A machine shop customer of ours recently asked us for some tips on marketing a job shop. He said he didn’t have a Super Bowl ad budget, nor a whole lot of resources to manage it. I told him not to worry: it doesn’t take tons of money to put in place some effective job shop marketing tactics, but it may require a shift in thinking. The following tips can get any job shop started on using fundamental marketing tools to improve its marketing and its sales outlook.

Contract manufacturer or marketing organization?

website, email and social media are part of the mix for marketing job shops

Attention to some marketing fundamentals can help any job shop improve its marketing.

The biggest marketing hurdle for many job shops is to simply begin thinking of themselves as marketers (vs. manufacturers). So many shops settle in at certain levels, relying on repeat orders to sustain the business. A vast majority of the U.S. job shops have 2-5 employees, so they’re rightfully more focused on getting the orders out rather than chasing down the next one. Josh Behjat, CFO of Hagbros Precision LLC, reminded me that only five (5) percent of the machine shops in the U.S. do more than $1 million in business. So if you want your job shop to grow, you’ve first got to shift your sights some and commit to marketing.

1. Networking – Online and Old School.

Whether you’re a start-up job shop, an established contract manufacturer, or maybe you’ve recently acquired another shop, networking in its simplest form is the cheapest and a very effective way to grow your business. And by networking, I’m not speaking just of online social networks. Good old-fashioned networking can be rewarding in opening doors and cementing strong business relationships.

First off, ask your existing customers if they know of any other companies that could use your job shop, and ask for an icebreaker. If your customers are truly happy with you, they’ll probably go out of their way to help grease the skids. Nothing beats word-of-mouth referrals.

Take stock of your friendships, acquaintances and business connections and begin to spread the word. You may be surprised at just how ‘wired’ you are, and how simple requests for putting in a good word for you can increase your profile. Your local chamber of commerce is a good place to plug into. Industry associations are ripe organizations in which to develop networking links. Valuable partnerships might emerge from the most casual of networking opportunities.

Online networking is also very valuable. Make sure your job shop has the basics: Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts. Furthermore, sign up for Instagram, Pinterest and GooglePlus while you’re at it. If you’re not altogether comfortable with the social media, check around your office or the shop: there’s probably someone who’d love to take on the role of ‘social media ‘director.’

2. Check your website. Is it working for you?

Chances are – if you’ve even got a website – it may not be doing much for you in terms of building your business. That doesn’t have to be the case. Think of your website as your marketing headquarters.

First off, if you don’t have one, create one. There are many ‘free’ options out there (enter ‘create a free website’ in a Google search, and you’ll find countless options). Don’t be intimidated by the prospect of a do-it-yourself website. If you can work in a Word document and can drag and drop, you can do it. If you’re not comfortable with building your own and don’t want to hire out, there’s probably someone right there in your office who’d love to take on the task.

If you already have a website and are looking to get more out of it, my biggest piece of advice is make sure you keep it current and accurate. Give your visitors options on ways to contact you: email, phone, an online form. Make sure when you write the ‘copy’ for your pages that it’s filled with the keywords that describe your business. This makes it easier for your potential site visitors to find you online. It’s a good idea to work with an established web designer and content strategist who can optimize your website for design and content.

 3. Start a blog.

Create a blog (also free), link it to your website, and use it as a forum to simply post news, viewpoints and information about your business specifically or the industry in general. Blogs are best when they start a dialogue, so try to avoid outright ‘promotion’ of your business on your blog; leave that to your website.

Blog topics are virtually limitless, but think in terms of the following:

  • Hype your accomplishments (completed projects, new business, new equipment)
  • Announce personnel news
  • Provide training updates (e.g. ISO certification)
  • Promote events/sponsorships

If you’re starting your first blog, WordPress is pretty much the industry standard for blogging, so be sure to check out what they’ve to say.

4. Attend a trade show.

Speaking of events and promoting them on your blog and website, trade shows are excellent opportunities to not only market your job shop, but to learn a great deal about the marketplace. Trade shows bring together sellers and buyers in the most time-tested of forums to build business and exchange information.

While big national events may not be in the budget, and, in fact, may be overkill, many industry associations have a schedule of regional conferences or exhibits. And you don’t have to be a marquee presenter or big exhibitor to get a lot out of a trade show. By simply being an attendee and participating in the educational sessions, you can not only get some great networking done, but learn a thing or two. Many conferences have marketing break-out sessions.

For a comprehensive list of organizations and associations that hold regularly scheduled trade shows and conferences, check out the Job ShopTalk industry resource page.

5. Relate to your customer.

So once you’ve got customers, it’s important to continue marketing to them. I’m not talking about sending order acknowledgements, invoices or past due notices, but generating communications designed to secure the existing business and generate future business.

Strengthening bonds with current customers should be a priority, for we all know how much harder it is to obtain new customers vs. keeping the current ones. Primarily, demonstrate to your current customers that you care beyond the order.

If you’ve got a newsletter, email it to them or send them a link to the online version of it. Don’t stop mailing it via U.S. Postal Service, for many of us still like good ol’ hard copies of published materials. Create a blog (see above) and ask your customers to subscribe to it.

And while the timeliness and manner in which you deliver statements and invoices do factor into good customer relations, think beyond that on how to nurture a stronger relationship. Thank you notes. Holiday greeting cards. “How are we doing?” surveys – think of valuable touch points with your customers. All these seemingly non-critical communications can add up to significant relationship building with your customers.

The Small Business Administration is another great resource for marketing advice for small- to mid-size manufacturers.

Now most certainly, each one of these tips can be expounded upon. But attention to your networking, website, events and customer relations can go a long way in forming a solid marketing foundation for any job shop.

If you’ve got some ways of your own you’d like to share on how to easily and affordably market your job shop, leave a comment below.

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