One of the more common questions that I get from remodelers around the country is, "How do I grow my business?" I always answer the question with a question: "What do you mean by growth?" or "Why do you want to grow?"

Most remodelers pay attention only to top-line growth -- total revenue. Others only care about bottom-line growth -- increased gross profit and net profit. Those who dig a little deeper, however, will find many other elements that can legitimately be called "growth." For example, growth can mean becoming more efficient, a way of doing more with less. Increasing market share is also a kind of growth, as is putting plans in place so you can exit the business at some point in the future.

Why grow

All of these types of growth are reasonable, even necessary, for a remodeling company to consider. The key, however, is determining what is most important to you.

I believe there are three primary reasons to grow. The first is obvious -- money. We all want to earn more money, as do our employees. And our companies need cash to invest in tools and equipment, marketing programs, and capital improvements. In my experience, however, growing simply to increase revenue is not sustainable in the long run unless it's tied to one of the other two reasons.

The second reason to grow is the market. If your clients are driving you to do more projects or to provide additional services for them, you probably won't be able to respond without growing. But there are two sides to this coin. You may decide that to grow big enough or fast enough to accommodate the market would compromise quality or otherwise undermine your long-term goals.

The third key reason to grow is you and your organization. You may be moving through a passage in your life and want to accomplish something else, or you may want to provide an opportunity that won't arise if you stay where you are. Ask yourself, for example, where your best employees will be in two years if your company doesn't grow. Without new opportunities, there's a good chance they'll leave you.

How much, how fast

Having a good reason to grow is not a license to grow as big as you can as fast as you can. The rate of growth is equally important. I find the following rules of thumb useful:

Annual growth of up to 5% is enough to keep doing a good job, and you should be able to achieve this level of growth without too much difficulty.

Growth between 5% and 10% is what I would call moderate. While it's still relatively easy to achieve, it requires some planning to accomplish without excessive slippage.

Growth in the 10% to 20% range is aggressive and requires not only a plan but also a commitment of time and money.

Growth above 20% is difficult to achieve without sustaining short-term losses and even losing ground from previous years.

For most remodeling companies, staying in the same place is not an option; they are either growing or declining. With a vision of where you are heading and a plan to get there, growth -- for the right reasons and at the correct rate -- is a natural outcome for all successful businesses. --Mark Richardson is president of Case Design/Remodeling and Case Handyman Services, Bethesda, Md., and the author of 30-Day Remodeling Fitness Program. He can be reached at (301) 229-4600 or