In 2009, still working as a consultant for Remodelers Advantage, I founded a craft school in a nature preserve as a nonprofit. I know what you’re thinking: Being a nonprofit is easy, you’ve done it many years. I hear that joke every now and then.

A nonprofit sells its services, experiences, or products purposely at or below cost as a public good. The goal is to break even and/or to have money left over for capital expenditures. Actually creating a successful nonprofit has many things in common with founding a for-profit business. So working in this nonprofit keeps me grounded while at the same time it has me wrestling with many of the same issues you do.

Magic Solution

What I’d love, of course, is a magic solution that would propel the enterprise to the next level. My clients want exactly the same thing for their business. But there is no magic answer. Good business is a puzzle with many pieces. To be successful, most of the pieces must be in the right place at the right time — not all, but most.

Thousands of business books have been written about the one magic answer. And they sell because a single answer seems so much simpler than the many separate accomplishments that underlie business success.

You’ve heard people say: Follow your passion and you’ll succeed. Who isn’t passionate when they start their own business? And how many of those businesses fail? As a consultant, I’ve seen many instances where passion is just not enough. It’s great to love what you do, but that can blind you to certain business realities. For example, say you fall in love with a project and you want it so much that you estimate it lower to get the contract. That can sink you.

All About People? Maybe

Others suggest that business is all about people. Hire the right staff and your company will do good work and make money doing it. True, but if those great people are not assisted and supported by a well-run business, they will soon scatter to other jobs elsewhere, jobs that position them for greater success.

Today it’s easy to think that creative marketing can provide the “one magic thing” solution. All you need are leads, right? But if that marketing isn’t followed up by professional selling, proper pricing, and efficient delivery, it certainly won’t pull the business cart by itself.

How about putting well-designed systems up on that magic pedestal? Success is about providing a superior client experience and making that experience predictable and replicable. That means reducing error and increasing predictability by creating systems. Developing and refining systems is major and never-ending work in every well-run company. But do systems guarantee success? No.

Nor does sure-handed financial governance. Yes, running your business by the numbers, budgeting for profit, planning cash flow, and pricing adequately are do-or-die issues in every company. Lack of wise financial management is a huge factor in business failure. But you could do all those things and still not succeed.

Many Things Reasonably Well

You get the idea. All business is complicated, but the remodeling business is more complicated than most. Remodelers have to be good at marketing, selling, designing the project, estimating the costs (even for tasks they’ve never done before), and constructing it under the nose of their clients while totally disrupting their lives.

To be successful, you must do many things reasonably well. You have to spread responsibility, leadership, and accountability throughout the company. You, as owner, must keep a firm hand on the financial tiller while coaching your staff and looking for solutions from those who have been there and done that. The goal is to end up with clients who rave about you not at you. It sounds simple but it sure isn’t easy.

Mark Robert Halper Photography

—Linda Case is founder of Remodelers Advantage, a national company that gives remodelers the tools to achieve consistent profitability and success through one-on-one consulting, the Roundtables peer program, and an online learning community, Advantage Associates. 301.490.5620;;