Recently I was facilitating a group of remodelers at a “Mentor Visit” meeting. The idea was that the host, an experienced and successful remodeler, would serve as a mentor to visiting remodelers, answering their questions and offering advice based on his own experience starting and growing his business.

Over the course of two days, there were a lot of technical questions about business systems, showroom strategies, finding good employees, and managing by the numbers. As the facilitator (and being the technical type), I was pleased with the questions and answers I was hearing. Then I heard what I considered to be the best question of the event: “It looks like your business is at a point where it is self-sustaining. It is obvious that you and your team are doing a great job. What advice would you give to those who are just getting started?”

The mentor answered off the top of his head, but delivered some of the best nuggets of information anyone shared at the event. I've listed them below, and, based on my own experiences, have taken the liberty to expand on each one.

Work Hard Do what it takes to get your business going — you will need to put in the hours to make a go of it. At the same time, learn to work intelligently. Think of ways to systematize your efforts and eventually to replace yourself in certain roles. Set this example for your employees and hold them accountable. The customer will be watching.

Do It Well There are a lot of other remodelers out there. Doing quality work will help separate you from the pack, but that is often the customer's minimum expectation. To keep customers coming back for more and to generate referrals from them, work on the experience you provide. Help your customers find real solutions to their remodeling needs. Explain how you will do the work, how it might affect them and their children in the process, and when it will be finished. If you promise something, make sure it happens.

Do It Fast Keep the project moving forward at all times. Once homeowners decide to go forward with a project, they want it done as soon as possible. Try to keep your lead time short for starting a new project, and get in and out of your projects quickly without sacrificing quality or shortchanging the customer's experience. Project size or scope may mean you need to hire additional help or use subs.

Make It Convenient Make sure a live human being answers your phone. Return all calls the same day or be sure that whoever answers the phone manages the caller's expectations about a response. Follow up quickly with estimates and proposals. Have samples available for the products you suggest. The goal is to make your prospects and customers think, “This so easy, why would I call anyone else?”

Make It Enjoyable Everyone involved in the project should be not only getting the work done but also having fun and fulfilling their personal needs at the same time. Customers, their children, and even their pets should look forward to seeing the crew each morning. Project a positive, get-it-done attitude with customers and employees whether you're working through mundane details or critical challenges. Recognize your employees' efforts and give them the tools, support, and instructions needed to do a good job. Be ready for subs when they arrive and pay them promptly.

If you do what this mentor suggests, you too may someday enjoy that self-sustaining business model. You might even become a mentor to others and share the secrets of your success.

—Shawn McCadden, CR, CLC, recently sold his Arlington, Mass.-based employee-managed design/build remodeling business. In his second career, he is Director of Education for DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen by Worldwide. Send e-mail to