Name recognition is the Holy Grail of advertising and marketing in this day and age. We are constantly bombarded with catchy slogans, jingles and the like, on every media outlet there is for every conceivable product or service. Advertising space is even being bought on people’s private autos, homes and even their bodies, all in an effort to persuade someone to purchase a particular thing. The really good ones stick in your memory like Super Glue. Most of the others simply fall by the wayside. The sole purpose of all that effort and money is to get your attention!

Advertising is something that all contractors do to one degree or another.  Attracting new business and keeping established clients is what it is all about.  Even if there is no coherent, conscious effort on the part of a business to advertise per se, the mere fact that one is in business and does a particular job is advertising.  When someone sees the work you do, whether it is done by one man or by a large crew, they form an opinion about your company. Good, bad or indifferent, you are advertising your business. 

Whether or not you have an advertising plan and/or a budget for it, you must be aware of how you and your company are perceived by your clients (both existing and prospective). Let’s face it, if you are in business you want and need a steady income stream. Even if you aren’t interested in repeat clients (unusual, but possible) you still need to get new business in order to keep your doors open.

So, what is the very best advertising a business can have? The answer is startling in its simplicity: word of mouth. That’s right, your reputation is the very best advertising you can have and it costs you less than any other kind. Whether you are a service oriented company, or a commercial or industrial shop, your reputation is your calling card. We’re not talking about your personal reputation exclusively either. How you handle the day-to-day operation of your company is one facet. How you and your employees interact with your clients is another. Further, how you and your company interact with other trades, the project owners, architects, and sub-subcontractors also colors how your company is viewed and evaluated.

It is, or should be, a point of personal pride when you get a referral phone call from someone who was sent to you by a satisfied customer, architect, engineer, general contractor or supplier. That type of referral is what sets a company apart from the crowd.  

A service company lives and dies by its reputation. Mr. or Mrs. Homeowner or a small businessperson can be your best salesmen or your worst nightmare. It all depends on how they perceive the service you rendered to them. Did you arrive on time? Did you have all the material you needed to affect the repair? Did you work clean (drop cloths, shoe protection, vacuum up after completion, etc.)? Did you explain everything to their satisfaction? Did you warranty your work? If you get a call back, do you execute it promptly with the same vigor of the original call; with a smile on your face?

None of the foregoing requires anything more in the dollars and cents category, but the perception of your client is like money in the bank. How likely a customer is to refer you to a friend, neighbor or relative is directly linked to how well you present yourself and your service to them. It’s not nuclear physics. It’s just good business.

As a commercial contractor, you are no less susceptible to this kind of scrutiny.  When you work in the commercial realm, contracts are king, but relationships are the lingua franca of your business. You can grab a set of blue prints from a general contractor off of the Dodge Reports and, maybe, you’ll get the job on your price alone… maybe. More often than not, general contractors work with subcontractors that they have worked with before, or whose work they have seen or heard about from other general contractors, architects, engineers and/or owners.

Having a reputation as a solid, performance oriented company is the difference between “street bidding” and getting on those short list bids that are much more lucrative. When a general contractor knows that you’ve done a particular type of project successfully before, he is more likely to want you bidding on his job. If you’ve worked with this particular general before, you are even more likely to be able to negotiate the project without having to bid against a long list of competitors.

Reputation for quality workmanship, on time performance, personal and professional integrity will always open doors. It is the very best way to grow your business.

The Brooklyn, N.Y.-born author is a retired third generation master plumber. He founded Sunflower Plumbing & Heating in Shirley, N.Y., in 1975 and A Professional Commercial Plumbing Inc. in Phoenix in 1980. He holds residential, commercial, industrial and solar plumbing licenses and is certified in welding, clean rooms, polypropylene gas fusion and medical gas piping. He can be reached at allen@proquilldriver.com.