In a January 2010 blog for Huffpost Food, Michael Pollan explains that he wrote his most recent book, Food Rules, after a couple of doctors who had read his other books about food and eating told him that what they really needed was some simple advice that they could give to their patients. Food Rules is Pollan’s answer and attempt to “... collect and formulate some straightforward, memorable, everyday rules for eating, a set of personal policies that would, taken together ... nudge people onto a healthier and happier path.”

What does this have to do with remodeling? Just as Pollan’s rules aim to cure the nation’s obesity epidemic, I think the remodeling industry needs a set of rules to curb its dangerous appetite for growth. Growth itself is not the culprit, but growing sales at the expense of net profits is as serious as an eating disorder.

So here, in no particular order, is my initial set of “Remodeler Rules.” (Please add yours in the Comments section at the end of this article.)

  • Make the right sale. Everyone has sold to the wrong clients at the wrong price, and used the wrong crew to produce the job. Don’t make the same mistake twice. Define your perfect client, refine your estimating and pricing, and train your field crew to produce jobs profitably.
  • Watch the net. Net profit protects against recessions like the one we’ve just survived. It also rewards employees and owners and provides for capital investment, among other benefits.
  • Protect the people. Clients, employees, trade partners, suppliers, and members of the greater community speak and act either in your interest or against it. Safeguard your reputation by properly managing relationships.
  • Build the company you love. Maintain consistent focus on the business model that best suits you, and resist the temptation to try out others that might not be as compatible. Diversification isn’t always the best response to the new normal: unless the work of the new business is attractive to you personally, meets a market need, and can be sold profitably, don’t do it!
  • Keep learning. Remodeling, like most other endeavors, rewards knowledge gained through study and experience. Use all of the resources available to you — national associations, blogs, websites, books, magazines, peer groups, and consultants — to continually build your knowledge. Don’t imagine that your company can become successful and profitable without continual improvement.

Whatever you add to this list, be sure it makes things simpler, not more complex. In the end, you might have as simple set of rules for building your company as Pollan has for eating: “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.”
—Judith Miller is a Seattle–based remodeling business consultant and trainer.