3 Ways Technology is Changing Small Business

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The marketing playbook for small businesses is changing, even in industries that might surprise you, such as home improvement. Remodeling and design professionals increasingly recognize the need to incorporate mobile, local and social tools in their marketing activities to build their brands and reach new clients. They know today's homeowner is getting information and ideas -- as well as exposure to professional talent -- far beyond their local area.

A survey of more than 100,000 design and remodeling professionals and the homeowners they serve unearthed some surprising changes in expectations on both sides. Here are three ways we found the marketing landscape changing for these pros:

1. A shift from personal referrals to community referrals
Historically, professionals in the home improvement industry have relied largely on word of mouth referrals. Today's homeowner may still get recommendations from friends and family, but research shows they will do an enormous amount of due diligence before hiring a professional, such as reading client reviews and using community activity to gauge a professional's personality and what he or she might be like to work with - and they are doing so as much as a year before starting a project. A recent Houzz survey found that when it comes to hiring a professional for their project, 81% of homeowners rated "good reviews and recommendations" as very important -- on a five-point scale, followed by "they are an expert in their field" at 70% and "has a personality I can work with" at 67%.

Some homeowners are uncomfortable cold-calling a professional because they are unsure of how to discuss costs or describe their projects. Seeing how a professional interacts online, whether that be through discussions on Houzz or their other social media channels such as Facebook ( FB) or Twitter, provides homeowners with a glimpse into a professional's workstyle and makes them more comfortable picking up the phone. By knowledge-sharing through content, advice or by answering questions on their social media channels, pros are also able to showcase their expertise and build their brand.

2. Increasing importance of visual marketing
Large, high-impact images permeate the Web, social communities and social sharing. Today, having a compelling visual presence online is table stakes for consumer brands, and is just as critical for residential remodeling and design professionals. Viewing a professional's portfolio is a key part of the due diligence process for homeowners, with 59% rating "completed projects in a style similar to mine" as very important when considering a professional for hire. As the Web will become only more visual, professionals should invest in good photography to bring the quality of their work to life -- and to increase their exposure to as many homeowners looking to hire a pro as possible.

3. A move to mobile communication and collaboration
Homeowners now expect highly asynchronous and mobile communications; more than half of Houzz users access the site or app from a tablet or other mobile device. Professionals can expect their clients to want more frequent communication, and not always in the form of an in-person meeting. As noted, homeowners are more comfortable with hiring and working with professionals outside their local area. Communicating and collaborating remotely will become a larger part of the homeowner and professional relationship; 65% of home improvement professionals surveyed already access the platform on mobile devices (smartphones, iPad) to communicate with clients, vendors or subcontractors.

Technology will continue to make the remodeling process more efficient and productive -- and to provide opportunities for those professionals willing to embrace and harness new tools to engage with current and potential clients.

--By Liza Hausman, v.p. marketing at Houzz

Follow Liza on Twitter

Liza Hausman leads Houzz's market research initiatives. She has experience spanning advertising, consulting, marketing and social strategy for Fortune 500 brands from Clorox and AT&T to a host of innovative startups. Hausman earned her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management, co-founding her first Internet startup, a home improvement e-tailer, in 1998. Over the last seven years she's worked with designers, architects and contractors to remodel and decorate nearly every inch of her home in Palo Alto, CA.

Houzz is an online platform for home remodeling and design. From decorating a room to building a custom home, Houzz connects millions of homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals. Houzz has the largest residential design database in the world and a community powered by social media tools.

Follow Houzz on Twitter and on the Houzz Facebook page.