Think of 2010 as a restart button. Restart your remodeling business using what you’ve already built and learned. Recall the excitement you had when you launched: decisions would be yours; your income would only be limited by your efforts; you could take time off when you wanted to; you could pick and choose customers and jobs.

Yes, reality will intervene again, and you will (again) realize the difficulty of living up to all of your goals and ideals. But you now know that reality can be a great teacher as well as a rude awakening. You should be all the more excited about your new adventure now that you’re no longer ignorant of the realities that may threaten to hold you back or scuttle all your efforts.

Better Than a Blank Slate

Why is starting over easier than starting up? First, you may have little to salvage of what you started with. The economy has led many businesses to pare back on the resources, overhead, employees, and infrastructure they had been accumulating since their beginnings.

Now that you’ve shed them, you have more freedom to move in a new direction. Fewer obstacles can hold you back. You won’t be tempted to use (or repurpose) a tool, system, function, or person just because it’s around.

Second, you’ll restart with something of value: experience. Be grateful for your years of learning at the lumberyard school of hard knocks. You have noted a variety of things that other remodelers did wrong or well. You have a list of changes you always intended to make but didn’t follow through with. When your best production guy left, you realized that you could do without him just fine, maybe even better. When you ran out of money, you realized that a more advanced financial system would have warned you of impending challenges. The list of helpful experiences goes on.

Lean and Mean Going Forward

From what you have learned, you can move forward into a much better place as the economy recovers. You will also be much better prepared for the next recession. History will repeat itself!

I found this to be true as I started my business during the recession of the early 1990s. I knew no differently than to cause work to happen in a tough economy. When the economy improved, my business was ready, our brand was well-known, and we had captured significant market share. We were formidable, to the extent that many of our competitors, feeling inferior, believed they never even had a chance with homeowners who had already met with us.

During this recession, I encourage you to build a company that can sustain any down market. Choose customer and project types that will offer work even when money is tight. Market to create a brand and an ever-expanding customer list. Never again be overly dependent on referrals or good workmanship alone.

Strategically seek out better employees — those who are willing and able to help your business grow. Get help with creating and adopting a financial system that will empower you to accurately predict and monitor profitable growth. Build a production system and department that will deliver an unmatched experience for your customers — and within budget every time.

Should there be another downturn, these steps will help you recognize the warning signs that you missed or ignored this time. Essentially, don’t go wild or get addicted to excessive overhead. Once you become lean and mean, stay that way as a business strategy.

Brian Tracy, a consultant I admire, once said, “The ability to discipline yourself to delay gratification in the short term in order to enjoy greater rewards in the long term is the indispensable prerequisite for success.” Be strategic, but pace yourself. Make “slow and steady, measurable and profitable growth” your new mantra.

—Shawn McCadden founded, operated, and sold a successful 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 speaks at industry events and consults with remodeling companies. shawnm@charter.net.