This is the Remodeling Design Awards issue. Competition is in full display. Winning is what counts right now. Short on tiger blood or Adonis DNA? Don’t worry. In the real world it takes a lot more than positive thinking, will power, and charm to win. You also don’t have to be the best to win either.

Awards competitions are a good tangible metaphor for marketplace selection in virtually every way. You have to make a strong impression, demonstrate comprehensive knowledge, and stand head and shoulders above the crowd significantly enough to be selected. Coming in second or third doesn’t win you the job, and it doesn’t win you the award.

Having judged a number of competitions, including the Remodeling Design Awards, I can attest to the wide range of approaches that remodelers take, and they are not all good. Judging is blind, so I can’t tell you if wildly successful companies submit crappy entries or not, but I suspect there is a link between poorly developed presentation and a poorly run company.

A great design entry has few pages. Each page has been thought out and contains more than just a photo. The entry starts with the most impressive image of the project; the image I will hold in my head after looking at 300 binders. The narrative has just the right amount of words, which can be read and understood in less than 40 seconds. The cheap, shiny vinyl pages are gone, the binder itself is impressive. The layout of text and images draws me in, engaging me, and I instantly know that this project is “the one.”

A bad design entry has lots of pages. Pages and pages of photos of everything, sometimes the same thing from two angles — as if the remodeler couldn’t choose a favorite and put them both in, demonstrating his “strong” decision-making skills. An endless narrative that squeezes every millimeter of printable area on a page and the glare from the cheap glossy vinyl pages sticking to the photos irritates me. The toilet seat is up, there is clutter in the kitchen, and I want to be done reviewing this entry.

Look, if you need someone to pat you on the back and tell you how great you are, or that you should be proud of your accomplishments no matter how small, or that the reason why your business is still struggling is due to any number of forces beyond your control, join a trade association roundtable; that’s what they do best.

The market has gone through some significant changes in the last 15 years, and the next five years promise to be exponentially more intense. Either you gear up to win, or watch your market share erode to the well-organized, well-presented, efficient, and sustainable organizations that have a strategy for winning.

Still showing up to the door with a scrap of paper to take notes and a vinyl leaf binder to display your poorly photographed volume of work from 1995? Sorry friends, that isn’t going to cut it.

—Michael Anschel is owner and principal of Otogawa-Anschel Design Build, serves on the board of Minnesota Greenstar, and is CEO of Verified Green. Click here to read more from Michael Anschel.