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Off The Ladder

CNBC’s The Profit And The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I’m watching one of my favorite shows, The Profit. Marcus is trying to help two guys who had (I doubt they survived) a line of fishing apparel. One of them is also a radio DJ and Marcus found the man offensive. In truth, I do as well but I think Marcus is being a bit harsh as he sometimes is.

Marcus ended up walking away from the deal and they continued the show with him visiting one of his past success stories. By the way, a great representation of working with people you like as I discussed in an earlier blog.

Anyway, what the heck do the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have to do with The Profit? Good question.

As I was blissfully getting lost and trying to turn the day off in my brain while watching the show I didn’t even notice the commercials. It’s amazing how you can switch things off so easily while decompressing. One commercial however caught my attention.

They played a Nickelodeon commercial for the newest installment of the TMNT series.

Why did this catch my attention?

Although I love me some Michelangelo swinging a nunchaku and a good “COWABUNGA!” every once in a while, the commercial caught me off guard.

I was watching on-demand (one of the best human inventions since sliced bread) and this meant that a media buyer out there somewhere thought a commercial for Nickelodeon’s new TMNT could possibly resonate with the ADULT audience watching an entrepreneurial centric show.

Now, I am no Einstein, but I am pretty sure that the audience for both of these shows are on opposite sides of any spectrum. I know there is the occasional crossover, an audience member of The Profit, me included, that may watch an episode or two of TMNT, but that is purely for nostalgic reasons and, I would venture to say, rare.

After all, I don’t plan my viewing schedule around TMNT anymore.

To my point.

If you don’t know your audience and you don’t know where to find them, you’re wasting your time and your money.

Knowing your audience is the most basic component in any marketing plan, strategy, or campaign. If you don’t know who your audience is how can you know where to find them, how to speak to them, what they need or what they desire?

I can tell you from experience, this is a huge problem in the home improvement market. There is money being wasted hand over fist on a daily basis. The shame of it is, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Do you know your audience?

Do you know who your ideal customer is?

If your answer to both of these questions is something like “I’ll sell to anyone with a heartbeat, a home and a checkbook” you are like 75% of the home improvement contractors out there. And, like them, you’re wasting money too.

Figuring out who your audience is (what I call Ideal Avatar) isn’t hard. It takes a little bit of introspection, a little bit of understanding about your market and a little bit of insight into your past clients.

Stop running with the herd. Stop wasting your hard earned cash. Be in the 25% of home improvement contractors who get a pretty good return from their marketing.

Well, I have to get back to watching my show. In the meantime, do some thinking about your ideal avatar. Maybe you can start swinging a focused and targeted nunchaku at your market instead of a shotgun filled with pellets and get yourself some COWABUNGA’s.

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Off The Ladder

Lesson Learned: How Your Worst Home Improvement Customer Can Turn Out To Be Your Best

It was around 9:30 AM and I was on my way to one of the two siding projects I had going. I wanted to stop at the nearby convenience store/gas station to get myself a Yoo-hoo (love that stuff!). As I am pulling up what do I see parked in front of the store: one of my work trucks. And, to make matters worse, my entire crew were sitting on the bed door laughing it up and smoking cigarettes.

Just at that moment my phone rings (yes, my phone looked just like that – it was the 90’s!). It’s the customer (let’s call him Mr. Smith) from the home my crew is supposed to be at right now. “This is not gonna be good” I thought to myself.

“Mike what the hell is going on?! Where the hell is your crew?! They up and left me high and dry. They left my house without telling me what was going on and THEY LEFT THE DAMN RADIO BLARING!

“Mr. Smith – I uhh, I’m not sure…” I said fumbling for words.

NOT SURE OF WHAT MIKE?! I trusted you with my money and my home and this is how I get treated? I could’ve went with Triple A: they were twenty bucks a square cheaper but I went with you instead because Larry [A great customer who talked about me all the time] recommended you. WHAT THE F*** IS GOING ON MIKE?!”

“Mr. Smith I am about to talk to me crew now and find out what happened. Can I get right back to you?”

“Five minutes Mike or I’m throwing all your crap in the street!”

That was pleasant.

I was a bit wary of Mr. Smith from the beginning. A landscaper friend of mine had done work for him and he told me the guy was a bit nuts. I also had to lower my price for the guy even though I came highly recommended by Larry. Plus, during the proposal meeting, Mr. Smith felt the need to control the conversation and to repeatedly tell me that he has a lot of influence in the neighborhood and the job “…better come out right” or he would be sure no one else around here would sign with me.

I wasn’t sure if he was serious or playing around – he was serious.

“Frankie what the hell are you guys doing here? I just got reamed a new one by Mr. Smith – he is not a happy camper.”

“Boss we had to use the bathroom and instead of letting these guys take the truck one at a time I figured I would get to a good stopping point and we would all come together.”

“WHAT?! Why didn’t you ask Mr. Smith? What the hell Frankie – I thought I could trust you to run this crew.”

“Boss, we asked him. He said no. He didn’t want us in his house making a mess. He wanted us to go out behind the fence and pee.”

Alright, this guy was crazy. I knew it at the onset but I needed the cash and the guys needed the work. I rationalized that it was just me being super critical of the guy and it would all workout. Gotta sign em while they’re hot, right?

The whole job got worse from there.

Mr. Smith proved himself to be the worst home improvement customer I had ever had. At the beginning of the job he refused delivery of material because “…I don’t want that crap sitting in my yard for a whole day. What if you don’t show up tomorrow?” He was constantly rude and belittling to me and my crew. He would not let us use the bathroom. He wouldn’t even let us sit in the shade on his deck to eat lunch. The man was impossible.

I knew it and I took the job anyway.

The best part is at the end of the job he forced me to give him a $500 additional discount because he felt the color sample was misleading and the siding was ‘darker’ than the sample led him to believe.

I know what your saying – you wouldn’t have given it to him. You would have fought him on that. Let me tell you it was the best $500 I ever spent! This guy was a nightmare and I never wanted to speak to him again.

Believe it or not, I had to go back about a month later because he found a small 3 or 4 inch piece of J-channel in his bushes and I had to clean his property. Another story for another time.

I learned my lesson.

Mr. Smith became my best customer to date because of the valuable lesson he taught me. A lesson I carry forward into every business I am involved with. He is my cautionary tale and to me his lesson is invaluable.

In all the work I have done with contractors since I got into digital marketing for home improvement ten years ago, I have heard the same story from every one of them. I always answer with this same anecdote about Mr. Smith and my experiences. They inevitably ask what I did to solve the problem moving forward.

I tell them the same thing I would tell you now. I never again went against my gut. If I didn’t get a warm and fuzzy from the beginning I wouldn’t do work for people. I also learned that I needed to change my sale process. I needed to put systems in place to help me avoid these types of customers.

What are you doing to avoid these types of customers?

Do you have systems in place for your sales process or do you ‘sign em while they’re hot’?

One of the things that worked well for me immediately, and something you can do right now, is to list out the attributes of the worst customers you ever had. If you recognize any of those attributes in one of your home improvement prospects simply walk away.

Will it cost you a few projects and maybe some money at the beginning? Maybe. But you will never again have a Mr. Smith in your life who will cost you money in lost production, discounts, personal time and, worse of all, your sanity.

I know this sounds a lot like ‘work’. It is. But, it is the kind of work that can save you time, money, headaches and just a little bit of sanity. Your company will benefit by not having to deal with ‘bad’ customers. Your bottom line will improve and, more importantly, your mental health will be much better.

A master at marketing and sales that I follow said it best, “There is no such thing as a bad customer. A bad customer for you may be a great customer for someone else. You just have a bad process to acquire them.”

I’ve gotta tell you though, my father said it even better. He told me when I started my first business at 17 years old. He said “Michael, sometimes the best jobs you will ever do are the ones you walk away from.” I’ll tell you what, this golden nugget is something that has stuck with me even 35 years later.

Back then there was not much we could do to pre-qualify people except go with your gut. The great thing is that nowadays digital marketing for home improvement contractors can help with this problem from the onset. We can build marketing systems that qualify at every touchpoint and, in the end, produce highly qualified leads of people you want to work with – your gut has to do the rest.

Home Improvement Ideal AvatarIf you would like help avoiding the Mr. Smiths of your life, building processes for the marketing side of your business is an integral step. Further, creating an Ideal Avatar or customer persona and acquiring pre-qualified leads is the at the very core of any well functioning sales process. A digital marketing firm can help you with that (a shameless plug for you to use my services).

Until you get serious about this and contact someone who can help you, you’ll have to trust your gut.

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Off The Ladder

Why The Busy Season Could Ruin Your Home Improvement Business

WOW! That seems like a stupid thing to say.

I know what your thinking: “How could the busy season possibly ruin my home improvement business? I’M BUSY! Isn’t that the point?!” Well, yes, the point is to be busy with work but the better point is to be busy all year round, right?

I spent twenty five years in construction and 15 of those years swinging a hammer in the home improvement industry. I know what ‘busy’ is like in the busy season. You work from dusk till dawn some days and you never feel like you made any progress on your backlog. But, you feel good because there is a backlog of work you can depend on for next week and even next month.

The problem is the backlog dries up at some point.

I’m a sucker for a good narrative so let’s take a look at this through John’s eyes.

John is a roofing and siding guy from New York. Referrals are rolling in and he is busy. He has a crew of 5 and has two trucks running. Most days John can split the crew and handle two smaller jobs – about 35 to 40 square each – at the same time. He lets his lead, Mike, take a 2 man crew and he takes another two man crew. On large projects he combines the crews and everyone works together.

John likes swinger a hammer. He loves being out there with the guys. He loves the camaraderie and the laughs he can have with his guys. He loves being the Boss. He enjoys the work and it shows in his craftsmanship. What he doesn’t like is all the business crap he has to do.

Take off your tool belt nd work on your company not in it.He hates getting ‘off the ladder’ [see what I did there] and taking off his tool belt. He dreads doing the books, paying the bills, going on estimates, worrying about his website, and he definitely hates trying to figure out this marketing crap on the web never mind social media. He buries himself in his work ‘on the ladder’ and blissfully works through the busy season happily swinging his hammer.

John is happy. His wife hates that he is never home but she loves the chance to catch up on the bills and take the kids to the lake. John can’t go to the lake – he is too busy on the ladder to even think about it but, he is happy he can afford to send them. John thinks to himself “This year is going to be different. I am not going to scramble come Christmas time. I’m going to find the time to do the shopping now while I have the cash.”

The end of August rolls around and John still hasn’t done any Christmas shopping. He knows the backlog must be running dry so he takes a good look at his appointment book and lo and behold his calendar is empty after the first week of October. worse, his September is pretty light and he is going to have to stretch to keep the guys busy. Even worse than that, he only has ten more estimates on his calendar and he realizes he hasn’t been on an estimate in almost two weeks.

“Holy S***! Now what?!” John says to himself “How am I going to keep these guys going? How am I gonna make it to Spring? How am I going to buy Christmas presents for the kids?”

I can go on but I am guessing you see the point here. You see John (could be someone I know personally…just saying) is ignoring the ‘off the ladder’ side of being in business. He is so involved in swinging a hammer and being out there with the guys that he is ignoring the fact he has a business to run. He allows himself use his dedication and hard work as an excuse. But, it never makes him feel better.

Season after season John allows his busy season to take him on this roller coaster of feast and famine. People love him and they love his work. He gets plenty of referral business and he just doesn’t understand why this happens. Why does  Christmas have to be a struggle AGAIN?.

He lets busy season bring his home improvement company to the brink. He allows busy season to bring his family to the brink.

Are you letting busy season ruin your home improvement business?

What are you doing to avoid this?

I get it. Referrals are great. But, they dry up. I have worked with countless home improvement companies and when we start working together they always say they get “…plenty of referrals.” I am sure they do. I am sure you do. Do you want to risk your business and your family on referrals?

The good news is that there is a solution to every problem.

There is a better way.

Digital Marketing by Contractor Websites Plus - image by william ivenDigital marketing doesn’t have to be hard for you. You can hire an agency to take care for it for you. There are plenty of digital marketing agencies out there that can take care of your home improvement website, your social media and your marketing including mine (poorly veiled hint…).

I know the objection you have is paying someone to do something that you know you can do on your own. You can take a weekend and learn all this digital marketing mumbo jumbo, roll your sleeves up and get at it, right?

The problem is you don’t have time for your family now. How would adding something else work out?

You could even go to your cousin’s daughter’s boyfriend’s best friend and he can do this for you. He will work for food and an occasional sawbuck.

Uh huh… I’d say that’s a great plan.

Look, I know you’re busy. I’ve been there. I’ve gone on those estimates after work and I’ve spent my Sunday paying bills and doing payroll while my wife and kids were at the lake. I know this stuff is a pain in the ass but if you ever want to get to a place where you don’t have to swing a hammer anymore, digital marketing has to be part of your planning to get there.

When you decide to get off of the feast or famine roller coaster of referrals and be proactive with your marketing you will gain a sense of security. You will know where and when your next paycheck is coming from. You will be relaxing for the weekend up at that lake house with your wife and kids. You will have the Christmas your kids have always dreamed of without sweating it.

If you want help with this, let me help. I know the market, I know the customers and I know what your day is like. We have done-for-you solutions that will take a minimal time commitment form you and can possibly change your life. Simply fill out this onboarding form and we will set up a time to talk about swinging a hammer and then we will talk about how I can help you improve your bottom line and improve your life.

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Off The Ladder

1 Thing You Can Do Right Now To Improve Your Home Improvement Business’ Local Search Rankings

I’ve worked with many contractors over the years, helping them with everything from new home improvement websites to local search engine optimization (SEO) for their home improvement company’s. In all that time I have seen quite a few Google rules come and go. Some are game changers and some you would have never heard of unless you are in the web industry. The newest is a game changer and will have a negative impact on your home improvement company if you don’t comply.

Google would like to ensure a safer web experience for everyone; especially their users. This makes sense, right? After all, with all the recent data breaches and consumer privacy constantly under attack, you would want Google to make this priority one, right? Of course you do, and so do your potential home improvement clients. The problem for Google is how to do that. One of the ways Google ensures a safe user experience is now requiring all websites to have an SSL Certificate.

What is an SSL Certificate for my home improvement website?

Look, there is really no need for you to know the technical mumbo jumbo unless you really want to sacrifice some brain cells. If so, you can go to this article about SSL Certificates to learn all the mumbo jumbo you want. But, be warned that reading it may cause drowsiness.

In the meantime, let me make it simple.

Have you ever been to a website and in the address bar just to the left of the websites address you see a green“Secure | https://” ? That is a properly installed and confirmed SSL Certificate. It tells the user by displaying the secure https that the site they are on is safe and secure and they can fill out forms and interact with the website without worry.

This is what is displayed when a proper SSL Certificate is installed on a website:

SSL Certificates For Contractors by Contractor Websites Plus

This is what is displayed when there is a missing or improperly installed SSL Certificate:

Not Secure message from Google - missing SSL Certificate

Why does it matter to my home improvement business?

There are several reasons:

    • Google said so
    • If you don’t have one you will no longer show up in the local search results
    • Your potential customers, if they do happen to find your website, may very well abandon it for a safer user experience
    • It is the new standard and will start to affect functionality on your website if you are using third party technology
    • It is the right thing to do to help prevent hacking on the web
    • Google said so

Of all the reasons above, numbers 1 and 6 should be all that really matters to you. Look, Google wants it. And, if you do not provide it, Google will not return your website in their search results. Remember Google provides a service and if you don’t comply with their rules they do not have to do business with you and they won’t.

My website doesn’t have one. What can I do right now to fix it?

Simple. Get an SSL Certificate.

There are lots of ways to do this on your own. Most SSL certificates are free. You can go to a site like Let’s Encrypt to get a free one. Once you have it you have to call your hosting and domain provider and ask them what their process for installing is. Generally, the process involves login in to your host and change or add some files to the root of your website. After installing the SSL Certificate you will have to get in to your website and be sure that all the links on your website including, images, videos, logos, forms and links to other websites all start with https.

As a home improvement contractor doing business in a local market you know how important it is to show up in the local search results. The good news is that once you have the SSL Certificate installed on your home improvement website you will be in compliance with Google and you will be eligible to be included the local search returns again. The even better part – you will be way ahead of your competition.

I know you don’t have time to worry about this stuff. I know you also may be intimidated by the prospect of doing something to the root files of your website and, with good reason. I also know that you must do this. This is not an optional thing and it is not something that will happen on its own. You have to take action on this now. The longer you wait the longer it will take to recover your positioning in the search results.

The good news is we can help you. All you would have to do is fill out a form, talk to us for a few minutes and we will do the rest for you. We do this stuff all the time and have the knowledge and expertise to get it done quickly, correctly and affordably. The value to you could be immeasurable.

If you would like for us to take care of it for you and get your home improvement website back on Google’s local search, get in touch with me to start the process.

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Off The Ladder

The 3 Best Ways to Get Better Leads For Your Home Improvement Business

I spent over twenty five years in construction – 15 of them in the home improvement industry. In all that time I have heard business owners ask “How do I get better qualified leads?” at least a million times. Now, in my work helping home improvement contractors get better leads, I get asked that question from almost every single client.

You know the deal.

You get back from an incredibly long, hard and HOT day on a roof and you have a list of two or three estimates you need to do. You skip dinner because you’re already late. You get to the first house and find a competitors truck in the driveway.

Oh well – on to the next.

You get to house number two and a nice gentlemen greets you with a clipboard in hand. He shakes your hand and exchanges some pleasantries with you then gets right down to business. His first statement to you is “AAA Roofing has the lowest price so far at $250 per square with the rip off. Can you beat that?”

Oh well – on to the next.

You get to house number three and this looks like the perfect fit for you. Maybe it’s just you hoping your entire evening is not a lost cause but the roof is walkable, has two dormers and needs some gutter work – this house is perfect! You see a brand new BMW in the drive and the house is very well appointed – even better. The night is looking up!

A lovely young lady greets you at the door with two small children tugging at her legs. She is pleasant and seems to be listening intently to everything you have to say. So far so good. She makes you a cup of coffee and you go through color samples, you pick out a great 50 year architectural shingle, you choose trim color for the aluminum and you give her a great quote and she is wowed by the price. You even give her a 10% discount because you want to be sure to leave with contract in hand. Then the inevitable happens: “My husband was supposed to be here but got held up at work. He is interviewing a bunch of other guys and he will decide soon.”

S***!

Maybe the last one works out for you and maybe not. The point is you may have wasted an entire evening on the road for absolutely nothing. You have to figure out a way to stop wasting your time.

The good news is you can implement some online strategies to get better leads for your home improvement business.

  1. Facebook: Look, Facebook is a marketing juggernaut. There are currently 2.25 BILLION users on the platform and over 200 MILLION of them are in the United states. If you want to generate leads for your home improvement business there is no better place than Facebook.

    What is ideal about Facebook Ads is that people interact with your brand because they choose to. This is not a lead generation site like Houzz, Home Advisor or Angie’s List where you are competing on price from jump. People are willingly interacting with your brand showing some level of interest and trust. This gives you a much better position of authority and makes for a much easier sale.

     

  2. Email: So when was the last time you spoke to any of your past clients? I know what it is, you don’t have time, right? Wake up. Your past clients are the best home improvement leads you will ever get. They have already proven they trust you by opening up their wallets and paying you. The biggest barrier to any sale – trust – has already been overcome.

    Send them an email every quarter or so to see if there is anything they need. They may surprise you and the best part is that this is a guaranteed sale. No worrying about competition when dealing with past clients.

     

  3. Who?: Who do you want to do business with? Who is your perfect customer? Seems like a real simple question doesn’t it? But I will venture to guess that you have never thought who your ideal client or ideal avatar is. And, if you have, I’ll bet you have never shared that with your team.

    You say you would like better leads for your home improvement business but you are not even sure what that means. Figure out who you want to market to and market to them. Your leads will improve exponentially.

Yes, getting better leads will increase your revenue, improve your reputation and help you dominate your market. But, there are much bigger and more substantial benefits to getting better leads.

Just think about coming home after closing all three estimates you went on. A much different story than the one I talked about earlier, isn’t it? How much happier would you be after a long day in the field? How much time would you save? How much more time would you have to do the things you love to do? How much more quality time would you have with your family? After all, you do this for them don’t you?

I know you want better leads for your home improvement business. I know because I’ve been there drinking coffee with that young lady at the kitchen table (that is a true story). I also know you may not understand this stuff and you don’t want to learn. I get it. The good thing is you don’t have to. This is what I do all day, every day.

If you want help with this let me help. I know the market, I know the customers and I know what your day is like. We have done-for-you solutions that will take a minimal time commitment form you and can possibly change your life. Let’s set up a time to commiserate about some of the bad estimates we have both been on and then we’ll talk about how I can help you improve your bottom line and improve your life.

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Off The Ladder

Does Google Have the Wrong Number for Your Home Improvement Business?

In my work helping home improvement contractors get more leads and customers for their business, I am constantly amazed at how many of them have bad contact information on the web. In the past ten years, I’ve worked with over one hundred and fifty small businesses and almost everyone has had some point of contact information on the web that is incorrect.

Obviously, we know this is bad, if your potential customers can’t find the right contact information for your business… they won’t be able to do business with you.

I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to have incorrect information out there on the web. For us, having incorrect information on the web almost lost us a recent high dollar client. Let me explain…

In November of 2016 we closed our computer and cell phone repair shop where we also housed the offices for our website development company. Knowing how important local citations are, I immediately changed our address, phone number, some images and industry category on a comprehensive list of directories to be sure everyone would be aware of our changes. It worked! For well over a year we had no problems at all…

Until we did.

I was introduced to a gentlemen – let’s call him Rick –  at a networking event and we hit it off pretty good. He was interested in doing business with us and wanted a follow up. Well, I followed up. We had several calls and decided to do business together. This was a large ticket item in the high 5 figures so needless to say I was pretty stoked and anxiously waited for him to drop off the deposit check to ‘seal the deal’ so to speak.

On the phone I had asked if he needed directions and he said “No. I’ve got you in my GPS.”. GREAT! Check would be here in a few hours just in time for the bank and more importantly, just in time to make payroll this week.

My week was looking good…

I waited. I waited some more. Then, I waited some more and he never showed up. I was disappointed, pissed, dejected and confused.

What the heck happened? What do I do? Do I call him? I don’t want to seem anxious, but, I really need that check. I have already made plans for the money and announced to my accounting department that it would be coming to a bit of sarcastic jeering.

I decided to call.

Me: Hey Rick how’s it going?

Rick: Going great – I am on my way down to Virginia Beach for a long weekend.

Me: Oh, I thought you were stopping by the office this afternoon to sign the paperwork and drop the deposit. I’ve got everything waiting for you.

Rick: I did stop by. When I got there there was a nail salon so I figured I had the wrong address. Then I started talking to my wife about it and she was surprised that a company like yours didn’t have the right information online. She thought we should talk about this before we spend that kind of money. I told her I am pretty sure about you but we make these decisions together and if she has doubt we are going to have to work on her a bit.

Exactly what I did not want to hear!

Me (grinning through the anger with veins popping out of my temples): No problem. I totally understand. It can wait until next week. I’ll see you then.

Long story short I was able to save the contract but had a real tough weekend and had to scramble around for payroll. I wanted to know how he got our old address online. It took some time but I found an errant listing that reverted back to our old information (YES THEY DO THAT!).

Sometimes databases have bad records and when this directory went to re verify our information they changed my address back. This caused a domino effect and dozens of others who depend on this particular directory for information changed as well. I would have never known because I was not maintaining my local citations regularly.

I learned my lesson.

To avoid having this ever happen again I now maintain my listings on a monthly basis.

When I find one that is wrong, I fix it.

When I find a new opportunity for a listing, I take it.

I now know that ALL my information on the web is correct and current. I never worry about someone trying to find me and calling the wrong company or showing up at the door of another business. I never have to worry about losing money or contracts because someone has the wrong contact information for my company.

What are you doing to avoid this happening to you?

When was the last time you checked to see if Google™ has the wrong phone number or address for your home improvement company?

Look, I get it. I spent over twenty five years swinging a hammer and I know the very last thing on the list of things you want to do when you come home after a long day on a roof or a longer day on a 40ft. extension ladder is to go through each directory listing on the web to be sure they are correct. Who has the time for that crap?! Who has the energy?!

We do. This is what we do all day, everyday. We help contractors like you make more money. We have created a program for home improvement companies just like yours to help manage and maintain their local citations. If you want help with keeping your local citations up to date, rank better on local Google™ search and stop losing money to bad information, fill out the ‘FREE Business Listing Audit’ form below and I will personally get back to you. We can talk a bit about some of the things we have both seen while swinging a hammer and then talk about how we can help you make more money by correcting your local citations.

I am looking forward to it!