If you think the quality of your decorative work alone will attract more customers, consider this scenario: Company X and Company Y offer the same quality work at about the same price. Company X has always relied primarily on phone book and newspaper advertising, or simply on word of mouth. Company Y has expanded into online marketing. Y owns a website with project photos and uses Facebook and Twitter to stay in the public eye.

If you can’t get a friend or relative to build a website, web designers can be found on Craigslist or you can contact The Concrete Network.
If you can’t get a friend or relative to build a website, web designers can be found on Craigslist or you can contact The Concrete Network.

Company X cannot hope to compete.

What’s “trending”

Society has changed so much in the past 15 years that doing things the old way simply doesn’t work anymore. Nowadays, very few people under the age of 50 even look at a phone book or newspaper. They use their smartphones, laptops, or tablets to research online. Consumers who spend money on decorative concrete are typically 35 to 65 years old. Most use technology daily at work, and spend a good deal of time on the Internet. They’ve become accustomed to its convenience.

When researching a contractor online, potential customers can view countless color photos of his work, read customer reviews or testimonials, and may even be able to determine if the contractor is in good standing in the community. The only thing that can be learned from phone book advertising is the company’s contact information. It’s no wonder that potential customers feel more comfortable with Company Y; they know a lot more about them.

Benefits of owning a website

When I began contracting in the mid-1990s, the Internet was in its infancy. Luckily for me, my wife showed me the unlimited potential of online marketing. She built a website that explained what my company did, showed hundreds of photos of my work, and provided answers to frequently asked questions. Having an online presence made an immediate impact on my business.

I no longer needed to scramble around, wasting hours and countless gallons of gas, just to show potential customers my bulky photo album. They could easily view my work from the comfort of their own homes or offices, at whatever time they chose. They often browsed my site at 2 a.m., and I received an email the next morning requesting an estimate.

In later years, I added a Ballpark Estimate Form to my website. This short questionnaire asked several questions about a project, including job size, if there was access for a concrete truck, if the yard was fenced, if there was an irrigation system, need for stairs, and other information. After reading a potential customer’s answers, I could email a fairly accurate guess of what the job would likely cost. If the total was more than they wanted to spend, that was fine. At least I hadn’t wasted our time and my fuel on a fruitless visit. If my estimate happened to fit their budget, I would schedule a jobsite visit for a formal quote knowing that the customer was already financially pre-qualified. The percentage of jobs I was awarded grew dramatically, and wasted time was cut to a bare minimum. You can see a version of my ballpark estimate form under the heading Get a Quote at www.indecorativeconcrete.com (which my wife also built).

Getting started

You don’t need my wife to build a website for you. Sites like GoDaddy.com, Wix.com, and Squarespace.com are simple to use at little to no cost. If you are uncomfortable with technology, ask your kids, grandkids, or a friend to help you. Even if you pay them a couple of hundred dollars for their time, you’ll spend far less than you would buying television or radio ads and you’ll reach a more targeted audience. Anyone who finds you is looking specifically for a decorative concrete contractor.

The author’s own website includes a Ballpark Estimate Form which dramatically increased the number of jobs he was awarded.
The author’s own website includes a Ballpark Estimate Form which dramatically increased the number of jobs he was awarded.

For truly professional results and better Internet exposure, you may want to hire an experienced website designer who can help with search engine optimization (SEO). This can be more expensive, but doesn’t necessarily have to be. Many very good yet inexpensive website designers advertise on Craigslist.com. I have referred one such person to several of my contractor friends, and he has built them very nice sites for a one-time fee of about $300 to $500. Without exception, they have told me that it was money well spent.

Another source for assistance in helping to develop your company’s first website is the Concrete Network at www.concretenetwork.com.

Traditionally, concrete guys are reluctant to embrace change. But to remain on a level playing field with your competitors or even to get an edge on them, consider using technology to improve your business. Once you take the plunge, you won’t regret it.

Steve VandeWater is the manager of The Concrete Store in Fishers, Ind. He is a former Indianapolis area contractor and is the creator of the Indiana Decorative Concrete Network website. E-mail svandewater@sagamorereadymix.com; for more, visit www.indecorativeconcrete.com.