Remodeling as a second language - People skills

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People skills
This is probably one of the most important things you can develop. Effectively managing people will go a long way when problems arise. If you know you're not good at it, get some help. As a remodeling contractor you will need to know how to motivate subcontractors and manage your clients.

As mentioned above, a good contract will help you establish the parameters your client needs to adhere to. For instance, my contract states homeowners may not discuss project-specific details directly with the subcontractor without my consent. What this does is establishes the ground rule that I am managing their project, not them. If a homeowner tells a subcontractor how to do something, he or she undermines my authority, which can result in other problems down the road. It is imperative that you not only write down and go over the ground rules with your client, but you must be able to manage them after the fact. In other words, you have to be able to effectively and professionally communicate your intentions throughout the entire process.

A big part of managing your client will come through the form of communication. Do not rely on verbal communication alone. Get in the practice of documenting everything. This would include (but is not limited to) contracts, change orders, all product decisions, correspondence and job-site meetings. I use a document notebook that is kept on the job site at all times. Included are permits, product information and a job-site diary. The diary is simply a written record of communication between the client and me. This provides an excellent format for keeping track of what decisions were made, when they were made and by whom. This type of communication will aid you greatly when (not if) problems arise.

Remodeling can be very rewarding work. Coordinating a group to achieve a common goal and manipulating materials into a useful and artistic form is very much like conducting a symphony of beautiful music. But like the conductor who doesn't study the music he's about to manipulate, a poorly prepared remodeler will learn very quickly what a negative review will do to his career. Proper planning and preparation is essential to create a successful niche business. Without good management skills it can become disastrous. Don't become a negative statistic.

Two separate fields
Over the years, I've talked with hundreds of craftsmen who work either in a custom shop, or tradesmen plying their craft out in the field. Speaking in general terms, the shop mindset is typically more detailed because it is in that controlled environment and with tools that are far more accurate. The field mentality is simply to do whatever it takes to get it done. This doesn't mean the work is going to be sloppy, just not always executed with the most "technically correct" approach.

So why should we care about this? You must learn to effectively and efficiently shift gears when transitioning from the shop to the field. There is a learning curve involved in switching your mindset between the two. In addition, when specializing in one specific trade, you become an expert in that field. The more you learn about it, the more you realize there is to know.

Therefore it's easy to develop an attitude that any given job centers on your particular skill. When remodeling, this attitude will lead to failure. Not only are you coordinating several trades, but the egos of those involved; all while attempting to keep the client happy. And again, this is not being accomplished in the private corners of your controlled workshop, but on the stage for both your clients and peers to watch. Failure is immediately apparent and success is much harder to achieve (the stage brings out all the critics). You don't have one specific trade to concentrate your efforts on but several. And you will never have complete control over every aspect.

Consider this: Would you give control of your specialized woodworking skill over to a general contractor, allowing him to tell you how to do your craft? Of course not. Hence, the reason a remodeler must possess the ability to put his own ego on hold (management skills) long enough to stroke the egos of his building team. Education is the key in controlling your exposure to the negative elements.

Minimizing your liability both with your client and the other trades is the only way you'll be able to sleep at night and keep your sanity.