Thursday, August 26, 2010

Burning Questions

You’ve got them. I’ve got them. We’ve all got them. 

Here’s one I heard from a remodeler a while ago:  

“How many jobs did we lose because of that one negative review on Angie’s List?” It was impossible to know the answer, of course, but the remodeler couldn’t stop asking because the criticism felt so personal. The client was impugning his company. His baby. He built its reputation, he paid its bills, he had his name on it. He knew that client -- he sold the job! 

who hasn't been in the penalty box, after all?
"We've got a few thousand clients. We survey them all and get overwhelmingly good results. So to have a client respond so negatively, it really hurt. She wrote the review when the project was 90% done -- probably the emotional low point in the job," he added. "She and her husband were at each others' necks, and she just lashed out at us!" 

Painful. Possibly unfair. Nearly impossible to defend in any other way except to soldier on, trying to do his best for every other client.

With the debut of daily5Remodel drawing closer, I've been thinking about remodelers and unhappy customers. I've been tossing out some unanswerable questions of my own to the universe:

How do I develop thick enough skin to handle the criticism that I'll invariably get? Blame it on birth order, gender, freckles, whatever, but I've never been great at criticism. As a business owner, I need to become an expert at turning problems into opportunities. 

How long before I start resenting rising well before the crack of every dawn to churn out content that some readers complain falls short of helping them "know more, search less, work smarter"? Now, now. Nobody made me give up my job to create something that I only think the market needs. As an entrepreneur, I need to trust my instincts but also verify them -- and stay the course even when it's no longer fun.

pondering, gazing...
How long before I look back at this time as the emotional high point of this adventure? Though things are moving along rapidly -- it's been a fantastic week for site development -- the business will likely feel dreamlike and hopeful right up until launch. Plus, it's still summer, and the birds are singing.

How long before I can't believe I ever had the time to ponder such naval-gazing questions?

Hmm. Time will tell. In the meantime, I've got some real questions for you, remodeling professionals:

What are your burning questions about your business, your career, your industry? What would you like to ask your peers -- keep it clean -- about how they run their companies or how they got started in the field or how they work through difficult times or how they're getting leads?

Please ask those questions here, in the comments field. You don't have to identify yourself, nor will you have to identify yourself when you (and your peers) answer these and other burning questions every day in daily5Remodel.

There probably won't be a lot of "right" and "wrong" answers, for what it's worth. But we're all curious. We all want to get better. By taking the time to listen, we should find at least a few opportunities where it seemed there were challenges.

Thanks for your help.
Leah Thayer

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Alive and Kicking Off

My home is 3,000 miles away in Washington, D.C., but it feels right to be here in the green and rainy climate of Portland, Oregon.

For starters, I'm here to kick off the development of We're on a super-tight schedule -- shooting to go live a day from tomorrow -- and I have a ton to do and nothing but gratitude for the smart and resourceful team of Polaris Branding Solutions and Matrix Digital Media.

"You saved my ass," I told Greg Stine of Polaris yesterday. He knows, and I'll spare you the story, of the months I spent working with another design and development team.

sign in a window in Eugene
"We haven't saved it yet," Greg shot back.

It feels right, also, because Portland is a cool town -- walkable and neighborhoody and filled with great restaurants and art galleries (never mind that I'm in a hotel 15 minutes away, where the only restaurants within walking distance are Hooters and Burger King) -- and because Oregon itself feels in some ways like the womb of the housing market. This is not where housing developments burst from the ground and promptly soared and plummeted in value, but where much of the lumber comes from.

Early yesterday morning, driving from Portland to Springfield to meet with Greg and his team, I was greeted by smoke belching into the sky from several industrial facilities, including one operated by Weyerhaueser. I'm no fan of industrial smoke, but I do support the domestic manufacturing sector, and for years, I learned from Wikipedia, lumber fueled Springfield's economy. "Weyerhaeuser opened its Springfield complex in 1949, and after years of aggressive logging was forced to downsize as old growth lumber became less available. In the 1990s, the Weyerhaeuser sawmill and veneer (plywood) plants closed, and the paper plant was downsized."

Okay, Wikipedia, but something was definitely humming at Weyerhaueser yesterday (perhaps the 'paperless economy' is still a few years off). And with lumberyards and building materials providers of various sorts rounding out much of Springfield's economy, it seems that if this town can keep ticking through the housing downturn that we may finally be inching out of, than anything can.

We who live in relatively healthy markets forget how profoundly the housing market ripples through the entire economy. We read about foreclosures and financing policy; bankruptcies and layoffs; people who lose their homes because they've lost their jobs or lost all hope of ever regaining the equity they thought they had in their homes. We tend to forget that housing doesn't just mean the people who build and remodel and write mortgages on homes, but also those who work at the factories that produce windows and siding; who work in the schools financed by property taxes; who depend on those schools to prepare them for their own eventual careers.

At the hotel last night, a young guy in the bar told me that he lives in Idaho and works for a company that services big-rig trucks -- typically, 18-wheelers that haul logs from the forest to the mills. How long can those engines last? I asked him. "Some go a million miles. We've got one customer whose truck has a million and a quarter," he said. "What's happened at all those mills since the housing market went south?" I asked him. "A bunch closed," he said. "A ton of trucks went idle, too."

He himself -- a guy who doesn't build houses, doesn't produce building materials, doesn't drive lumber trucks, but helps keep those trucks operating safely -- didn't have work for six months, he told me. "We're getting busy again, though," he said.

I hope he stays busy, even if those trucks go from carrying lumber for new homes to carrying materials that will give old homes new life. I hope Springfield successfully carves out many strategies toward a bright future. I hope you'll enjoy daily5Remodel, and that it will help you adapt and refine your business -- it will help you innovate -- for as long as you hope to make an honest living in the housing market.

Stay tuned.

Leah Thayer