Tim Cross is only 31, but he's built a solid remodeling company by listening to more experienced remodelers and applying what he learns. Cross founded Merrick Construction 15 years ago, doing rental property maintenance. Now he works on upscale projects that range from $200,000 to $500,000 in the Rumson, N.J., market. His annual sales volume is almost $2 million.

Besides following his own marketing and business instincts, he applies what he learns at trade shows. He attended the first JLC Live! show in 1995. "I went in, listened to everyone, and took specific items that I liked from each speaker," he says. From his 30-pages of notes, he came up with a list of items he wanted to put in place at his company.

Cross says trade shows give him a place to affirm his business decisions. They enable him to compare notes with other remodelers on business basics.

One of the first lessons he learned was to hire experts to compensate for his weaknesses. He hired a consultant to set up and teach him estimating software. The system was up and running in a few days with very little frustration and wasted time. He also turned to an architect for the sophisticated design work his market demands. "The architect liked the way I was working with customers and the suggestions I had made, so he started to refer me to his clients," Cross says.

Because his best leads come from referrals, Cross makes sure clients are completely satisfied. Six months after completing a job, he sends a team back to the house to take care of any minor complaints. He also throws a yearly customer appreciation party.