By Steve Maltzman Every remodeling company should have a detailed marketing plan and operating budget broken out month-by-month. Start by identifying the kinds of marketing activities you plan to pursue and the month you expect to incur the cost. As you develop and monitor your marketing plan in the coming year, here are some tips for controlling expenses:

Substitute "free" advertising for paid. Press releases distributed regularly to local media are a perfect opportunity to get the word out about your company. Introduce yourself to the editor of the business or home section of your local paper or weekend magazine. Establish yourself as a source for quotes in all articles about remodeling.

Track lead sources and closes. Spend your marketing dollars where you will get the biggest "bang for the buck."

Strive for a consistent marketing message. If one company goal is excellent customer service, make sure your marketing literature, company image, and all communications with the outside world get this message across.

Ask for referrals. The best source of quality leads is prior customers. But you won't get what you don't ask for.

Provide for no-charge warranty work. Many past customers will call you back to make minor repairs long after the warranty period has expired. If you decide to handle callbacks outside of warranty, be sure to take advantage of the occasion as a marketing opportunity. Ask for a referral, and provide a no-charge invoice to let the client know the value of the favor you're doing.

--Steve Maltzman, CPA, is president of Builder Accounting Services in Redlands, Calif.