Friday, February 26, 2010

"John Ward was broke in 1992, and then he met Frank Blau..."

That's the lead for an article in Contractor Magazine about John Ward. John is the magazine's 2009 Contractor of the Year. I wonder how many contractor stories start like John's... The contractor was broke, and then meets Frank Blau. The rest isn't history. It's profitability.

Read the story.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Plagiarism - It's Not Just The Service Trades

As Comanche Marketing readers know, plagiarism is a real problem in the service trades. We've got some serial plagiarists who are too lazy to perform the hard work of research and writing. They would rather steal from others. We're not alone in this regard. I found an interesting post at the real estate social media site, Active Rain that suggests real estate agents face similar issues.

After San Antonio's Matt Stigliano encountered blatant plagiarism, he commented, "I always thought it was more of a subtle problem - less of a copy word for word and more of a copy it concept for concept while rearranging a few things to make it seem like you wrote it yourself."

A number of real estate agents chimmed in...

"It doesn't seem to matter how many articles are written on plagiarism or copyright violations on AR," offered Virginia real estate agent Cindy Jones, "People just keep at it. Sad."

Lenn Harley, from the DC sububs countered, "I don't believe that the serial offenders will "get the message", as Cindy hopes. They are opportunists who knew that it was wrong to take the content in the first place and getting caught is simply going to make them defensive, not enlightened."

That's certainly been my experience. When a Service Roundtable member called out a plagiarist, he took down the plagiarized material within 30 minutes. It reappeared later with an apology for not crediting the originator. If it was a one-time instance, I might be inclined to agree, but I personally had to take down over a dozen articles the same plagiarist wrote for the Service Roundtable once alerted to the intellectual property theft. To publish a plagiarist is to risk your company. It's just not worth it.

Here are a few more comments from the real estate agents...

My stuff, is my stuff. Your stuff is your stuff. If I reference your stuff, i need to state that it is your stuff. Out the suckers, remove the suckers. Off with their heads. Opps that may be a little tooooo much, or not.

- Jay Beckingham

This does happen quite a bit. I don't believe people who do this realize how serious it is to copy/steal someone else's work.

- Dan and Amy Schuman, Cleveland

Very unprofessional. I find it hard to believe someone would copy something directly like that and call it their own. It happens, but it blows my mind that someone thinks people won't notice.

- Joseph Keech

It happens more often than you think, and it's a shame.

- Richard Weisser

Copyscape sent me an email yesterday letting me know that a local agent ripped of one of my city pages word for word. I sent her the DMCA warning and removal email.

- Jennifer K Giraldi, Atlanta

It's just wrong. I appreciate the opportunity to re-blog, but I can't imagine why one wouldn't want to post the right way and give credit where credit is due.

- Michelle Francis, Atlanta

Plagerism is so unprofessional.

- Kay Van Kampen, Springfield Missouri

Plagiarism is not an art form and is theft, plain and simple.

- Russell Lewis, Austin

In the publishing world plagiarism is taken very seriously. We can all remember where people at The New York Times and Washington Post were fired and banned for this. Publishing a story or book that is plagiarism may be a bit more extreme but consequences have to be more severe. I am astounded that someone would do this in Inman News and think that it would not be noted.

- Joe Pryor, Oklahoma

It is difficult for me to understand why someone who needs to blatantly copy other people's work would even choose to blog. Blogging = writing, plainly and simply. If you cannot write or are unwilling to write, you should take blogging out of your marketing plan.

- Claudette Millette - Massachusetts

I was so glad to see this post, as I was going to write something similar to it. I'm amazed of how many bloggers I see who just cut and paste articles and then call it their own.

- Kathy Torline-Nordstrom, Colorado Springs

Attribution takes only a moment. Defending a plagarism lawsuit will take considerably longer!!!

- Craig Rutman, Raleigh

Plagiarism seems to be more and more prevalent in blogs. Stealing someones content does not make for a good blog.

- Michael Setunsky

I can't understand why people cannot will not use their creative juices when writing, it's beyond me.

- Leolinda Bowers, Surprise Arizona

I've never understood this dishonest practice. You will be caught eventually. Is it really worth losing your credibility?? And if you're engaging in this sort of behavior, what other dishonest practices are you involved in?

- Peggy Wester

This illustrates the slippery slope of un-ethical agents.

- Jenna Dixon, Atlanta

Sadly, I cannot imagine a group of contractors reacting like the above real estate agents. When this issue's come up with contractors, most appear to yawn and shrug. Some even defend the plagiarist. Maybe if contractors had more outrage, we would have less plagiarism. We need to call these guys out and shun them when we find them.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Facebook Passes Yahoo in Hits, Leads Everyone In Share of User Time

Do you have a Facebook fan page for your company?  If not, why not?  After all, it's F-R-E-E. And Facebook ads can be more precisely targeted and are more cost effective than Google Adwords.

According to the web analytics company, Compete, Facebook has passed Yahoo as the second most popular website on the Internet...

Only Google gets more unique visitors than Facebook and Facebook is closing in on Google fast. Google is attempting to respond to the Facebook threat with Buzz. While I would never underestimate Google, Facebook's ease of use means Buzz is unlikely to pose much threat. Meanwhile, Facebook's share of Internet user time is stunning and must concern Google.

Facebook accounted for 11.6% of time online, more than Google (4.1%) and Yahoo (4.3%) combined...

Only the foolish business owner overlooks the potential opportunity represented by Facebook. Remember, business is built on relationships and Facebook is merely a digital way to build and reinforce relationships with your customers. It's more efficient and less expensive than attending a network group, chamber meeting, or service club.

Click here to become a fan of the Service Roundtable.

Click here to become a friend of mine on Facebook.

Click here to follow me on Twitter.

Click here to connect with me on Linked In.

Click here to connect with me on Plaxo.

Create Your Own Word Cloud

One of the coolest sites I've stumbled upon in a long time is Wordle. Wordle makes word clouds like the above. I entered the entire text from Inside Contracting and it pulled the most frequently used words.*

A word cloud from Kevin Shaw Plumbing's blog is below...

* We still have a few copies of Inside Contracting left. Click here to place your order.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Calvin Coolidge on Persistence

To complement Lance Armstrong, here is Calvin Coolidge on persistence...

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.

Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.

Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.

Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.

Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

Lance Armstrong on Perserverence

This humorous clip carries a powerful message about perseverence.

Friday, February 19, 2010

2010 Spring Consumer Newsletters are Available

One of the biggest benefits of being a member of the Service Roundtable is vast library of marketing content available for download at any time. Of course, we're always adding new content as well.

One of our more popular pieces is our quarterly Consumer Newsletter. Today we released the Spring version for HVAC, Plumbing and Electrical. Each issue features unique articles, recipes, promotions and more. If you're not a member, you're missing out. This marketing tool alone is worth more than the price of your membership! Get it at

Begging For Benefits

If someone asks why he should buy your product, can you provide a concise reason? Not everyone can.

At a green building conference, I stopped by a booth featuring organic roofs. Essentially, the vendor was selling plastic bins to hold soil. Put the bins on the roof and voila, it’s a “green” roof.

I thought it was interesting because it created a way to get some use out of unused space. For one of our company team building activities we participate in a local community garden. At lunch, we walk over and tend the garden, which yields tomatoes, squash, peppers, spices, etc. It would be more convenient if the garden was on our roof, though I doubt the hundred year old roof could handle the weight.

I listened as the exhibitor explained the product to a prospect. The prospect asked why he would want a green roof.

“You just gotta want it,” explained the exhibitor.

“Does it cut my utility costs?” asked the prospect.

“Not really.”

“Does it save me money?”

“Well, no.”

“Why would I want a green roof?”

“You just gotta want it.”

The prospect was practically begging the exhibitor for a benefit. I was surprised a green roof didn’t cut utility expense, but maybe it’s better to simply paint the roof white. Nevertheless, I thought of several benefits on the spot. The exhibitor might have talked about the value of a roof garden for making a property more attractive for tenants or employees, asked how much it costs to buy open space near his building, and if he believed that created a roof garden might not make the property more valuable. I bet ten minutes effort with Google would turn up dozens of other benefits that are better than, “You just gotta want it.”

How about you? Do you have a concise reason why someone should do business with your company? How about a second and third reason? How about the products and services you sell?

Understanding Graphic Design

This is a good presentation on graphic design fundamentals. If you're not familiar with these, you might want to page through it a couple of times. Follow these simple rules and your marketing material will improve, whether you do it or simply approve the work done by others.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Contractors Expect Growth in 2010

The Service Roundtable Contractor Expectation Index is 79 for 2010, indicating a broad expectation of business expansion (an index above 50 reflects positive expectations). The index includes the outlook of air conditioning, electrical, and plumbing contractors in the residential service market.

Expectations are strongest among plumbing contractors at 84. Electrical contractors follow closely at 83. Air conditioning contractor expectations are 78. When contractors who were expecting a better year in 2010 were asked why they see improvement, the most common answer was an increase in marketing on the part of the contractor, particularly to existing customers.

“We have increased our marketing dollars by 75%,” commented one contractor.

“We are concentrating more on marketing to our existing customer base and some social networking and website,” added another.

Contractors also cited an improving economy, pent up demand from homeowners delaying major expenses, the last year of the tax credits, better training, and pure hustle.

“I think the consumer will be slowly starting to spend money they have been holding onto in the past 18+ months,” noted one contractor.

“I am investing $100,000 in sales training to ensure that we will be ahead this year,” commented one contractor.

“We are learning new ways to sell smarter,” summed up another, “and have been actively working on bringing in new customers and retaining our existing customers.”

Not all contractors are optimistic. Those believing 2010 will be flat or in decline cite the economy, a lack of credit, consumers deferring major expenses, and Washington policy.

According to one contractor the economy will be down due to the “lack of consumer ability to get financed on simple consumer loans. Customers are fixing up rather than replacing.”

“Our customers either don't have a job and money to spend,” noted one contractor, “or even if they do have a job, they are still not spending their money.”

Contractors are less optimistic about the next month. Nevertheless, most expect month-to-month improvement in February and better February performance compared to a year ago. While contractors in the plumbing, electric, and HVAC trades appear to believe that more momentum will be generated as the year progresses, HVAC contractors are generally more pessimistic about February due to industry seasonality.

“February is always slower than January (less demand calls, fewer leads, etc.),” commented one contractor.

Service Roundtable Contractor Expectation Index

2010 vs 200979788483
Feb ’10 vs Jan ‘1060596267
Feb ’10 vs Feb ‘0972707971

The index is based on survey responses of 191 Service Roundtable members during the last week of January 2010. The survey is calculated by taking the percentage of contractors expecting growth and adding half the percentage expecting no change. An index of 50 reflects expectations for flat growth, over 50 reflects expectations of expansion, and less than 50 reflects expectations of contraction.

The Service Roundtable is the world’s largest private contractor business alliance with members in the electrical, plumbing, and heating and air conditioning trades. Members come from all 50 states, Canada, Australia, Europe, the Caribbean, and South Seas Islands. For more information visit or call 877.262.3341.

10 Technology Resolutions For 2010

Note: This is my column from Southern PHC Magazine. Normally, I would link to the article, but the magazine doesn't post articles online so I'm reprinting here.

The only constant in the world is change. Regardless of our desires, the world changes. Our industry changes. Technology changes. When your world is changing around you, it’s necessary for you to change with it. Here are my top tech resolutions for the coming year that will allow you to keep up.

1. Line Extension

The PHC industry’s products are evolving. New products are emerging that present contractors with more revenue opportunities. The opportunities are all the greater since many contractors avoid new technology until it becomes tried and true, which limits the competitive field for the innovators. Resolve to investigate and add a new product to your offering and actively market it. The products do not even need to be new, just new to your company. Examples include waterless urinals, dual flush toilets, anti-scald faucets, electronic faucets, tankless water heaters, solar water heaters, solar panels, geothermal heat pumps, ductless mini-splits, zoning systems, energy recovery ventilators, dehumidifiers, fireplace inserts, wood stoves, stand-by generators, whole house surge suppressors, etc.

2. Service Extension

Your line extension opportunities are not limited to products. Resolve to investigate new service opportunities by attending one seminar or one conference focused on a service you do not currently offer. It can be as simple as a plumbing company adding HVAC or vice versa. Or, it could adding light commercial or a commercial contractor moving into the residential market. Other possibilities include jetting, sewer line cameras, infrared thermographic analysis, duct cleaning, remote system monitoring, radiant barriers, duct sealing, duct balancing, and building science.

3. Tools

Contractors love tools, but mostly tools like Sawzalls, wrenchs, gauges, and vacuum pumps. Spice up your tool collection to enhance your service personnel’s diagnostic capabilities while wowing the customer. Resolve to add one new state-of-the-art tool from your trade. Examples include digital anemometers, thermographic cameras, the previously mentioned jetters and sewer line cameras, non-contact infrared thermometers, infiltrometers, duct blasters, tapeless measures, non-destructive moisture meters, gas detectors, combustion analyzers, carbon monoxide detectors, dye based furnace crack detection systems like Visible Defects, flow hoods, digital manometers, video borescopes, ultrasonic leak inspections, electronic metal and rebar locators, and sound level meters.

4. Information Technology

If your computers and/or software are more than three years old, they’re antiquated. Resolve to upgrade your information technology. While Vista was problematic, Windows 7 appears to be a winner. Consider adopting the new operating system. Look into inexpensive netbooks for salespeople and even service personnel. Evaluate your business (software) system. If you haven’t kept up with the latest upgrades and revisions, resolve to start.

5. Handheld Technology

While few contractors are still using a Motorola Startac flip phone, many have failed to keep up with the latest technology. Today’s upper end phones include text, email, cameras, GPS, 3G web surfing, and a host of custom applications that can improve your efficiency and your team’s efficiency. Resolve to investigate an iPhone, Blackberry, Palm Tre, Google Android, or other smart phone and purchase the one that appeals to you most.

6. Website

Surprisingly, many contractors still lack a website. And many with a site offer little more than brochureware or follow a generic manufacturer template, which commoditizes the site. Resolve to create a website if you lack one. Resolve to make it distinctive. Resolve to secure your own URL. Resolve to tie your business email to the URL and avoid the use of AOL, hotmail, gmail, Yahoo, or other free mail sites that scream you lack professionalism.

7. Search

People are increasingly turning away from the yellow pages and to their computers when looking for service companies with “local” search taking on added importance. The search engines are stressing local search, which is free, but you must adhere to the search engine requirements. Resolve to list your company with “local business centers” on each of the major search engines. Further resolve to study search engine requirements and tune your site accordingly. Finally, resolve to start a search engine marketing campaign, such as Google AdWords.

8. Publish

The Internet has revolutionized publishing. Today, anyone with something to say can publish it to the world. If what is published is interesting enough, the writer will build an audience. The simplest way to publish is to start a blog through Blogger or Wordpress. Tie it into your website and you will also improve your website’s search engine. Resolve to start a blog in 2010 and write about PHC related topics that interest you, offer tips for homeowners, talk about your community, explain life in a small business, and so on.

9. Social Media

As changes in technology affect society as a whole, they similarly affect marketing. While traditional media is losing its effectiveness, new media is on the rise and social media is emerging. The advantage of new media and social media is the reduced cost. Unfortunately, the savings are balanced by the need to invest considerable time. Since this is largely time spent interacting with customers and prospects, the investment is worthwhile. Resolve to establish a Facebook account and company fan page, create a Linked In Account, and start tweeting with Twitter. What do you talk about? Start with alerts about new blog posts.

10. Training

Technology is also revolutionizing training with much of it free or practically free. While you shouldn’t forget the run-of-the-mill trade association meetings, conferences, and trade magazines (especially the one you’re reading now), a wealth of information is available on blogs, podcasts, and online discussion forums. The advantage of the online resources is the searchability and real-time interactivity. For example, every day contractors help other contractors solve problems online through the Service Roundtable’s discussion groups. Resolve in 2010 to seek out industry oriented blogs like, listen to industry podcasts like the 3 Questions For Small Business podcast (, and join a discussion forum like those hosted at

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Fundamentals of Coupon Design

You can create your own coupons for use in the newspaper, direct mail, flyers, email, and digital media like your website and Facebook. This chart identifies the fundamentals of basic coupon design. If you're a member of the Service Roundtable and want a specific coupon, contact Bob Viering with your request.

The chart is found on the Free Stuff section of the Service Roundtable. Click HERE to download the chart.

"Francisco's Money Speech"

There's been a resurgence of interest in Ayn Rand's classic book, Atlas Shrugged. This 50+ year old 1000+ page book suddenly jumped in 2009 to #95 on Amazon's list of bestsellers. Sue Grafton's book, U, only made #99.

I've written about Atlas before. While I don't agree with everything Rand advocates, I do think Atlas is one of several books she's written that everyone should read. Certainly every business owner should read Atlas.

Maybe 1000+ pages is more than you can take. At least read "Francisco's Money Speech," which is the response of one character in the book to a vapid woman's disdain toward business and the pursuit of profit...

"So you think that money is the root of all evil?" said Francisco d'Anconia. "Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can't exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?
Read the rest at Capitalism Magazine. If you do, I bet you'll want to buy the book.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Use of Video Case Studies

Yesterday, I posted a video of Jay Conrad Levinson where he talks about nanocasting, which is advertising to a very tightly defined audience using cable for segmentation. The step beyond nanocasting is broadcasting via the Internet. This is real nanocasting because the audience chooses to watch messages that are of interest. Typically, that means the audience is considering a purchase discussed in the video or facing a problem addressed in the video. Furthermore, because the interest is higher, you get the opportunity to discuss the issue at greater length.

YouTube is a great venue for case studies. It allows you to show customers sharing their experience (talk about strong!). It allows you to offer detailed explanations. It allows you to show problems and solutions. In short, it gives you an opportunity to set yourself apart.

There are a number of video hosting services, but YouTube is the best or videos under 10 minutes. Why? Because it has become the Internet's second largest search engine behind Google. It's also easy to embed the videos on your website, raising your image in search engines, which are looking for video.

Alan Givens at Parrish Services created the following video after repairing problems on a geothermal installation.

"I am so fed up with these low ball idiots doing horrible work and screwing the customer just because they don’t know better," explained Alan, "I had the following video created to show how bad it gets."

Personally, I thought the video avoided excessive criticism. For example, a Parrish Services technician is shown wheeling away an old air-to-air condensing unit left by the installing contractor without a word being said. I doubt many consumers would pick up on this, though contractors might.

As a rule, it's generally good to avoid criticizing the competition. It makes you sound petty and might be seen a criticism of the homeowner's original judgment. Besides, any contractor can follow any other contractor and find something wrong.

I liked the way the video utilized the customer to describe the problems from his perspective. The Parrish technician focused on the company's solutions.

The homeowner invested another $10,000 to get the geothermal system operating correctly. Based on the comment he left on the YouTube page, I don't think he's thinking about the money:

I would like to add one more thing: Parrish Services did all this in one day. All the work was completed, they were cleaned up and gone by 5:30pm. When my wife got home from work the house was warm and comfortable for the first time in weeks. The system was so quiet I had her put her hand over a vent to feel the heat coming from the system to prove it was running. It brought tears to her eyes. We were so happy, and still are.
Alan invested $3,000 to have the video made. He can use it at homeshows. He can embed it on his website. He can host it on a number of video sites. He can put it on a DVD with a sales proposal. He can email links to customers and prospects.

If you lack the money to produce a professional video, you can still use a $99 flip vid to capture customer comments about your work and to show and explain the work. With desktop video software, you or a high school film student can create an effective video that gets the job done.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Trends in Local Marketing For 2010

This is a good presentation on local marketing trends. It's consistent with the things I see.

The presentation was created by Balihoo, which helps national companies who market through franchisees and dealer organizations get their dealers to market the national brand. For franchises who share the national brand this makes sense all the way around.

Dealers with their own brands who lack local exclusivity with the national brand need to carefully evaluate the value of promoting brand they do not own. If the co-op is sufficient and/or the competition is sparse and/or the public cares about the national brand, promoting your affiliation may make sense.

However, I would still build the local brand first. After all, it's the only brand you own, the only brand you solely benefit from, and the only brand that cannot be take from you.

Jay Conrad Levinson on Guerrilla Marketing

Most small business owners and marketers are familiar with Jay Conrad Levinson, author of the Guerrilla Marketing series of books. Levinson addressed the "Rock Your Business Gadgets & Growth Showcase" in Orlando, Florida and one of the attendees grabbed these videos. The video quality's not great, but the message makes them worth watching.

Levinson says that you do not need to invest money in marketing if you invest 1. time, 2. energy, 3. imagination, and 4. information. Levinson says guerrilla marketing is geared towards cash strapped small businesses.

The only measure that Levinson says should matter is profit. Companies can set sales records and lose money. Only profit matters.

Ninety percent of purchase decisions are made by the unconscious mind and the way to access the unconscious mind is repetition.

Traditional companies grow by adding customers one-at-a-time. This is expensive and takes time. Levinson advocates geometric growth by:

  • Enlarging the size of each transaction by selling upgrades and accessories.
  • Increasing the number of transactions with each customer during the year.
  • Tapping the referral power of your network of customers.
  • Adding new customers one at a time.
Levinson advocates finding companies to cooperate with and working together for mutual benefit. This is "fusion marketing." Levinson says sell solutions, not benefits. People want solutions to problems. Market to individuals, not groups. Individuals buy. Instead of broadcasting, practice nanocasting. Nanocasting is narrowing the focus to the 4% of people who want what you are selling.

This last video is a little different. Levinson explains a "meme" and why he thinks memes should supercede logos.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Economic Fundamentals: Great Myths of the Great Depression

Do you think we are in the midst of "unprecidented" times? Hardly. Consider the following...

Washington was rife with both fear and optimism as [the president] was sworn in…fear that the economy might not recover and optimism that the new and assertive president just might make a difference. [A humorist] captured the popular feeling toward [the president] as he assembled the new administration: “The whole country is with him, just so he does something. If he burned down the capitol, we would all cheer and say, well, we at least got a fire started anyhow.”

[The president] did indeed make a difference, though probably not the sort of difference for which the country had hoped. He started off on the wrong foot when, in his inaugural address, he blamed the [economy] on “unscrupulous money changers.” He said nothing about the role of the Fed’s mismanagement and little about the follies of congress that had contributed to the problem. As a result of his efforts, the economy would linger in [a downturn].

At Harvard University… [former Director of the Bureau and Budget, Lewis W.] Douglas made it plain that America was facing a momentous choice:

Will we choose to subject ourselves — this great country — to the despotism of bureaucracy, controlling our every act, destroying what equality we have attained, reducing us eventually to the condition of impoverished slaves of the state? Or will we cling to the liberties for which man has struggled for more than a thousand years? It is important to understand the magnitude of the issue before us. ... If we do not elect to have a tyrannical, oppressive bureaucracy controlling our lives, destroying progress, depressing the standard of living ... then should it not be the function of the Federal government under a democracy to limit its activities to those which a democracy may adequately deal, such for example as national defense, maintaining law and order, protecting life and property, preventing dishonesty, and ... guarding the public against ... vested special interests?

The above was written by economist Lawrence Reed for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Reed isn't referring to today, but to Franklin Roosevelt and the 1930s. These are the times that forged "The Greatest Generation" who later stormed the beaches at Normandy and Iwo Jima. Somehow they managed to survive the folly of Hoover and cynical machinations of Roosevelt, leaving behind an historical record we can study so we avoid similar errors.

Today, the government is making a mess of things, but it's not on the scale of Hoover/Roosevelt. Hoover signed Smoot Hawley, which all but killed international trade. Roosevelt's first budget called for Federal spending that was 333% greater than Federal revenues.

Hoover raised income taxes from 24% to 63%. Roosevelt further raised them to 79%, then 90%. After Congress balked at his attempt to levy a top marginal tax rate of 99.5%, Roosevelt issued an Executive Order to tax all income over $25,000 at 100% and to lower the personal exemption to a level where nearly everyone would get hammered by income tax! Fortunately, Congress intervened and rescinded the Executive Order.

The illogical John Maynard Keynes held sway over economic thought. The Federal Reserve was run by clueless, bumblers who contracted money supply when the economy contracted.

Even though the Roosevelt era has been whitewashed by historians from FDR's administration, the economic actions that characterized the Depression seem insane today. We are unlikely to repeat them because we have the benefit of past experience and more mediums to use to communicate that experience.

No doubt, there are individuals who believe they can make things turn out different. Fortunately, it's unlikely they will be given the time to do much damage.

Economists and historians have been reassessing the Great Depression of late and examining the economic policies of Hoover and Roosevelt. While not the conventional wisdom, Roosevelt has to be the worst president in our nation's history with Hoover close on his heels. They are much worse than the hapless Carter because Carter was, well, hapless.

For small business owners the lesson is that the current downturn will not last and it's unlikely that it will get worse. While it's not fun, we've endured much darker times and pushed through them. We will push through these.

We may not benefit from the same peacetime expansion that occured after Truman became president but we will, without doubt, experience a something akin to an economic boom in the future. Now is the time to position your company to take advantage of it.

If you are not already, market aggressively. Build your company's brand in your market. Take share from competitors who falter. Start revamping your management systems and controls so they will serve a much larger company. Ignore and avoid peers and the press preaching doom and gloom.  Stay positive and prepare for a wild ride!

To better understand the Depression, I strongly encourage you to download Reed's essay, Great Myths of the Great Depression (pdf). It's only 19 pages long and is very readable.

Friday, February 12, 2010

This Week's New Service Roundtable Content

Several new marketing pieces added to the Service Roundtable member's area this week. We created a Money Mailer coupon for both electrical and plumbing. The plumbing promo had a pitch for a Tankless Water Heater, and the electrical featured a discount on a Residential Generator Set.

In HVAC we added an Invoice Insert to let the customer know they still had a 2nd chance to make that new equipment purchase decision. We also put out a faux-check coupon mailer for all 3 industries.



Top 10 Cities For Coupons

The top ten cities for coupons according to Coupons Inc are:

1. Atlanta, GA 918 Index (100 = National Average)
2. Tampa, FL 522
3. Cincinnati, OH 511
4. Saint Louis, MO 468
5. Minneapolis, MN 351
6. Nashville, TN 308
7. Charlotte, NC 306
8. Cleveland, OH 272
9. Pittsburgh, PA 254
10. Kansas City, MO 254
Atlanta residents are 9.18 times more likely than the average citizen to redeem coupons. 

Coupon Marketing is Up 27%... Are You Offering Coupons?

Are you looking for a marketing strategy that works in the current economy, try the tried and true coupon. In fact, coupon use is up 27% according to the nation's leading coupon processor, Inmar.

2009 was first year in the last 17 where coupon redemption increased. Part of the increase may result from marketers' increased use of coupons as a promotional vehicle to drive sales during the downturn. Manufacturers increased the number of coupons by 30%.

According to Inmar's Matthew Tilley, “Brands saw coupons as a key to maintaining brand strength. If they reduced their promotional presence, they stood to lose sales to lower priced competitors and store brands – so they doubled down hoping to create brand loyalty once the economic dust settles.”

Jesse Aversano from News America Marketing, a coupon book publisher, notes, “manufacturers understand that in a tough economy, coupons are an effective and efficient way to spend their advertising dollar.”

In short, market more during a downturn, not less, When customers are harder to find, increase efforts to market to new and existing customers.

Coupons represent an effective tactic because people are looking for value and savings and marketers are looking or results.

Not surprisingly, given their lower costs, digital coupons usage is up dramatically. Coupons Inc reports an increase of 170% in the printed value of coupons.

Citing Simmons Market Research studies, Coupons Inc notes that "more than 45 million American consumers are now using online coupons, up from 38 million in 2008. Of the 45 million online coupon users, almost one third (13.1 million) does not clip coupons from their Sunday newspaper, a 140 percent increase over 9.4 million in 2008."

What does the digital coupon redeemer look like? Here are a couple of characteristics...

  • Higher income ($97,000 household income, which is 23% higher than average)
  • Better educated (34% have a college degree, compared to 27% of the general population)

When was the last time you advertised, mailed, or emailed a coupon?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Email Deliverability: It's Worse Than You Think

According to Return Path's "Global Deliverability Benchmark" of 600,000 email compaigns, one email out of five sent in the U.S. and Canada is not delivered.

What happens to the mail? Three percent ends up in junk mail folders and 16% goes poof. It simply disappears.

Europe does a little better with 4% junk and 11% disappearing. Asia/Pacific delivery rates are highest with 3% getting junked and 10% vanishing.

If you think your results are better because you get reports with a high "delivered" metric, guess again.

According to Return Path president, George Bilbrey, "This is not the Inbox Placement Rate - the percentage of mail that actually arrives in the inbox. Rather it is simply a reporting of the number of messages sent minus the number that returned a hard-bounce message. This creates a false impression that nearly 100% of email messages arrive as intended."

Bilbrey says senders can improve deliverability by focusing on good email practices like clear and simple opt-out methods, welcome messages, cleaning lists, and so on. Reputation matters when it comes to email delivery.

You can check your company's reputation at You need to know your IP address. Here's how to find it if you use Microsoft Outlook...

  • Find an email from someone in your company or send one to yourself.
  • Right click on the email in Outlook and select Options.
  • In the Internet Header box you will see something like the following...
Received: from AspEmail [] by (SMTPD-9.20) id AC310694; Mon, 08 Feb 2010 11:30:41 -0500 From: "The Service Roundtable" To: "##### #######" Subject: [Mgmt] SR New User Signup Date: Mon, 08 Feb 2010 11:30:41 -0500 MIME-Version: 1.0 Content-Type: text/html Message-Id: <201002081130125.SM07316@AspEmail> Precedence: bulk Sender: Reply-To: X-RCPT-TO: Status: X-UIDL: 565604625 X-IMail-ThreadID: 3c3100001e8064b5
The IP address is the series of numbers on the top line of the header: Simply copy this and paste it into the IP box at It will give you a score from 0 to 100. You can also check to see if your IP address is blacklisted by any of the myriad of blacklisting services.

"When we take a look at senders with good reputations (Sender Score of 90-100)," says Bilbrey, "inbox placement rates are over 50% higher at Yahoo!, Hotmail and Google than senders with mediocre reputations (Sender Scores of 40-60)."

I checked the Service Roundtable. We score 95 out of 100, which is pretty good, though not perfect (obviously). We were also absent from any blacklists, which is also good. Of course, we work hard on deliverability and keeping off blacklists. So should you.

National News Magazine Declares Plumbing One of the Top Careers in 2010

U.S. News & World Report gives plumbing some love. The magazine considers plumbing a top career for this year and the next decade as demand increases 15% and plumbers retire.

"Few jobs are as necessary to everyday life as a plumber's," declares U.S. News. "Every sip of water from a school fountain, every pitcher of water poured from a faucet, each time a clean plate comes out of the dishwasher or a clean body climbs out of a shower—a plumber is, in large part, responsible."

The article notes that plumbers have plenty of upward mobility, with the potential to start their own companies. Plumbers, according to U.S. News have lots of activity and low stress.

I want the article writers to explain how is running a small business is low stress. Especially when, as the writer notes, there's a shortage of plumbers.

I think I also take issue with the story's claim that a key for advancement is learning Spanish. Hey, I'm all for learning Spanish. Since a growing segment of the labor pool may know English as a second language, I can see the advantages of becoming bilingual, but I don't know that it's "key" and noted that the writer didn't back up the claim.

Still, it's a pretty positive article. Thanks to Mike Enright for the heads up.

Read the article here. Better yet, forward the link to your town's high school guidance counselors.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

One Out of Three Consumers Opt to Replace Rather Than Repair

According to a report from Consumer Reports, one out of three consumers with broken products, such as electronics and appliances, didn't even bother to seek a repair or stopped somewhere in the repair process. Instead, they simply replaced.

"If your appliance is eight or more years old, usually it makes sense to buy a new one," recommends Consumer Reports.

Accordingly, you should always offer customers a replacement option with every repair on every product. While you might be able to repair it, the customer might prefer a bright, shiny, new one.

Few companies excel at the promotion of product replacements like Apple. As an article appearing on Yahoo notes, Apple's made replacing batteries next to impossible by soldering them to the casing of iPods and iPhones.

The Yahoo article quoted Anthony Magnabosco, the owner of San Antonio based Milliamp, which repairs iPods and iPhones. Magnabosco said, "When Apple sealed up the first iPod in 2001 with a battery that you couldn't remove, they were sending a signal that they were not intended to be repaired. I believe they want people to come in and buy a new one when the device isn't charging anymore."

Apple has clearly benefitted from its emphasis on product replacement.  The Yahoo article notes, "Soaring stock prices and ramped-up revenues aren't built on third-party maintenance and consumer patience."

When presenting a replacement option, be prepared to address the environmental considerations.  As Consumer Reports notes, "Although junking nearly new products can make economic sense, it makes no environmental sense."

Consumer Reports is referring to consequences of disposal and the energy consumed in the manufacture of the new product. Thus, your replacement option should include a disposal plan for the old product that recycles as much of the product as possible and responsibly disposes the rest. Since most new products tend to use less energy or water than those being replaced, you should note the savings. Greater efficiency reduces homeowner utility expenses and the impact on the environment.

By reducing the environmental consequences of product disposal and noting the beneficial consequences of more efficiency, you reduce the guilt that might impede environmentally conscious consumers from doing what they really want to do, which is replacing the old, breakdown prone product with a bright, shiny, new one.

Rapidly The Truth Will Out - Today's Technology Means Realtime Fact Checking

The speaker was addressing nearly a thousand people and tossed out an incredible statistic. "Incredible," in this instance, does not mean fantastic, amazing, awesome, or terrific. It means lacking credibility, not believable, or improbable.

It smelled. I immediately shut down, tuned out, and hit the Internet to fact check the statistic on my web-enabled phone. I quickly found that it was overstated by a factor of four. It took a few minutes longer to confirm the error with a separate source.

I realize that it's possible the speaker simply misspoke. In fact, he probably misspoke. Yet while the speaker wasn't using a teleprompter, his remarks did appear carefully prepared, reducing the possibility of an unplanned error. Perhaps he ad-libbed poorly.

Whether planned, purposeful, or not, the error called every other statistic he cited into question. In fact, it made everything he said suspect.

If I was listening to the speaker ten years ago I might have doubted the stat, but couldn't check it real time. Today, it's different. As web-enabled phones become more ubiquitous, more people have the ability to fact check public speakers, advertising, and salespeople. And once found providing erroneous information, everything else is suspect.

Salespeople who are caught misstating facts on a presentation, blow their credibility with one person. It's worse for advertisers. Advertisers may find their ads the subject of blogs. It's even worse for speakers. They may find their error exposed before the crowd real time if the conference is being "tweetcast" on Twitter as more and more events are.

After confirming the correct statistic with a second source, I tweeted my finding using the conference hash tag. I don't know how many people were actively following the conference using Twitter, but at least a dozen were contributing to the tweetcast. I suspect others were following it remote because they couldn't attend the conference, and still others would search the hash tag on Twitter after the conference to read the tweetstream as a way of reviewing conference notes. The number of people engaged in a silent, running commentary during events will only grow as more people discover and use the new technology.

Technology is changing the game. Speakers, advertisers, and salespeople have got to be sure about their facts and stats because it's easy for customers, prospects, and audiences to verify them and spread the word to others.

The best approach is to always use sources. An erroneous source isn't good, but it won't kill your credibility. If you have no source, state clearly that you're making an estimate or basing a claim on personal experience.

Shakespeare wrote, "at length the truth will out." With today's technology the Bard might written, "rapidly the truth will out."

Monday, February 8, 2010

The ROAD - A secret to small business success

This is a nice, short, motivational video you can watch to give your week a good start!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Seth Godin on Marketing to Stand Out

Seth Godin talks about marketing at a "Technology, Entertainment, Design" (TED) conference. This is a relatively long video (around 20 minutes), but worth watching.

Godin stresses the need to be boldly different to attract attention. According to Godin, playing it safe is risky. This is a message most contractors can benefit from. If you doubt it, just flip through a yellow pages.

Godin also talks about attracting the early adopters because they're passionate and talk to other people, lots of other people. As you watch the video, think not only how you can make your company stand out from your competitors, but what products and services you can offer that appeal to the early adopters in your community.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Google Executive Offers Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Tips.

This 10 minute interview was shot at a conference in 2007, so it's somewhat dated, but the advice is still relevant and clearly explained. A lot of search engine optimization (SEO) is really simple. Provide good content for users in a manner that the search engines can read.

Note the emphasis on local search through Google. At the Service Roundtable we've been pushing contractors to stress local search and have offered several tools to help.

Friday, February 5, 2010

How to Guarantee You'll Buy a Winning Lottery Ticket

Doug Vickery from AirPlus Inc. in Corona, California shared this story with me and I thought I'd pass it along. Here it is in Doug's words...

This weekend I was in San Diego with my wife and she wanted to visit "The Worlds Largest" Bead Store - they offer wholesale discounts to the public. Huge place, well lit and organized, and I was wondering how many beads you'd have to sell monthly to cover the lease on 25,000 s.f.

While she was shopping this older guy approaches me and has in his hands a dozen 'quick pick' lottery tickets - all fanned out like a deck of cards. I'm immediately wary of some scam - but his explanation surprised me.

"This week the lottery is drawing for $43 Million and we'd like one of our customers to win it, so please pick one ticket, preferably the winning one."

Then, he adds, "If you win, all we ask is that you have a party here with the employees, they'd love to celebrate your good fortune."

Turns out he owns the place and uses this promotion (and a bunch of others) whenever the mood strikes to liven the place up.

I selected a ticket (wife has custody now) and we talked about it for 30 minutes on the drive home. It left an indelible impression - and I would guess it did the same for every customer that got one. All for $1.00. That fits my current budget and seems easy and original. The thing that set it apart was that he delivered it face to face (something my sales guy could easily do) and now I felt some desire to stay connected.
The lottery doesn't hold much appeal to me. I can still remember a business professor using the lottery as a way of explaining decision trees and expected value. We calculated the odds of winning the lottery and multiplied this times the cost of the $1 ticket. In the end, the lottery ticket was worth around 50 cents. Whenever I see people buying lottery tickets in the store, I'm always tempted to give them a 50% better return by taking their dollars and giving them 75 cents for each. However, giving lottery tickets to customers to build relationships, strengthen memorability, and strengthen the potential for future business seems like a winning strategy.

Finally, there's a way to buy a lottery ticket and guarantee you will win. Thanks Doug for sharing!

Incredible Promotional Video Goes Viral

To promote reading, the New Zealand Book Council commissioned a stop motion video where Maurice Gee's book, Going West, literally comes out of the page.  This was a stop motion video that was all hand cut.  It consists of 3,000 frames and took eight months.  The camera work was done by a pair of single lens reflex cameras.

Imagine someone with a 10-A surgical knife making each cut by hand, positioning the paper, setting the lighting, and snapping the shot. I wonder how much it cost.

The video was designed to be shown in theaters and packaged on DVDs. Thus, it was designed for visual venues to encourage reading. As such, it's been highly effective.

A bonus for the New Zealand Book Council has been the viral nature of the video. It's been seen around the world and probably has near universal penetration in New Zealand.

Take a look. It's incredible...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Creating Positive Imprints on the Self-Image

For most of us, just competing in the Olympics would be a lifetime highlight. Winning an Olympic medal would be the thrill of a lifetime. After Lanny Bassham won an Olympic Silver Medal in rifle shooting he says he spent the next four years apologizing for being number two.

“A silver medal in the Olympics is the best you can do in the world and still lose,” says Lanny. “You are the world’s best loser.”

Lanny didn’t like losing. He decided he wanted to do something about it.

He says, “I came home from the Olympics motivated to find out, how do you manage the mind under pressure?”

“My problem was not holding the rifle,” he adds. “My problem was thinking. My problem was the mental game.”

After trying a sports psychologist, Lanny decided to talk with the people who were the best in the world. He talked Olympic Gold Medalists. He talked with a lot of them and based on the things he learned, he created a system he calls “Mental Management®.”

Lanny applied his system to himself. He returned to the Olympics and took home the gold, followed by a several world championships. Today, his company trains athletes, performers, and business professionals on the mental game.

One element of the mental game is the imprinting we do on the self-image. Our self-image constrains our performance and it is influenced by imprinting.

There are two types of imprinting. First is the imprinting of actual performance. Once we accomplish something, we are confident we can do it again.

The second type of imprinting is imagined. It’s our self-talk. Do you see yourself achieving a goal or failing to achieve it? Either image is imprinted on your self-image.

Your self-image cannot distinguish between an actual imprint and an imagined one. As individuals, we need to focus on the outcomes we desire, not our mistakes. As parents and managers, we similarly need to direct people to focus on positive solutions and outcomes.

Unfortunately, we live in a society that focuses on the negative more than the positive. Even if you are an upbeat person, you are likely to fall into the trap of focusing on the negative.

“Ask people how they did after a performance and they’re likely to talk about what they did wrong,” says Lanny. “We live in a culture where it’s become socially acceptable to talk about what we did wrong first, and to talk about what we did wrong more than what we did right.”

Don’t focus on the mistakes your people make. Focus on the things each can do to perform better. That is creating a positive imprint. That is building the self-image.

“We build self image by what we cause them to picture,” notes Lanny.

If you want to learn more about Lanny Bassham or order his books, CDs, DVDs, or other products, visit his website at Mental Management®.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Faith and Fear For 2010

“Faith and fear are different aspects of the same thing,” said Gina McWilliams.

Wow. I’d never thought of it that way. Gina had. Gina lost her right leg below the knee in an automobile accident at age 25. Her left foot was severed and reattached. Since the accident, she had 37 different surgical procedures.

As a single woman and an athlete, Gina knew fear. She says that fear can be an overwhelming companion. If she let fear take over, she would never leave her bed. She faced fear of falling when she got into her wheelchair, fear of falling when she got into her van, fear of not being able to find a handicapped spot, and on and on. Fear can be a constant companion.

Fear is belief in a negative future. Fear is a belief in the unseen. It is belief in things that may or may not be realized.

Gina rejected fear. She chose faith...

Read more at Contracting Business Hotmail.

Contractors Expect Growth in 2010

The Service Roundtable Contractor Expectation Index is 79 for 2010, indicating a broad expectation of business expansion among the home service trades (an index above 50 reflects positive expectations). The index includes the outlook of air conditioning, electrical, and plumbing contractors in the residential service market.

Expectations are strongest among plumbing contractors at 84. Electrical contractors follow closely at 83. Air conditioning contractor expectations are 78. When contractors who were expecting a better year in 2010 were asked why they see improvement, the most common answer was an increase in marketing on the part of the contractor, particularly to existing customers.

Read the press release at the Service Roundtable.

Improving Your Loyalty Program

"Deeper engagement and personalized contact drive loyalty, not mass blast communications and gimmicks," writes Marketing Charts about a new report from the Chief Marketing Officer Council

The classic loyalty marketing program is an airline's frequent flyer program. For service contractors a service or maintenance agreement program is a loyalty program, even though many do not think of them as such.

Marketers think loyalty programs make sense and make money for their companies, but that they're not doing a good job executing.  According to Marketing Charts:
According to the survey, most marketers (61%) believe that loyalty program participants are the best and most profitable customers with 65% of respondents viewing customer loyalty program investments as an essential, or quite valuable part of the marketing mix.
However, only 13% of respondents believe they have been highly effective in leveraging loyalty and brand preference among club members, and nearly 20% don’t even have a strategy for this. Another 25% admit they have not mobilized brand loyalists to become active advocacy agents.
Yikes.  Here are the problems (click to enlarge)...

A few key stats from the report are:

  • Loyalty programs do generate buzz with 50% of customers in loyalty marketing programs talking about the brand some of the time and 20% outright cheerleading.
  • One out of two (54%) customers will drop out of the loyalty program following a bad service experience.  It's surprising it's not higher and indicates a degree of forgiveness among loyalty participants.  Still, the company must deliver or lose, regardless of a loyalty program.
  • Even though customers complain about spam, nearly two out of three (64%) want electronic communication.  The good news is you can reduce costs with customers who want electronic communication.  The bad news is you can't use electronic communication across the board.  A mix is required and it's necessary to ask customers what's preferred (and it may be both).
Service agreement programs are strong loyalty marketing programs. They can be enhanced by the inclusion or a "rewards" element, such as the Service Roundtable's "Comfort Cash" program.

Click here to read the full article from Marketing Charts. Click here to learn more about the Service Roundtable.