Not for the Fainthearted

The list of motivations for striking out onto one’s own and starting a remodeling business is long, but here is a good start. There is a desire to make more money. There is a strong desire to not let your ideas make someone else rich. There is a desire to chart one’s own course in life, not to be controlled by a course or business path that other people choose. There is a strong sense that you have hit upon a unique value proposition, perhaps a niche in the market that is underserved. These, among other motivations, lead many to start a remodeling business.

Onetime Qualified Remodeler columnist Michael Gerber famously called this moment an entrepreneurial seizure. The humor and the dark underbelly of Gerber’s phrase “entrepreneurial seizure” is that starting a business is not usually based on sound reasoning or even business sense. It represents a leap of faith that you will hit the ground running and never stop. This industry is filled with great carpenters who dropped their tool belts to market and sell jobs, to price them and build them. The hard reality of being in business means having to spend time doing things you may not enjoy or even be good at.

This leap-of-faith is often rooted in an overestimation of one’s own abilities. A lot of very talented designers and trim carpenters create businesses that are craft based. Among many of these, there is a sense that the excellence of their core skills will carry the business forward, and money will follow naturally. This does happen for a lucky few who are well connected to a network of paying customers. But today’s remodeling market is not as frothy on the demand side anymore. And the scope of jobs has shifted dramatically. More people are looking for house doctors and fewer are looking for a modern-day Michelangelo.

Successfully running a business requires a combination of skills that is not often found in one person. In 2010, the remodelers who will thrive will be the ones who see the challenges of the road ahead clearly and prepare to address those challenges ahead of time. Sales and marketing will be the No. 1 challenge for most remodeling firms. Take a day or two days this fall/winter to put a plan together that you feel will work. Then seek out expert opinions to tweak that plan. Lead costs are growing. You need to be sure that your plan is an efficient one.

Challenge No. 2 is really a group of challenges posed by a changing regulatory environment that have been in the offing for many years. How prepared are you to perform lead clearance testing on homes built before 1978 where children are present? Do you have a plan for communicating with your customers about lead-based paint given the April 10th implementation of the new lead-based paint rule? Have you identified a place to get the training you need? The new year will also bring with it new options and requirements with regard to providing health insurance to your employees. Some of you, who do not now offer it, may be required to do so. Is there someone on your team who is prepared to handle the issue of health insurance? Do you have a good insurance professional that you can rely on?

The new year will bring an improving market for remodeling activity, but it will also bring with it a set of challenges that will test your full range of business capabilities. Unfortunately, the fun and rewarding part of the business — creating great solutions for customers — will not be your sole focus for 2010. The one indispensible trait for successful remodelers will be overall business resourcefulness. The winners will listen to others. They will cast a wide net for business ideas and for people to help them navigate this challenging business environment.