Drive Appointments with the Internet
It takes time and money, but it works. Here are six things you need to know.
By now we know that many advertising media—newspapers, yellow pages—aren’t working well in many markets. So, if they don’t work, what does? I have seen only two things reliably work for the independent operator with less than $1,000 a week for advertising. Above that level you may get TV or radio to help out, but that is problematic unless you have a lot of experience.
The two things that are affordable and work are person-to-person activities including mail and phone contact to past customers, and the Internet. The Internet is coming on strong and is fragmenting into many forms and methods.
The good news about Web sites is more visitors are viewing them every month—if the owner keeps the site active. The bad news is there are more sites competing for attention and the real challenge is to be on the first page of search engine results.
The big task is to learn how to make it work for your business. Sometimes it is one of those things that the more you learn, the less you know. To give you a quick sense of the challenge and opportunity, this article will focus on the six things you need to know to make your Web site become a steady source of new appointments.
1. PPC (Pay Per Click)—PPC is where you bid for terms that homeowners list for search results. Examples: blinds, draperies, window treatments. If you outbid your competitor, your ad will appear at the top or side of Google’s search results.
You decide the budget you want and how much a day you want to spend. It takes knowledge and experience to do this on your own. Most business owners contract with a service that charges an additional $100 monthly to recommend placements and gives you monthly reports.
PPC started off great about five years ago. Then it seemed to get fewer results over time. There are dozens of companies providing administrative support service and about 10 percent of people with serious businesses seem to be using it. Results are spotty. General cost about $200 per appointment, and it takes a budget of $400 to $500 a month minimum. Because about $100 goes for administration, you need to have much more go into media.
Recommendation: Yes, try it if your total ad budget is more than $2,000 a month
2. SEO (Search Engine Optimization)—This is the new wave, or more correctly, a recent wave. Everyone has been talking SEO for over two years. This is the foundation action you must take to be serious in the business.
SEO means that you optimize the Web site by using terms that customers use to find you. Use the same example as with PPC. Words such as blinds, draperies, window treatments should appear frequently in your Web site. A quality company will charge at least $,1000 for initial work. There are many who will do it for less and tell you they have a special program that makes low cost possible. It may work, but I have not seen the results. Ask them for references in our industry with people who got good placement on the first page of a Google search. If you are not on the first page, it is hardly worth spending the money. Call the references.
Recommendation: Must do. Budget about $500 for set up, about $1 - 200 for continuing
3. Blogging—Another recent wave is blogging. Be sure to add it to your Web site. Your webmaster will help you. Then keep it active weekly. The importance of blogging is that Google likes recent activity. Blogging gets the attention of the creepy crawlers running through the Internet to find words and Web sites that customers may be looking for. If you are serious about appointments, blogging is essential. Your blog page may come up sooner than your Web site!
Recommendation: No choice if you are serious about your business. Budget an hour a week.
4. Customer Reviews—This is the newest up and comer: Get your customers to review your service. Get a review option added on your Web site, but until then go to Yelp.com and Kudzu.com and set up your business to accept comments from customers. Encourage people to make comments that reflect favorably. These sites add a new seriousness to taking care of customers. One bad comment can be overcome with a lot of positive comments, but you cannot control what people say about you on these sites.
Recommendation: Yes. Find a way to get it going.
5. Customer Work—Your Web site is the perfect place to show off work you have done for good customers. The direction of Web sites is to get people involved. Take pictures, not only of the work itself, but also of you and the customer standing next to the work with a happy face.
Recommendation: Yes. It takes time and creativity more than money, but it will set you apart.
• Social Networking—This is the future trend for Internet marketing. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and a dozen other groups and networks are turning the Internet into a connected group of people with similar likes, tastes and interests. I attended an industry event where one expert advised that if you must choose between two hours for a networking luncheon or two hours working Facebook and LinkedIn, you are better to spend it on the Internet!
Recommendation: Get started on Facebook and LinkedIn. Learn what you can as quickly as you can. This is tomorrow’s medium.
6. E-mail Messaging—If you are not capturing your customer’s e-mail and sending a monthly newsletter, then start now! -Email is the most powerful and low-cost communication medium you can use.
Use a commercial service like Vertical Response or Constant Contact. Setting up your list, constantly adding to it, writing a newsletter frequently and putting the graphics together is time consuming. Do it on a budget or find a service that will send it for you. If you can get someone else to do it from start to finish for $200 to $400 a month, that would be a good deal and worth it if you have a sizeable list of 500 names or more.
Recommendation: Absolute must. If you don’t get e-mail addresses now, start today.
The Internet is exploding and it is changing. It is no longer adequate to just have a simple Web site and leave it alone. You must work at making it work for you. It is the newest medium.
At one time we thought it would be ultra low cost to get appointments from the Internet. As it develops, we discover there is no free lunch. It is a valuable and reliable medium when used correctly with good inputs of money and time to make it work correctly.
The best advice: Stay ahead of your competitor. Most independent operators do not have the time to learn all the ways the Internet can help a business or the money to hire others. But, retail chains and franchises are coming on strong. Find a way that fits your budget and your business and start now to use this powerful medium. Your competitors have started already!
This article is based on Steven C. Bursten’s actual experience with sales and financial information working with hundreds of window coverings businesses. Bursten is co-founder and CEO of Exciting Windows! a network of experienced and aspiring window coverings professionals. He also co-founded the International Window Coverings Exchange, Window Coverings University, and WCU Online, and is the founder of Interiors by Decorating Den. Whether you are a sole operator of a personal business or manage 50 window fashions consultants, this series will help you improve sales and increase profitability. Bursten encourages questions and comments at steveb@ExcitingWindows.com