Best Advertising for Plumbers and Other Service Contractors: A Complete Guide
There is no one-size-fits-all best advertising for plumbers and contract companies. Promises of an easy answer are snake oil.
If you want the best, you need an advertising plan tailored to your company.
Every contractor is a little bit different.
We have unique personalities, skill sets, histories, equipment, crew sizes, and goals. These differences make the industry great.
If we were all the same, one big company would dominate. Think about what Amazon has done to retail.
The devil-in-the-details is exactly what creates a thriving marketplace of nearly 100,000 active plumbing and hvac contracting businesses in the United States.
Without diversity, there wouldn’t be so much opportunity.
The good news is, we share enough in common that the process for choosing where and how to advertise is the same.
Follow these guidelines. If you do, deciding on your best advertising methods is easy.
The best advertising for plumbers and contractors delivers five things:
- Makes the phone ring.
- Connects you to the customer you want.
- Books the best work.
- Builds your brand image.
- Gives you a good return on investment.
Advertising a service business like plumbing needs to do more than “getting the word out.”
There are people out there ready to hire a contractor right now. You need to focus on those potential clients first.
When your business is young, you don’t have time to mess with looky-loos.
The best advertising helps prospective customers get in touch.
After all, without clients, we can’t make money or grow our business.
Typically, a phone call is ideal, but you might prefer an online form, a text, or any other “contact me” action.
The method doesn’t matter, as long as it easily books the job.
The tricky part is that you can stick your phone number on just about anything.
That doesn’t make it useful advertising. How many times have you booked an appointment with a pen or a baseball hat?
These are vanity items that do a good job of building brand recognition, but they aren’t where customers turn when they are ready to hire.
Know the difference between ‘brand’ advertising and ‘problem-resolution’ advertising.
Brand ads introduce the audience to your business name and logo. It helps people mentally register, “Hey, that is a plumbing company.”
Brand ads do not, however, show potential customers that you can solve a specific problem they are experiencing.
The best advertising links a customers problem to you – the solution.
Ideally, it does this at precisely the right time – when they are searching for an answer.
An extreme example of this is emergency service plumbing.
The customer’s house is flooding. They Google “plumber near me” and hit the Call Now button on the top ad.
This type of advertisement does a great job of saying to the customer, “Hey, if you are having this problem right now, we can solve it.”
In problem-resolution ads, your brand takes a back-seat to the immediate solution or benefits of your service.
I recommend that contractors spend over 75% of their advertising dollars on problem-resolution type ads.
Not all of these advertisements are emergency service though.
The ‘problem’ might also be an opportunity or desire.
For instance, the customer might be interested in an upgrade or aesthetic change, concerned about efficiency, or want to be proactive about maintenance.
While the customer is researching their options, shopping for a solution, and asking around for referrals is your opportunity to present them with an ad.
When trying to get the phone to ring more, it is vital that you focus on this problem-resolution mindset.
Building brand-presence and loyalty is what happens after that initial sale.
Here are some advertising methods that get the phone to ring:
Search engine marketing ads (Google/Bing)
Targeted Facebook Ads
Marketing vs. Advertising
Advertising is a small part of marketing. Think of marketing as anything and everything you do to drive sales in your business. Marketing can include pricing strategies, customer service policy, community involvement, and deciding what products to provide.
Advertising is the promotional aspect of marketing.
Advertising gets your business seen.
Lead services and click-to-call ads are effective. But they can also be costly.
Resist the urge to throw money at these methods without a strategy.
You will end up with costly jobs you don’t want.
Getting the phone to ring does no good if the customers aren’t the right fit.
Some customers are a pleasure, others a curse. Customers can make or break your day.
Do they ask their neighbor?
Do they check Google?
Do they look in the phone book?
The answer entirely depends on your unique ideal customer.
Figuring out who your perfect customer is can be challenging. It is tempting to think your customers are, “people with money who have a plumbing problem.”
That might feel true, but it isn’t.
Start to define your preferred customers with broad strokes.
- Are they residential or commercial?
- Where do they live or work?
- What is their income level?
Don’t assume you want the wealthiest clients possible.
Sure, they can afford you, but high-income individuals tend to be very particular about their homes. You might be more comfortable serving a middle-income population.
One of my best competitors loves installing nothing but the best luxury brands. I’d rather focus on providing high value to my customer at a fair price.
Not to mention luxury stuff is fiddly!
Think about who your talents are best-suited to help.
Your clients have a significant effect on your day. Proactively pursuing the right client, sets yourself up for success.
Now that you’ve got those broad strokes nailed down you can start thinking in more detail. For instance:
- What job do they do?
- How much education do they have?
- Where do they buy groceries?
- Where do they buy clothes?
- What hobbies do they have?
- Do they have kids?
- What social media do they use?
Answering these questions help create what is called a customer avatar.
Avatars are helpful in figuring out where you should advertise your services in order to attract this customer.
Places your target customer might look for contractors:
Neighborhood Facebook Groups
Word of Mouth Referrals
Neighborhood Magazines or Newsletters
The Chamber of Commerce
A lot of contractor advertising is online nowadays.
Online ads are very effective and require less commitment than traditional advertising.
Where people often go wrong is using an untargeted, scattershot approach.
If you are running your business with a small team (or maybe just you!), it isn’t reasonable to master dozens of advertising channels.
A focused effort is especially important if you are competing against well-established brands.
Spend your time and money on the places your ideal customer prefers and dominate that advertising channel!
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a Google listing if you decide HomeAdvisor is your best fit. Remember we said 75% of ads should be problem-resolution.
That means the other 25% is brand advertising.
One brand advertising method every local business should employ is local listings.
These sites are the key to getting your website listed on Google.
The sites always provide a free listing, are mostly set-it-and-forget-it and should take minimal time to manage. Paid advertising on these additional listing sites should be limited (or non-existent). Don’t spend much time on them.
Your customers are important, but they aren’t the only part of the equation.
The work you do is critical as well.
If you ask a random homeowner what services a plumber provides, you’d be amazed by the vast array of answers. It’s the same for any contractor.
Job types are the second reason problem-resolution advertising is ideal.
Life is better when we do the work we love.
It is very tempting for a new small business owner to claim they do it all. Saying no to paying work is scary.
We believe limiting our services will drive us out of business. We want to work!
In reality, the opposite is true.
Doing work away from our core focus puts us at risk.
We can let the customer down, hurt our reputation, or – in severe situations – put ourselves at risk for a lawsuit.
Avoid the temptation to ‘do it all.’ Instead, focus on the top 3-5 service categories that tick one-or-all of the following boxes:
- Work that gets your foot in the door. Maybe you ultimately want to do a $3,000-$5,000 job. Most homeowners aren’t going to cut you that check blindly. What is a smaller job you can do to build trust first?
- Most profitable work. What jobs make you the most money? Know your margins and focus on the big cash grabs.
- Work that helps you shine. You never get another chance to make a first impression. Don’t advertise for work that you aren’t confident you can do well.
Everything else you do should get pushed further down the sales pipeline.
You can help existing clients with other additional service offerings once you have knocked their socks off.
The challenge is, this is precisely what makes some keywords so expensive on Google.
Every plumber wants water heater and drain-cleaning calls.
We get around this by getting creative.
There is a saying in online marketing communities that goes, “The riches are in the niches.”
You need to find some niches.
At my plumbing company, one of our most profitable and highest performing services is hydro-jetting.
Of course, jetting is a specialized service that typically requires a diagnostic first. Customers usually don’t call asking for it.
Most companies pursue jetting as an upsell on drain cleaning.
We didn’t want to compete with everyone else for the same drain cleaning calls. Instead, we looked for other problems the jet machine could solve.
We settled on underground gutter cleaning for residential customers. Here is the postcard we sent out to homeowners:
This ad focused on the problem we were solving, not the service we wanted to sell.
When it comes to the services you want to provide, consider all the ways you can help the customer
Are there problems, frustrations, or opportunities that your competitors aren’t pursuing?
Those are the best advertising opportunities for small contractors.
Here are ideas to advertise ideal jobs:
direct mail postcards
articles in neighborhood magazines or newsletters
news articles in local publications (usually have to be non-promotional, but the look for you – the expert – to help!)
search engine ads focused on unusual keyword marketing terms
The future gets decided by the little choices we make every day.
Your long-term vision will never happen if you aren’t behaving appropriately.
You don’t lose weight eating chocolate cake for dinner.
This truth holds for every area of your business, including branding.
Branding is more than a logo.
If you think a brand is about the colors you use, the logo, or a font – you aren’t wrong, but you don’t have the whole picture. A brand is all of the communication signals that help people to form an impression of your company.
Branding can include everything from customer service standards and uniforms to the language you use in your ads. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does require consistency.
Examples of how advertising can influence branding:
If you want to be the premier plumber for millionaire households, it doesn’t make sense to advertise with a low-price message.
These people aren’t looking for a deal. They are looking for quality.
A high-end audience will respond best to a promotion including quality products, extra service touches, or premium appointment times.
Likewise, if you want your brand to evoke a family-friendly image with conservative values, you wouldn’t use a bikini-clad model and a dirty joke to get attention.
These are extreme examples to demonstrate how perception can change depending on your advertising tactics. Hopefully, it highlights the need to be purposeful in your advertising.
Advertisements are often the first impression your company makes.
Don’t let a desperate plea for work diminish the brand you are working to build. Think strategically about your methods.
Tactics that promote a value-driven brand:
Groupons or Living Social Deals
Tactics that promote quality and high service standards:
Sponsoring a networking, chamber, or neighborhood event
High-quality direct mail offers
Word of Mouth Referrals
Direct Sales efforts (cold calling)
Whatever advertising you use, we want to be sure you are making a profit
The only way to be sure advertising is working is to track the jobs and revenue that come from it.
There are tons of ways to follow how people found your business, here are a few:
- Use offers or codes that are exclusive to the ad.
- Ask them!
- Use marketing numbers to track incoming phone calls.
- Use website analytics.
- Require that the customer “turn in” your business card or coupon to get the offer.
- Offer a ‘thank you’ gift for referrals, to give people a reason to tell you.
- Track geographic trends.
Once you have a tracking method in place, you have to keep up with it!
Your approach can be as simple as a note on the invoice or appointment ticket.
There are other ways though:
- Use advertiser provided tracking metrics. (Beware! Make sure the job panned out. Most advertisers can only track to the point of the phone call or contact method.)
- Use software with built-in marketing management. (Warning: can be expensive!)
- Keep a spreadsheet.
If you don’t have the organization or infrastructure to keep detailed records, use this shortcut:
Keep track until you reach 3x.
Here’s what that means:
Once you have earned three times in revenue what you spent for the ad, you have a positive ROI.
This statistic holds for most contracting companies.
An example: You spend $200 on an ad in a neighborhood magazine. It is easy for you to track this because you don’t often do work in this neighborhood. On top of that, you ask when they call how they heard about you. Anytime you hear about that magazine; you make a note on the invoice.
At the end of the month, you check the invoices for that neighborhood. You total up the revenue and find that you did $1,000 worth of work in that neighborhood.
$200 x 3 = $600, so a $1,000 return makes you happy. If you want to get fancy, you can subtract the cost of parts and use what is called your Net Revenue to compare against your goal number.
3x net revenue is even better.
Once you have broken 3x, everything else is gravy. It’s a success!
Be careful not to assume that a promotion that worked once will work forever though.
Check in with your ROI on a regular basis.
Calculating your ROI and tracking it is often a time-consuming detail that we skip in the chaos of the day-to-day.
However, if you want to maximize your profits and meet your growth goals, you have to know if your spending money well.
Some advertising methods take a few months to see results. When you are strategic about an advertising method, you can have the confidence to wait for the ROI.
Without an ROI calculation, you can’t possibly know what advertising is working and what isn’t.
The best advertising for plumbers and contractors is measurable.
Try new things when they make strategic sense and then track them for a return on investment.
Decide on a marketing budget before you start spending.
Your marketing budget should fall between two and six percent of your gross revenue. Use revenue increases from successful advertising to fund future marketing efforts.
In other words: If you make $100,000 a month in total revenue, your marketing budget should be between $2,000 and $6,000 per month maximum.
If you get your 3x ROI, the next month you should earn closer to $118,000 in revenue. Your marketing budget will then adjust to $7,080. The same percentage of profit drops to the bottom line.
Keep in mind that your marketing budget is not just advertising. Other costs may go into marketing like website maintenance, vehicle signage, and business cards.
A Plan Makes All The Difference
If you have a marketing plan, it is easy to decide on the best advertising for plumbers and other contractors.
A well-made marketing plan helps you think through things like promotions, ideal customer, the perfect job, budgeting, and revenue goals.
Once these things are all outlined, it becomes straightforward to filter advertising decisions.
If you are interested in putting together a marketing plan but don’t know where to start, consider taking my online class.
It offers a full-proof way to follow this process and ensure you have a rock-solid marketing plan.
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Author & Speaker
Anja is the creator, writer, and speaker at Tradebiz Toolbox. She has a long and storied history with small business development but cut her teeth on the contractor industries in her family's plumbing company.