Dean Brenneman
Brenneman and Pagenstacher
Bethesda, Md.
Big50 2003

Most of our work comes from repeat clients or direct referrals from those clients. All of our marketing budget is aimed not at generating leads but reinforcing our name recognition in the market. We market this way so that when we are referred, those people have heard of us already and our credentials are pre-established and reinforced.

We do use a Web site, jobsite signs, and print ads, but for us it's all about brand development. The problem with advertising and Web sites is they cast too wide a net. We find that for the most part, calls that come in from those sources aren't in our target market, or, if they are, they're shopping.

Marlynn Brick
B & E General Contractors
Glendale, Wis.
Big50 1996

Our investment dollars are pretty equal both ways. Our existing client is the easiest sell, and that's where most of our business comes from. We spend a certain amount on gifts for clients who refer work to us. Past clients are the greatest source of referrals: If you have a happy client, you have someone who is very willing to recommend you.

At the same time, it's a competitive market and you always want to stand out. You always want to generate new customers, because eventually there is only so much your past clients can do with their homes. New clients become your repeat customers later.

Jerry Levine
Wentworth-Levine Architect-Builder
Silver Spring, Md.
Big50 1996

We devote about 70% of our marketing budget to new leads. Our newspaper ads, job-site signs, and targeted ZIP code mailings are meant to attract new leads.

But we don't forget about the old guys. We hit them with a newsletter, and we send thank-you letters and gifts when they refer us work.

We've always felt if we've done good work and folks have had a good experience, the referral process will happen organically. At the same time, there's a limited amount of repeat business you can do with any one client. You have to constantly mine new areas and let more folks know that you're out there. That's the way you build the marketing base.

Kurt Schulte
Schulte Restorations
Hopewell, N.J.
Big50 1996

We spend approximately 80% of our marketing budget on current and past clients. We find that corresponds to where our leads come from, and we tailor our marketing budget that way.

If you analyze where your leads are coming from, you can customize your marketing. As long as I've been sophisticated enough to make that analysis, that's what I've been doing with my budget.

Our marketing effort is pretty low key: We extend our image as a company through our crew's appearance, job signs, mailings to clients, and our warranty program.

What we do to reach out to new customers, for the most part, is support local charities — taking ads out in local bulletins or auction programs, things like that.

Marc Ridenour
Natural Breeze Remodeling
Lawrence, Kan.
Big50 1990

Five years ago, I attended a seminar on top-of-mind awareness. I bought into the idea and devoted all my budget to multimedia advertising to attract new business. The effort seemed successful, but my sales remained constant through the period. Plus, my "sold" jobs are still 90% repeat/referral, which is where they have been for the past 10 to 15 years.

So this year I cut my multimedia advertising in half. I'm spending the rest of my marketing budget on my database of past clients. We are staying more in touch with past clients, rewarding those who refer us with dinners, flowers, and other small gifts. We send follow-up postcards at regular intervals, and we give a "feel good" basket to clients at the start of new jobs.