It's important to advertise your business effectively to let your potential customers know who you are, where you are and what you can do for them. Most of your domestic customers won't require paving services regularly and may not have the name of a specialist to hand.
An entry in local print directories can be an effective way of advertising your business. However, many of your competitors will have done the same. Some firms spend a lot of money on large, eye-catching display advertisements, using names like "AA1st Paving" to try and ensure that their advertisement appears first in the classification. You will have to decide whether to compete head on with these firms, or to look for a different way of attracting customers. You could, for example;
- focus on your own 'unique selling point' (USP) in your advertising material. This might be something like "25 years experience" or "Family run firm", for example
- advertise in other ways. For example, you could distribute a paper flyer, plastic card or sticker with your business name and telephone number on it as part of a mail-shot that you do, perhaps in the early spring
- look into becoming listed by paving materials manufacturer, or by a trade directory, as an approved tradesman (most of these organisations operate a quality screening process and some will only list firms that have been trading for at least two years)
Try to tell people as many of the good things about your business as possible in your advertisements, particularly things that distinguish your business from its competitors.
Although telephone directories can still be a very useful means of advertising, be aware that people seem to be using them less and less, often turning instead to the web for information, customer reviews and contact details.
Using the web
A good business website and/or blog are very valuable marketing tools. Make sure it's easy to use, accurate, informative and up to date.
There are various online business directories too. Some are free to advertise in and some, such as Yell.com, charge. Trade associations like Interlay, the Association of Paving Contractors often have member's directories on their websites too.
Think about other ways of marketing your services to the online community. You could consider using social media and specialist forums to get your name known and to publicise things like special offers and so on. And you could consider using job tendering websites like Mybuilder.com to find jobs and pitch for work.
Some paving firms use telesales and 'cold-calling' to sell their services. Although these sales techniques can be effective, there are drawbacks. Employing sales staff or paying for the services of a direct marketing agency is expensive, while some customers are just put off by direct selling. In fact, some paving specialists actually make a point of advertising the fact that they don't employ any 'pushy sales-people'! There are special rules and regulations that you must stick to as well.
You could try the 'roadshow' approach - visiting events like ideal home exhibitions with a mobile display of your products. Or you could put up a semi-permanent display at an outlet like a garden centre or shopping complex. Once again, the cost of this type of marketing can be high.
Other ways of advertising
Think about other ways of promoting your business. You could, for example, sponsor a local sports club or event. Your local paper may run a regular 'contact the experts' advertising feature. Remember that your vehicle can be a very effective means of advertising if you have it sign-written and keep it clean and presentable. You might consider having a large sign made that you can display outside places where you are working - but make sure that your customer has no objections before putting it up. If you do a good job and work professionally and courteously there's a good chance you'll get some enquiries from other home owners in the neighbourhood.
You could investigate the possibility of becoming a recognised local supplier for the National Landlords Association. Lettings are often older properties needing remedial work and replacing a neglected garden with paving can improve its looks and letting potential as well as reducing future maintenance bills.
Word of mouth
Word of mouth recommendations are very valuable to your business. Everyone has heard horror stories about 'cowboy' tradesmen who bodge jobs and swindle their customers - and they want to be sure that you're not going to do the same to them. You will have to earn your reputation through good, reliable workmanship - but even small things like politeness and considerateness can pay big dividends. Make sure that any staff, including sales staff, you employ are good ambassadors for your business too.
Be aware that you will often be working in areas where there are a number of similar properties nearby which could also benefit from your services. If local residents are impressed by what they see of your business and the work you do then they may well approach you about future work.
You may be able to persuade a satisfied customer to let you use his or her garden as a showpiece and to give you a reference or testimonial that you can use in your advertising literature.
Turning enquiries into sales
Your aim will be to turn as many customer enquiries as possible into actual sales. You might decide to employ sales people whose job it will be to answer the telephone and deal with people who call in to your office, showroom or yard (if you have one). Or you might decide to handle sales enquires yourself. There is no 'right' way to clinch a sale, so you will have to develop a technique that seems to work well for you. As a starting point, potential customers will expect you and your staff to be business-like, courteous and knowledgeable. Many people will be put off by a very pushy approach - they may just want some information at this stage.