Robert Robillard shares his secrets on how to keep business strong by getting referrals from past clients and sub-contractors. You can learn more about his work at A Concord Carpenter.
As owner of a small finish carpentry and renovation company I know all too well that our economy is ripe with contractors who have gone bankrupt or are unemployed. Everyone I know in the trades has tightened their belt and adjusted the way they do business. Many companies that ONLY handled large-scale jobs are now having their guys build a small deck, remodel a small bathroom or even install a screen door, which now encroaches on my niche.
As a result it’s been very difficult finding new remodeling clients. I’m going to share a secret with you: now more than ever it’s time for us contractors to take a step back and look to past clients and sub-contractors as some of the most lucrative and successful leads.
Why past clients?
First, past clients know you and your work – you know them. And if you’ve done a good job you have instant credibility. Look up at this posts title, “Past performance is the best indicator of future performance.” That says it all, if you did a good job, you have already proven yourself to these folks.
The BEST past clients will often call and ask, “when can you do this?” without wanting or needing to go through a three-bid process, hours of research and making a proposal, subsequent meetings, etc.
Another benefit of working for past clients is that you know their house and are familiar with their family’s lifestyle and school / work patterns.
TIP: the key to working once again with past clients is to get and maintain face time with them.
Getting face time with these customers can be accomplished in several ways:
Get in the habit of emailing your past clients twice a year. One mailing may discuss or remind them about fall or spring maintenance and the other may highlight a recent project you did with a list of services you provide. Your email may prompt them to move on an issue that they were procrastinating on or they may simply delete your email. Either way your getting your name in front of them. If they delete your email today I guarantee they’ll think of you in a month or two if something arises. Hopefully they can search their deleted folder to find your email or already have your phone number!
Thank you / Gift cards:
Lots of companies give out gift cards to thank past customers for referrals. Or Instead of giving out a $50 or $100 gift card for an expensive dinner somewhere spend that money on cards for the local coffee shop. That way, your client will get multiple uses out of the card and think of you every time they use it.
Keeping in touch with past clients through things such as Christmas cards, thank you notes for referrals and periodic letters. I send out a New Year card each year. I chose New Year’s cards because everyone celebrates that holiday and it is not a religious holiday. Another benefit to a New Year card is that many people take that time of the year to reflect on what they need to get done and home repairs may be one of them.
Handyman and Maintenance work:
Every homeowner has little projects that need to be done and this increases opportunity for face time with your clients. Think about setting up a reward program with your clients for any referral and rewarding them with two hours’ worth of handyman labor.
The program not only drives referrals, but often leads to additional business from the referring clients who may need more work done. We all know that one right . . .”While you’re here would you also do this?” The free two hours also separates you from what everyone else is doing. I’m challenging you to think outside the parameters of your comfort zone and be different!
Past and Existing Clients Are The BEST Referral Sources:
I’m the first to say that my existing clients are a great source of referrals. The difficult challenge, as contractors, is that our existing clients don’t think of us every day! As a result they are not our best chance for a referral to new clients.
How do we change that? I’d try some of the suggestions above.
An excellent referral source OFTEN OVER-LOOKED are contractor referrals. This is the “other contractor businesses” that sell to the same target customer. These are your non-competing businesses like your sub-contractors; electrician, plumber, painter, plasterer, mason, tile setter, HVAC, decorators, architects, lumberyard sales people, landscape contractor, etc., are your best chance for continual referrals.
Referrals From Your Subs – Really?
Think about it… many of these sub-contractors already have GREAT customers and they often need someone to get other work done, work that YOU DO! You need to figure out how to be the one that the sub-contractor refers.
When I really thought about this I realized that every year I refer at least a dozen whole-house paint jobs to two painting contractors that I like and respect. They do a great job and I would never refer anyone else. When you think about how much a whole house paint job costs these days it’s not a bad referral. As a result these guys refer clients to me all the time – it’s how it works!
For awhile this winter I was getting a ton of interior crown molding jobs. Most of those jobs were referred to me from my painter, Mark at O’Lalor Painting When I asked why he told me that when he sells interior painting he always tells the customer that crown molding would “really dress this room up.” Guess who gets the referral?
Just as we try to attract past clients to call us back for our services we should be educating, motivating and soliciting referrals from our fellow trades people.
Keep those referrals coming!