How To Get Clients Even If Nobody Has Ever Heard Of You

by Corey Philip
November 20, 2017

Back when I started my home service company in Southwest Florida, about five years ago early on in 2013, there was no plan. No business plan.  No marketing plan.  No end game.  And No Reputation.

Earlier that year, as I was about to graduate college with a useless degree in accounting, my longtime friend and soon to be business partner Tom said “hey, remember back when we were in high school and we talked about starting a screen enclosure company together?“

We had started working in the screen enclosure industry as teenagers after hurricane Charley came through our area in 2004. We originally just did bitch work while other employees, much older and experienced than us did most of the heavy lifting. The company we worked for was a small unorganized operation (candidly, it was a clusterfuck), like many other contracting businesses. It wasn’t until we ended up on a job site with no supervision that we were forced to take things over and make something happen.  We were paid piecework and if the foreman didn’t show up at the job site, it was a waste of time with no pay for us.  Initially our boss, the small company owner, was pissed that we do in headfirst and started in the project with no supervision potentially really screwing things up, but after review of what we done, there was no question we were pulling more than our weight worth of minimum-wage (although we didn’t know at the time).

After a few years labor work, we went to college, and still did some labor work but got our hands wet with other companies in the contracting industry, particularly on the of side of handling permits, doing sales and estimating.

The Time Is Now

It was what we knew and it seemed like it would be a good business model, so my answer to the Tom’s question after just graduating college was, “yes now is the time (to start our own screen enclosure company).”

We didn’t have much money. There was about $30,000 of student loan debt between the two of us.  We are no practical business experience, only the bullshit taught in textbooks. Hell we actually didn’t even have a business plan. Literally there was never anything in writing.  Is my father were around the time you would’ve told me two things a call and you’re an idiot and B: you’re not gonna make a penny.  Hell if 222-year-olds came up to me today with the same plan my business partner Tom and I had parentheses lack of and parentheses I would laugh at them.

We got our contractors license in February 2013, and gca I was born. We had no reputation. No physical office, no show room. Little money in the bank in new truck. Literally no truck. The whole company was ran out of a Nissan Sentra.  That was what we had to sell. No customer list. No reputation. Somehow, we had to show up in a piece of shit Nissan Sentra and convince people to hire us for projects often costing upwards of $10,000.

Time To Make It Happen

I knew it was going to be a hard sell.  Who in their right mind, would hire us?  Who would stroke a deposit check in the thousands to our little monkey business with no reputation, and no past clients? Waiving the deposit wasn’t and option.  Financially speaking we NEEDED that deposit to make something happen.

In the first week, we had collected a few deposit checks.  One year later we had made it happen. We were on our way to over $1 million dollars in sales, and that Nissan Sentra has been upgraded to a small fleet of trucks.  Still no office though.  Literally speaking, to our competitors, we were “the kids in the garage” that were going to put everyone out of business.

How Did It Happen?

So how did we do it?  How did we get people to sign the checks to use? How did we go from the kids slinging screen enclosures out of a piece of shit car with basically no business, to having customers lined up for us, and cash in the bank?

I’ll tell you right now, there’s no single trick. There’s no one “thing” we did that made it all work.  I know that’s contrary to much of the management text books and the articles you read that seem as if you do “this” and then “poof” it “worked”.  Rather, it was a series of many small things.

It started with a professional website. If you’ve ever seen the movie Sully (about Captain Sully who landed is commercial airliner on the Hudson River) there’s a scene in the very beginning where Sully is talking to his copilot about his new venture in his up-coming retirement of commercial piloting, an aviation safety consulting firm, while preparing for take-off. His copilot says something to the effect of “yeah I checked out your website looks great. I would’ve thought you had 100 people working for you”.  And they both laughed, as it was a business that have even gotten off the ground yet, and his only employee was himself.

Online First Impressions Matter

That was GCA 2013.  We had a decent website online that looked extremely professional really made a great first impression. Through my own experiences as a consumer I had seen the value of having a professional website. I realized the first impression a prospect usually gets of your business is… the web site.  First impressions are extremely valuable, and increasingly first impressions are made online.  Customers establish many perceptions about your business, such has how organized it is and the quality of service, within fractions of seconds of landing on your web page.  The website resonated with professionalism and quality. When you landed on our page, you thought we were time-tested company, not just 2 young wantrepreneurs.

Trust + Reputation = Zero

Now to build trust we had to get a little creative. We didn’t have any reviews, reputation or customer list to display and build social proof.  So we had to take a look at what we had (and could buy) to build trust and stand out among established competitors.

We knew we wanted to target the premium end of the market. Those that valued convenience and peace of mind when spending money on home services. This market second segment is by no means uneducated and they know to look for credentials when choosing a service provider.   With that in mind, we bumped our insurance policy is up to $1 million across-the-board; liability and workers comp (the one auto was still registered to me lol). And did something none of our competitors are doing, we made our insurance certificates publicly available online. Anyone who found our website seen the insurance certificates right there. No just saying ‘We’re insured’ but we were actually putting the insurance certificates transparently available. And we still maintain a practice through today.

Initial cost of boosting my insurance wasn’t very much. Not as much as you would think. Insurance premiums are usually highest on the lowest coverage amounts marginally decrease after that.  Insurance premiums are also based on total sales and payroll, as such were low at that time. So ultimately it only cost us a couple thousand dollars to have $1 million of coverage across the board, an investment that would later pay dividends.  Coverage in this amount and making a transparently available at all go back to building a reputation and social proof even know there was still hardly a company behind it all.

Now let’s go back to that website. Awesome and professional alone isn’t going to sell. The website is actually totally worthless if nobody finds it.  I had to get people to find that website.

Getting Prospects To Call

I knew people were using search engines to find people.  I knew what SEO was, but I knew it wasn’t guaranteed and took time. That wasn’t something I had early on in 2013. I needed sales and money needed to come in. So, I took the expensive route and went towards pay-per-click. That got GCA into the tops of searches.  It wasn’t an overally strategic campaign any means. Just some related keywords and some geographical targeting sending them to the website. It worked and on day one or getting calls. Maybe we were lucky but I’m very certain that if website didn’t look as professional as it did, there would’ve been a lot less calls.  [note: If you want to drive online customers to your business you need to learn pay-per-click or hire a performance based company]

If you spend any time trying to sell contracting services though, you know calls can actually be quite worthless. Just because someone calls you doesn’t mean they’re going to buy from you. Hell, many times it can be quite frustrating and time-consuming with questions that you can’t sell to such as, “how would you do this?“ or “what do you think about what my contractor did.” Questions that are absolutely worthless to you. The calls need to be qualified and then an estimate booked.

Since the glory days, the qualifying process has been refined quite a bit, but at the time it was pretty much “if we might be able to sell it we booked an estimate”. Since at this point in the company, day two, there was no work on the books and there wasn’t much better to do with my time.

I booked some estimates and was off to try to sell, out of the Nissan Sentra. I didn’t have much in my sales arsenal. Not even a company shirt.  I had those insurance certificates. I printed out a copy of those and brought them along. I was also able to get some samples of materials from suppliers. Some of the suppliers had samples sitting in their office, but not available to keep so I asked if I could borrow them for the day. They naturally said yes.  I was also sure to do practice what seemed like some common-sense punctuality and professionalism, something that isn’t so common in the home services space. Before the appointments I would call and let them know I was going to be on time. This basic as this simple practice would lead to sales in an industry notorious for a lack of punctuality and professionalism.

Sales Meeting With Prospects

Once I was on site, there was no refined pitch to close sales without pressure like what I practice today. It was a simple cordial meeting where I would discuss the customers’ needs and what we can do and present the price. But a meeting and price presentation doesn’t bring a sale to closing. For that I’d have to ask for the sale and not have to build trust.  I’d talk about in detail what we’re going to do specifically on each project. Even stuff that seems simple and ordinary kind of like their yeah of course stuff I would highlight and discuss specifically what we’re going to do. I’d pull out samples of the materials. Other companies that were out selling wouldn’t do this. To them the materials were just materials. Common materials that they work with every day. But I realized to prospects these materials represented thousands of dollars into a project. They wanted hands on. Putting a material in their hand added a sense of realism to the services I was selling. Because not many other companies do that most people just pluck a price down on the table and that’s it. I’d also remind them of the insurance which was a key selling point. With a prospect that has a multimillion dollar house and likely the cash and other assets, the last thing they want to do is work with some schmuck that doesn’t carry a large sum of insurance.

It didn’t come up as often as you think, but occasionally we were asked “how long have you been in business?“ We would be truthful in response but would spin the topic back everything we used to establish ourselves. Transparency and ‘buy the books’ operation.

Now throughout the sales process, I was getting asked a lot of questions. A lot of questions.  Questions in the initial phone call. Questions by email before and after sales meeting. Questions during the sales meeting. Questions about materials. Questions about the process. All kinds of questions and it was usually the same questions time and time again. I felt like I was repeating myself to everyone. So I decided to answer the questions online, in place where the customers could find answers for themselves or I could refer the customers during the sales process if they asked the question.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I was doing was content marketing.

Be The Guide

Now have you ever tried teaching a group before? If so you’ve certainly experienced this; the group as a whole won’t ask a question but then once one person speaks up, everyone else in the group concedes that they have the same question as well. In other words, for every one person that has the question, there are many many more people that have the same question.

The results of putting this information out in a blog or more astounding than I ever could’ve imagined.  Not only would people find it and then contact us, but it gave us a reputation. We didn’t need other customers. We didn’t need social proof. Yes, it would’ve helped but demonstrating ourr knowledge online established us of the trust figure and resource.  This would close sale after sale all while giving us a reputation and most didn’t even think to ask the question “how long have you been in business?”

What It Comes Down To

If I had sum it all, selling when you have no reputation and no one has heard of you or hired you before boils down to selling what you do have, and how you can build trust in other ways then a client list. You need to be creative, and amplify the elements of your business that establish your reputation and experience.  The professional website for the great first impression and professionalism. A million dollars of insurance coverage to build trust and perceived reliability. Punctualism during the sales process, and most importantly content online that indicates you know the trade extremely well.

All that stuff works great if you’ve got people finding the website and calling you. If you don’t need to get them there. Content alone takes time. A lot of time. If you want your phone to ring tomorrow you need to get traffic to your website.  In my case, I started out with Adwords pay-per–click.  Early on I got pretty lucky. They were a few competitors in my trade advertising on there, so it was pretty low cost. That changed as everyone heard about the two kids that were selling a shit load of work somehow from advertising online. And all of our competitors went on. So, I had to get a little more creative over the years and spent countless hours learning the ins and outs of ad words.  I’ve actually fell in love with marketing (ask my girl friend).  The level of experience and strategy behind my pay-per-click campaigns today dwarfs that of the initial campaigns.

I’ve also moved heavily into Facebook marketing. With increased competition, on Adwords Facebook marketing has been generating tons of leads at a low cost for my company. Facebook is a powerful advertising platform, but it’s more difficult than Adwords to master. You aren’t trying to reach people actively searching for your services, but rather you’re trying to identify people would be interested in your product/service if they knew you existed, although they don’t have an immediate need for you at the moment.

Of course there’s content, as well. Bringing in low-cost organic traffic. One of the blog post’s from 2013, continues to bring in valuable customer after customer.

There’s a lot I could say on those advertising methods.  Far more than could go into a single blog post, but I want to teach it.  Not going to lie, there is something powerful about seeing other people take with they have learned from you, and be successful with it.

I’m currently working on a full blown course(s) covering everything home service business owners need to know about Adwords or Facebook marketing. No puffery.  Literally the step-by-step method I use for marketing my company and would for any company that does work on or at customers home.  At this point, I’m not sure which will come first, the Adwords or Facebook Course.  Let me know which one you would like to see first in the comments below.

Update 10/11/2018: since publishing this post I have hosted the ‘Home Pro Success Formula For Facebook Advertising’ twice this year.  An upcoming ‘full circle’ marketing and leads course is in the works.  You can get updates here.

About the author

Corey Philip

Corey Philip is a small business owner / investor with a focus on home service businesses.

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