When David Rhodes (wearing tie) bought out his partner to become sole owner in 1995, Schmid and Rhodes Construction was generating $1.5 million in sales. Four years later, sales—including both custom homes and upper-end remodeling—have more than doubled. Rhodes credits relationship marketing for the success his company has enjoyed. Example: The high-priced remodels his company builds are light years away from anything like a handyman business, yet the company operates some 20 maintenance contracts on the homes of past clients. Except for job signs, Schmid and Rhodes spends nothing on direct marketing, billboards, or radio ads, relying entirely on those relationships to bring in new business. Much depends on the science of picking and choosing the projects, clients, even streets, that advance the cause. For Rhodes, a major lesson along the way has been learning to say “no.”

“I am the ultimate people-pleaser,” Rhodes says, “and to say: ‘No, I can’t be your hero, your knight in shining armor,’ kills me. But I’m getting better at it.”