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Building Business

Building Business

Self-taught MBA: Arming the Insurgency

comments (0) June 19th, 2012 in Blogs
FPR Fernando Pages Ruiz, contributor

As an experienced builder, you have a lot to offer.  - Brian Pontolilo, Editor of Fine Homebuilding MagazineClick To Enlarge

"As an experienced builder, you have a lot to offer."  - Brian Pontolilo, Editor of Fine Homebuilding Magazine

Photo: Slide from Marketing for Building Professionals: How Media Can Help


When Jay Levinson published Guerrilla Marketing in 1983, he popularized no-cost and very-low-cost marketing strategies for the small-business owner. The book has gone through four editions, and Levinson built a business, now chairman of Guerrilla Marketing International, a consulting firm serving small and large businesses worldwide. You see, large businesses discovered that some low cost approaches to marketing, such getting featured in the local paper, are also the most effective. I should disclose that I periodically work for not-so-small businesses helping to write the articles and press releases that eventually result in local stories-it's a question of finding the local angle to a national trend.

I often see the concept of guerrilla marketing spelled gorilla, as in our brother apes. Guerrilla is actually the Spanish word for small war, and it refers to the armed rebellions spurred by idealistic revolutionaries like el che Guevara that became romantic heroes throughout Latin America. In today's Middle Eastern conflicts, we call them "insurgents," and hence the name of this post. It's the insurgent's approach to marketing with small arms, and we will frequently discuss no-cost approaches to get your name out, build credibility and generate good will, so you become the go-to guy in your market.  This post, we discuss getting published.

Making Friends in the Media

Advertising may be part of an effective marketing plan, along with a good web site and some social media. Unless you go overboard, online marketing costs little compared to print, radio and television. I've done all of them at some point, but I found that the most effective marketing came free, and with fringe benefits too. Fine Homebuilding Magazine played an important part, but even more effective: the local press. Getting your projects into the local paper and nightly news, and even taking a stab at writing as an expert represent one of the best marketing strategies you can afford. In fact, if you have the budget, this is what you'd hire a publicist to do for you, get your name in the news. But you can do it on your own.

If you want proof that an article is worth more than an ad, just think about the last time you read the paper, did you focus on the articles or the ads? Did you find the articles more credible than the ads? In a presentation titled, "Marketing for Building Professionals: How Media Can Help," our fearless leader here at Fine Homebuilding, Brian Pontolilo, editor in chief, addressed the homebuilders at the International Builders Show in Orlando earlier this year. Among the reasons to publish your work, he cited the exchange of ideas, furthering your education, building credibility, and exposure in your local market. Most telling, a quote he shared from Gary Striegler, custom-home builder in Fayetteville, AR, and FHB contributor, who compared a published builder to, well… "It is like being a made man in the mob!"

You gain street cred when customers, inspectors and other builders see your projects featured prominently in the paper. Getting into the paper is easier than you might think. Pick a national trend, and be the first in your market to introduce it. Green building provides many avenues, whether the first LEED certified home in the area, the first in the Department of Energy's Builder's Challenge, the first net-zero remodeling, or even the first home packaged with an EPA WaterSense certification, or comprehensive indoor environmental quality package. The advantages add up quickly.

To begin with, getting involved in any new green certification program will force you to learn a lot about building science, things you may think you know, but don't. By learning, you become the local expert. Getting slightly ahead of the curve keeps your work engaging and makes you a more interesting builder for customers to work with. And since you're not an English major, you'll be happy to know that most certification programs include an educational and outreach component, the organization providing the standards and certification will also provide you with readymade press releases, marketing material, and sometimes even a publicist.

When I wanted to break into a new market, I always did it with a splashy demonstration home that was sure to generate plenty of media attention. My first foray into Omaha came with the area's first PATH House, a house built with the Partnership for Advance Technology in Housing. The house was featured on national and local television, dozens of articles, and thereafter the glow from this one project highlighted every other house I built in the area. Once you have such an experience, you develop a keen eye for storyline, and this is the secret to guerrilla marketing-knowing how to tell your story so well that others begin to repeat it.

Brian's presentation to the homebuilders at IBS speaks for itself, even without narration, and with his permission, you can take run through the slides by clicking here: Marketing for Building Professionals: How Media Can Help

The basics include: Read your local paper and see who's writing the real estate articles.  At the end of the article, you'll usually find an email address. Write and complement the author. Begin to establish a friendly dialog. If you know another builder has something interesting going on, share it. Become a source. When you have a project to profile, you'll have a friend at the paper.

If you have a web site, start a blog to practice your writing. It does not matter if only you mother reads it. In fact, this is preferable at first. I know a plumber that writes a column on home heating and plumbing maintenance for the local paper, I've watched his firm grow and grow. I've also seen his writing get much better. If you can talk, you can learn to write well, and then story ideas will become second nature. Once you can tell a good story, you won't need to buy an ad ever again. 


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