9 November 2001

BUSINESSPROMOTION:WHAT IS BESTOPTION?

Like any business that wants

to attract new customers,

contractors need to promote

themselves. The big

question is how? Peter Hill

weighs up the options

"YER cant be much good if yer ave to advertise to get work…" That stinging comment, made to a contractor one market day, shows just how obscure attitudes can be to advertising and business promotion.

True, some people get away by relying purely on word of mouth and a good reputation. But, like most businesses, whatever goods or services they sell, the majority of contractors need to promote their services one way or another.

Deciding how – and then finding the best way to do it effectively – is the challenge.

Advertising

For most contractors, promotion is limited to a small advertisement in the local paper or regional farming magazine giving the briefest of details about the services and equipment on offer.

That is fine as a means of keeping the name in front of potential customers, especially if used with some frequency, but it achieves little else. Other methods of promotion are needed if messages about the scope of the service, the benefits to customers, and the way the business is run are to be to put across effectively.

Personal contact

There is little doubt that one-to-one personal contact with customers – and potential customers – can be the most effective means of conveying such messages.

But this will be all the more effective if discussions are backed up by a written presentation.

This need not be a glossy, multi-page document, just a neat and concise summary of the important points that need to be put across. With computers, digital cameras, scanners and colour printers now widely available, producing such documents inexpensively but with a professional look is not difficult these days.

Personal contact also provides an important two-way communication flow, giving farmers the opportunity to discuss both good and bad aspects of the service. Apart from its potential to increase the amount of work put the contractors way, this can bring to the surface any niggling problems that can be nipped in the bud before they become more significant irritations.

Direct mail

Finding time to visit all customers, not to mention those who might become customers, is no easy task for those already running a busy service. There is little doubt that time must be found for personal contact with core customers. But for the rest, mailing a decent presentation is a practical alternative.

This might be used to describe new or improved services, make the economic and practical arguments for using contract services, or simply to set out the contractors stall to potential customers.

Either way, take the trouble to set out some arguments in favour of the service – how using a chopper baler for silage will reduce the number of bales to wrap and cart, for example. How a small increase in silage quality, resulting from rapid and conscientious clamping by the contract team, can raise milk yields.

In other words, it is not enough to say what services are available and what machines are used, as this leaves the customer to work out what cost and/or practical advantages he may get from using the service.

Open evening

An opportunity for a bit of a social event, to meet and talk to customers, to share a beer and a burger, and put across any news about new services, investment in new equipment, and the like.

Just as important, perhaps, a chance for customers to chat to the operators who do the work on their farms. For many farmers, the skills and attitude of a contractors tractor drivers are crucial elements in their satisfaction with the service; they can help keep customers or drive them away.

As with any personal contact, an open evening with a barrel of beer and a barbecue can do much to forge better relationships – and it provides the impetus to get that machinery barn cleaned up a bit!

With machines lined up for inspection, consider putting together presentation boards on key aspects of the service or on new services being introduced, along with a rogues gallery of staff and field photographs to jolly things along.

Another option is to enlist the help of your principle machinery supplier – dealer or manufacturer – to make a presentation on some technical topic relevant to the machines and services on offer.

They will often have the experience, skill and resources to make a better presentation than a contractor who spends most of his time behind the wheel of a tractor. Besides, there is added value in such presentations being made by, in effect, an independent third party.