I'd like to wish my fellow entrepreneurs, salespeople, and marketers alike a happy, belated New Year. We're already off and running with 2012 and it seems certain to be a challenging year for the home renovation business.

In addition to the expiration of nearly all impressive tax credits, it's also an election year. Political campaigning always translates to exorbitant media costs. Huge amounts of capital are invested to promote and defame the various candidates running for office. This pushes private companies out of traditional channels like television and radio, forcing them into much more aggressive kinds of marketing just to sustain lead flow. Even the traditional yard sign — your marketing bread-and-butter — gets lost in the blitz of political campaigning, typically in the neighborhoods we target most.

So what can you do when politicians monopolize the airwaves? The smartest and safest way to go is to focus on outbound marketing sources such as canvassing, telemarketing, events, and in-store programs. These could make or break your bottom line in 2012. Here are some pros and cons to determine which might be a good fit for your company.

Canvassing.

Upside: Done right it produces cost-effective leads with predictable results. You can conduct canvassing operations seven days a week and all throughout the year with only the occasional impediment of inclement weather. The leads can be highly targeted as you can direct your teams to specific neighborhoods to isolate age, value, and construction type of individual homes. Pre-positioning your salespeople can be simple, as your canvassers can leave company and product brochures as well as take excellent notes on customer hotbuttons and the home's specific areas of need.

Downside: Canvassing is management-intensive. It requires a strong field manager to lead by example and to hold the entire team accountable for the expected results. It also requires ongoing training — and not just training the canvassers but training the sales staff on how to handle this new and peculiar lead type.

Telemarketing.

Hey, it's back. Lots of people think it went away forever, but some home improvement companies are seeing a telemarketing renaissance.

Upside: Warm-calling to a targeted proximity directly around jobsites consistently generates leads with most products. Also, niche products like radiant barrier and walk-in tubs provide the ability to get results with even basic cold-call approaches.

Downside: Much like canvassing, telemarketing can be a grind with high-maintenance staffing issues and training requirements. However, having the employees in one central location at your company call center is an advantage over canvassing.

Events.

Finding and creating events outside the scope of traditional home shows or industry trade shows is a breeze in most markets. Websites such as EventCrazy.com allow us to target shows within our sales territory. These of course can vary drastically in size and attendance.

Upside: They usually have a low cost of entry with tremendous exposure to qualified consumers. They also give you a significant opportunity to display your product lines to attract interested parties. (We'll save the discussion of event strategies for another article.)

Downside: Travel to and from. Also, there's the challenge of erecting and collapsing displays. This, too, requires much more maintenance and supervision than simply cutting a check to an ad agent.

In-Store Programs.

These relationships are on the rise as we continually see big-box stores as well as local retailers partnering with area businesses to maximize their floor space and fulfill the consumer's desire for home services.

Upside: With the proper training, store promoters can generate a steady flow of qualified leads and piggyback the strong names and reputations of high-profile retail chains. Staffing the stores seems to be easier than other kinds of direct marketing. Maybe it's all in the name.

Downside: Training and supervision are as intense as they would be for canvassing or events. Entry costs are steep, meaning you'll need to adjust your pricing accordingly.

Regardless of the route you choose, it is clear through historical data that election years are typically much more challenging when it comes to producing cost-effective leads through traditional media outlets. Smart companies are planning for that now. Not to do so means that in the minds of area homeowners, you make as much of an impression as all the various also-rans.

—Sales and marketing consultant Tony Hoty has been a home improvement company salesperson and owner. Visit his website or reach him at tony@tonyhoty.com or 888.447.3969.