To succeed, a business owner needs to have, or be able to hire, a number of skills in addition to the core business function – in this case, asphalt paving and maintenance expertise. The asphalt expertise dog can’t hunt alone. He needs something to hunt for, and people to do the things he finds.
One not only needs marketing knowledge to find the business, it’s crucial to have the skill to successfully bid for it, manage income and outgo, (that’s math!) and find the way through the maze of how to hire employees, figure their withholding, provide them with benefits, keep them happy, and be able to wisely acquire necessary equipment and so on.
By trial and error, most folks gradually figure out which of the tasks they can do themselves, and which they need to hire – even if it’s asking one’s spouse to handle the books, for example.
These days, the Internet can be an enormous aid to finding your way to information, forms, applications, comparative pricing for benefits, shopping for equipment, for example. This is a skill in itself.
There is one skill that everybody needs, but many people overlook its importance and how widely it can affect their success. It’s writing.
You write bids, for example. Is it possible to lose a bid because it is written poorly? Anything is possible. It could certainly be a tipping point in a close race for a job, especially where pricing is very close. A real phenomenon in our culture is that people who cannot express themselves well in writing are unfortunately – and erroneously – often perceived as having lower intelligence than those who can write well. Not always… but it’s out there, and you never know where.
Here are some basic standards for writing you should always meet:
1. No misspelled words, ever. Errors are the worst. They project carelessness and lack of attention to detail – two crucial qualities nobody wants in an asphalt job.
2. Simple, straightforward writing is always appreciated. There is no need for fancy jargon and tortured expression. The people who write this way just want you to be confused so you will hire them to figure something out for you – certainly lawyers fall into this category. Another guilty group is the government. They write great volumes of gibberty-gobble because somehow, they hope you will be fooled that you are getting something of value for your tax dollar.
“We take a proactive approach to our own infrastructure, ultimately utilizing state-of-the-art methodologies and techniques to assure a performance hierarchy of benchmarks that dovetail with your expectations even as they facilitate the project.”
Sheesh! No wonder people think writing is difficult! Why not just say, “We take good care of our equipment to make sure you get the results you want.”
When it’s time to communicate with potential customers, keep two primary concepts in mind:
1. Visualize to whom you are writing. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. What does he care about? What should he care about?
2. You must differentiate yourself. What can you say to your customer that makes him choose you instead of the next guy?
Again, good customer service, vs. great customer service, vs. fabulous customer service, vs. best customer service in the universe no longer differentiates you. Sometimes, it’s difficult to figure out what differentiates you; it may not be obvious, even to you. On the other hand, few business owners set out to exactly duplicate someone else’s service or idea. You may have to dig for the difference, or even set out to create an appealing difference!
Is it speed? Well, put yourself in your potential customer’s shoes. In the asphalt business, speed is seldom held above quality, durability or price. You’ll not often hear a customer say, “I don’t care how much it costs, how it looks, or how long it lasts, just so long as you do it tomorrow!” Sure, there is such a thing as an emergency situation where speed becomes vital. Perhaps a competitor even calls you, “I have to put down X parking lot tomorrow to enable work to move forward on a big project, but my paver just blew out. Can you cover me on this?” But speed is rarely a factor.
What does your customer want? You can ask him, or you can guess. A good guess would be that asphalt customers want durability – long-lasting pavements. Built into the durability factor is the assumption that the reason a project lasts a long time is because it is done correctly, without errors, in the first place.
What if you wanted to convey durability to your customers? A good start is to publicize the durability of your company itself. If your company has been around for a few years, publicize that fact! If your company was founded by someone who had the business for years, or if you are a second, or third generation owner, by all means, get that point out to folks. Staying power is only for those who deliver consistent quality, and people know that.
If you are a fresh startup, only in business for a few months, turn that into an advantage, with a fresh, “new-kid-on-the-block” twist. “We’re all new! Most up-do-date! Modern paving for the 21st century!” Stronger! Longer-lasting pavements!
Of course, the best way to convey durability is to offer the most astounding guarantee in your area. If you do authentically good work in the first place, you need not fear the guarantee. What are the components of a great guarantee? Free quarterly inspections for the first year? Two years? Perhaps the first $100 or $500 of crack sealing free during the first two years? It obviously depends on the kind of work you do, but customers would be very impressed with a long-term, proactive guarantee of your work.
Once you have your audience in mind, and a clear understanding of how you are different, the writing almost writes itself. If it helps, talk your message into a tape recorder. You don’t even have to start at the beginning. Just dive in and start explaining your difference. Introductions and calls to action can be added later.
Another good tip for this process is to brainstorm. Gather your closest handful of employees, friends or family around the kitchen table, and throw out ideas. Just be sure someone is writing it all down!
This article is the 6th chapter of our “Pavement Contractors Guide to Marketing”. If you’ve missed previous chapters of this guide, you can read it now in our “Guides” section.