Effective advertising or Feeding your Ego?

advertisingThere are fourteen ways to either drive customers to your door or flush your money down the toilet; the choice is yours. Before you spend one thin dime on advertising, ask yourself- “Will this bring in business, or is it just egofeeding my ego”

Here’s a short list of the resources available, and my opinion (for what it’s worth) on their effectiveness:


  • Yellow Pages
  • News Paper Ad
  • Billboard
  • Event / Charity Sponsor
  • Postal Flier
  • Television / Radio
  • Internet
  • Truck Signage
  • Cold Calling
  • Door Knob Hangers
  • Trinket Give-Away
  • Social / Professional Networking
  • Manufactures Site Listing
  • Word Of Mouth

The key to advertising is “return on investment” or as the corporate stuffed suit types like to call it, ROI.  Myself, I like to use the term “Biggest Bang for the Buck”. Whatever you call it, the key is making every dollar spent on advertising make more money than was spent on the advertising in the first place.  Use the smallest amount of the most effective advertising you can find, period.

To make advertising effective you need to match the advertising to the customer. A well-known advertising saying sums this up well- “I know half my advertising money is wasted, I just don’t know what half”.  If this were true you would be in better shape than you are now. The truth is 80% of your advertising dollars are wasted, and I can tell you where.  Advertising comes in three flavors: Great, Good, and Bad.


Professional networking- Professional networking sites like Linked-In are a great way to interact with your target customers. Building a quality contact list is important, but the key is joining and contributing to groups where potential customers “hang out”. Be a leader and draw others to you by starting a group relevant to the customers you are targeting.

Word of mouth-This is the best form of advertising: it costs nothing, it automatically hits your target market, and it multiplies in effectiveness on its own. The problem is, you cannot buy it, you have to work for it, and it takes time and effort to establish, but once it is established, it will take on a life of its own. They key to making it work quickly is to ask for it. If a customer shows appreciation for work you performed, don’t be afraid to ask them to spread the word. I can’t believe how many business owners are reluctant to ask for recommendations. Don’t just ask for a general recommendation; give them the tools to praise your business. Have a place on Face Book, Linked in, Twitter, and your web site for people to leave praise. Keep in mind that people will promise the world, and have every intention of delivering it, but will forget the promise about 30 seconds after you are out of their site. To shore up their memory, offer a gift in exchange for their good word. Coupons redeemable on future service are a great choice for residential customers.


Yellow Pages-  The Yellow pages gives your business a sense of legitimacy, but for advertising, it’s a money pit. Use the free listing that comes with a business number. List your name and phone number only. Remember, if a customer chooses you from the phone book, it means you were the cheapest alphabetically. Don’t waste your money on even the smallest add.

Newspaper ad- Newspapers target residential customers only and are limited to a very small demographic. Why? People are not reading the newspaper as much anymore, many are even limiting their subscriptions to the Sunday edition only. The good news is the people who still read them generally have money and will spend it on something worthwhile and of value. The key to newspaper ads is simple; write it for the homeowner. Joe Suburbia does not care that you have “A fleet of modern, fully stocked service trucks”. The ad has to mean something to them. Homeowners care about Special offers, Timeliness, Neatness, Guaranteed work, Reasonable prices, Reference availability, and Financing. Always ask yourself one question when building an ad; “Will this bring in target customers, or is it just feeding my ego?”

Truck Signage- There is a lot of potential advertising space on a service van; use as little as possible. Marketing experts recommend using every square inch of space on your trucks for advertising; they even recommend advertising on the roof so people in office buildings will see your name. Are they kidding?  I have an idea! If we advertise under the trucks, we can advertise to auto mechanics. Seriously, I never had a customer call for service because of the advertising on our trucks. I did have a person call to complain about one of the vans being double-parked, but that was it. As an extra bonus, the excessive signage ruins the resale value of your trucks. Keep the signage minimal, tasteful, professional, and consistent. The company name, logo, and number is sufficient.

Manufactures advertising and web site listing-This type of advertising is for residential only, but it can be a real winner if the brand is well known. Keep in mind, well known or not, if you haven’t run across their ads on the radio, television, or newspaper, your customers haven’t either. Make sure they are actively advertising in your area. Before jumping on board, be sure they wont lump your company in with a bunch of other companies in your area, I’ve seen television and print ads that have multiple companies from adjoining towns listed. Manufacturers also offer listings on their websites that can be a good way to attract customers. For a manufacturers web site listing to be effective they need to have a presence in your area, meaning, they must have an active advertising program in place to keep their name in front of the customer, and they must have a good “existing installation” footprint. Advertising with an unknown manufacturer is useless. One caution, I have have found up to four contractors listed in the same town under some manufactures dealer locator’s; the last thing you need is your advertising partner helping customers find your competition.

Internet site-Your business should have its own Internet site. It gives potential customers a way to see what you’re all about. Don’t clutter the site with minutia, keep it simple and easy to navigate; nothing is more annoying than a busy, complicated site that makes you work for irrelevant information. List the services you provide, contact information, and customer testimonies. Remember, this is more of a window into your business than an advertisement. If you are not intimate with the mechanics of building a site, hire someone who is. Poor quality, visually unappealing site graphics will turn potential customers off, if you do not have the resources to launch a quality site, do not launch a site.

Event / Charity Sponsor- Helping people in need is always good practice, efective advertising or not.


Billboards- They are an eye sore, people hate them. Enough said.

Television- Nothing is more hokey, or expensive, than a low budget television commercial, ditto for radio. Television does have its place in advertising, namely Consumer Packaged Goods or “CPG”. If you’re not sure what a CPG is, take a walk through your local Wal-Mart; the shelves are crammed with fancily packaged garbage made in China. Your business is not made in China, and it’s not garbage.

Cold Calling- Nothing angers people more than a telemarketer calling during dinner. Who thought this up anyway?

Door Knob Hangers- Support the Green movement by killing trees in the name of low effect advertising. Really bad idea.

Postal Mailing-See “Door Knob Hangers”

Trinkets-Junk emblazoned with you’re company name: pens, screw drivers, letter openers, you name it. Putting your name on low quality plastic junk is a terrible way to advertise your company. way to advertise your company.

Always ask this question before spending a single dime on advertising;

“Will this bring in the type of customer I want, or will it just feed my ego?”


Patrick is Zen HVAC’s diagnostic and training guy. Patrick started in the trade the day he left technical school and never looked back. He's served in various technical and training roles in the HVAC industry but specializes in system troubleshooting and diagnostics, retro commissioning, and technical training. His moto: If I can understand it, anybody can. Patrick uses the Zen common sense approach to teach Patrick’s Likes- His Wife, kids and dog. Old pickup trucks. Hiking. The industrial Revolution. Patrick’s Dislikes- Taking work too seriously. Anything unintuitive. Emoticons :( Patrick’s Favorite famous person- Theodore Roosevelt “I am only an average man, But I work harder at it than the average man" Famous Patrick Quote- “Well, that was stupid of me”

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