Remodeling is a service industry. Crafting a quality product isn't enough; you have to develop and manage relationships with your clients in order to be successful. Logically, then, doing business with friends and family — people who know you, like you, and are interested in your success — should be easier than working with strangers.
It should be, but it isn't.
Many remodeling companies that send surveys to clients after they complete a remodeling project see results that would be considered respectable in any service industry. But if those same companies were to survey only after projects they did for family and friends of the company owner, I suspect the results would be much poorer.
After comparing scars and bruises with other remodelers, it's clear that this is something that affects many in the business. But it's not the mystery it appears to be; there are specific reasons why projects for friends and family go sour. Fortunately, with some discipline, you can easily improve the outcome of these jobs in the future.
SKIPPING STEPS Why do things get off course? When you do a project for a friend, you have a tendency to corrupt your processes. Your systems for sales, product selection, production, communication, payment, and so on have all been put into place to provide the best-quality product in the most timely way for a fair price. But because the client is a friend, you may skip steps such as regular weekly meetings. Or you may be more flexible about payment schedules or written specs.
Although your intentions are good, you're corrupting your own processes and diverging from your normal routine. In doing so, you increase the risks for a breakdown, and all but ensure results that are less predictable.
MIXED MESSAGE The second reason you may fall short with family and friends is that your team's expectations and judgments may change depending on their understanding of your special relationship with the client. Should they treat this individual like a buddy of yours, or like any other client? Should they go above and beyond their normal duties to please the client, or just follow their routine practice of doing what is best for the project?
Communication may also suffer. As far as your team knows, your friend or relative is giving you nightly updates on job progress; if there was anything they should be doing differently, surely you would have let them know about it. The bottom line may suffer, too, if your team feels the need to throw in extras at no charge to please your friend or relative. Creating a good remodeling experience is difficult at best, but it's harder when team members are walking on eggshells or feel like they're wearing a straightjacket.
INTERLOPER Projects for friends and family can also go awry because you butt in where you don't belong. As a friend or relative of the client, you want a good outcome for their project. Understandably, your instinct in that situation is to lend a hand, but your involvement can create problems. Maybe you decide to strap on a tool-belt to keep the project moving, forgetting that your production skills are now a bit rusty. Or maybe you decide to jump in where you usually wouldn't to help with design or product selection or problem-solving. In each of these instances, it is hard for your team to be properly accountable because you are involved in areas where they are not used to seeing you.
None of this is any reason to give up doing business with family and friends. But be sure before the project starts that everyone is aligned on your relationship with the client and that you lay the ground rules for communication and decision-making. Stick to your company's processes, trust your team members to do what they do best, and keep out of it. With the right approach, family and friends can also become raving fans (and you can stop avoiding family get-togethers).
—Mark Richardson is president of Case Design/Remodeling and Case Handyman and Remodeling; firstname.lastname@example.org.