5. Present your bids in person.

Finley presents his proposals in person. "It gives new customers an opportunity to ask questions and gives me an opportunity to explain the bid," he says.

Dunnigan says that mailed or e-mailed proposals are not taken seriously. "I always present the bid at an appointment and make the proposal to everyone involved," he says. "I give them the best presentation I can with most details and hope that will push me over." He also focuses on the profile of the buyer that he developed during the first meeting. "That way, I'm not rambling on about details that are insignificant to them, and I'm not leaving anything out."

If a designer is involved, Dunnigan asks to have that person present, especially if they have worked together in the past. "If he is recommending me, it's good to have him there as advocate," Dunnigan says. During the conversation, he and the designer might refer to issues they solved together in the past. "That conversation may lead to the client having more confidence and bonding with you," he says.

Keilty's staff asks clients how they would like to receive the proposal. "I dislike the used-car salesman technique where I hand it to them and sit there while they read it," Keilty says. He prefers to e-mail, mail, or fax the proposal to the homeowners and to then set up a meeting. "They usually need a few days to get over the shock of the cost and to come up with ideas or questions," he says.

Dunnigan's five-page bid document is divided into sections. "We use a template of language in each subsection that helps clients understand what is and what is not included," he says. Along with the proposal, he gives clients a packet of information about his company, including brochures and guidelines on choosing a contractor.

Kraft provides a thorough 23-page proposal. "I can't sell them on cost because I can't make decisions now on some of the details. So instead, I wow them with thoroughness," he says.

6. Do not lower your margin to win the bid.

"Never allow yourself to be driven by the client's budget or their disclosed budget or other people's bids. If it does not work out with your markup, it won't work. Don't get caught up in 'winning.' Don't get emotionally involved. Let someone else lose money," Dunnigan says.

Keilty agrees. "I will not modify my numbers even if I see someone else's numbers. We have hard bids from all our subs. We won't take a job just to stay busy," he says.

7. Track actual versus estimated costs on all jobs so you can update your estimating software to make sure that your bids are accurate.

Keilty says that remodelers must track their numbers. "The key is knowing your numbers. Then you will bid it correctly," he says. "If you are willing to do things on square footage average, you might be fine, but I prefer to be accurate."

Keilty Construction staff also analyze actual cost versus proposed cost through the duration of the project, including callbacks after the end of the job. "We are getting hard bids from subs, so in-house labor is the one we have to track," Keilty says. The office asks the lead carpenters for input on the labor. For example, in the winter, the rate is higher because the crew is less efficient and works shorter hours. "In summer we can work six to seven efficient hours; winter might only be four to five."

8. If all else fails, avoid bidding, and cultivate relationships that lead to negotiated contracts.

If you're remodeling right, Kraft says, then every client is a client for life. "When you leave, there should be no reason for them to ever call another contractor," he says.

Kraft spends time educating clients about value so they will understand that what they are buying from him is not a bid or item but a service. "I try to put it in perspective by explaining that they would not hire a doctor, attorney, or accountant based on price," he explains, telling clients that remodeling is an investment in what is likely their biggest asset, their home. Part of his job is to change their perception of the industry.

Kraft says that it's also important to choose clients who will be worth your investment and energy. "When people call me, I'm also interviewing them to see if they are a good fit," he says. It also helps to build a team -- trades, suppliers, architects -- that understands the service you want to deliver and your culture.

Mike Gervais, of Prime Construction, in Burlington, Vt., says that he didn't stop bidding until he changed his own mindset about remodeling. "We have a service that is worth money. We value or own time and effort."

Gervais spends time to elevate the level of service that his company provides. He takes continuing education, is involved in the local home builder's association, teaches seminars for homeowners at banks, and lobbies the state legislature to create a licensing program and pass more stringent workers' compensation laws.