When Michael West was in the Navy, all he thought about was how he would start a contracting business once he completed his service.
Back in Ohio, West’s first customer was a gentleman who West approached while the homeowner was out watering his lawn. West says, “I walked up and said: Don’t be alarmed. My name is Mike West. I do siding, windows, and roofing, and you need all three.” When the homeowner hesitated, West told him that he would only have to purchase the materials—“and if you don’t like the work, you don’t have to pay me.” He got three more jobs out of that job.
A move from the city to Cleveland’s suburbs forced West to rethink his business. For the first time he had to advertise and keep books. “I didn’t know how unprepared I was,” he says. He soon found out that the two keys to building well were also crucial to operating a successful remodeling business: be organized, and communicate.
But joining the consulting group Remodelers Advantage changed his life, he says. He moved into rented space, began hiring people, and learned to delegate. In the Harvard Business Review’s "The Five Stages of Small Business Growth," he rates himself at stage 3.8, “where the owner delegates everything but the sales.”
West Construction took the idea of a design agreement a few steps further by creating a “partnership agreement.” After an initial consultation at the client’s home, which includes taking photos, the company’s designers work to develop a budget based on similar projects the remodeler has built. The designer assigned to the project interviews clients, prepares drawings of two or three versions of the design, with selections. With a preliminary budget analysis in hand, clients are asked to sign a partnership agreement—“a letter of intent with tweaks,” is how West describes it—committing them to work with the company.
- All employees at West Construction take the DISC personality profiling test. “It helps us identify where we’re at with our team,” West says, and it helps match team members to prospective clients.
- A year ago West picked up the phone, called 10 competitors, and asked them if they would install a microwave for him. None could or would. So West revived the one-man handyman division that he credits with keeping his company alive in the very slow period after the 2008 crash. He remains enthused: “This is the best business in the world,” he declares. “I don’t freaking believe people pay me to do this.”