Twenty years ago, Robyn and Michael Muscardini, owners of Creative Spaces (Big50 1991) were approached by a consultant to help guide them through the world of small business. Five years into their Oakland, Calif., business, they didn't know if they could afford it, but they hired him anyway. "At the end of that first year, we made more than enough profit" to afford the luxury. "Then we were hooked," Robyn Muscardini recalls.

The couple have regularly worked with consultants ever since. "Everyone can benefit from having a manager," Muscardini says. "It's a fast track to more information," she adds.

Consultants work with Creative Spaces to create yearly business plans, set priorities, and measure the success of programs. They meet by conference call on a monthly basis, but if the company is going through a difficult time, they will speak weekly.

The yearly plan includes sales, production, profit, and hiring goals. The group also creates a yearly focus.

One consultant told the couple their subs were more profitable than Creative Spaces was. He explained that profit comes from charging for the work force, not on the volume of building, and suggested they raise their rates. "One gem like that can make a huge impact on your business," Muscardini says.

Muscardini also hired a consultant specifically to help her turn over her financial management responsibilities to an employee. "We created a time line and strategy for handing it over piece by piece," she says.


Consultants also helped create a dividing line between Robyn and Michael's marriage and business. "During one stressful time, the consultant said our company had colonized our marriage," Muscardini says. "He gave us guidelines to re-establish the boundaries."

Because it's such a personal relationship, she advises remodelers to choose a consultant with whom they are comfortable. She also advises checking references. Though it's an advantage to hire someone who knows the remodeling industry, it's not necessary. "Consultants have views into many different businesses. They are a wealth of resources from that perspective," Muscardini says.

And most important, take their advice. "Don't hire them then argue with them," Muscardini says.