brochures and an appointment book on hand.
  • When the project is finished, thank the client with a card and gift, have them write (or approve) a brief testimonial, and take “after” photos. Send postcards to the 100 neighbors showing before and after photos, and invite them to call Kitchen Solvers.

Zoble notes that this strategy can be customized as needed. If you're not on site all the time, specify the general times when you will be there. “And communicate to your guys and subs that you've invited the neighbors over,” she says.