Don't give up on your marketing challenges.

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Growing up, I fished a lot. Since my father died before I could remember, my uncle stepped in to be my surrogate. Plus, he needed someone to back the trailer. And deal with the bait. And drive the boat. I was more than willing since I had some “learning” to catch up on.

Lots of days, the trip was valuable even if we caught nothing. This came in handy more often than I admit to other fishermen. We had a good time talking, out in the sun, and discussing, as he said, “which one of the 4,812 reasons the fish didn’t bite today.” As a career writer withReaders’ Digest, he had a knack for phrasing.

The top reasons - for which the fisherman had no influence - were the usual, such as water temperature, presence of food and whether we were so blooming hot we had to move the boat or we’d burst into flames. (Some sunspots are cooler than Alabama in July.)

Yet the esoteric reasons for not catching fish were casting ability, bait presentation and lure retrieval. All this was the fisherman’s choice. 

We eventually arrived at an honest conclusion. Shockingly, it impacts your marketing and your business everyday, even among your customers and employees.

Five Fixes Under Your Control

When we didn’t catch fish, it was due to the uncontrollable reasons. When we did - you guessed it - it was skill, pure and simple. 

My Uncle Allen has long since passed away, but the lesson stuck. We’re all fishing, all the time. In the upside-down logic of human behavior, according to fishermen, we let the outcome determine who gets the blame for it.

So, what are you looking to “fix”? And is that fix within your control … or outside it?

1. Do you believe your increase or decrease in leads is solely due to the climate?Let’s be real here. Yes, people use more water during the summer. Yes, more people are home and their plumbing systems get a workout. Yes, during colder months there’s the worry of cracked or frozen pipes. But your business really isn’t dependent on anything that’s going on outside. How do I know? People use their plumbing every single day of the year - rain, shine, snow or hail. And that means that your business is needed 24/7, regardless of the weather or the economy.

The smarter move? In your busy times, market for preventive maintenance (yes, for plumbers) so that your not-so-busy times become profitable. Plus, you can market higher-efficiency water heaters and fixtures year round. After all, there’s never awrongtime of year to save money.

2. Do you believe your town is “just not big enough” to grow your business? Let me follow that up with another question. Is every home in your town taken care of by your company? Can you knock on any door, randomly, and know that behind it is “your” customer? Didn’t think so. And that means that there’s room for growth. Being satisfied with the status quo never got anyone anywhere worth going. So …

Add up the cumulative sales of all your competitors. That’s your market. You just figure how hard you want to work to go get it.

3. Do you feel marketing is a waste of time and effort because your sales really come from “word of mouth”?That’s like saying spaghetti is only spaghetti because of the noodles; we all know it’s the combination of ingredients that make it a successful dish.

Likewise, it’s thecombinationof your marketing efforts that create a successful business. Think about it. Name ONE company that’s successful without marketing. Before you start naming names, remember this: If they have a sign, a logo, company letterhead or can be found online, that business is marketing itself. I’ll go so far as to say anything that represents your company is marketing, right down to your company trucks and tech uniforms.

Why? Because they all make an impression on prospects and customers alike, which is the whole purpose of marketing. Whether that impression is good, bad or strong enough to draw in sales leads is  strictly up to you.

4. Do you believe just having a website is good enough and if people want you, they’ll find you? That’s the digital equivalent of “If we build it, they will come.” It’s just not true anymore. Consider that 64 percent of home service sales are now researched online first, before they ever call you. Also, your online reputation can turn hundreds of leads from EVER calling you in the first place. Your web marketing must enter the new phase of human behavior.

That means optimizing your website for searchability - they’ve got to be able to find it before they can have any meaningful contact. And if you’re not on the mobile marketing train, you’re missing out. This type of optimization is designed to point locals to your business. You already know they’re in your service area; all you have to do is draw them in (with the right bait, of course).

5. Do you think serving a customer one time makes them your customer? This is one of the deadliest thought processes in all of contracting. This mindset causes you to become trapped in a never-ending cycle of new customer acquisition. Now, don’t get me wrong - you should never stop looking for new customers. But your dependence on them lessens (a good thing since they are more expensive to obtain and harder to close) as you build a fortress of loyal, repeat customers. Consider this:

  • A 2 percent increase in customer retention has the same effect on profits as cutting costs by 10 percent.

  • A 10-point reduction in customer loss rate can increase profits by 45 percent.

  • The customer profitability rate tends to increase over the life of a retained customer.

That’s a pretty solid case for keeping the customers you’re already paying for, wouldn’t you say?

Whatever your biggest marketing problem or challenge is, don’t give up. We all have them, me included. Contrary to my publicly manipulated reputation, I falter and stink up the marketing joint, too. But don’t worry - you don’t pay for those, I do. The information and advice you get here was gathered from a variety of blunders and experiments.

Free advice: Keep fishing. It’s impossible to catch anything with your bait still in the boat.