Remodelers tend to immediately spot problems in other people's businesses that they don't see in their own. Let's say you meet an architect at a business mixer. He wants to grow his volume as well as his bottom-line net profit. You bore in: How will he fuel that growth? Where will the new business come from? What kind of business is most profitable for him? How much will he spend to attract it? How will he spend it?

In other words, does he have a plan and a budget to fund his growth? His answers are vague and unfocused. You are disappointed to learn that he has a lot of hope but no real plan. Privately, you question his business acumen and move on.

TURNING THE TABLES Now let's turn those logical questions around to your business. If your answers aren't much better than the architect's, you're in good company. I've found that many remodelers are amazingly lackadaisical about marketing. Their approach to growth, or even viability, is: “If I dream it, it will come.” Or, “I'm so busy that I don't need to market.” Both assumptions are faulty and fraught with risk. Quality leads are essential, as is management of your intake pipe. Here's your five-step guide to developing, funding, and implementing a good marketing plan:

Set goals for your marketing outreach. The obvious goal is “leads,” but the better goal is “too many leads of the right quality.” This will let you pick and choose — geographically, by job type, by job size. You'll be able to charge a higher markup, have more prospects drop off, yet still have the right number of jobs. Strive not just to bring in enough leads to reach your sales goals, but to create a constant marketing presence.

Create your marketing plan. Begin by carefully reviewing what worked and what didn't in previous years. Then engage your staff to brainstorm new ways to market the company — tactics that fit your goals and your budget. Create a marketing calendar for the entire year, spreading out tactics and expenses over the months, with special emphasis on slow times.

Fund your marketing. Most remodelers seem to spend about 1% of their volume on marketing, but then most remodelers are poor marketers. If you're a full-line remodeler, plan instead to earmark 3% to 4% of your projected volume for marketing. If you have a showroom, add another 5%. If your jobs average $10,000 or less, you may need to spend 10% to 12% of your projected volume on marketing to achieve the right number of leads.

These amounts may seem high, especially if you've been spending almost nothing. Remember, their purpose is to ensure enough work of the right type for the company. Think of it as very important insurance.

Implement your marketing. This is relatively easy once your plan, budget, and calendar are in place. You, the owner, should approve the plan, but its actual implementation should be handled by your office manager, designer, or whoever has the interest. Have that person report to you every month to review the results to date and the plans for the following month. Be willing to change course — to adjust the lead flow up or down — as needed.

Track results carefully. Remodelers often manage the first four steps only to falter on this last, critical step. Successful tracking means systematically documenting the source of every incoming raw lead and its progress after you qualify it: first appointment, design contract, construction contract, sale price of resulting job. Track leads that you “trash” too. This effort will reveal each source's average lead cost, average sale cost, and average job size. There will be no mystery in what marketing works for you, and what does not.

Caveats: You could bring in a marketing expert to help with this effort, but in the final analysis, always trust your brain and gut. Be patient: Marketing outreach often takes six months to yield results. Above all, don't postpone your plan another year.

Next month: my opinions on the types of marketing that work for remodelers — and marketing that falls short. — Linda Case is founder of Remodelers Advantage in Laurel, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. 301.490.5260;;