Jump Into 21st Century Marketing and Bring the Customers Home

Entrepreneur Trevor Flannigan shares top tips he used to generate exponential growth for a wastewater, plumbing and HVAC service

Trevor Flannigan
Trevor Flannigan

In just a few years, Trevor Flannigan has gone from helping to grow an HVAC, sewer service, rooter and plumbing business having operated a live chat service for contractor websites that serves 1,400 clients. He is no longer involved with the chat service, but along the way he’s developed a business strategy that includes effectively utilizing social media, developing advertising campaigns to target key customers, and creating content for social media that results in better engagement, expert positioning and lead acquisition.

Pumper:  You were working for a major retail grocery company. How did you wind up helping build a contracting business?

Flannigan: I moved back home to Kansas City, Missouri, and wanted to change industries. I saw an ad for the company and was hired to work in the office. I started to notice some inefficiencies and helped correct them. I was soon promoted to general manager and took the company from $7 million in revenue to $21 million and 75 trucks over four years.

Pumper:  What holds small businesses back?

Flannigan: Often it’s a matter of ego. Owners want to be responsible for everything, and that demotivates the team supporting them. Once an owner takes that position, they become so afraid to fail that they become paralyzed. You can’t be afraid to fail. As long as you’re winning 51% of the time, it’s a good day.

Pumper:  What about relying on word-of-mouth to generate business?

Flannigan:That only takes you so far. You can get to three or four trucks, but not to 20 or 30. Word-of-mouth is a necessary part of any good marketing strategy, but not the only strategy.

Pumper:  How did you change your company’s marketing?

Flannigan: There wasn’t a lot of emphasis on tracking calls and how much money our marketing was bringing in so that we could make better decisions on what we should keep doing.

We started to hold marketing planning workshops each year, where we would decide how much we wanted to grow over the next year. That would dictate what our advertising spend would be. Any company should spend 8% to 10% of revenue on advertising to target 20% in growth.

Pumper:  How did you allocate your advertising budget?

Flannigan: We would divide the budget between mass media, billboards, direct mail to existing customers and direct mail to prospective customers. If we had $50,000 in direct mail for new customers, we would decide which months we would do the mailers, then set calendar reminders, leaving us 30 days for creative. Closer to the date we would decide which part of the business we wanted to promote: trenchless, pumping or a lead generator involving $99 mainline rooting, for example.

Pumper:  How can a small company compete against businesses with large marketing budgets?

Flannigan: There will always be larger pumping and plumbing businesses that can blanket the area with marketing. You need to gain the same level of awareness among a more targeted group of customers.

If the big guys cover the metro area with TV, radio and billboards, you can do the same by identifying a smaller geographic area, such as six ZIP codes. More impressions on the same person are better than one impression on a larger group because it makes you look bigger. The people in those ZIP codes should see the same amount of messaging as they get from a big shop. You can work door hangers, direct mail or social media directed at specific geographic areas through Facebook. That niche market will see your messaging consistently and think you’re bigger than you are, and you’ll start to receive calls from them.

Pumper:  How do you develop creative content for advertising?

Flannigan: I’m not a creative genius, but I can look at what other service companies are doing successfully in different markets, spin their messaging and adapt their campaigns. Check the social media platforms of a big service company and you’ll have a template for what a good brand looks like.

Pumper:  How do you prepare engaging content for social media?

Flannigan: Too often, people rely on weird memes and funny pictures. Nobody follows a plumbing or pumping company to get a laugh. Make it real, and highlight your company’s core values and mission using pictures and videos of real technicians working in the field.

You also need to position yourself as an expert in your trade without getting complicated. Speak the customer’s language — it’s a sewer not a mainline. If you confuse the customer, they’ll unfollow you or scroll by.

Also provide regular updates of fresh content. If your last update was in 2016, people will wonder what happened to you.

Pumper:  Does social media also help recruit new employees?

Flannigan: If your employees look genuinely happy and engaged on social media, it goes a long way to make your workplace look like a destination for prospective employees.

Pumper:  Why did you launch the chat service?

Flannigan: Too often service company websites act as sterile front offices that fail to engage customers. If you’re visiting a plumbing or pumper website, you’re there because you have an immediate need, yet our research shows that 95% of visitors leave without taking action.

We found we could increase conversions by putting somebody at the front desk as a paid service for contractors. Using pop-up chat on the website, a live person acts as part of your team and answers basic questions. That eases customer anxiety and makes them feel comfortable before they’re warm-transferred to the next point of contact and a technician is dispatched.

Engaging with customers early is not only essential, it’s also an important part of your overall marketing strategy. 



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