How do you tell a first-time client they need a laundry list of car repairs–without losing their trust?

How do you tell a first-time client they need a laundry list of car repairs–without losing their trust?

Have you ever had a moment when you suddenly understand what it feels like to be an automotive consumer at the receiving end of a laundry list of repair needs? How do you tell your customer their car isn't as well maintained as they thought?

I’m thinking of that first-time client, who comes in for a straightforward oil change and and is now listening—dumbfounded—as you run through a full-blown estimate for $2,000 or more of needed repairs and maintenance.  Although they’re trying to comprehend it all, they’re like a deer caught in the headlights.

I had that moment recently at the dentist’s office. While the dentist clicked from one photo of my teeth to another—pointing out one cavity after another—my eyes glazed over and my mind began racing.

“How can this be? I’ve only had 2 cavities in my entire life.”

“Are you telling me the truth or being overly aggressive with your recommendations?”

“Why didn’t my previous dentist catch all this?”

“Should I get a second opinion? But then, I’d have to go through this all over again.”

And she hadn’t even talked about the cost yet.

So now, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of your customers, Michelle Motorist and Drew Driver. They’ve come to your shop for the first time, having been referred by coworkers. Michelle and Drew have both religiously changed their oil every 3,000 miles and rotated the tires every 6,000 miles, adding in an air filter here and there as it was recommended by the dealer or Jiffy Lube or the shop down the street. In other words: They believe they’ve done everything they needed to maintain their cars.

As the expert, you know otherwise. The transmission fluid is black. The fuel filter looks original. The timing belt is 10,000 miles overdue. And now you have to explain to these unsuspecting, first-time consumers what they need, why they need it and how much it’s going to cost.

How do you do that effectively? How do you cushion the blow? Not just the financial one, but also the psychological one. After all, they think they’ve been maintaining their vehicles. And how do you do all this without losing any trust they have in you?

Here are our recommendations for turning this potential one-and-run into a repeat, loyal client and chalking this up as a one-and-run:

  1. Tell your client what to expect. Be upfront with them and explain that your technician will thoroughly inspect the vehicle for maintenance and repair needs. Explain why you do this: Taking a proactive, pro-maintenance approach saves them money in the long run vs. taking their chances with an unexpected breakdown. If you typically find a lot of legitimate recommendations, it’s also worth letting them know up front that your shop is more thorough than many other shops, and you may have more recommendations than they’re used to.
  2. Remember that “seeing is believing.” Find a way to show your clients why you’re recommending services or repairs to them. Many shops are successfully using Digital Vehicle Inspections (DVIs) to photograph and thoroughly document what they’re seeing on their clients’ cars. A picture truly is worth a thousand words. Even if the consumer isn’t entirely sure what a good rotor looks like vs. one that’s scored and pitted, making the photograph available to them goes a long way to gaining their confidence. If you’re not set up yet for DVIs, you can certainly snap a few pics with your cell phone, email them to your clients and explain over the phone what the pictures are showing. And for clients who are waiting at the shop, taking them out to their vehicle is a perfect way to show what you’re recommending and why.
  3. Prioritize what your client needs. It’s no secret that consumers like to feel like they’re in control of the decision-making process, and they don’t like the hard sell. When you do have a laundry list for them, work with them to prioritize what they absolutely need now (safety items), what should be done in the near future (overdue maintenance that could lead to expensive repairs) and what should be put on the watch list (upcoming maintenance). This helps them feel in control of the situation, and if done right, shows you are on their side, working with them and working within their budget. All of these are huge wins when it comes to fostering client loyalty.
  4. Sympathize and take your time. We all love the “quick sale,” the client who says, “Just take care of everything and call me when you’re done.” But for the other 99.5 percent of our clients, you can earn their trust and future business by carefully answering all of their questions, sympathizing with them and not rushing through the transaction.

Although these are our top four recommendations, we know there are many of you who figured out the secret years ago. We’d love to hear what methods you use in your shop to win the trust of your first-time clients.

3 Reasons to Think About Marketing Even When Your Auto Repair Shop is Slammed with Business

3 Reasons to Think About Marketing Even When Your Auto Repair Shop is Slammed with Business

It’s late June and 84 degrees outside at 7:30 am. You’re just opening  for the day. You walk in the front door to the phone ringing and nine sets of car keys in the night drop box. You recognize most of the names because they’re on your schedule. The service advisors are checking in customers, and your technicians are gearing up for another busy summer day at Joe’s CAN-do Auto Repair!

3 reasons to market your auto repair shop even when you're busy

You might be slammed right now, but are you preparing for the September slowdown?

It is going to be a good day—and possibly a record-breaking week.

A few hours later, the momentum is even stronger. The cars continue to come in, work is being sold and a few pre-sold jobs are already finished.

The next call comes in, and it’s a marketing company asking you about your shop. You look around and say to them, “The year started off slow, but the shop is slammed right now. I don’t have any time to even think about marketing right now.”

We’ve all been there: Hustling from open to close, with barely a moment to breathe, and ending the day wiped out but with money in the bank.

But if you’ve been in this business for any length of time, you know things will change. Weather, school calendars, a tech leaving, a dip in the economy…All of this changes and, inevitably, will have an effect on work flow. What are you going to do when it gets slow again? September is just around the corner.

Even though you’re busy, here are 3 things to think about now to help cope with the September slowdown:

Tad Lucas Vice President Jumpdog Marketing

Tad Lucas – Vice President, Jumpdog Marketing

  1. Prepare in Advance. It will get slow. Will it be welcomed or worrisome? If the latter, start to plan now for spurring business in spite of everyone’s back-to-school focus. Oil change reminders in the windshield likely won’t bring the cars in right away. You just changed your clients’ oil in the last two months in preparation for the family vacation and “Junior’s” return to USA University. Now is actually an ideal time to take that marketing meeting.
  2. Allow Enough Time. Once you know what you want or need to do, it will take some time to implement. It’s like knowing when the train arrives at the station. Will you be on the platform ready for its arrival or will you be running to catch it? You don’t want to miss it. Start working on your marketing plan now so there’s time to build that new web site, create a fall mailer for your clients, or launch a CRM (client relationship management) program.
  3. Know How to Measure It. How are you going to know if your marketing is working? Be sure you have a means to measure the success of any marketing idea you employ. If you know it works and it creates a good return on your investment, you’ll want to duplicate it. If not, you’ll know now to waste your money on it in the future.

Last but not least, when the phone does start to ring, make sure you’re ready to convert those phone calls into appointments. Then once they’re at your shop, do what you do best: Take care of your customer.

If you know you need a jump start on your fall marketing plan, but aren’t sure how to go about it, give us a call at Jumpdog Marketing at 773-313-0755. We’ve been in the trenches. We know what works and what doesn’t, and we can help you beat that September slump.

9 Critical Questions to Ask Your Web Site Company

9 Critical Questions to Ask Your Web Site Company

Questions to ask your web site companyWe had the privilege of speaking to four ASA Illinois chapters in May about how to build a powerful online presence. At each meeting, we fielded questions from auto repair shop owners like you who were looking to build a new web site but weren’t sure how to pick the best web provider or they have an existing web site but question how “good” it is.

If this sounds familiar, you’re clearly not alone. Here are 9 key questions to ask your current web provider—or one you’re considering hiring—to see if they’re the right fit for you:

QUESTION 1: WHO OWNS THE WEB SITE AND THE DOMAIN NAME?

The web site is for your company. You’re footing the bill. You should own both your site and your domain name, right? Not necessarily. You’d be surprised at how many companies retain ownership of your website, and there’s even a handful that pick up ownership of your domain.

  • We Recommend: Retaining the copyright on and ownership of your web site and your domain name. Always. Otherwise, you’re at the mercy of the other company. If you want to change providers in the future, you’ll  most likely need to start from scratch and build a brand new web site. This means paying all over again and losing your photography and any content you’ve written, including blog posts. It could also mean shelling out some cash to buy your domain name back. I’ve seen it happen time and again. Save yourself the expense and the headaches by choosing a web company that doesn’t operate this way.

QUESTION 2: WHERE IS THE SITE HOSTED? WILL I HAVE ACCESS TO THE ACCOUNT? 

Many web site companies offer to host your site as a matter of convenience to you and to them. It’s easier and more efficient for them to set up and manage your site on servers they know and are familiar with. However, hosting with them and not having any access puts you in the same position as in Question #1. If you ever want to make a change and you don’t have access, you’re at the mercy of your current provider.

  • We Recommend: Hosting your web site or having access to the hosting account. This is an ideal scenario, but it may not always be feasible. If you find a web company you really want to work with but they’re adamant about hosting on their servers, make sure you understand—and are comfortable with—their policies and procedures should you ever want to move your website somewhere else. Will you be able to do that? And at what cost? And have them put it in writing! There are no guarantees, but may give you peace of mind that you’re working with a company that will do the right thing.

QUESTION 3: IS THERE A ONE-TIME COST TO BUILD THE SITE, OR WILL I PAY A MONTHLY FEE FOR AS LONG AS THE SITE EXISTS?

The former is typically in your best interest; the latter typically in theirs. We often see shops that commit to a low monthly fee that continues for years. In exchange, they get a very basic site that doesn’t change much, if at all, over time and is doing the bare minimum to promote the business. While you avoid a hefty up-front cost by going this route, you often end up paying as much or more in the end than you would have for a fully custom, high quality site that does a bang up job of promoting your business.

  • We Recommend: Doing the math. You can expect to spend $3,500 – $5,000 or more for a web site that is custom-built just for you. That website should work well for you for at least 3 to 4 years with some changes and regular updates along the way. Compare that to one that’s a few hundred dollars or more a month for one, two, three years and see what is likely the best bet for you.

QUESTION 4: WILL I HAVE ACCESS TO THE SITE TO MAKE CHANGES, ADD NEW PAGES AND UPDATE PAGE COPY?

While you may not want to learn how to log into your web site and update the home page copy, you should at least have the ability to do so. It’s surprising how many web site companies don’t give clients access to their own sites. Again, this is a red flag because it puts you at the mercy of their responsiveness. We spent a year with one of our clients trying to get his web site company to make a number of basic changes. They did nothing. His requests and ours fell on deaf ears. Similarly, a shop owner called me a couple of weeks ago and said, “I had someone build this site for me. I want to make some changes. And now he’s nowhere to be found. He’s not responding to any of my messages.”

  • We Recommend: Insisting on full – or nearly full – access to your site. You may not need to change the colors or update the slider photos. But you certainly should be able to access all of your content so you can change it, add new or remote it.

QUESTION 5: WHAT PLATFORM WILL THE WEBSITE BE CREATED IN?

WordPress is the most popular today, followed by Joomla and Drupal. You may also hear about others like Wix, Squarespace and Weebly. The key is: If you need to hire someone to do change, modify or upgrade your site, will they be able to do it? If the website is built on a common platform, such as WordPress, it will be a piece of cake to hire someone to work on your site. If your site is built on a platform no one likes or few people know how to use, it will be extremely difficult to hire someone.

  • We Recommend: Choosing a company that will build your site in WordPress.

QUESTION 6: HOW DO YOU CREATE THE CONTENT FOR THE HOME PAGE AND OTHER PAGES? HOW DO YOU MAKE IT CUSTOM TO ME?

The goal with this question is to gauge how custom your site is going to be. Is it going to tell your story? Is it going to help you stand out among all the other shops in town? When a prospect client visits your site, what will it say to convince them that you’re better than the shop or dealer down the street? Some web companies have cookie-cutter copy they use, and they insert your name, city and maybe a specific list of services. Others take the time to ask you questions or have you complete a questionnaire. The former is not likely to elevate your shop or do anything to help you stand out. The latter gives you a fighting chance.

  • We Recommend: Working as closely as you can with the company to craft home page copy that truly tells your story. Why are you better, more convenient, friendlier than the other guys in town? Do you have higher caliber techs or more convenience offerings? It’s more work on your part, but the results will be far better in the end. We’ve worked with a number of web companies over the years on behalf of our clients, and the vast majority of the time, they’ll use home page copy you provide or work with you to edit what they create.

QUESTION 7: WHAT DO YOU DO FOR SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION (SEO)? HOW WILL WE KNOW IF IT’S WORKING? 

We could write an entire series of blog posts explaining how to implement SEO and gauge how well it’s working. By asking this question, you can see if your web company is willing to take the time to explain in lay terms what they’ll be doing to ensure Google can find your website or see if they try to brush you off by using a lot of technical jargon and acronyms.

  • We Recommend: Setting benchmarks with your SEO provider to gauge the success of the program. Two ways to do this: 1) Measure web site traffic. Are the number of visitors in your geographic area increasing steadily over time? and 2) Look at how well you’re ranking for your keywords. This should also improve over time, especially if you are going from no or little SEO to a more robust SEO effort.

QUESTION 8: WILL THIS BE A RESPONSIVE DESIGN WEBSITE OR HAVE A SEPARATE MOBILE SITE?

Google’s goal in life is to give users the information they’re searching for. If someone searches, “auto repair shop near me” on their cell phone, Google knows they’re probably looking for a phone number, address, hours or driving directions. They want specific information, and they want it quickly. For these reasons, Google prefers mobile or responsive design sites. No web site company today should offer to build a site that isn’t responsive or doesn’t come with a separate mobile site.

  • We Recommend: Choosing a web company that will build a responsive design web site for you.

QUESTION 9: WILL YOU INSTALL GOOGLE ANALYTICS ON THE WEB SITE? IF SO, WILL I HAVE ACCESS TO IT, OR WILL I HAVE TO USE YOUR CUSTOM DASHBOARD? 

Google Analytics is free, and it’s the leader in measuring how many people visit your site, how they find your site, how long they stay and which pages they visit, etc. There are people who’s entire job is to analyze this data and figure out how to get a web site to perform better. While this isn’t likely in your future, you do want Google Analytics on your site and you want access to it. Why? You want to be able to see how well your site is performing over time, and if you do Google AdWords with another company, you want to be able to connect the two accounts. Also, when it comes time to build a new web site again, you want to maintain this same analytics account so you can have access to data for the old site and the new site. Information helps you make better decisions.

  • We Recommend: Ensuring full access to your own Google Analytics account. If your web site developer wants to offer you access to their dashboard, that’s OK. But don’t say yes in lieu of Google Analytics access.

If you get through these questions and your web site company isn’t making the cut, what do you do? Go on the unenviable search for a new web provider.

At Jumpdog Marketing, we can help you, of course. But if you want some other options and references, we can also provide those to you. We’ve been doing this a long time. We know what works and what doesn’t. And we know what’s in your best interest and what isn’t. We’re happy to help you get your web site on the right track. If you have any questions for us, please don’t hesitate to call 773-313-0755 x118 or email today.

Hate networking? 8 tips on how and why to turn the love around

Hate networking? 8 tips on how and why to turn the love around

Networking used to be the bane of my existence. When a networking event cropped up, I’d dread it for days. Like many people, I disliked small talk and hated trying to strike up a meaningful conversation in a room full of strangers.

Then I became a business owner, and my views were suddenly turned on their heads.Jumpdog Marketing - Why you should love networking

Being in a B-B situation, I didn’t seek out networking groups for potential leads. Instead, I was looking to meet other business owners with whom I could share my challenges and triumphs.

Not only have I met other fabulous entrepreneurs, I’ve connected with talented professionals whose own businesses are great partners and resources for mine. At the same time, I truly enjoy these networking opportunities.

To be fair, I’m sure my status change from “employee” to “owner” is a factor in my new-found affection for networking. But I’m confident it isn’t the factor.

As fellow business owners, what kind of networking are you doing? Are you the one everyone in town knows? Or are you conveniently busy every time there’s a Chamber after-hours?

Yes, networking is generally time consuming. But done strategically, it can be very effective. Remember, people do business with people they know, like and trust. And as an auto repair shop owner, you’re similar to insurance agents and bankers at networking events: Nearly everyone in the room is a potential client.

As a true convert, here are some helpful tips from me to you:

  1. Choose networking groups and events that you actually enjoy and that offer opportunities for you. Not every group out there will be a good fit. Try several before committing to one or two.
  2. Go in with the goal of helping other people, not yourself. This may seem contrary to logic, but it accomplishes three things. First, people will drop their guard if they don’t think you’re moving in for the hard sale. Second, it makes networking more genuine. Third, if you help someone, they will remember you and will look to repay the favor.
  3. Introduce yourself to the most connected person in the room. This gem comes from expert marketer Maribeth Kuzmeski, who provides very practical advice in her book The Connectors. When you find the “Mayor of the Room,” he or she can (and often will) introduce you to several other people. It can be a lot more effective and efficient than trying to mingle aimlessly.
  4. Remember there’s an opportunity around every corner—and you never know when it might find you. In his book, You Can’t Teach A Kid to Ride a Bike at A Seminar, sales guru David Sandler recounts a tale from his early days where he was exhausted from the day but forced himself to strike up a conversation with a man on the elevator. That individual turned out to be a very lucrative client for Sandler at a crucial time, and they continued to do business for many years. I don’t recall the actual numbers, but let’s say it was the auto repair equivalent of bringing in a 25-car fleet.
  5. Don’t start the conversation by pushing for the sale. This is similar to No. 2, but it’s key. Provide a basic intro and then leave it up to the person you’re speaking with to ask you questions. If they’re interested, they will ask. At a recent marketing seminar, I found myself sitting next to two sales reps from a business coaching company. Without any hesitation, they took a tag-team approach and jumped right in with the sales pitch. Not only did I feel ganged up on, I realized early on that they were not a good fit for me and was annoyed that they went on for so long that I couldn’t meet anyone else at our table before the seminar started.
  6. Be an active, interested listener. What makes someone remember you? The level of interest you take in them. Think about it: Who are the people you remember? The ones who asked you questions, who were interested in what you had to say. They are not the ones who monopolized the conversation or failed to ask you a single question. To really solidify a connection, the next time you see your new acquaintance, ask them about something unique they mentioned when you first met. This also works if you’re following up via email or connecting on LinkedIn.
  7. It’s okay to cut and run. Let’s be honest. There are going to be times when you’re certain there’s a neon sign above your heading inviting all the…unique…individuals in the room to audition for the role of your new best friend. When this happens, politely excuse yourself to refill your plate, grab a beverage, make an important phone call, etc. Obviously, don’t be rude, but don’t feel obligated to chit chat the day way, either. If you have people you are there to meet, make sure you do so.
  8. Follow up is key. It doesn’t matter how many business cards you leave with if the sit in a pile on your desk gathering dust. Within 1-2 days after an event, reach out by email to the individuals with whom you had a strong connection or where there was the possibility of doing business together. Connect with them on LinkedIn. Add them into your Contacts file. Sending a simple email message is more than 95 percent of the rest of the people they met will do.

While being the business owner may give you more prominence in some circles, don’t overlook the opportunities to be had by delegating networking to key personnel. You may even want to consider hiring someone part-time and offering a commission for each new client they attract. If they attend regularly, implement some basic strategies and truly enjoy what they’re doing, your results might be surprising.

Have some great networking tips? We’d love to hear them.

‘Where’s the beef?’ The top taglines of all time and why you should care

‘Where’s the beef?’ The top taglines of all time and why you should care

Great taglines and advertising campaigns include Wendy's "Where's the beef?"Where’s the beef?

Like a rock.

Let your fingers do the walking.

Only you can prevent forest fires.

I coulda had a V-8!

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

The nighttime sniffling sneezing coughing aching stuffy head fever so you can rest medicine.

How many of these taglines of years past do you remember? I would bet you could picture scenes from the TV commercial or hear the jingle in your head as you read.

But with these taglines in mind, we want to raise the question: Does your marketing and advertising differentiate you from your competition? Do you stand out from the crowd—the quick lube down the street, the dealer on the corner, the other independent repair shops in your market?

If someone views your web site, reads your brochure or meets you at a networking event, do they come away with a memorable impression of your business, one that clearly distinguishes you from all the other shops and dealers in town?

In fairness, the taglines above were created by companies with massive advertising budgets. These are the players who ruled the airwaves and TV networks before we had 300 channels on our TVs and cell phones that store entire music collections.

Jumpdog Marketing - Taglines 2But it doesn’t take a huge advertising budget to have a little fun with your brand or to be genuine and tell your story. All too often in automotive repair, we’re all saying the same thing:

  • We’re honest.
  • We fix it right the first time.
  • We offer full-service auto repair.
  • We’re your dealer alternative.
  • Come in for a $19.95 oil change.

In a seminar many years ago, the instructor made his eye-opening point with a story about the Yellow Pages. He said something to the effect of, “If you cover the name of the auto repair shops and read the text of the ads, can you tell one repair shop from another?” And in most cases, we couldn’t.

And while I sincerely hope you are not still advertising in the Yellow Pages, I do hope you get the point. You need an easy-to-remember, easy-to-communicate way of standing out from your competitors. It’s not easy. Just determining what differentiating point to promote is challenge enough. Finding a clever, catchy way to express it is enough to send you back to “full-service auto repair.” If you’re not sure where to begin, here are some ideas:

  • Brainstorm with your team. Ask them what sets you apart, how your clients benefit by using your services, what they consider the most unique part of your business. Use this to establish your identifier, and then see if you can take it to the next step and craft the tagline.
  • Ask your clients. What do your clients say when they’re talking to you? What do they write in their online reviews or their customer satisfaction surveys? Chances are, if it’s meaningful to them, it will resonate with potential clients, too.
  • Hire a marketing firm or marketing freelancer. (OK, this may seem like an obvious, self-serving suggestion, but it is a Jumpdog Marketing - Taglines 3legitimate option.)
  • Seek help from advertising or marketing students at a nearby university. Sometimes you get what you pay for—and sometimes you may be surprised at the ingenuity of youthful, creative minds.
  • Make a contest out of it. Call on your team members, clients and family members. Offer fun and desirable prizes. Promote it in store, in your newsletter and online (web site, Facebook page, etc.). Allow a few months so that you can build momentum and give people a chance to reply. While it may not produce THE winning slogan, it may get you a lot closer.

Do you have some examples of clever small business taglines? If so, send them to us and we’ll include them in an upcoming post. While it helps to have Madison Avenue on your side, you’d be surprised what you can produce with a little creativity, ingenuity and outside-the-box thinking.

Customers are like kids: They see, hear and sense everything

Customers are like kids: They see, hear and sense everything

I stopped by a sandwich shop today to grab a bite in between client visits. The manager gave me a friendly, genuine greeting, and the two young men who took and filled my order were equally cheery.

In the short time I was waiting for my order, however, I heard the manager on the phone with a customer. He hung up and rushed over to the 6 college-aged sandwich makers and asked almost in a panic if they’d seen an extra tuna fish sub lying around. “The customer grabbed the pickle instead of his sub, and now he wants us to deliver it to him,” he said loudly and hurriedly, clearly frustrated with the customer.

It was lunchtime. The place was busy. Having to dispatch a driver because of a customer’s mistake was not in his game plan. On one hand, I can’t say I blame him. But on the other hand, the frustration and tension spilled over into the atmosphere in the sandwich shop, not only for the team working there but for anyone within earshot of the counter. It put a damper on an otherwise very positive experience. And it made me wonder: Is this happening in your auto repair shops?

It’s not always easy to stay cool, calm and collected—especially in the midst of a hectic afternoon with phones ringing, a client standing at the counter and that late day waiter oil change pacing in the waiting room. But the reality is: Your clients are like kids in that sense that they see everything you do. They hear everything you say. And they pick up on any underlying tension among your team.

It’s going to mar their customer experience, and if it happens often enough or is severe enough, it’s going to chip away at your client retention.

Jumpdog Marketing Founder Angi Semler WelchThink about the times you’ve been in a restaurant, a store or even the dentist’s office and watched a manager publicly berate an underling or heard a front-line employee complain bitterly about a customer. What kind of impression does that make? It’s worse in some cases than others, but as a customer, you can’t help but absorb some of that negative energy.

When I was a service advisor, our clients would interact with the advisors, the shuttle drivers, and occasionally a technician or the guys in the car wash. I lost count of how many times a client said, “Everyone here is so happy and friendly.” They picked up on the positive energy from all angles. Talk about a powerful message to the consumer. You can’t fake that kind of cheer.

So ask yourself: What kind of message is your team sending to your clients? Are they friendly, upbeat and showing a genuine sense of enjoyment with their job? Or are they worn out, cranky and short with each other and your clients?

If it’s the latter, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to the root cause. Find out exactly what you need to do to turn those frowns upside down. Remember the end goal: Once you have a client in your auto repair shop, you want to give them every reason to come back again.

Good luck!
Angi

 

Google Carousel shakes up local search, the necessity of Google+

Google Carousel shakes up local search, the necessity of Google+

Your business in already on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, maybe even Instagram or Pinterest. That’s a whole lot of social media to keep up with. You’ve heard you should be on Google+, groan, and you think, how can I possibly add yet another social media channel, and, do I really need to? The answer is emphatically yes, and here’s why.

Pizza60610

If you’ve performed a Google search for a coffee shop or restaurant recently, you might be familiar with the above image, in this case a search for pizza in zip code 60610. Known as Google Local Carousel, this visually rich format far exceeds the marketing capability the boring blue-texted SERPs (search engine results page) Google has typically provided. A sea change for local search methodology means your business is displayed side-by-side with your competitors, with ratings, reviews and images right there for all to see. Although this format hasn’t been rolled out yet for auto repair shops, rest assured, it’s coming.

Don’t have a great photo? Not many ratings or not well rated? Well, if your competitor is successfully out-marketing you in those areas, you’ve got a major problem

High quality images are a must. Images from the business’ own Google+ page take precedence, followed by images uploaded from another Google+ user. If none are available, Google will use its own map image. See California Pizza kitchen above. Note that although you might have stunning, high quality images on your website, Google only pulls images from Google servers. Translation: no Google+ page = no images or control over image content on the Carousel. Also ask yourself which of the above images would entice you to go a particular establishment? Pick relevant images that best convey your business.

Once an option within the Carousel is selected, a sidebar pops up with all the relevant information your customers need to reach you, known as the Knowledge Graph. Map, phone number and location, website, hours of operation along with a concise description of your business should be on your Google+ page. Because the knowledge graph might display all the information the user might need, it’s possible that the user may never actually go to your web page. This could also affect any pay per click (PPC) or other key performance indicators (KPIs) you have in place.

Horizontal vs. Vertical Placement

Another consideration is horizontal vs. vertical placement. Being first in a vertical listing used to directly correlate with higher click-through rates. With Carousel displaying results horizontally, being listed first doesn’t mean that a particular business has the highest click-through rates. In fact, an interesting study conducted by localu.org showed that the eighth spot on the Carousel had the most clicks, while the third spot came in second place in click throughs.

Frequently Optimize and Refresh Content

Web pages with frequently updated content rank highest on Google’s SERPs. If your web page is full of static information and stale content, your business is drifting to the very murky bottom of the Google pond. Regularly updating content, through blogs, reviews or other means, is necessary to keep your business buoyant in the Google world. Remember too that Google’s search tentacles will reach all the information regarding the search query, including negative comments and reviews. Of course, diligent monitoring of your page is a given. Protecting the integrity of your brand is key. Make sure you are responding appropriately to both positive and negative comments and reviews to maintain your hard-earned reputation.

The business of being authentic: What you can learn from Holstee’s viral mission statement

The business of being authentic: What you can learn from Holstee’s viral mission statement

In marketing, we often believe we have to be the most clever or have the best play on words to effectively stand out in the crowd. But I firmly believe there’s a new approach that glitz and glamor cannot compete with: Being authentic.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the Brooklyn, N.Y. company’s mission statement that resonated so thoroughly with consumers it went viral.

In fact, the mission statement elicited so much conversation that Holstee, an eco-friendly clothing and accessories company, turned it into a $25 poster and sold more than 11,000 copies in 2011. Read it and tell me you’re not moved.

This is a prime example of what consumers today respond to. They are craving companies that are real, companies that care, and companies that say something meaningful.

If you want to be heard among the roar, try this: Be authentic. Be transparent. Be genuine.

Whether you’re crafting your tagline, writing copy for your newsletter or greeting the day’s first client, your message doesn’t have to be clever, witty or ingenius. But it does have to be real, honest and heartfelt.

What is it that drives you? Your business? Your team? What is your big picture? Define that. Run your business by it. Ingrain it in your team, and see what a difference it makes. You might not find yourself selling posters by the thousands, but chances are, your message will resonate a lot more strongly with your team, your clients and potential customers. And when it does, your efforts will come back to you ten fold.

Keys to setting a realistic marketing budget

Keys to setting a realistic marketing budget

Now that we’ve set our 2013 business goals, the next step in the process is figuring out the marketing plan – and the budget to get it accomplished.

How much should you budget for marketing your auto repair shop? It depends. Marketing Budget

A basic rule of thumb is between 2% and 8%, but this varies according to the size of your shop, your market area, your 2013 revenue goals and how many shops you have. For many shops 2% simply isn’t enough. For others, 8% likely will to be too much.

There are a number of ways to set annual budgets. One way is to look at last year’s budget and increase it or decrease it accordingly. Another way is set it based on a percentage of revenue. A third is called zero-based budgeting, where you essentially start from $0 each year, build your plan and put a cost to it.

For your shop, I’d like to recommend a combination of percentage based and zero based.

1) Let’s start with a percentage-based budget. How much growth do you need in 2013?

  • If you’re a 3-5 bay shop in a rural market, you may have all the business you need. And in your market, word of mouth probably dominates. In a case like this, a minimal marketing budget is likely to be enough.
  • If you’re in an urban area with 8+ bays, chances are, you need a moderate marketing budget just to keep your name out there, to acquire new clients to offset the attrition and to keep pace with the competition.
  • If you’re in an urban market with 12+ bays to fill, just expanded the shop or opened a new location, you’re most likely going to need 5%-8% to get the word out.

Pick a percentage and keep it in the back of your mind as you go through these next steps. Use it as a guideline, not a hard-fast threshold, at this point.

2) Next, let’s build a zero-based budget: Refer to your marketing plan from the goal-setting stage. Did you outline each of your 2013 marketing efforts? How much is each of those going to cost? It’s important to put relatively accurate estimates on each campaign. Try adding a high and low cost point if you’re not certain or are considering different frequencies for certain campaigns.

  • If you add up each of your campaigns, how does that compare to the 2%, 5%, 8% budget you chose in Step 1? If you’re way under budget and are confident your programs will deliver the car count you need, that’s fantastic. (Please share your secrets to success!)
  • If you’re way over budget, move on to Step 3.
  • If you’re slightly over, ask yourself if that overage is OK provided it produces the projected results. If not, go through and trim where feasible until you reach a number you’re comfortable with. If so, you’re done for now. Get started with your 2013 marketing plans! But make it a point to go back and review through the year to make sure you’re on target…both in terms of spending and results.

3) First, before cutting the budget, let’s make sure we’ve set the appropriate budget amount. Compare the budgeted percentage of revenue to the total of the budget in its current state. Did you allocate 2% of revenue and then find that your line-itemed marketing plans added up to 5%? Is 5% perhaps a more realistic budget, or is there a lot of padding in the proposed budget? (Chances are, it’s a combination of both.)

Again, it’s important to review the goals for new clients, car count, etc. and review the anticipated outcome of each marketing campaign – based on previous experience and results. This will help determine if your percent of revenue budget is too low or if your line item costs are too high. For example, if you’ve attracted 75-100 new clients per year with a $10,000 annual direct mail campaign, you have to keep this year’s projections realistic. Planning for 500 new clients with a $5,000 direct mail campaign is not realistic.

  • Go back through each line item and trim the fat. What absolutely has to be done, what would be nice to do and what is expendable?
  • Look for ways to divide bigger campaigns into smaller, more manageable ones. Then you can assess the results and see if it’s worth going over budget to do another effort. For example, if you’ve allocated $750 per month for an online advertising program, such as Yelp or Angie’s List, but have no previous experience/results from these campaigns, consider going with a more entry-level package to test the waters. Try the $300/mo program, for example. See if/how it works, and THEN consider going to the pricier program. You can also consider shorter contracts: Instead of signing a 12-month deal for the $750/mo, agree to 3 months or 6 months at $300 or $750 – the latter only if you’re really convinced that’s the way to go.

Throughout this process, you’ll want to refer back to your marketing data. Know which marketing efforts produce the most results—and at the most reasonable cost. Be cautious about keeping things on the plan that you like but that may not produce for you or that may be very costly in terms of time or money.

Gradually, through the back and forth of the above, you’ll reach a workable budget for 2013. And the next step: Get going on that plan!

Making 2013 successful requires setting goals, budgets now

Making 2013 successful requires setting goals, budgets now

Goal settingThe holidays are in the rearview mirror and we are firmly on our way to (hopefully) meeting the goal of making 2013 a more successful year than 2012. But if you haven’t done much (or any) 2013 planning already, don’t delay any more. We’re already almost through January. How are you going to make the rest of the year better than 2012?

It’s no secret that 2012 was extremely challenging for most shops. Many reported their worst first quarter ever. And while we are often affected by economic and external factors – all outside our control – we can’t sit idly by and watch while our car count drops.

So what are you doing to hit your numbers this year?

Let’s look at the very basics:

1) What are your business goals for 2013? Think in terms of revenue, car count, # of new clients and/or # of repeat clients. What can you measure? What can motivate your team? What can help guide your business and marketing decisions? What do you need to buy that new diagnostic scan tool or to add more support staff?

If, for example, you want to increase revenue by 10%, break that down into smaller pieces. If you’re a $2 million shop, a 10% increase equates to a $200,000 increase. That means:

  • About $16,700 more revenue per month or about $3,846 more per week.
  • If your average repair order is $400, that’s about 42 more cars per month or 9-10 more cars per week. That’s about 2 more cars per business day.

That seems a lot more feasible than the bigger $200,000 figure, doesn’t it?

If your average repair order is not at $400, ask yourself if your ARO is the going rate for your market area. If yes, then you’ll need to increase car count accordingly. If your ARO is lower than the average, why? Can you hit your goals by increasing ARO instead of car count? More likely, you can hit your revenue goals if you increase both the ARO and car count. (We’re obviously not advocating selling unnecessary work, but rather, making sure we’re inspecting cars thoroughly and making appropriate recommendations to our clients vs. just putting out the fire.)

2) Now that we’ve set our goals, how are we going to achieve them? This is where your marketing plan and budget come into play.

  • What marketing methods did you use in 2012 – and more importantly – what results did they produce? Separate your new client marketing from what you did to keep existing clients coming back. Both are critical to the success of your business!
  • Of the top three methods, would increasing the budget or the amount of marketing produce even better results? Again, keep both new client marketing and client retention marketing in mind…but separately. For example, if you had a strong direct mail program, can you expand that in 2013 and drive even more new clients to your bays? Conversely, if you had gone full bore with Yelp.com advertising, you may not be able to increase the amount of advertising – or the results – there. How much did you market to existing clients? Did you do a successful spring mailer but opt against a holiday mailer? For 2013, consider trying both. Remember, we’re looking for 2 cars more per day, and those cars can come from new or repeat clients.
  • Are there new programs you want to try for 2013? It’s smart to set aside a portion of your budget for testing new marketing opportunities. Don’t jump in with a 12-month contract on anything, but rather, dip your toes in the water. (And run screaming if a salesperson insists that its 12 months or nothing.)
  • Sketch out a marketing plan. What are you going to do and how often and when?
  • Next comes the budget. How do you budget for your marketing efforts? There are a number of theories and ways to go about it. Many, many shops don’t allot enough to marketing. And many consider it an expense vs. an investment. That’s understandable to a degree – especially if your marketing has been producing lackluster results. But when your marketing is working, every dollar spent on it should produce more revenue and more clients for you. And when those new clients return time and again, that results in even more revenue.

Next time, we’ll go into detail about setting the best budget for your business to achieve your marketing goals.