The enterprise might begin as a hobby, building projects for friends and family, getting paid a little to do something that gives enjoyment and satisfaction. Then, more jobs appear and more money rolls in.

A business is born, and soon bigger decisions must be made: Hire a carpenter to help in the field or hire someone to answer the phone? Remodel the basement into a home office or move into commercial space?

The first milestones have whizzed by so quickly they've hardly faded from the rearview before another looms ahead.

But this is where the easy metaphor ends, because business milestones don't occur as regularly as those along the highway.

For most remodelers, the process of achieving milestones, says REMODELING columnist Mark Richardson, president of Case Design/Remodeling, Bethesda, Md., “is stepping in quicksand. Ninety-nine percent of remodeling businesses were not designed. They evolved.

“It's standing in quicksand and it's up to your waist and you're asking, ‘How do I get out of this?' It's that dynamic.”

But it is possible to navigate the quicksand and realize higher profits if milestones are established as goals and are something you work toward instead of watch whiz by.

“You must plan in order to minimize risk and chaos,” says Judith Miller, a San Francisco-based management consultant to the remodeling industry. “It's like training for a marathon.”

Time to be Proactive Milestones as goals can be tangible, like moving from being an employee to being self-employed or hiring your first office person or first lead carpenter. But they can also be less tangible, like spending more time with your family, working only 50 hours a week, or taking a two-week vacation without your cell phone.

Instead of creating a list of what might amount to dozens of specific goals over the course of your business's — and your own — life, it might be more helpful to organize them under the following four principles.

  • Be a professional
  • Recognize you wear too many hats
  • Work on the business, not in the business
  • Create new growth areas

How do you recognize when change is necessary to move forward? While it would be “tidier to be able to quantify it,” says Linda Case of Remodelers Advantage and a long-time columnist for this magazine, there is no real way to put a dollar figure on the appropriate time to make a change.

“It's hard to pinpoint what triggers milestones from the perspective of volume,” Case says. “A company doing $5,000 jobs is going to go through milestones more quickly,” than one running $50,000 jobs.

For each of the principles, a different set of conditions exists to signal change. And conditions will differ depending on the age of your business. In the early stages, especially, “it's like leaping across a stream on lily pads,” Case says. “At some point you have to leap, have faith and confidence that you're going to be able to pull it all together.”