Careful Budgeting of Both Time and Money Generates Marketing Success

You have to market your business to some extent to get the results you’re looking for, but it will always come with a cost, whether in the form of time or money. Here are a few tips on how to strike the proper balance.

Careful Budgeting of Both Time and Money Generates Marketing Success

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Deciding where and how to promote your plumbing business can be overwhelming. There are thousands of marketing opportunities, and no one has the resources to do them all. 

Most business owners filter their marketing decisions quickly and with a basic set of parameters. That mental process typically goes something like this: 

“Do I think this might work?”

If the answer is yes, then, “Can I afford this?”

If yes, then, “Sure, let’s try it.”

Most families agonize more trying to figure out what to have for dinner.

But busy plumbers need to make quick decisions. There is no time to do an in-depth analysis. Boiling it down to available cash and a hunch is about as good as it gets.

Dollars are easy to track, but they aren't the whole picture when it comes to the cost of marketing. There is another resource that is far more precious and elusive to track — your time.  

Whether your marketing plan is simple or complex, old school or high tech, the cash register doesn’t ring without promotion. And even if you sharpie your phone number on scrap pieces of PEX because you’re too cheap to buy business cards, you still pay for marketing. The price of your time is too dear not to be taken into consideration. 

Take word-of-mouth, for example, everyone’s favorite “free” advertising. It’s an easy thing to love, other people doing the heavy lifting of getting you more business. But if word-of-mouth is keeping you busy, it’s because you are fostering and encouraging it. You are probably doing subtle things you don’t even think about to grease those wheels. It takes time to provide excellent customer service, be personable, and do high-quality work. That conversation you have with the homeowner at the end of your appointment? That’s marketing. 

There are a dozen or more customer service moments throughout your day that are marketing in disguise. Every one of them takes time. We only have so much time and there is no way to make more of it.

Every marketing activity comes at a cost. The only question is: What is the currency?

Typically, there is an inverse relationship between time and money in marketing expenses. Networking events might be free, but they require a considerable commitment of time. On the other hand, online ads can be set up in mere moments but can cost a small fortune if you let them run on autopilot.

None of us has unlimited money or time, so how do you decide where to spend your resources?

For plumbing companies with limited cash, the decision is easy. You have no choice but to pay with time, pounding the pavement and shaking hands. Companies with larger budgets might be tempted to put very little time into marketing and will pay dearly for the privilege. But the best results come from a healthy balance of effort and coin.   

If you are struggling to find that balance, consider this riddle:

A genie pops out of your toolbox and presents you with two small packages. In one, an extra hour of your day to do with as you wish. In the second, a crisp tax-free $100 bill. 

Which do you take?

There is no right or wrong answer. The answer is going to vary depending on where you are in your business, in your life, and what your priorities are.

Whatever the balance between time and money, you need to budget both. Creating a budget doesn't have to be complicated. Here are some tips:

1. Think in percentages, rather than hard numbers.

Instead of deciding that you have $1,000 per month to spend, choose a percentage of sales. This technique allows your budget to grow in proportion to your business. It ensures there is money left for profit.

Aim for no more than 3 to 5 percent of gross revenue as a marketing budget. 

Budgeting your time isn't so different from planning money. If you want to work a 50-hour workweek, what percentage of your time can you allocate to marketing and other administrative tasks vs. billable hours?

2. Upper and lower limits.

Give yourself an acceptable range to work within. Don’t stress yourself out with a tiny bull's-eye. Target ranges will give you the flexibility to handle both stressful times and take advantage of opportunities.

Allocating your resources ahead of time helps you balance competing responsibilities. It creates healthy boundaries that keep you from feeling like your hair is on fire.  

3. Hold yourself accountable.

Before you go patting yourself on the back for doing all this planning, make sure you have the tools to measure your success when you spring into action. 

It’s not enough to say that you will spend “X” amount of money and “Y” amount of time. You have to follow through. It is critical that you measure the success of that time and money spent. 

Create a system to track return on investment. Challenge yourself to do more with less. The tracking tools don’t have to be fancy, they just need to work. 

4. Use this information to make better decisions.

Your time and money budgets should help advance your decision-making process. At the very least, you should be including, “How much time is this going to take me?” in the mental conversation.

To push it even further, consider how much time it will take you to do it well and make the most out of the opportunity. Every chance you have to promote your business is a chance to shine. Slap-dash efforts lead to mediocre results and are often the Achilles’ heel of well-intended marketing decisions. 

About the Author

Anja Smith is managing partner for All Clear Plumbing in Greenville, South Carolina. She can be reached at


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