Just how did we poor dumb tradespeople ever do business without it? Or, to put it another way, how are we poor dumb tradespeople still doing business without it? Well, personally speaking, I'm doing just fine thanks.


Ugh. Those marketing cold-callers. You know the ones - they keep on at me about how I can get a website, or seeing as I have a website, get it ranked in a prominent place on a Google search. To them, if I’m not on page one of a Google return, then I’ll be out of business within a week.


The thing is though, like most legitimate trades who enjoy a good local reputation, my diary tends to be kept full and without any paid assistance from Google or from anybody who reckons they have an inside track on manipulating my Google position.


I had one guy, Brad, who called me saying “I’m sure you’ve noticed how your customers find you has changed...” as he tried to push the point that nowadays someone looking up a tradesperson would do so via Google. When I pointed out to him that this 'great change' was a fallacy and in fact most of my customers still come to me via traditional means and always will, this cretin had the cheek to tell me I was wrong.


Let me assure you Brad, my spam-phoning friend, I know better than you where my customers come from. You know nothing about my business and, if you were any good at yours, you wouldn’t be bothering me out of the blue and out of desperation.


Why do I believe there won’t be any great change of where my clients come from? Well, let’s have a gander from where they currently originate shall we...?


1. Word of mouth referral. The first thing most people do when seeking out a trade is to ask their friends and family for recommendations. After all, receiving a reference from someone you know and trust, and being able to see the quality of the workmanship and service previously performed, often closes the deal without any further shopping around. This will always be the number one way a small tradesperson receives work. The likes of Google makes no difference here other than giving a potential client a way of searching for further information such as additional reviews or to see if that particular tradesperson has a website, but then that would be via a targeted search on a specific trader and not a cold search using generic terms. Ranking is irrelevant if someone is seeking you out specifically.


2. Trade partnerships. I work with certain builders and other tradespeople who I know and trust. That works both ways and they’ll continue to book me so long as I’m turning up when I say I will and getting the job done within the budget and timeframe they expect. These are the people I often have a pint with, so barring any falling-out over a game of darts, a round of drinks or who ate all the dry-roasted peanuts, they’re not about to go looking on Google for someone new and unproven they neither know nor trust.


3. The parish magazine. I’m quite lucky in Whitnash to have a proactive town council who produce two quality publications promoting local businesses, one being the Whitnash Tymes magazine, the other being the Whitnash Local Directory. Both are pushed through the letterboxes of all the houses in the area up to four times a year and they’re more effective than a leaflet drop because residents tend to look through them and keep them to hand rather than spin them directly into the recycling bin. At £66 per quarter, it pays for itself very quickly. Those without the internet, those new to the area who don’t have friend/family referrals to rely on, or those who just want to employ someone based on their doorstep need look no further.


The above covers 95% of my work and even the remaining 5% doesn’t all come courtesy of Google. I’ve had people contact me through seeing my liveried van, my illuminated window sign (yes, really), free listings on directory services such as FreeIndex and Yell, press advertising (on the rare occasions when I choose to participate in such), etc.


That’s not to say people won’t find me on Google, and indeed minutes after hanging up on young Brad and his opinion of my crap online presence, a call came in from someone who had just found me on Google using generic terms. People do find me, even if I'm not on page one.


Ah, but it could be so much more according to the likes of Brad and his buddies. I once had someone called Marcus telling me that if I gave him money, he’d get me ranked so highly on Google that I wouldn’t be able to cope with the number of enquiries!


So what’s the use of that? I know my limitations, so why would I want the phone ringing off the hook, if that is truly what will happen, with work I have to spend time turning down? I’m not looking to expand or to work seven days a week, merely to make a living until I retire or the Guinness finishes me off (whichever comes first), so with the diary filling naturally and without expense and effort, why would I pay for the extra hassle of business I can’t fulfil? That is, if indeed, they can live up to their claims, as like most of these kind of operations it’s all cash up-front, no results guaranteed.


Besides, what guarantees can they possibly really offer? Only Google themselves can promise a placement position, anyone else is blagging results that may work for certain search terms, but not for others, if at all.


Anyway, just because people can now search Google to find a tradesperson does not mean those traditional methods of attracting business which currently work for me will disappear or become less relevant. Indeed, those methods will continue to remain the most prevalent way for my company to get business as I don’t believe as many people cold search for terms like “electrician required in Leamington Spa” as these marcomms companies may think. Even if they are and I am losing out, my diary is still full so it doesn’t matter.


In fact, Google needs the likes of me more than I need them. Google are currently in danger of bringing ‘search fatigue’ upon their users because, as we all know, any Google search these days tends to bring paid advertisers as the top results with sales driven as the secondary listings. That is to say, page one of a Google search is dominated by advertisers who have paid to be there and who may not necessarily have the specific service, product, answer or competitive price you’re really interested in. Sometimes you just want some information, but you have to get past the advertisers and sales who dominate the rankings. The best results for a search are often buried a few pages in, not because the search term was woolly or non-specific, but because advertisers, sales and directories swamp the top-spots.


Google needs websites such as mine which offers specialist advice for specific questions people may have. If someone is seeking information on, say, advice they’ve been given on Amendment 3 consumer units, then they want their question to be answered instead of being force-fed links to advertisers who simply sell Amendment 3 consumer units or secondary links to installers who fit them. If Google lose the plot and end up over-pushing sales in answer to generic questions, then they’ll soon find themselves eclipsed by someone who can provide more relevant content, quicker. The dot.com age is littered with companies who were once the biggest and best before someone else came along and did it more efficiently or more attractively.


It can be an expensive game trying to get to the top of the search pile and everyone wants a chunk of the hard-working tradepersons cash. From Google themselves to companies who offer to boost your ranking, to directories such as Yell, FreeIndex, Thompson and a thousand others who will all take a cut to put you higher up the list, at least for as far as their individual influence extends. This is not to say that SEO companies have nothing to offer, that isn't the case, but if ever I need such a service I already know a man who can deliver it as he's a customer of mine, and I out of principle I will never pony up for a cold caller who is blagging me. It's the likes of Brad and Marcus interrupting my day with unsolicited calls from companies with '4U' or '2U' in their names and telling me about my customer habits that gets my back up. They apply the same model to all kinds of customers looking for all kinds of business, but it doesn't work like that.


It’s not possible to pay off all the directories and search optimisers, and it’s not worth it as drive-by sales for small tradesperson operations doesn’t currently bring much business in. That isn’t likely to alter because of those traditonal methods of attracting business I've listed above which aren't going to change. Besides, for those who are cold-searching, any savvy searcher will do more than just look at the paid results on page one because they actually care about who they are hiring and aren’t simply going to pick the guy who paid to be at the top of the list.


But try telling that to young Brad who has cold-called you clutching his man-bag in one hand and his iPad in the other. To him, if you’re not on page one, then you’re not in the rankings, but to me he’s a “ranker” who isn’t going to get hold of any of my hard earned cash, while my business will continue to chug along just nicely without his efforts thanks very much.


Brad, sometimes you don't need to teach an old dog new tricks.

krystal
Krystal-XXI