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Online Leaders

March, 2014

How to net electronic prospects.

When Bob Hoebeke started his eponymous homebuilding company in the Dallas suburbs 35 years ago, a listing in the Yellow Pages and plenty of lawn signs were the beginning – and end – of his marketing plan. "Back then, you just scratched and clawed for whatever you could get," Hoebeke says.

How times change. Hoebeke Builders, a high-end custom firm based in Plano, Texas, now has a social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and, of course, Houzz.com, the social network focused on building and remodeling. Hoebeke writes his own blog on topics from contractor requirements in Texas to landscape architecture, complete with plenty of portfolio shots.

business plan
The BuildCHX smart phone app helps homeowners manage the building process. But it also helps Hoebeke Builders gather leads when users download it.
Then, in late 2013, he launched his own smartphone app called BuildCHX. Built on the success of his book, UnHINGED: A Homebuilder's Secrets for Saving Time and Money, the app allows homeowners to map out each step of a building project and assemble the right building team, so they always know what's going to happen next.

When the app was first released for iPhone, one of Hoebeke's Twitter followers asked him when the app would be available for the Android operating system. (It has since launched on that platform.) The question tipped Hoebeke off – he knew this Twitter follower likely had a project in the works, or would soon start one. And an electronic lead was born.

While Hoebeke has the ability to hire a PR firm to help with social media and has an enviable marketing budget, he says what he's doing to generate leads electronically is something anyone in the trades can do.

"Listen, I am by no means a technologically oriented guy," says Hoebeke, 57. "But what I do have is a lot of content. And any other builder can create that – they've got the knowledge and tools, it's just a function of figuring out how best to leverage that experience so it helps people, who then become potential clients."

In other words, when trying to generate leads electronically, content is king. It's not just about having a presence on Facebook or Pinterest, it's about putting up stories and ideas people can use. That can mean anything from a blog post on how to unclog a drain to a YouTube video about properly installing tile in the shower. The key is to provide information to prospects when they're looking for it.

"When they raise their hand and they want information, [we] have to be there with the appropriate assets to educate them and add value," says Moen president David Lingafelter. Lingafelter recommends trade professionals "start making progress in that space if you haven't already. If you have, continue to leverage the space and utilize it by showing your products and showing your value-add."

Although many builders may not have the resources Hoebeke does, there are a few simple steps you can take to increase your online presence – and hence, start generating more leads – today.

1. Start a blog, an e-newsletter or other content marketing collateral such as photos on Houzz.com or Pinterest to generate a following, and start collecting emails. You've already got the knowledge in your head to generate that content. Put it down on paper so you can get it out when you need it.

2. Once you have it in a blog or email, share that content across as many different social media networks as possible. Post portfolio shots to Facebook. The people who "like" those shots are your new prospects.

3. Don't forget the blocking and tackling, such as filling out your Google Place information, claiming your company on Yelp and establishing yourself on Houzz.com.

David Newman, author of Do It! Marketing and social media expert, says it's about adopting a different perspective on the traditional sales approach. "We don't 'close' customers anymore. We help them buy," Newman says. "It's based on being helpful, not forceful, gimmicky or high-pressure."

Jeff Patrizi, owner of Houston-based CAM Construction, has started posting assets such as portfolio shots of finished jobs on Facebook and encouraging existing customers to "like" his page.

"We've really accelerated that concept through the use of social media to help share our work," Patrizi says. He also uses an email service to distribute a newsletter to keep in touch with past clients while reaching out to possible new ones. "It connects us with potential clients and generates leads."

Whatever channel you choose for putting up your electronic shingle, it really comes down to packaging and marketing yourself, and utilizing or harnessing your unique skill set.

"It's just a function of sitting down at a quiet moment and figuring out how best to leverage your experience," Hoebeke says. "You've got to take that information and put it out there in a way that helps you help your clients."