Written by Chris Lambrinides
CHAPTER 1 - BEST PRACTICES
This chapter contains what I consider best practices. Stay true to these principles, and you will increase your business’s chance of success.
Keep these in mind, and use them as a rule of thumb. If you do, all the techniques and methods we talk about will come together much better. Following them will make your life a lot easier and your business a lot more enjoyable, maybe even fun.
I don’t care what you use. Use anything, just use it consistently. Good customer relationship management (CRM) software will help you keep track of all prospective and actual clients. It should be able to store all the important information you need on a client: name, address, contact details. It should also have a calendar and scheduling function built in. When you’re first getting started, you can get away with something free and bare bones just to get going. But as you start to get larger or if you plan to be large, you are going to need a more robust software solution. It should be able to tell you which of the three follow- ing categories everyone in your database is currently in:
■ Active customer—Has a job scheduled at some point in the future
■ Prospective—Has called in for an estimate but never booked an appointment
Inactive—Has had an appointment in the past but has nothing on the schedule now
A good CRM will also be able to help you with your marketing activities. It should store and report information that you enter. Some examples of key information you want to collect are the following:
■ Contact details—Name, address, phone number, and e-mail
■ Job site overview—Appointment times, window counts, technicians on-site
■ Job site details—Customer preferences, likes, and dislikes
■ Source—How did this customer find you? What marketing method finally spurred them to contact you?
■ Remarketing—What got that existing customer in your database to call you again to book another job?
A customer may have originally gotten into your system by seeing a newspaper ad. But they may have come back for a second appointment months later after they received a postcard. It’s key that you differentiate between these two things. Ask, “Was it the newspaper ad or the postcard that caused you to call us back again?
Make it a habit to keep detailed pricing records. How many windows do they have, what type are they, and what did you or would you charge for them? Also, keep track of who was on-site, who did the estimate, and how long the job took—specifically, how many man-hours Go the extra mile and keep track of pricing details for services you haven’t performed—things that the customer didn’t even ask about.
We always made it a point to keep track of pricing for a variety of services. For example, if we were there just to clean the windows, we would also take note of what it would cost to clean their roof and wash their house and deck. Even notes and details on cleaning their gutters inside and out were worth recording.
All this data would get stored in our computer system. It allowed us to market other services to them in the future. We could give them quotes on what it would cost because we already had the data in our system.
Tip: Keep track of their dog’s name. It’s always impressive when you show up a year later and remember Fido.
You should work up a thirty- to sixty-second pitch offer or summary of what your company does and how it can help the consumer. The concept is you should be able to explain your product or service in a quick elevator ride. Have one for your business, rehearse it, and be able to spit it out whenever the chance arises.
Here’s one I used for many years:
All County Window Cleaning is New Jersey and New York’s premier residential window cleaning company. We offer a full array of home exterior services designed to enhance your property’s appearance and curb appeal. Our services save you time and money. Appointments are available six days a week. How soon can I get you on the schedule?
It sounds stupid and hokey, but I encourage you to have one in your head. You never know where you’ll be or whom you’ll bump into. If you’re out marketing your company every day, this is a must-have. It will assist not only your marketing efforts but also your entire sales process.
Test, Test, Test
Test everything. Test, tweak, and retest. Always. Start small with everything, and gauge the results. Make small changes, and retest. Get in the habit of doing this often. It will save you tons of money in the long run. If you’re going to market, it makes sense that you do it in the most cost-effective efficient manner.
Bullets and then Cannonballs
One of my favorite books is Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t by Jim Collins. It talks about the theory of firing bullets and then cannonballs. I recommend you read this book at some point. But to give you a quick overview, the concept goes like this:
Start small and test new ideas. When you launch a campaign with a completely new idea, concept, or pricing structure, start small. Fire bullets. They are tiny, fast, low cost, and low risk.
Once you have proven your ideas to be effective, then consider firing cannonballs. They are bigger, heavier, and more forceful. Bullets won’t sink a ship, but cannonballs can. Test your marketing efforts over and over again.
Test, tweak, rinse, and repeat on a small-scale basis. If your tests prove profitable, consider firing a cannonball. Here is a real-life example:
I would always print postcards in groups of one thousand. I would send out five tests over a set period, using the same postcard but with small changes: different headlines, fonts, and offers. The card that produced the best results was printed in mass quantities. We started small with bullets, tested, tweaked, and then fired our cannonballs. My cannonballs looked like twenty-five thousand pieces of direct mail. Yours can be whatever number, as long as you start small.
Remember, bullets first and then cannonballs.
Supply-and-demand pricing is a theory I instilled in our sales process just a few years before I sold the company. Oh, the money I would have made and saved if I had only thought about it earlier.
It works like this: The phone rings in May (busy season). “Hi, this is Miss Smith. I need my windows cleaned.” OK, blah blah blah blah blah sales pitch. Here’s your price. Now, how soon can we get you on the schedule? “Oh, that’s way too much. I can’t afford that.” OK, what can you afford?
Well, I’ll tell you what, Miss Smith. We can do that for $100 off our normal price, but we won’t be able to get to you until August 21. Would you prefer the morning or the afternoon that day?
This is a win-win. The customer gets the price they want. You get a day filled with work in the middle of the summer, when you’re destined to be slow anyway. Many business owners will say you shouldn’t waiver because your price is your price. Well, when you have employees whom you need to keep busy, you’re in a different mindset. I pretty much went into it knowing that I would do just a little better than break even in August and some of September. But it was all worth it because I had all my key employees on hand for the rapidly approaching busy season.
The Importance of Good Design
In the intro, I showed you my first marketing piece. I rolled with handmade designs like this for a couple of years, after which wemoved to a more professional design.
Something like this, for example:
You can download this if you want to use it
Our response rate instantly doubled. Yes, it doubled.
If you can’t make it look great, bring someone in to help you. It’s no longer expensive to look good. There is no excuse not to have good design. The Window Cleaning Resource Association (WCRA), for example, provides hundreds of premade templates. They are professionally designed and guaranteed to get you results.
I am an advocate of hiring a professional for specialized tasks, design included. But with graphic design, I would encourage you to have some working knowledge. A general understanding of how it works and how to edit basic files is beneficial to your business.
I’m not suggesting you gain the complete mastery of Photoshop, but it is helpful to be able to manipulate a file or two. Sometimes you need something done immediately. Sometimes you may have an idea you want to capture and sketch up.
Photoshop used to be super expensive. These days, it’s a little cheaper. You can subscribe to Adobe’s cloud service for $10 a month. You can also pick up a more scaled-down version called Photoshop Elements. It’s available for around $50 if you search around a bit. At that price, it makes sense to at least give it a try. Check out YouTube for ample instructional videos to get you up and running.
Branding is a marketing strategy that involves creating a differentiated name and image, often using a logo and tagline to establish a presence in the consumer’s mind, all based on attracting and keeping customers.
Everything should hang together. Your vehicles, uniform, paperwork, scripts, and advertising should have a consistent look and feel. They should also deliver a consistent message and philosophy.
Bigger, nationwide companies spend huge amounts of money every year on branding campaigns, efforts designed wholly to keep the brand top of mind with potential consumers. For big household names, this makes a lot of sense. But in a smaller service company, the funds aren’t there for such a campaign.
The margins in our type of business are lean; every dollar counts. If you’re going to spend money on marketing, it should not be about awareness or name recognition. It should be about action and movement. It should be about converting noncustomers to customers. It should be about getting prospective customers to take action and schedule a job with you.
Aside from the cost aspects of branding strategies, I just don’t believe them to be necessary in a small, infrequent service business. In the best-case scenario, you are going to be servicing your customers once or twice a year at most. Yes, there will be customers who call for your services more often. But the fact of the matter is, you’re not going to see a customer more than a couple of times per year. I know you don’t want to hear this, but they don’t care about you or your company. They just want their windows cleaned or their house washed. They don’t want your brand in their face twenty-four seven.
I’m not antibranding, I just know the reality is you have a small amount of dollars to spend. And if you’re going to spend them, it may as well be on activities that will help you make immediate money, not help you be remembered in the client’s mind. You can remind them who you are and why they love you with a couple of simple postcard mailings to them per year.
Always use them. They are a great call to action, and they imply a deal or special offer even if there isn’t one. People like coupons, and they like to feel as if they’re getting a good deal. Don’t you?
You don’t even need to discount your service to use them. They are effective even if you are using them only as a way to present your services.
Here is an example of me doing just that:
There’s something about those dashed lines that gets people’s attention. – – – – – – – – – I love them.
Call to Action
Everything you do and release should have a call to action. Think of your call to action as the final instruction to the reader of your marketing piece or website. They’ve read it over, and they are almost sold. All they need to do now is what you tell them to do.
What do you want them to do? I want people to call now; we do our best sales over the phone. You may prefer to have someone fill out a form or submit an e-mail.
Here are some of my favorite calls to action:
1. Call now for a FREE no-obligation quote—Best for direct mail
2. Get clean windows now—Best for websites
3. Instant attention
Currently, I’m using instant attention to prompt people to fill out my ResponsiBid. It’s working! You can get a discount to ResponsiBid here.
Why #1 works so well:
You are instructing them what to do, and it’s free; there is no risk.
There is no obligation with a phone call. They can hang up any- time.
You are removing the barriers and reservations someone might have. Everything you do should be chipping away at any potential objection. Set yourself up for success by removing any hesitations your target client may have—before you even speak to them!
Get all the objections out of the way before you talk to them. Do that, and you’ll see how we closed 90% of the people who called us.
Guaranteed to Improve Your Marketing
If you do the things listed below, I guarantee your marketing results will improve.
Hours and Days of Operation
The days and times you decide to keep your company open for business can have a big impact on your marketing, especially if you go into it with that in mind. Use your days and hours of operation as a marketing tool.
Open six days a week from sunup to sundown. Have convenient appointment times to fit the needs of your schedule.
Boom. This seems like a simple thing, but it’s so powerful, especially when leveraged in conjunction with your other marketing activities. Think about it for a minute. If your target market is busy stay-at-home moms or professionals, their schedule is just as full as yours.
Make it effortless for a prospective client to do business with you. If they see that you will work around their busy schedule, and then they notice that Bob’s Window Cleaning doesn’t have Saturday appointments, whom do you think they’re going to call first?
Do you think they would be willing to pay more for a Saturday appointment? I know they will!
I’m not telling you to work crazy hours and spend all your weekends on the glass. But I am telling you that for many, many years, we offered appointments seven days a week. If the sun was shining, we were working. It was a huge competitive advantage for us.
There is also a segment of employees eager for weekend work. We were the clear choice in the customers’ minds. We worked around them. We accommodated their schedules. We did what was best for them. And we made a killing and had huge market share because of it.
Accept Credit Cards
Don’t hesitate. Your target customer base loves to use them. Your accepting them is key. The day we started using Visa and MasterCard logos, we saw an instant uptick in phone calls and sales.
I suggest putting the logos on all your marketing materials. If a potential customer gets your ad and they see they can use a credit card to pay, your chances of landing that job go up, especially if they are currently strapped or low on cash. Most people always are.
Accepting cards is super painless these days. My personal favorite processor is Stripe. Square, PayPal, and QuickBooks are also good. Yes, you will lose 2.5% in processor fees, but it’s a price worth paying.
Once you realize that you will get more sales because you accept them, it’s all worth it, not to mention the increased cash flow you will see from being able to charge them right away. You will no longer place accounts-receivable calls or take checks to the bank!
Market More When You’re Busy
Market when you are busy, or you won’t be busy for long.
This graph shows the average seasonality of my business overlaid by my marketing activities. It took me a few years of deadly slow summers to figure this out, and it changed everything when I did. Here in New Jersey, our seasonality looks something like this:
This graph here, number two, shows the layover of marketing. Notice how I market more before I get slow.
Marketing should be an ongoing thing. For twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and fifty-two weeks a year, you should have things set up to be marketing your business. If you enjoy the slow periods and like taking time off when the business slows down, skip this chapter. But if you want to be busy all year round and make consistent money, keep reading. If you have full-time employees and intend on keeping them, keep reading. Steady workflow through most of the year is important. The whole key to staying busy during the lean times is to market more when you’re busy.
Most people instinctively think to crank up the marketing once they get slow. But you should be cranking up the marketing long before it happens. That will help ensure you never actually get slow. You nip the problem in the bud before it occurs.
The Better Business Bureau is a total scam. I know it, you know it, and everyone knows it. But the $400 a year I paid them to use their logo more than paid for itself.
Other trust logos worth using include the following:
Angie’s List, logos of associations, and review sites. You can even make your own—for example, 100% satisfaction guaranteed.
Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover logos are also considered trust logos. They work on a deep part of the human psyche. In reality, they are meaningless. But what it comes down to is that the human brain sees these logos and associates them with authority and trust. People trust these companies. When you use the logos, some of that trust rubs off on you. Your company is deemed more trustworthy by the simple act of using the logos.
It’s simple to set up and put in place. Once you do, your response rates will increase. Finding print-ready trust logos can be tough, so feel free to use mine.
100% Satisfaction Guaranteed
One hundred percent satisfaction guaranteed; we will make it right, or you get your money back. I had this exact same guarantee in my window cleaning business for ten years. In that ten- year period, we completed over seventy-five thousand residential jobs. We ended up refunding just seven customers. A money- back guarantee sounds crazy. But when you add the condition “we will make it right,” it starts making a lot of sense.
It’s not about the guarantee. It’s about eliminating any possible objection the customer might have. It’s about cutting down anything that could get in the way of a customer booking a job with you.
Have one. It always rains, and it’s always a fear. Much like the standard guarantee above, it’s designed to put your customer’s mind at ease. It also gives them one more reason to choose your company. It breaks down any possible objections before they arise. It also keeps you working when it’s raining. This is, of course, a personal preference. I can count on two hands the number of times we have had to touch up a customer with a rain guarantee. With over seventy-five thousand jobs under our belt, you can’t argue with the statistics.
1. Percentage off sucks
2. Dollars off is real and tangible.
Keep these two things in mind across your marketing campaigns. Learn them and embrace them. The human brain has a hard time translating percentage off into something tangible. Look at these two offers:
1. Twenty-five percent off all services. A customer says, “OK, 25% off. What price? What does that mean? What will it cost me? How much do I save? Ugh, that’s confusing. I’m not sure I even want to call and find out.”
2. Twenty windows cleaned for $199. This is insanely easy for the mind to understand. When a potential customer sees this offer, they know exactly what it’s going to cost them. They are much more likely to pick up the phone and call you if they know what the price is approximately going to be. It demystifies the whole process. Usually, their thought is, “Man, window cleaning sounds expensive.” But with a real, tangible offer like twenty windows cleaned for X dollars, the thought translates to, “Wow! That’s much more affordable than I ever would have thought. Let’s do this. I’m going to pick up the phone and call them right now.”
This is another one of those small, simple things. When you put it into practice, you will find that it actually works.
Pricing—Theory—Command Your Price
I discovered early on that certain marketing methods attracted price shoppers, whereas others didn’t.
After further thought, I broke down the idea to this:
If the customer wants to have their windows cleaned, and they reach out to you, they are likely a price shopper. If you reach out to the customer first through marketing, they likely will not be a price shopper.
When you plant the idea in the customer’s mind, they are more likely to just call and book the appointment. You have a better chance of commanding a higher price for your service if you are the only choice in their mind. Set everything up so they wouldn’t even think of calling someone else.
How to Price Like a Boss
We would always have a base price or promo we were running. It was usually something like “twenty windows cleaned for $199.” It worked because we knew the homes we were marketing to had an average of thirty-five windows.
So, they would call to get their twenty windows cleaned for about $10 a pop, and then we would charge our normal price for windows above the coupon.
This is how an average ticket looked:
20 promo windows @ $9.95 = $199
15 regular windows @ $23 = $345
Total bill = $544 + tax
As you can see, the real money made was on the windows above and beyond the coupon that got us in the door.
I discovered that anything after the twenty windows was our profitable spot. That additional price could fluctuate on a day-to-day basis, and it did! We made the most profit on those extra windows over the original twenty. The twenty-window coupon got us in the door and covered our expenses. Windows number twenty-one and beyond made us the real money.
Yep, I wish I would have caught on to this a little earlier in the game. But here it is for you. You know about the twenty-window special and the fixed price. At most, this would change maybe every month or quarter. The promo was the promo, and it stayed around for good chunks of time.
One of my key metrics was the closing ratio. At day’s end, we would calculate the number of incoming calls compared with our number of customers scheduled. The key percentage I looked for was a 90% close rate.
That’s a really high closing rate in any business. But we were really good—and I mean really good. Our phone room ran like a Swiss watch. I’ll save the full story for another book. But know that 90% was the number I was looking for.
I got to the point where if I saw we scheduled over 90% of the calls the previous day, I would raise window prices by a buck. If I saw the close rate dip after a few days, I would drop prices by a buck until it self-corrected back to 90%.
The shock and horror on the sales reps’ faces when I came in and raised prices day after day were indescribable. I raised the price per window from $15 to $16 to $17 all the way up to $29 for a double-hung window.
The sales reps were angry and petrified to present the customers with such a high price. They feared we would get yelled at and earn a bad reputation. They felt bad, and they thought the customers would be mad at them. All that fear went out the window once their first commission check came in at the higher window price.
We grandfathered-in past customers at a lower rate. Only the new customers were getting this increased pricing.
Charging as much as possible did take some time for everyone to come onboard. But once they did, everyone was better off for it. The company was making more money, and it trickled down. The sales team was making higher commissions than they had ever seen. The window cleaners in the field were raking it in as well, some over $2,000 a week during the busy season. Good for them! Job satisfaction was at an all-time high.
Don’t you feel bad charging so much?
No, not for a second. We don’t force anyone to use our service. We are here when you need us, and these are the prices we are going to charge today. If they are too high, maybe I can interest you in an August 15 appointment? Would you prefer morning or afternoon that day?
Take Lots of Pictures
Take lots of before-and-after pictures of your work, your vehicles, and your staff. One of my biggest regrets over the years has been not taking enough pictures on the job. It wasn’t always easy; we took our first marketing pictures on disposable cameras.
Today, though, there’s no excuse. With a modern smartphone, it’s a no-brainer. You never know when pictures will come in handy. You can use them for future marketing campaigns or your website.
Before-and-after pictures are extremely powerful; make a habit of taking them. Also, if you have staff or a team, take lots of photos of them working and looking happy. I promise they will come in handy. Always get permission before taking or using them. Ask the customer first; they almost always will say yes. If you get a great picture, be sure to have the customer sign a photo release form. Most won’t have a problem with it. Here is a photo-release form you can download and print off:
Clients versus Customers
A client is a customer whom you have an ongoing relationship with.
They use your services on a regular basis.
A customer is a person who has made a single purchase from you or who purchases infrequently. Think of Miss Johnson, who uses you every four years.
The goal is to have more clients than customers. Keep this in mind with everything you do—every transaction, every touch, every thought. You want to have an ongoing relationship with these people. It is far more cost effective to get a client to buy than it is to get a whole new customer. For this to occur, you have to have a mindset of relationship over the transaction. Value and show appreciation for the relationship, and it will continue and continue.
Be easy to do business with, and the sales will roll in. Let the customers schedule when they want to. Let them pay with whatever method they choose. Show an honest interest in them and the things they care about. Have a great demeanor on the phone and in person. Show passion and enthusiasm. Work quickly and have self-confidence and high energy. Show attention to detail and great respect for the customer. If you conduct yourself like this, everything else will fall into place.