As remodelers express their concerns about the economy and its effects on their businesses, I think about the challenges facing my business after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Many remodelers made it through those difficult times by doing things the way they had always done them. The recession was short-lived, and time was on their side. Things got better before the work and/or the cash ran out.

There’s a significant difference today: This remodeling recession will last much longer. Business as usual won’t get you through to the other side.


After Sept. 11, a few of my customers decided to cancel or postpone their projects. Prospects we were already working with wouldn’t commit, and new leads dried up faster than latex paint in the August sunshine. All were concerned about whether the projects they were considering would turn out to be profitable investments (as had been the norm) or regrettable expenses.

Employees, in turn, saw our backlog continue to shrink. I’m sure that several were scouting out options in case we ran out of work. And who could blame them? If I had a family to feed and a mortgage to pay, I would have done the same thing.


In tough economic times, confidence is the key to holding onto clients and employees alike. If your prospects and customers believe in you, your team, and your solutions, they will be more likely to buy. If your employees believe that you have a plan to get through to the other side — a plan they understand and, ideally, contribute to — they will be more likely to stick around.

After Sept. 11, I consulted Webster’s Dictionary. Here are some key definitions of confidence, and examples of how we used them to not only survive but emerge better and stronger.

A feeling of trust. We reworked our marketing to remind existing customers of the trust they had experienced working with us. We shared that trust with prospects via testimonials that described how we helped previous customers work through the details, decisions, and emotions of their projects.

A state of confident hopefulness that events will be favorable. We were proactive in telling employees what we were doing to keep them busy and how we were extending our backlog by subbing out less. We wanted them to trust that they would continue to get their paychecks each week.

Freedom from doubt; belief in yourself and your abilities. Despite my many concerns and sleepless nights, I worked hard to project that I believed we would get through the challenges.

We held more management and all-staff meetings. A SWOT analysis gave all employees the opportunity to share their opinions about our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. I made a point of asking each employee, at meetings and individually, for additional input. Shared decision-making strengthened our bond as a team and built self-assurance.


We worked with our sales trainer to learn to project this confidence to clients and prospects as well. We allowed twice as much time for sales meetings, to build rapport, develop intimacy, and help prospects feel assured of their decisions.

Our goal was certainly to sell jobs, but it was clear that many homeowners simply needed more time to feel comfortable moving forward. We gave them space but also kept in touch to create a sense of intimacy between them and us.

It could be years before the days of staying busy through quality work alone return. Build confidence by providing a high-quality experience before, during, and after the sale. Then project your confidence that your company will make it through.

—Shawn McCadden founded, operated, and sold a successful design/build remodeling business. A co-founder of the Residential Design/Build Institute and former director of education for a national K&B remodeling franchise, he frequently speaks at industry events and consults with remodeling companies. shawnm@charter.net.