Every media outlet discovers that, sometimes for years at a stretch, particular pieces of content will draw an audience no matter how often you run them. For the Nickelodeon cable TV network, it once was episodes of "Spongebob Squarepants." For Vogue magazine, it is stories about fashion. And for us lately, it's whether to give free estimates.

Time and again, I've seen spats break out in which one side declares that good remodelers don't give away estimates for free and the other side just as fervently states that remodelers who charge for estimates couldn't survive in their hometown. An air of exasperation permeates the chat rooms, as consultants despair of getting their point across and remodelers feel they won't ever see the day when their estimates generate dollars.

I'm going to avoid that fight today. Rather, I want to deal with a related subject, one inspired a few weeks back when I stopped at a red light on U.S. 301 in Rocky Mount, N.C.

Ahead and to my right I spotted a white van, tattooed on all sides with verbiage announcing the van's owner was a remodeling company based in Virginia. Most of what was written were the usual details you want on the sides of your van: The company name, phone number, website address, business slogan, etc. But across the back of the van in foot-high letters, about head-high to the driver in the car behind, you also could find the words "FREE ESTIMATES."

What a waste of valuable marketing space! If free estimates are as ubiquitous as most people claim, what makes this remodeler think it's this offering that'll get people so hyped up that they'll race alongside the van to record the phone number? Even worse, promoting free estimates implies that giving something away is the highest-value service this remodeler can offer. Free estimates are the antithesis of one of the core possessions that every remodeler should have: a Unique Selling Proposition. You want to promote something only you can offer. Free estimates isn't it.

The bulk of REMODELING's February issue will be devoted to the fundamental concepts of sales and marketing: How to declare who you are, promote what you do, and manage your outreach for maximum effect. You'll find ways to respond when prospects toss verbal hand grenades. You'll develop the disciplines that lead to sustained success. And you'll find tools to help increase sales.

A consultant whom I admire wrote last year that being a jack-of-all-trades is a great talent that you can put to use once you get the job, but when advertising yourself you're better off promoting just one skill. Anybody can offer something for free. Don't be just anybody.