I run a small commercial cleaning business, which has done ok from word-of-mouth referrals, but we’re not really known in the wider community. I know there are lots of ways to promote the business, but marketing is not really my thing and I can’t afford to hire a PR company. What can I do myself that doesn’t cost too much?
Charlie Mullins writes:
You’ve already made a good start through your referrals and this should be the foundations that you build your reputation on. Like you, when I started out I knew nothing about marketing, but I quickly realised that, to be successful and earn a few bob, you have to get yourself out there and your name known.
At the beginning, I also traded on reputation, which costs very little except for ensuring your customers get more than they expect by doing business with you. In my case, and I am sure you’ll be the same, it was turning up on time, looking clean and respectable, being polite and doing a top job. In my line of business, following those simple guidelines will keep you in work for life. They still form the cornerstones of Pimlico Plumbers 30 years later.
Other simple things that are real musts are well-branded and highly visible vehicles and employee uniforms. These help a firm become more widely recognised very quickly. This definitely made a difference for my business as we weaved across the streets of London – as have the 60-odd plumbing-themed number plates displayed on the vans, which really catch the eye!
Obviously in this day and age an internet presence is must. Everyone expects to ‘Google’ everything so you’d be a fool not to be visible online when customers are looking for you. If not, someone else will get the work no matter how good you are.
But it’s also what you do with your website. If the eyes are the window into the soul, a website is a window into the heart of a business. Your site should be more than pages of text, but show customers who and what the business is all about.
One of the ways I’ve done this is through my blog. Always topical, sometimes controversial (so I’ve been told), the blog gives a real insight into Pimlico Plumbers and shows customers the firm’s beliefs, personality and passion. It also gives me the chance to share our successes, charity work and employee achievements.
But to really make your business stand out, it’s worth considering some more ‘out there’ ideas that will really turn heads. But don’t think you need to employ armies of expensive consultants or ‘gurus’ to make things happen! I regularly get asked ‘what’s our secret’ to keeping the Pimlico Plumbers’ name out there and the thing is I’m not sure people believe me when I tell them.
They must think we spend hours in meetings with experts, but in reality we generally kick an idea round the office for five minutes. If it sounds good we give it a try. The reaction is usually one of disbelief, which I suppose is a compliment based on how well-known our company is, but it proves that with the right attitude and commitment anything is possible.
Some of the biggest marketing successes we’ve had in recent years sounded ridiculous to begin with, but we thought ‘what the hell’ and the next thing you know Johnny Vaughan and Lisa Snowdon are doing the Capital Radio Breakfast Show from our garage!
We’ve also had a band formed by some of our plumbers performing live on a prime-time BBC1 variety show and then go on to record a charity album to raise several thousand pounds for the Prince’s Trust.
To be honest, the best ideas are normally staring you in the face, but it’s worth taking a step back for a minute or two for the idea to really come to life. A good example of this was a couple of years ago when our evergreen van cleaner, Buster Martin, was about to turn 100. We were thinking what we could do over a pint and bang, there it was – a specially brewed commemorative beer, Buster’s Bitter. It certainly went down well with our customers and made more of an impact than the standard fare of logo’d pens and mouse mats.
To be honest, I think if we’d called in some ‘gurus’ and had a load of concept and planning meetings none of them would have ever got off the ground. If I’ve learned anything about marketing over the years it’s not to let the supposed ‘experts’ tell you it’s not possible. If you think it’s got half a chance to help promote your business then it’s probably a winner.
Charlie Mullins is the founder and managing director of