These 11 tips will help move your business forward in 2011.

The beginning of a new year is quickly approaching and every forward-thinking business owner in our industry is trying to figure out ways to grow revenue. In the service business, when you think about revenue growth, typically you think about advertising. 

To grow revenues, the primary mode of thinking is to change or increase advertising spending. Bigger Yellow Pages ads, a new Web site fully optimized for organic search results, increased pay-per-click campaigns, or maybe radio, television or out-of-home advertising like billboards are methods that quickly come to mind.

Let me challenge that thinking for a minute, or at least ask you a question.“What would you do in your business to grow revenue if you had no control of your advertising?”

Would you take nonadvertising methods of revenue growth seriously? I sure did. 

Prior to working as a business coach for Nexstar, I was the region vice president for a large national service company. I was responsible for a handful of plumbing and HVAC service companies in the Midwest and Southwest. My company made a well-intended but really bad decision to remove all marketing planning from the regional and local levels and handle it all from company headquarters.

As a business operator with full profit-and-loss responsibilities, we could recommend ideas and strategies but we could not make the final marketing decisions. It made no sense. It was damaging for morale and was a huge negative for the company.

It became apparent no matter how much we complained about marketing strategy, nothing was going to change. And since we were responsible for business performance and had bonuses and jobs on the line, we had to make do.

Let me tell you, when you have to grow a business and marketing isn’t helping, you get real serious about nonadvertising growth strategies. There was no more defaulting to advertising solutions for revenue problems. As it turned out, this dysfunctional situation ended up being a great experience. We had to figure out every day how to grow the business without advertising. And we did.

While a good experience, it was like being in a fist fight with one hand tied behind your back. Sure you may win, but you will take way more hits than necessary. 

As you plan for revenue growth, I encourage you to approach nonadvertising strategies like they are your only option for growth. This way you will be serious about seeing them through to success. These types of options typically are harder to execute than advertising strategies. Here are 11 general thought-starters for you:

1. Referrals.Increase technician referrals to sales personnel or selling technicians for larger installation jobs such as sewer replacements, high-efficiency water heaters, repipes, etc. 

Most companies have hidden revenue opportunities in this area. If all technicians in your shop are free to estimate all kinds of replacements and make decisions on what should be repaired and what should be replaced, you have an opportunity here. It may be a gold mine.

2. Increase maintenance-plan sales.Typically, these plans come with at least one additional visit annually. Sell one and you automatically create a future service call. This is an immediate revenue opportunity.

3. Free checks.During seasonally slower periods when there are low demand calls and no more maintenance-plan inspections to run, many companies just call customers and offer to check or inspect their plumbing system for free. It works and is better than paying technicians to “clean their trucks.”

4. Increasing call-center hours.This could be a big one for you. Most companies believe their after-hours answering service - which pages the on-call technician - is capturing all the revenue opportunities in the evenings and on the weekends. Well, they are wrong. Every company I know that expanded hours of operation has grown revenue.

The only reason service companies don’t do this is because they don’t want to, not because it doesn’t make business sense.

5. Expanding technician schedules.Like increasing call-center hours of operation, having regularly scheduled technicians in the evenings and weekends (who are not on overtime) will grow revenue. A 4 p.m. service call taken by a technician who has already worked seven hours will not be maximized in the same way than if taken by a technician who has only worked four hours. This works.

6. Managing call capacity.For most service companies, whatever calls come in are scheduled. Some days are good, some days are bad. Many companies have created real revenue growth by proactively managing call volume by looking forward and filling gaps in their schedule with maintenance calls and free checks. It isn’t easy but it works.

7. Unsold service invoices.For most companies, if work is quoted and not sold that day, it is gone forever. Technicians are off to their next call and rarely follow up, except for really big work that they feel is very likely to close. And for most companies, there is no one in the office that follows up on work on the technician’s behalf. If your company is large with many technicians, this could be a huge opportunity.

8. Closing more inbound calls.Start to record your inbound calls and listen to them. Virtually every owner who has done this has been amazed at what is occurring within his own company on the phone.With today’s technology, every company has the ability to record its inbound calls and then work with company personnel to improve their skills at capturing the call. This one is a no-brainer. Just do it.

9. Acquisitions.This one isn’t free but it can work. Many of the industry’s largest companies got to their lofty status through aggressive acquisition strategies. If you have it all figured out in your company and are making good money, then this is a good strategy. If you struggle month to month to make your own company work - forget you ever read this.

10. Adding a trade line.If you have thousands of satisfied customers, it is much easier to find a new product or service to sell them than to find thousands of new customers. For plumbing companies, this could be adding drain cleaning or sewer repairs, water treatment, septic service or HVAC.

If you have your primary trade-making money and are feeling a little bit bored, you want to look at this one. If you have all you can handle already, don’t complicate your life - stay home and tend to your primary business before making things more complicated. 

11. Territory expansion.This is typically done in conjunction with advertising spending where you go to a new city or part of a city. This is particularly effective for small-town companies who have come close to maximizing their potential in their town. If your town has less than 50,000 people, this could be a great strategy for you. If you live in a huge town and are a small company, you may want to think twice about this one.

These strategies take commitment and daily management attention for them to be successful. Take a run through this list, pick two or three to chase, approach them like you have no choice but to make them work, and you will have a better 2011.