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How to market yourself out of recession

Getting more business is about selling yourself, diversifying and knowing where to look according to John Cowell, brother of Simon.

Not all of us are lucky enough to get noticed with the help of other family member’s talents, but John Cowell also has some sage advice for contractors trying to fill up their future order books. He is a marketing consultant working across the built environment and an older brother of Simon Cowell – who he jokes is his USP.

Mr J Cowell’s first piece of advice when thinking about new business is to keep calm. “The first thing is not to panic or start spending money, desperately marketing but without really thinking about it.”

He is critical of those who rode on one specialism in the good years. “If you’ve been stupid enough to, for example, only do office fit out – those firms can be terribly smug about it in the good years but they are panicking like hell now. Diversification is always a better policy,” he says.

He appreciates that building professionals may just be getting on with their jobs – selling what their business does comes second. “A site agent or architect is not going to suddenly become a super marketeer during a recession, he’s still going to have those problems picking the phone up, spending time of stuff that isn’t core business,” he says.

But he encourages people to network, which is one of his firm’s selling points. He says: “Partner with other disciplines - think laterally, look for synergies in other companies, even among your competitors. Use the recession to form opportunities you can take up in the future.”

He also says it’s important to have the right attitude. “If you just go along to someone with a begging bowl saying ‘we’d like some work’, you are joining a very long line.

“Take them something that they want, tell them if you are interested in a project and say ‘we can also do this’. Think about what you can give to the people that you want work from. That way they will want to give you something back.”

Mr Cowell is helping a glass reinforced gypsum company Design Visual to market itself. “It is a subcontractor to a subcontractor but it is more capable, it can take on a larger package and try to work for the main contractor. Then there are fewer layers of management.”

The consultant’s got talent

When it comes to getting new business, Mr Cowell says there a number of things contractors should be doing.

  • Find a way of being different. “The first thing you don’t do is send in a brochure. It will go in a great big dusty pile. Somehow you have to bring yourselves to the firm’s attention.” This could be something simple such as having smaller business cards with a variety of designs.
  • Be inquisitive. If you are working with an architect who is going to meetings on another job, find out about it. “Get people into the frame of mind where they are using their curiosity. When someone finds out some information, make sure they pass it through to someone.”
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. “Don’t think that you have all the answers. For example, talk to the local Chamber of Commerce or Business Link. People will be flattered to be asked.”
  • Don’t forget to look for work in your area.

What’s Simon really like?

The most common comments he gets about his brother are: ‘What is he really like?’, ‘I really admire him’ and ‘My wife loves him’ – and in answer to the first: “He is very much like what you see, he is exactly the same off screen than on screen,” says Mr Cowell. He says the two brothers have this directness in common.

“We do have a few family traits - we are not afraid of saying what we mean,” he says. He has a strategy which he takes to meeting with his clients. If he agrees with the type of client the contractor or consultant is targeting and he disagrees.

“I just say: ‘Stop - that’s absolutely rubbish, targeting X is not going to work’”, he says. “I did it the first time just by accident as I was just in a bad mood - but it actually worked. Being honest and telling people the truth works.

“That’s what Simon has. The music business has always been so lovey duvey. Then Simon comes on and says ‘that’s crap, off’. It’s far better to say ‘you are just wasting your time’ and he’s become an icon for that sort of behaviour.”

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