Imagine a world where you can set up private showrooms for your clients online; no client ever disputes who ordered what; a change order takes three minutes to put in place instead of three days; and you have more time to manage construction instead of conversations.

You can accomplish all this and more with a client-only section on your Web site, allowing you to handle a range of business tasks online. In password-protected areas, clients access project photos, schedules, budgets, contracts, punch lists, document libraries, and invoices, and sign off on change orders … for starters.

Few remodelers have taken advantage of this capability. A recent survey in REMODELING showed that 56% of readers have a company Web site. Of these, less than 5% offer client-only pages, estimates Michael Menn, a principal with Design Construction Concepts (D+CC) in Northbrook, Ill.

This is likely to change, especially for high-end remodelers. Most of their clients are used to doing business online with their stockbrokers, bankers, and insurers.

“In the upscale market, your clients have higher expectations,” says John Jantsch, marketing coach and author of Duct Tape Marketing: The World's Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide.

With today's more affordable Web-based applications, you can quickly get your site up and running. And client-only sites are still rare enough among remodelers that you can use them to differentiate yourself from the pack. All who have them — even those who only post jobsite pictures there — extol the benefits.

Those with more ambitious offerings have seen greater gains. Bakken Building and Remodeling in Big River, Minn., for example, put its entire remodeling process online — from construction drawings to online virtual showrooms — and gained not only more streamlined operations, but more time.

REVIEWING REACTIONS Early convert D+CC launched a client-only feature eight years ago. During a brainstorming session at a peer review meeting, a remodeler mentioned taking pictures every week and e-mailing them to clients.

Menn liked the idea but wanted to post photos online. D+CC, a design/build company, works with many clients who do not live on site during project construction; many move to second homes or rent another house. The principals spent a lot of time on security issues, making sure the client-only section had multiple layers of password protection. They worked with a vendor and spent about $5,000 to launch the site.

Nervously, they allowed two clients to log on and test the feature. “How is this working out? Do you feel secure?” Menn asked after two months. “Oh, we're so excited that we've given our passwords to all our friends,” one client replied.