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The power of referrals – How tradesmen can win new customers online

May 4, 2016

Traditionally, tradesmen have thrived on word-of-mouth recommendations, but in today’s marketplace online referrals can have a big influence on whether a customer decides to employ your services.

By the nature of their work, trades people cannot be expected to be experts in generating business online so we asked Jonny Lawrence, a digital marketing expert at Logic4training, to give an insight into how online referral sites and social media can work for the trades.

Word of mouth referrals vital for tradesmen

We conducted a survey of gas engineers, electricians and plumbers last year which revealed that many you are using the internet to drum up business, but a large part of your custom still comes from traditional means such as word-of-mouth and print advertising.

People working in the trades know the value of customer recommendations, and rightly so; word-of-mouth referrals have kept the trades in business for as long as anyone can remember.

It’s natural for end consumers to want to share their stories, good and bad! But customers are no longer simply chatting to their neighbours over the garden fence, and the internet provides the perfect outlet for customers to say their piece!

It’s instant, satisfying, and most importantly for the tradesperson, has the potential to reach millions of people.

Word of mouth moving online as customers use internet to research trades

Statistics increasingly show that the modern customer wants to research your business prior to engaging your skills. A survey of US and Canadian consumers conducted by BrightLocal last year revealed that 92% of consumers read online reviews to judge the quality of a local business.

And people didn’t blindly trust just one review; 87% read up to 10 reviews during their research, and 80% said they trusted these reviews as much as they would trust personal recommendations. While these are North American statistics, it’s fair to assume that UK consumers would have similar habits.

Chances are, whether you’ve created it or not, your business already has a profile online, so it’s important to manage this to create a positive reputation for your business.

Online referral websites for tradesmen

You can utilise social media for free, or you might decide to spend a bit of your hard earned cash on becoming a member of a trusted online review site. Popular websites that you can use to try and drum up new business include;

1. Checkatrade

Specific to the trades, Checkatrade creates a reputation of excellence for its brand through the feedback received from customers.

Trades people are subject to a background check before being admitted as members, and can be suspended if their work falls below a certain level. Members can use Checkatrade branding on their promotional materials, and the brand itself is well marketed.

The site encourages feedback by providing pre-paid, addressed and ready-to-return customer comment cards designed to build your reputation. Recommendations are shared with the general public online; 2.2 million reviews have been posted to date and last year, 6 million people searched for tradespeople on the site.

Membership costs start at £12 + VAT per week. 90% of their members renew their membership every year.

2. Which? Trusted Traders

Which? is better known for its product reviews, but has recently been working with organisations such as HETAS and Gas Safe Register on its Trusted Traders review site.

Before becoming a member your business will be carefully vetted to ensure certain standards are met. You can then create an online profile which displays contact details and logo as well as review and an overall rating.

The service is wide reaching; your profile is visible to 800,000 Which? members as well as general UK consumers.

Annual fees for traders vary from £480 – £840, but a positive rating from this trusted brand could add credibility to your business, making the cost worth your while.

3. Rated People

Your business does not have to be checked or vetted to join Rated People. Work comes from job leads that match your specified work area and trade, which cost an average of £15+VAT each to buy.

Create a personal profile to showcase quality photos of past projects, as well as sharing company information such as contact details and your qualifications. Customer reviews help build your reputation on the site making you more attractive to customers and allowing you to win more work.

Traders report winning on average 1 in 3 job leads they purchase. If you can make the system work for your business it can be particularly useful during quiet periods, providing access to jobs you wouldn’t otherwise be aware of, while widening your customer base.

Social media

If you don’t want to spend the money on referral sites like these, you can promote your services for free through social media.

Social media sites are simple to use and are accessed by a huge online customer base, making them a valuable marketing tool for building services installers. They include;

Facebook

Very popular with the general public (aka your customers!) and its business review function is very well used; 17% of the respondents of the BrightLocal survey said they had used Facebook to review a local business in the last 12 months, second only to word-of-mouth.

Facebook provides access to plenty of tools for connecting with potential customers and businesses – “like” other local businesses, share interesting and relevant posts, and of course post photos and content of recent projects. .

Google+

If a customer searches for your business using Google, often Google reviews will feature high up in the results. If you want your business to have a good presence on Google, claiming your listing on Google+ is a good place to start.

Google+ is the search engine giant’s social network. It provides attractive visuals and formatting functions make sure content appeals to the eye, forming a larger part of whether a customer chooses your business.

LinkedIn

Referrals don’t just come from customers and you’re going for larger jobs, LinkedIn is the place to research and target decision makers. More formal than Facebook, and industry based, a good professional profile on LinkedIn can help to create a good impression with potential customers.

You can find lots more help on how to use social media to get new customers, in these guides;

Getting good business from your online reviews

When managed well, online referrals and social media can generate big business. To make sure you’re making the most of your online reviews, keep these final points in mind:

  • Make your customer service something to shout about – if you are friendly, reliable and professional customers are much more likely to talk about you.
  • Respond to reviews – thank a customer for a positive review, and deal with any negative feedback in a professional and diplomatic manner.
  • Politely ask happy customers to spread the word through their own social networks, as well as on your own.
  • Make sure your reviews are authentic – customers will be put off if feedback does not feel genuine.
  • Have a good website and make sure it’s linked up any profiles you have on social media and review sites; it will all help to build a positive picture in your customer’s mind to make sure you are the one they call.

About the author

This guide has been written for ByteStart by Logic4training, who provide training and business advice to the trades. For more information, visit: www.logic4training.co.uk

You can find plenty more tips and ideas on how to win more customers, in these other ByteStart guides;

And if you are just starting out in business, these are a few of our most popular guides for start-ups;