During our last FAQ, we focused primarily on reviews, Maps, rankings, and PPC. This time, we’re going to answer some of the more “offline” questions. If you have any questions you’d like Chris to answer next time, please submit them in the comments section of this post!
#1 How Should I Handle Spam Calls?
The more you do with your online presence, the more spam calls you will get. The two most common calls (in our experience) are from people pretending to be Google and advertisers like Yelp, Angie’s List, and YP.
First, let’s talk about the “Google” calls. Google never cold calls anyone, other than to verify business information. If someone is asking about your ranking, wants you to give them information about your Google listing, or threatens that you’ll lose your Maps listing if you don’t ________, they are a scammer. You can hang up on these calls.
As far as advertisers go, the phone calls vary. Yelp tends to be the most tenacious, but they are not the only ones. With advertiser calls, if you aren’t interested in advertising, it’s best to simply tell them that it’s not in the budget right now, but that you’ll revisit the idea later. You don’t want to get angry with advertisers, as you often have a free listing on their site already and it’s not worth upsetting the applecart there.
Generally speaking, we don’t advise people to pay for advertising on individual directories, because the majority of search traffic comes from Google, and we don’t generally see a good enough ROI — but that’s a decision you have to make as the business owner. If a particular directory is very popular in your area, it may be worth it.
#2 What Can I Do To Boost Business In My Slow Season?
Seasonality varies from industry to industry, but let’s look at the chimney industry. Understandably, the early summer can be a very slow time for a chimney sweep. We recommend getting a handle on this by finding ways to reach your annual and repeat customers during this time.
Many sweeps find themselves booked out two, three, or even four weeks out when fall rolls around, and many customers don’t want to wait that long, so they end up calling a competitor who can get to them faster. Get ahead of this by offering discounts to existing clients who schedule their annual services earlier in the year. Forward scheduling is a great way to do this. When you finish at a customer’s house, see if you can get them on the books for an early time next year. Make sure it’s not a binding agreement and call to verify a month or so out. What you’ll find is that this helps get your repeat customers used to you being there during your off-season.
It’s a win/win:
It works out better for your customer because you’re able to get to them quickly and at a reduced rate.
It works out better for you because now you’ve freed up some time during your busy season for new customers, while also keeping income coming in during your slow season.
Another option may be to adopt an alternative service that’s big during your slow season. For a chimney company, that may be air duct cleaning or gutter work. Something that is more likely to be needed when you don’t have high demand for your other services. Like I said, this varies greatly from industry to industry, so you have to be creative and figure out what works best for you.
#3 How Do I Get My Business Name/Brand Out In The Community?
The key to getting your brand name out there is community involvement. You can sponsor youth sports teams, charity events, participate in festivals, form an office bowling team for a local bowling league, put together a BBQ team to compete at BBQ cook-offs, etc. Basically, be present in your community under your brand name. Being present at the events in your community goes a long way and it goes hand in hand with company culture.
Another possibility that often gets overlooked is scholarships. Offering scholarships is a great way to get your name out there, as many people from all walks of life have kids applying for scholarships.
Social media platforms can also be a great tool for building community presence and relationships, but you do need to educate yourself on the DOs and DON’Ts before diving in. No one likes to be sold to on Facebook 24/7, and learning how to properly use these tools can be the difference between bringing people in and driving them away.
One thing worth mentioning is that you can have a rating on the BBB, regardless of whether or not you’re accredited. In other words, you could have an A+ rating, benefit from that, and tout that on your website, without accreditation.
That being said, many people hold the BBB with high regard and accreditation may hold a lot of weight with potential customers. When you become accredited, you agree to hold your business to certain ethics and practices, which ultimately, may make those using your services feel secure and confident they’ll receive service with integrity.
Long story short: you’ll need to decide for yourself whether or not it makes sense for your budget and business.
#5 How Can I Get More Referrals?
There are a lot of B2B groups out there that are worth joining: BNI, Chamber Events, etc. These organizations can help get you connected with a lot of other business owners who can refer you to their clients. Just remember that, when appropriate, you’ll want to refer people to them as well. As with many things in life, you get back what you give.
For word-of-mouth referrals, I always suggest some sort of perk or benefit if you get a new customer via a referral from a current customer — maybe the existing customer gets $25 off their next service and the new one gets $10 off. This is just an example, of course. There are lots of ways to make this work that make sense for your service and your business — so get creative!
No matter what type of benefit you decide to offer, remember that the single most important factor in getting word-of-mouth referrals is the WOW factor. Go above and beyond what the job requires and really WOW your customer. These are the things that will lead your customers to want to tell others about the amazing experience they had with you.
Lastly, never neglect customer service. Even if you do the job perfectly, a poor interaction with the person on site or on the phone can leave a bad taste in your customer’s mouth. Customer service is as large a part of your business as the work you’re doing — never let that fall by the wayside.
You might think that because we’re a digital marketing company, we’re only advocates for online marketing tactics and efforts. Not so! We actually consider everything from the way you answer your phones to the people you hire part of your marketing. Call us weird, but if it tells your story or affects how your customers see you, we say that’s marketing.
That’s why we’ll be the first to tell you that one of the best things you can do for your business is actively put forth effort both online and offline. Many times, offline efforts end up showing up online, and since the two really go hand in hand, it’s time to start thinking of them as two pieces of the same puzzle.
Before we dive into the 6 things we think you should be doing offline to build business online, we just wanted to say: These are things you can be doing even if you’re not ready to work with us. We love partnering up with local service businesses as they power on towards their dreams, but the reality is, not every business is ready to make that commitment, financially or otherwise. If you fit into that category, it doesn’t mean you can’t do anything to build and grow in the meantime.
Alright, let’s get right into what you can and should be doing:
#1 Sponsor local events, activities, and sports teams.
Have you considered sponsoring local sports teams and events, like little league teams, football teams, soccer teams, golf tournaments, tennis matches, local chamber events, community fairs, or town festivals? Getting your business involved through sponsorship can provide yet another way for those in your community to discover you and the services you provide. In other words, it’s a great way to build brand awareness, earn a reputation, establish trust and authority, and stand out in your community.
Whether it’s a little league team, an annual town parade or festival, or a charity event, sponsorship is a great way to get involved in the communities you serve and let potential customers know who you are and what you’re about. People want to do business with local companies who are invested and established, and community sponsorship is a great way to communicate that you’re that type of company.
An added perk is that, oftentimes, these sponsorships will earn you links or citations online. Think about it: it seems there’s a website or a landing page for just about every event out there. When you’re a part of an event, there’s a good chance your company will be mentioned or linked to on the event’s website or landing page. And who knows — your offline efforts could end up not just building authority and boosting your rankings with potential customers in your community, but also building authority and boosting your rankings with Google.
#2 Invest in B2B relationships.
Networking is a great way to get your business name out there and gain referrals. It’s also beneficial for you as a business owner to connect with other business owners and build relationships with those in your community. So get involved, even if you don’t think of yourself as the networking type. When you build authority and trust with other businesses in your community, they’ll be proud to pass your name along to their customers, because they’ll know you’ll provide excellent service and an excellent customer experience.
Connecting with others and developing referral relationships can lead to more (and more satisfied) customers; a stronger, closer-knit community; and maybe even links to your website from your referral partners’ websites. Let me give you a quick example of a referral relationship here in my community.
I recently locked myself out of my house and since I hadn’t lived here long, I’d yet to make additional keys or hide a key. The only way I was going to get in was to call a locksmith. Being new to the area, I went to Google, and after several calls, I finally got through to someone. The locksmith I reached wasn’t going to be able to get out my way anytime soon, as it was a Friday at rush hour, so he gave me the name and number of a locksmith closer to me. I called the locksmith he referred, he got me in, and I paid him for his time.
Now, I’ve taken all the necessary precautions to avoid ever needing a locksmith in the future, but if I ever do need one, I’ll probably try the first guy again, because he proved to me that he cared more about me and my needs than about closing the sale. He was willing to give up business because it benefitted me. That’s the kind of company I want to work with, and he showed me that through a referral to another company in his network.
#3 Get involved in your local BNI or Chamber of Commerce.
One of the best ways to build those referral relationships is to get involved with your local BNI chapter, Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club, Jaycees, Gold Star Referral Club, etc. These local groups allow you to learn more about what’s going on in your community and what other local businesses are in your area, and provide a place for you to mingle and mix with those you may not otherwise spend any time with. If you really want to see the referrals start coming in and learn from other businesses in your community, these are groups you have to get involved with.
Many local groups such as these also mention the businesses associated with them on their websites and provide links. Links and citations = higher rankings. Plus, being a part of local organizations shows your potential customers that you’re invested in your community, which makes them more likely to trust in and invest in you.
#4 Give back.
Getting your company involved with a charity is one of the most rewarding things you can do. Not only is charity work good for your spirit, but it communicates to your employees and customers that you care about more than just what you can gain from those in your community. You’ll meet new people, get involved in meaningful, big-picture work, and you may even discover new ways to raise funds and awareness through your business throughout the year.
Everyone wants to find purpose and meaning in their day job, especially on the tough days when things don’t seem to be going right. Partnering with a charity and using your business to give back can provide that purpose and meaning. And when you’re invested in your community offline, the effects are bound to show up online.
#5 Get your culture, procedures, and customer service right.
No matter how many potential customers your website or Ad spend sends your way, if you have scheduling problems, procedural problems, or customer service problems, you’re going to lose out and fail to convert some of those leads. And the disappointment of your customers is going to find its way online (via reviews), which will have a negative impact on your online presence.
So work on getting your company culture, procedures, systems, and customer service 100%. By getting all of these things established and in peak condition, you’ll be able to confidently serve the customers that find you through your online marketing efforts and you’ll get better ROI from those efforts.
#6 Ask for reviews.
And finally, ask for reviews! At the end of a service, let your customers know how much you value their feedback and how much you rely on referrals and online reviews for business. Whether you want to believe it or not, your satisfied customers aren’t likely to leave you a review if you don’t ask — so ask! Positive reviews (and good, respectful responses to negative reviews) build trust with potential customers and reassure Google you’re the company to show in search results.
So get out there! Perfect your online and offline marketing and you’ll see better results than you would with one or the other.