Home inspectors across the country give their best advice on the topic of the month. This month’s question is:
What’s the most effective marketing decision you’ve ever made for your home inspection business?
“Make sure the BNI group has a strong power team of real estate professionals that can refer you business. Examples would be real estate agents, loan officers, insurance agents, skilled tradesmen, etc.”
~ Lee Harless, owner of Safe and Sound Inspection Service in Huntington, West Virginia.
“Getting someone ELSE to answer my phone so I don’t interrupt an inspection with a sales call and get both parties upset.”
~ Bob Sisson, owner of Inspections By Bob in Boyds, Maryland.
“…Indoor air quality and mold testing and writing scopes of work account for 40 percent of my business. I also do commercial inspections and expert witness work. So I would say diversification is a strong marketing tool.”
~ Jim Dietrich, owner of AAA Home Inspections in Flushing, Michigan.
Know Your Audience…Really
“The most important thing you can do for your business is to determine who your audience is and write a profile of them as if you had to describe a person that somebody else could recognize,” says Marley Majcher, a small business coach and author of “But Are you Making Any Money?“
Majcher suggests that home inspectors describe their audience down to the type of car they drive, the neighborhoods they live in and whether they have children. After inspectors have a clear idea of who their ideal client is, they can target their marketing efforts accordingly.
“The only way you can have a shot at not wasting a ton of money is to clearly define your target audience and to ask yourself how closely every single one of your marketing efforts comes to reaching that audience,” she adds.
Look Like a Pro
Marketing starts the moment you show up to a job, the minute your company vehicle hits the road, the instant when you mention to strangers that you are an inspector. According to a study by Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov reveals that new acquaintances form their first impression of you within ten seconds of meeting. Ray Sandbek, vice president of Service USA Home Inspections in Louisville, Kentucky, advises inspectors to make those minutes count.
“We’ve always insisted that jeans are out. No shorts in the summertime. The signage on our vehicles is professional,” says Sandbek. “The image is important. We try to tie everything together.”
Understand that One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Homes are different across the US and so are the people who buy them. What marketing strategy works in one segment of country won’t necessarily work in a different place says Marty M. Fahncke, a former real estate agent, current small business consultant and host of the marketing webinar series, “Midweek Momentum.”
“There are geographic specifics to marketing,” he says. “In some communities, online marketing just isn’t that effective. People just don’t use the internet that much. They aren’t that active in social media, so it’s really important to have a physical presence. In other markets, that’s not the case.”
On top of trying a few marketing strategies to see what flies, Fahncke also recommends simply asking your customers where they prefer to get their news about your business and how they would like to communicate with you.
In many markets, inspectors can add to their income by adding to the services they offer. In areas where environmental hazards are present, adding testing services can be a beneficial business move. Dan Howard, owner of Home Inspections By Dan Howard in Freeport, Pennsylvania, says that approximately half of his business revenue comes from inspections alone. The other half comes from auxiliary services which include mold and radon testing and air quality testing as well as environmental hazard assessments that detail what home owners need to do to get their homes up to speed.
“My company noticed that, as a result of how homes are built, people were getting sick in their homes,” he says. “There is a need for somebody who does more than testing. We are there to tell them how to have a healthy home again.”
Howard, in fact, launched a second web site, dedicated exclusively to outlining what environmental hazards are present in his area and what auxiliary services he can provide to buyers.
A little research on what types of environmental hazards are present in your area and who services those needs can give you a clear idea of how your company can expand and where to focus your marketing efforts.
Track, Track, Track
Most small businesses have a marketing strategy. Few have effective ones. The difference, says Marley Majcher, comes down to whether your business can track what’s working (and what’s not).
“For example, if you do a direct mailing and you spend $500 on it, the key thing is to use a unique URL or phone number or promo code so you can track it back,” she says. “This is something that 99 percent of marketers don’t do.”
Google Voice offers unique phone numbers for free, but creating unique urls can cost a little extra up front. The added costs, Majcher adds, are well worth it when you’re not blowing extra cash on marketing efforts that don’t work.
“It’s better for you to stick to one or two fundamental tactics that you know you can accomplish rather than try eight or ten or twelve things that you’re not going to follow through on,” says Fahncke. “A marketing initiative that’s begun and abandoned can make you look worse than no marketing initiative at all.”
Fahncke adds that the advice especially applies to company blogs and social media efforts which are frequently abandoned by new business owners within six months of getting started. Instead of simply diving in, Fahncke recommends that inspectors test the waters first by doing a bit of research on what kinds of blogs exist in their locale and to develop a clear idea of what they want their blog or social media to say.
Set a Budget
It’s easy to break the bank on ads that don’t get traction and incentive programs that don’t reach customers. To ensure that your marketing efforts don’t put you in the red, Marley Majcher suggests setting a budget early in the year and sticking to it.
“If you’re a new business, dedicate somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of your anticipated sales [to marketing],” she says.
Seasoned inspectors who have been in the game a while can adjust their budgets according to what’s worked and what hasn’t.
You have to be a great home inspector to make it in the inspection world. You don’t have to be a great accountant, lawyer, secretary, marketing strategist, graphic designer and small business consultant too.
Lee Harless, owner of Safe and Sound Inspection Services in Huntington, West Virginia, says that outsourcing his web site design and construction is one of the smartest business decisions he’s ever made. “[Outsourcing] was just more economical,” he says, “but I have the ability to go in and change anything any time I want.”
Hiring help to ensure that back end tasks get done in a timely manner ensures that you have more time and energy to devote to doing inspections, developing your business strategy and getting the word out about who you are and what you do.
Become an Expert
There’s more than one way establish yourself as the head home inspection honcho in your area. One method that’s worked for Dan Howard is writing. In the past three decades, Howard has written more than 250 articles on home inspection, maintenance and safety for local newspapers.
“There’s a natural suspicion to people that the realtor is just trying to pawn off somebody that will get things through,” he says. “If your name is out there separate and distinct from a referral then that suspicion goes away. Being highly visible is crucial.”
Inspectors can also establish themselves as an expert by volunteering their services with local charities, getting involved with inspection associations like ASHI and NAHI, joining a local chamber of commerce and continuing to bone up on education.
Regardless whether you’re predominantly marketing to real estate agents or home buyers, home inspection is a business driven by relationships. Letting clients know that you are personally invested in making sure their experience is exceptional can lead to referral after referral.
“I think next year for us, we’ll revive personal notes,” says Ray Sandbek. “It tells people that you have taken the time to care.”
On top of personalized notes, Sandbek also sends agents small pick-me-ups like candy hearts on Valentine’s Day and carwash gift certificates. “Anything to stay in front of them,” he says.