Of all the things that money (and specifically cash) does for us as a civilized society, is solves the problem of “ coincidence of wants.” Some background on that first, then I’ll explain how this applies to you.

When there’s a coincidence of wants, one party in a transaction has little or no cash and may resort to barter. How would you buy a car if you had to pay in chickens? Would you remodel a kitchen if the customer paid you in bags of wool? Cash allows us to place a value on a product or service. Since cash is liquid, it also allows us, at some later date, to obtain a product or service. This is, loosely, an economist's definition of cash.

This idea applies to your sales process in reverse. Consider your interaction with your customer to be a barter situation, in addition to a cash transaction. Your goods and services that you offer include expertise/craftsmanship, hard work, timeliness, cleanliness, etc. In addition to the cash, you and your customers are offering trust as a trade-able service. You must trust a prospect/client, but he or she must also trust you. You may be a good communicator, but are they good listeners? If the “goods” that they are bartering are not ones you want, do you really want to be in business with them? How much cash do you need if the trust equation will always be negative?

I consider remodeling to be an intimate dance. For a small repair, I get a key to the home for a day or two; for a custom kitchen, I practically move in and perhaps even spend more time in the home than the customer does for several months. From the perspective of household finances, I may affect the bills they pay for decades. If we can’t trust each other on day one and every day after that, the work will suffer.

For all these reasons, I need to be as excited about the working relationship as the client is. When work is slow, I bend or reduce my standards (we all do), and I always pay out more of my life force by way of stress or longer hours spent working on over-communicating every detail. I would rather never make these compromises, as the results are rarely pleasing.

On the first visit, I try to find a common ground to converse on, to take a small sample of trust, to see if it can exist — a shared favorite hobby, a book we’ve both read — and use that small talk to figure out if I can meet the needs of the customer and if they can meet mine. Like a first date, if that first dinner is awkward, you probably don’t want to move in together.

All that considered, I am a guest in the homes I visit, and the customer’s needs are paramount. Sometimes, though, I’m not the person to meet their needs, and no amount of cash can create that coincidence of wants.  —Clint Howes owns Revive Construction, in Portland, Ore.