Its always hard to decide whether to advertise. For a small businesses dollars are dear and advertising may seem like a luxury even during good economic times. It becomes that much more difficult to spend on advertising when a recession is predicted to be on the horizon or one actually appears. During slowdowns your revenues decrease but your fixed expenses stay the same. Some advisers suggest increasing the advertising budget during a slowdown, others advise against it. What’s a small construction company to do about advertising be it a good or bad economic environment?

In the old days advertising was simple: door flyers, mail coupons, weekly newspapers, lawn signs, and your truck’s sign/lettering. Today, you also, have to decide and dedicate resources, both time and money, to a web site, streaming activities, and social platforms like Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Houzz, Google, and Angie’s to name more than a few, but nowhere near all of the options out there. For many of us the array of social platform choices is overwhelming, but social platforms are one of the resources potential clients use to find contractors. One must adapt or die.

Ad Budget

Because advertising dollars are scarce for small businesses, getting the most bang for your buck is extremely important. In order to maximize our advertising dollars, our company established the following criteria: A small but flexible budget, utilize free online services, maximize visibility, and establish a good neighbor policy. We allot $2,500 to $3000 annually for advertising, and we do our best to spend the full $3,000. To put $3,000 in perspective; it’s one percent of $300,000 in gross revenues, six tenths of one percent of $500,000 and three tenths of one percent of $1,000,000 in revenues. That’s a very reasonable budgetary line item.

We passed on building our own web site - a task that we would have had to hire out - and instead, established ourselves on Houzz (shown above), Facebook and LinkedIn, three platforms we were able to establish with an investment of time but for no initial or maintenance expenses. Our presence on those sites amounts to just enough - the company name and logo, contact information and finished job photos. I am not suggesting these are the best platforms available, only that these are the ones that work for us. Find the platforms that works best for you, the platforms that will reach the customers you want.

To maximize our visibility within the town we work in we established a logo and had a professional sign company painted our three work vehicles instead of using magnetic signs. We purchased lawn signs with the exact color combination and logo as our vehicles (in our case, because it’s a community of attached housing, we refer to them as front stoop railing signs). Painting signs on our trucks and purchasing railing signs consumed one year’s ad budget. With our trucks painted and traveling the streets, and with our railing signs posted at job sitesnfor all to see, we sat down to determine the best way to maximize our small advertising budget.

Increasing Visibility

We rejected door flyers, mailed value packs and weekly newspapers because we felt a large percentage of them went directly into the trash. We wanted to increase our visibility and be considered a part of the community, so, we took an interest in our clients. One client was active at the local museum, one was a council member, one coached little league, one’s daughter played on the girls’ softball team, one counseled abused women, one was a member of the local theater group, one was a board member of the charter school and so on. The list was a mile long. By getting to know our clients we found our way to maximize our ad budget, contribute to the community and help people, while expanding our name recognition.

Although we want to be a good neighbor, we also want to get as much bang for our advertising buck, so, we contribute to local activities that, also, maximized our visibility. We sponsor activities, institutions, and causes that recognize sponsors and advertisers in their programs, on their t-shirts, on their message boards and on their list of contributors. We do our best to get out logo included in the recognition. Over the years, we contributed to the house tour, the garden tour, the museum, the little league, girls’ softball, the church youth group, Jewish card night, child fund international, the local theater company, abused women, charter schools, street beautification, election campaigns, and more. Some contributions are made annually. Other contributions come and go with the clients we are working with.

It’s never easy deciding where to allot ad dollars when they will be used to help the community. But, what a great dilemma. No matter, it’s just easy and rewarding writing a check when it’s going to the kids or a good cause. On occasion, when we want to contribute to a client’s cause or charity (clients we’re working for at the moment), we pull the $100 contribution from the renovation budget for their job, allowing us to make the donation and leave the advertising budget to fund the annually activities we feel best about. By supporting the community, and responding to a client’s personal cause, our advertising generates tremendous good will. That good will combined with a quality renovation, gets our company word of mouth advertising as a bonus.