You might not believe this, but I don't like upsetting people. However, I need to say something that's going to make a few of you upset.

If you are one of the many contractors who start an advertising message with, "We specialize in ..., " good for you. But if you follow that statement with a long laundry list of the things you do, you're not specializing in anything. And it hurts your business.

Contractors are often advised by their mentors and peers to learn all they can, to become a jack-of-all-trades. And they're right to do that, especially in general remodeling where it helps to know as much as possible about all aspects of construction. But when remodelers decide to promote their business, they believe that telling everyone the long list of things they can do will make them more appealing to the buying public.

They're also trying to generate leads for any work that they're capable of doing. They're trying to be all things to all people, to gain any leads possible. I understand that.

But today's buyers are smarter than that. Today, potential clients know the value of hiring a specialist who knows exactly what they are doing. And they know that a jack-of-all-trades isn't a specialist.

Webster's dictionary has two definitions of "specialty":

1. Something that a person or place is known for making or producing very well


2. An area of study or business that a person specializes in or has special knowledge of

That's one thing, not a laundry list of things. When you list all the things you believe you can do, your potential clients will keep looking for a specialist who truly specializes in the work they want done. They won't give you or your company a second thought.

A Specialist's Expertise & Focus

May I tell a personal story? Last spring I was having problems with my shoulder. I saw my doctor, a general practitioner, who gave me a steroid shot. It worked for one day, and then the pain was back. My doctor said I needed surgery and referred me to an orthopedic specialist. Not just any orthopedic specialist, but an orthopedic specialist who only worked on shoulders and elbows, nothing else.

I should have seen the specialist in the first place. I didn't need surgery; I needed a steroid shot that was properly placed. One shot given by a specialist who knew exactly where to aim. Problem solved.

Prospective clients know this. When they're looking for a remodeling contractor, they don't want one who also specializes in windows and doors, they want one who focuses on remodeling, every day, every job. When they want windows or doors replaced, they don't want someone who also specializes in kitchens and decks, they want someone who replaces windows or doors every day, who knows every little detail about windows and doors. They want a specialist.

When I talk to contractors on the phone, it's fairly clear that those who pick one thing and stick to it like glue are those who make the most money. This applies to other businesses as well. I've seen a number of people recently running multiple businesses. They have a construction company, a restaurant, a pet grooming business, and maybe a travel agency. Gang, there isn't any specialty there. They might have one good business and three distractions. Don't be distracted. Pick one thing and focus.

Here's how to figure out what type of work you should specialize in: Review your last 15 to 20 jobs. Which jobs did you make the most money on? Which jobs gave you the highest gross profit margin? That's where you should specialize.

When you start promoting your business as the best at your specialty, it can take up to a year for your advertising to start working well. So the sooner you start promoting yourself as the company to turn to for a particular type of work, the sooner the calls will start coming in.

Get focused. Do your work. Make some money.

Michael Stone runs Construction Programs & Results, in Camas, Wash. 360.335.1100. This article was reprinted with permission from his Markup & Profit newsletter. Read the original plus readers' comments here.