Have you made your marketing plans for the year? If you're like most contractors, the answer is no - a full 77 percent of you admit to having no marketing plan. That costs you big in lost sales and wasted marketing dollars.

A well-designed marketing plan should give you a calm, rational approach to help you anticipate slow times and keep you promoting yourself when business is booming.

Here are four simple steps to get your plan started:

1. Determine your sales goals in service and replacements.

2. Assign a percentage of those numbers to your marketing budget. The average in HVAC is 4.3 percent. Aggressive companies can spend up to 10 percent, while slow, mature companies may only spend 2.5 percent.

3. Figure your percentage of sales in the peak summer and peak winter seasons, as well as in both off-peak seasons.

4. From this, you can quickly determine the timing for service or replacement promotions for each season, using the percentage of sales per item as a basis for your marketing. Now simply spread these dollars over the highest-response media.

This is a formula that can work wonders when captured in a year-round plan. The goal is to keep you from being reactive when you should be proactive.

You need to run your business instead of having it run you. A marketing plan is the best investment of your time and resources to do just that.

Media Watch

Newspapers: Your ad contracts should be in place, getting the best volume discount you can. Be sure and use TOMA (top-of-mind awareness) ads all year long. Image ads should help persuade "lookers" to go your way. Direct response can be very effective in January. In our HVAC Marketing PowerPack, we strongly advise payment deferrals or "cash after the holidays" rebates.

Direct mail letters: Send follow-up letters to non-closed sales from last 90 days.

Postcards: Service postcards should be used in larger areas to attract fence-sitting service users.

Alternative media: Your yard sign presence should never be taken for granted. Use the designs included in the PowerPack or others, but do not forget to use these signs on every lengthy service visit or installation. Your name should be pounded into the ground (literally).

Radio: This media drops off considerably after Christmas shopping time. Trim back here, but continue to focus on name recognition for selected service leads.

On-hold messages: Messages should be about service and preventive maintenance now.

Yellow Pages: Don't let a bad ad make a bad first impression for your company. Fax us for your free ad critique; we can design a Yellow Pages ad for you that works.

For next month, continue readying a list of non-closed sales and gear up for end-of-season-offers. Amass high probability lists. Prepare your list for the spring newsletter mailing now.

Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink. He can be reached at 800-489-9099, 334-262-1115 (fax), or www.hudsonink.com.

Publication date: 01/19/2004