Using the right software and hardware upfront helps land jobs and documents details for later.
The Nikon Coolpix 4300 (above) has 4 megapixels and both TIFF and JPEG formats, making it good for print photographs. The Fuji FinePix S3000 (below) has 3.2 megapixels, which is plenty for shots used online. minimum.
No machine can replace the knowledge and problem-solving skills of the solution-oriented salesperson. No Web site carries the same weight as a personal recommendation. Yet these tools add power and professionalism to any sales presentation or marketing tactic.
Robert Criner, CGR, president and salesman for Criner Construction in Yorktown, Va., doesn't count on technology to get into a prospect's home, but once he's there, his laptop and computer-aided design program, Chief Architect 9.5, help close the sale.
Once a client has signed a design agreement (for which he charges), Criner pulls out his digital camera and takes 30-40 pictures of the home as he measures the proposed job. By importing the photographs into the CAD program, he can help the client visualize the home's transformation. For instance, if he's designing an addition, he takes a picture of the yard so he can show the new view through the new window. "They can see their back yard and their kids playing," Criner explains. "You give it the time and date, and you can tell where the shadows will fall that the house will cast."
The program allows him to design details down to the window grillwork and the exact wallpaper pattern. In addition to impressing clients, he says, working with a CAD program early in the sales process also means he has specs pretty detailed when clients are ready to sign a construction contract.
Criner recommends a laptop with a large screen - his is 16 inches - so clients can see the in-progress design easily. He also prefers a full keyboard with a number pad for entering dimensions. He recently bought a new digital camera, one that accepts a wide-angle lens and a flash for interior shots. He also bought a 256K storage disk so he can go an entire day without downloading pictures, and rechargeable batteries because the flash uses a lot of energy.
The camera's 4 megapixels allow Criner to create high-resolution images that he can use for design contests and other marketing efforts. Putting low-res versions online also helps with sales, while keeping images on file for each project tracks progress and provides evidence in case of problems.
Marketing with Web sites
Web sites can serve a range of marketing purposes. They can be a direct source of leads, with clients e-mailing or calling because they found and liked your firm's online presence. They also can be used as an electronic brochure that is accessible to clients 24/7, includes more text and photos than print brochures, and can be updated easily and frequently.
Jeff Rainey, CR, president and CEO of Home Equity Builders Inc. in Great Falls, Va., regularly sends potential clients to www.hebinc.com  for education and information as part of the pre-qualifying process. He also uses the site in place of a presentation book.
While the site includes a contact form, it's not detailed enough to be a bid request for a new client. Rainey says HEB has done two great projects for clients who found the firm online, plus attracted some tire kickers.
Database software with a customizable interface, such as ACT! 6.0, can integrate your lead-tracking and marketing processes.
Lead tracking and databases
Spreadsheets work well to capture information on leads. Microsoft Excel allows users to sort data by column and/or row, making it easy to determine which salesperson or marketing tool brings in the most or best leads. When you want to act on that information - by sending a print mailing or an e-mail blast, for example - just import the data into your word-processing or e-mail program.
For even better integration of business processes, some remodelers prefer contact-management software. Capabilities vary by program, but in general these programs let users customize field names and sizes, add or subtract fields, insert notes, schedule appointments, sort by a variety of criteria, print reports, and store templates of letters and commonly used forms.
At HEB, whoever qualifies an incoming lead creates a new contact and types the information directly into the company's ACT! database, which is on a local network. The database contains templates for HEB's design/build contract as well as for all Microsoft Word documents that go to customers (cover letters, an explanation of the firm's process, etc.). With a few mouse clicks, an employee can generate personalized letters and forms. Customer-specific files, such as estimates (which Rainey does in Excel) or job specifications, can be stored with the appropriate contact file in ACT!.
MarketSharp, a similar software program designed for small businesses, includes templates for remodeler-specific promotional mailers as well as access to contact lists of targeted consumers. It also provides templates for customer satisfaction surveys, lead follow-up surveys, balance due statements and more.
This new department looks at the everyday and extraordinary ways remodelers incorporate technology into their businesses to boost profits, improve efficiency and enhance customer satisfaction.
March: Estimating & job costing
June: Selections & purchasing
August: Accounting & invoicing
September: Document management
October: Field/office communication
December: Managing customer relationships
To submit questions or contribute ideas, contact Kimberly Sweet at email@example.com  or 630/288-8170.
Database management software:
Digital cameras: Buy one with uncompressed photo formats and a minimum of 4 megapixels if you plan to use the pictures in print. Expect to pay $300-$400 at minimum.
Web publishing software: