Every year, you should look at the source of your revenues: your customers. You need to know how many active customers you have. This number is easy to determine if all you do is new construction. However, from a service perspective, it is much more difficult to answer off the top of your head.

Find out how many customers have done business with you during the past year. How many total customers are on the list? If you are like most contractors, the number of total customers will far exceed the number who have done business with you in the past year.

Call some customers you haven't heard from in a while. Find out why they haven't used you. Be prepared to find out that they have moved, died or that they are using another company now, in addition to the common, "I just didn't have a need."

Do something to invite them back. After all, they still need their HVAC equipment checked each year. The results should help you establish your marketing goals for next year.

Now look at your advertising activities. Hopefully you have tracked results throughout the year, so you know where your leads are coming from. If you haven't, this is your first goal for next year. Assuming you have tracked your leads, you know what worked well and what didn't. Plan to repeat the activities that worked well and determine why the others didn't so that you can either fix the problems or not do them again.

Public relations

Then look at what you did from a public relations perspective this year. Public relations includes all nonpaid advertising, including your truck signage, service forms and uniforms, as well as donations you made to charitable organizations, articles you wrote or were quoted in that appeared in the media, etc. Plan on doing more public relations activities. They usually produce better results than advertising alone.

Examine your trade-show results. Many times, shows are difficult to do because your feet hurt and you need people to work the booth for a weekend. However, they are a great source of leads, if you are creative.

One contractor I know has had a booth at a local fair for more than 10 years. He gets enough leads from the four-day event to keep him busy the entire fall season, and some of those leads become sales in the spring. Yes, he and his people are exhausted at the end of the fair but the results are worth it.

Are you getting your customers' e-mail addresses? If you aren't, start. This is a very unobtrusive way to reach your customers for reminders and tips on home comfort.

The other thing to look at is the Yellow Pages. This usually provokes an emotional response. I haven't found too many contractors who like the Yellow Pages. My philosophy is that you can't live with them and you can't live without them. Some contractors have found a way to live without any display ads with very successful results.

In summary, here are some questions to ask when determining your marketing goals:

What advertisements did you place that worked in 2003?

What didn't work and what did you learn from it so that you don't do it again?

How many customers do you have? How many active customers do you have?

What did you learn when you talked with your inactive customers? What are you going to do differently as a result?

What public relations activities will you do this year?