Jerry Garcia, guitarist for the Grateful Dead, once said, “You do not merely want to be considered just the best of the best. You want to be considered the only one who does what you do.” Smart remodelers looking to distinguish themselves within their marketplace might want to heed Garcia's advice. If you just try to be the best, you'll still have competition. But if you're the only one who does what you do, homeowners won't be able to get that anywhere else.

Consider the bidding game, where price is the primary differentiator. When you compete on price, it's like a reverse auction where your low bid, while winning you the job, usually loses you money.

BE DIFFERENT In comparison, by offering something different, you'll stand out from the bidding pack. Also, your solution may become the only one of its kind.

To protect this advantage, clarify up-front with clients that you will not leave behind plans or specifications unless you get a signature and a check. This, too, shows you're different.

Even simple tactics can be effective. You might stand out just by having your phone always answered live and returning calls right away, or by covering your shoes with booties before entering prospects' homes. If you specialize in bathroom replacements for one-bathroom homes, offering an on-site trailer set up as a bathroom might make your proposal the only one worth considering.

Keep your eyes open, and apply creative thinking to find your own ways of rising above the crowd.

FIRST ONE OUT When I owned a remodeling company, we initially were the only contractor in town with a retail office and showroom. This gave us legitimacy and permanency in the eyes of prospects and clients, who could then see our operations, people, and quality of work.

Later, we stood out because almost all of our staff had professional certifications. We marketed this difference to the point that prospects starting asking other contractors if they were certified. We even painted our lead carpenters' vans with their names and “Certified Lead Carpenter.” Most other quality contractors eventually got their certifications as well, but never to the extent that my business did.

Another competitive edge was our reputation for creative solutions to code and zoning restrictions. We were able to execute projects that many remodelers had no idea how to solve. We discovered this advantage as our design/build process evolved. Design/build was yet another differentiating strategy until others followed our lead, and many of those contractors attended my seminars to learn how to offer the service.

Your marketing should not only identify how your company is different, but also how that difference benefits clients. Prospects who value the difference will take note — but that good first impression will create similar expectations later. If you return calls right away during the sales process, return calls right away when the project is under way. If you wear booties at the sales call, keep your clients' property and possessions clean during the project. If you provide a temporary bathroom in the client's driveway, maintain it!

Finally, don't assume your differences will separate you from your competition forever. The goal: Stay one or two steps ahead as a way to hold on to your status as the only game in town.

I attended more than 30 Grateful Dead shows before the band was no more. Each show lived up to my previous expectations yet was different from the last. The band had many imitators, but never any competition in the eyes of us followers. If you continually evolve in ways that make you stand out, you and your own supporters will be, well, grateful as well.

Next month: How to get client testimonials that speak to your company's differences.

Shawn McCadden founded, operated, and sold a successful employee-managed design/build company. A co-founder of the Residential Design/Build Institute and former director of education for a national K&B remodeling franchise, Shawn frequently speaks at industry events and consults with remodeling companies;