Ten Things They Don’t Teach You in Home Improvement School

Essential Business Tips For Professionals

When it comes to learning about the business of home remodeling or design, nothing beats years of real-world experience on the job site and working with clients. While the first years in business may have been some of the toughest, they’re also full of learning opportunities that help lay the foundation for the rest of your career.

Below, 10 pros share the most important lessons they took away from their early years. 

Follow the Golden Rule

Imagining yourself in your client’s shoes can allow you to see the project through their eyes, giving you a new perspective on how you handle customer service.

“Treat your customers the way you would want to be treated,” says Tori Hagaman of Arborgate Interiors in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “Be careful when you walk in their door for the first time. Think, what would you want to hear and experience if you were them? If you don’t build your business on integrity, it will eventually fail. It’s important to show your customers that you are their advocate and not just looking out for your own bottom line.” 

For more tips on working with clients, read our free Houzz e-book When Clients Come Knocking.

Build Your Network of Both Clients and Pros

Developing a network of like-minded pros can boost your business through referrals and give you a community to share advice and best practices.

“Make lots of friends with other types of home remodeling and design pros who can get you jobs and referrals,” says Jorge Fontan of Fontan Architecture in New York. “As an architect, I socialize with architects less and hang around other professionals who might be potential clients.”

Take Responsibility for Your Actions

Everybody makes mistakes, but how you handle it reflects your true character as a business person. Owning up to the mistake and resolving the problem shows clients that you care about the end result and their satisfaction above all else. That sentiment can go a long way. 

“I was hired to reupholster two sofas and 16 boxed cushions and transported them in large, black trash bags that I got from under our sink,” say Natalie Vasquez of Natalie Vasquez Interiors in Riverside, California. “At the client’s house, I took the cushions out of the bags, and they were covered with coffee grounds, food and cigarette butts! My husband had rebagged the trash. I apologized profusely and remade the cushions. It taught me about taking responsibility for my actions, even business actions. Customers can either be brutal if you try to hide or have mercy on a mistake if you take responsibility for it.”

Learn more about bolstering your reputation with our free reputation management guidebook.

Get Coverage

The responsibility of operating a business comes with risks, so get covered with business insurance in case of any problems on and off the job site.

“A single loss can end your business, so make sure you are completely covered,” says Beth Whitlinger of Beth Whitlinger Interior Design in Foothill Ranch, California. “A few years after starting our business, we had a fairly substantial loss. We were in the middle of an install, and one of the delivery trucks full of furniture was stolen. It’s important to discuss all the details of your particular business with the insurance agent so they know exactly what types of coverage to recommend for your protection.”

Know What You’re Worth

Knowing the true value of your services and having the confidence to address the subject of money with clients will keep you getting paid what you’re worth and help your business grow in the right direction.

“I made a lot of mistakes when I started my own business because I did not do my market research or talk to other entrepreneurs,” says Philip Anderson of HDR Remodeling in Berkeley, California. “The first mistake was what to charge. I charged far below the market value for my area. I learned that you need to have a business plan and understand the ins and outs of your choices. If I added gutter cleaning or chimney cleaning to my handyman services, how would that affect my business or workman comp expenses? Those are the types of things you need to be aware of and build into your pricing strategy.”

Read our article “Talking About the Budget Doesn’t Have to Be Awkward, Really!” for more related tips.

Listen to Your Clients

Taking time to hear what your clients are asking for can give you direction for future opportunities.

“Listen to your good customers for hints on new directions and be ready to be flexible,” says Diane Squire of DJSquire Designs in Ojai, California. “I would have never explored 3D model/animation fly-through designs if I hadn’t been strongly nudged by a longtime contractor request. It was an incredibly beneficial move and a ‘win-win’ for my clients, my contractors and my business.” 

Deliver Excellence

Continuing to strive for excellence will help establish you as a standout professional who provides high-quality products and customer service. 

“Don’t be content with merely being in business,” says Christopher Thomas of Studio CMT in Houston. “Work to be the best in your category. Because we live in a world of copycat companies, the only thing that may separate you from the rest is your devotion to excellence. You should not only have an excellent product but also deliver that product with excellent service in mind.”

Interested in learning how you can differentiate your business and stand out from the crowd? Download our free Houzz e-book.

Don’t Be Afraid to Pivot

The business you want to build and the business you end up building may turn out to be two different things. Understanding the market and keeping an open mind can help you succeed in the long run.

“During my first year in business, I saw an opportunity to shift my focus from providing rendering services for the event industry to home builders and developers, which I thought was a side market. It led to a significant increase in business,” says Eric Pedersen of EP Visualz - 3D Rendering for Homes & Landscapes in Rochester, New York. “The lesson here is be prepared to make adjustments. Recognize where your market is and then pursue it. Be patient, as things take time to develop.”

Market Yourself

Marketing yourself and your business is important to making sure people know of your services so you can keep your pipeline full. Building your online presence can pay dividends when it comes to attracting new clients.

“Take advantage of down time with design research, continuing education credits and marketing,” says Maria J. Bortugno of B Designs in Latham, New York. “With social media playing such an important role, I update my profiles. I post everything: individual items I’m shopping for, project details such as tile being installed, favorite old projects, personal photos and stories. Usually, once I’m busy with marketing, it’s inevitable the phone will ring — sometimes immediately, but usually within a week.” 

Curious about tips for keeping your profile fresh? Check out our free Houzz e-book.

Hire Quality Contractors

The people you hire to help you complete the job reflect on you as a professional. Finding and using quality pros whose work and professionalism you respect will contribute to your client’s overall project experience.

“Spend the time and money to make sure that the installers for cabinets, countertops, electrical and plumbing you use are good-quality licensed contractors,” says Elana Riedel of The Cabinet Lady in Jurupa Valley, California. “Using licensed professionals allows us to know that the contractor has many years’ experience, has passed qualifying exams, is registered with the state and is bonded. We have found that licensed contractors tend to be more concerned about the final outcome. Most importantly, it allows us to reassure our clients.”

This story was written by the Houzz Industry Marketing team.

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