Thinking of Becoming a Locksmith?
Research Before Starting
Marketing and Advertising
by Mark Grainger
My name is Mark Grainger, I am the director at Abbey Locksmiths Ltd, and I employ a team of 6 people, along with a small group of subcontractors and have been locksmithing for 25 years in the London area.
With the recent increase in Locksmith training courses being advertised and promises of a quick entry into the locksmith industry by locksmith trainers and the talk of guaranteed income after becoming a locksmith in 10 days, I thought it was about time I chimed in on the subject again.
Firstly, I’d like to say that I love what I do, and over the past 25 years in the locksmith industry, I have had my ups and downs like any business, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. If you’re reading this after searching for “Locksmith Training” or “Becoming a Locksmith,” then there’s a good chance you’re new to the trade, as was I many years ago. This article will include some advice and opinions based on my experience. For clarity, we offer some advanced locksmith training for trading locksmiths only. This is little and often, but we are regularly asked to put on classes for people; most recently, we hosted a 7 Lever Safe Lock Picking course for Locksmiths in Harlow. Why it may come across differently to some people who read this article, I’m not trying to discourage anyone from becoming a locksmith, nor is this article describing any locksmith trainers specifically (plenty with similar business plans have come and gone over the years); I’m simply pointing out a few facts and hopefully help a few people.
In the first part of this article, we will look at the research you should do before starting a locksmith business and talk about generating work through websites and marketing.
Becoming a Locksmith
There are two routes to enter the locksmith industry, either as a self-employed business owner, which most people seem to do or as an apprentice locksmith employed by an existing company. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, the latter being the safest and depending on your employer and team around you, it will expose you to a wider variety of jobs initially, and you’ll also have the benefit of a support network within the organisation, and let’s not forget the most significant bit, a guaranteed wage every month!
Let’s start with Self Employed Locksmiths, which seems to be the more popular route. Beginning as a self-employed locksmith means that not only are you learning the locksmith trade you are also starting a completely new business with all the stresses and the time-consuming tasks that involves; it’s essential to concentrate on both, as you can be the best Locksmith in the world but if the phones not ringing, you’ll be sitting at home all day worrying about how to pay your bills.
Firstly, before even looking at locksmith training courses and before buying any locksmith tools, I would recommend doing some research on the Locksmiths in your area, look at their websites and see what they offer, and go on to google and see how many local companies are listed and try and figure out how you will compete with them (forget the national companies, we will touch on that later).
When I started, printed media was the best way to advertise for work; this included the Yellow Pages, Thomson Local, and BT Phone Book; every house had one, and they were issued once a year. This was expensive at the time and cost between £500-£6,000 per area each year, depending on the size of your advert.
Much like positions on google, there was a significant benefit from appearing at the front of the locksmith section. Yellow Pages was the leader, and to appear first, had nothing to do with how much you spent; it came down to alphabetical order. After failing two years in a row, I noticed that the same national companies were appearing first every year and noticed something odd at the bottom of each of their adverts, the company names were all beginning with 0’s and A’s; I soon figured out that numbers came before letters and punctuation came before numbers, after trialling lots of combinations in a spreadsheet and sorting by alphabetical order. So my company name became .. …………………000000000000000AAAAAAAAAAAABBEYLOCKSMITHS. It sounds ridiculous, but it worked! I passed the information on to other friends in the locksmith industry I knew, and we all did very well for a few years!
Of course, it wasn’t long before others did the same and printed media was becoming a thing of the past with the introduction of the internet and search engines. My advice would be not to bother with any of the legacy directories when starting, either printed books or their online versions, as they have died off over the years. They don’t have the same brand recognition they once had, and I think It would be a waste of money at first.
Search engines are now the first place people look for a locksmith, so this is your starting point for research and where most of the Locksmith work in the UK is found. I’m sure people know how google works, but I will give examples below anyway, and for demonstrative purposes, base them on the search term “Locksmith Finchley“.
As far as search results on google go, there are three main areas: Sponsored Listings, Local Business Listings and Organic Listings, in that order.
Yellow Pages for Locksmiths in Cambridge
These are paid-for advertisements on google, and there usually are 2-3 listings at the top of each google search result page; this will be the first thing a customer sees when searching for a locksmith. To appear at the top, you must bid for that position; only the top 2 or 3 bids will emerge. At the time of writing this article, 23/02/2023, the cost per click for position one and the search term “Locksmith Finchley” can cost up to £26.55 per click to your website; this is all that you are paying for; there is no guarantee of work or a customer calling you. You can see how this is a gamble and could potentially lose you money during the day, but it can work for some, and there are ways to minimise risk and get good results.
National companies use this strategy as they often don’t have any official local presence and rely on targeted paid advertisements. Any jobs they do get, they will generally pass on to a local locksmith company in the area and pay them a percentage of the job; we’ve seen some vast bills from these companies!; my advice is to stay clear of them entirely unless you want to end up on TV, featuring on an episode of rogue traders! You’ll notice in the below picture that there is an advert from a national company quoting “from £39”; this is a tactic called “bait and switch”, It is usually reserved for more prominent national companies who lure you with a minimal price which increases dramatically as soon as they do any work. We previously covered this scam in an article titled Bait and Switch.
Quite often, the figure quoted is £49, and this is where the phrase “49ers” comes from, a term we in the locksmith industry use to describe the national rip-off companies.
Local Business Listings
These are free listings that any business can apply for; if accepted, you will have the opportunity for your business to appear in the “3 pack” these are the three businesses that google selects to appear for a particular business category and location.
Sounds great, right? As with most things, it is not a level playing field. National companies have muscled in, and although they have no local premises or shop, they pay people to use their addresses and set up fake businesses; hundreds of fake reviews supplement these. There are ways you can report fake listings. They may be removed but bear in mind these national companies have people sitting in an office all day focused on getting calls, so it’s hard to compete with them; plus, they will also be clicking on your paid adverts (if you have any) and trying to get your local business listing removed.
It’s not easy anymore, but If you can get listed here, you’ll see the best results, and it’s free!
This isn’t as effective as it used to be for driving traffic to your website purely because of the two sections that appear above; the number 1 position on organic listings could be 7th or 8th position on the page, below the sponsored and business listings, so not great but still worth doing if you have the time and money to invest in a good website with engaging content. In addition, you need some knowledge of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).
I know when some people start, they will look at other websites and rather than spend days and weeks creating their own content and images, they will copy someone else. This will have a negative effect on your organic rankings as google sees it as duplicate content, a terrible idea!
I would recommend either employing a company to build your website and help you with the content or doing your own research and create your own. By far, the most popular website creation tool is WordPress. It is a free, open-source CMS (Content Management System), this can be installed on your website and is all you need to get started, you can design or purchase themes to change appearance and layout, and there are also plenty of free plug-ins available for things like e-commerce, marketing, SEO and contact forms. Our site uses this, and I find it comprehensive and easy to use; best of all, it’s free!
This is where you will either get fortunate, work incredibly hard or pay someone. We work hard on our site writing blog posts (like this one), as do the marketing company we employ to oversee all our marketing and SEO. There is a monthly fee we pay, this gives us continued SEO and keeps our organic rankings high, and in many areas, we are number 1. Although you can try and do it yourself, you may get lucky if there’s not much competition in your area. For us, it wouldn’t be possible without the help of professionals. It can take months and sometimes years to build up a website or page with good authority on google, expect to be paying between £1000-£2000 per month initially if you want to see results quickly. Also worth mentioning is that the older the website, the better the domain will rank, meaning a newly registered domain name has an immediate disadvantage.
You’ll never be found on organic search results without good Search Engine Optimisation. This is because so many new locksmiths are starting new careers, creating a website, and trying to generate leads every week. The market is flooded with start-ups, and this is evident when you see the number of new locksmith tools being sold online from new locksmith companies which have failed.
To summarise, along with the free google business listing, I would also invest a few thousand pounds in a website and a marketing campaign, or if you have the skills and knowledge to do it all yourself, it will be free, and there’s lots of helpful information on the internet.
Facebook and Other Social Media
As well as google, some locksmiths have success with posting on social media and being recommended by others on local Facebook groups. I recently spoke with a locksmith in Cambridge who said most of his work is from Facebook, so these platforms shouldn’t be ignored.
Creating a Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn business page is a good start. Posts could include information about your business, mentioning services you offer, jobs you’ve completed and any offers on your products or services.
Social media is free to join and use, so this is an obvious thing to do and something most people already use and understand.
I would mention that most locksmith work isn’t repeat business, so you’ll need to keep making posts in the hope they will appear for someone at the right time. You may get one lead if someone sees your post and they need a locksmith at that point in time, but it may not lead to others. Also, spamming Facebook groups constantly is frowned upon and may work against you.
I hope this has been informative, in the next instalment (if you still think Locksmithing is for you) I will go over forming a company, going self-employed and what to expect.