I specialize in custom decks. I switched to this niche last winter, when my backlog of general remodeling work dried up and I had no jobs on the horizon. The suburbs of New York City — where my business is located — were hit hard by the economic downturn; many GCs I knew were going out of business. The pages of the local paper had become so cluttered with notices for other, equally desperate contractors that my own ad was lost — not a recipe for success.

The only way I could get leads, I realized, was to focus my efforts on one specific type of work. That way, I’d be more than a face in the crowd — I’d be the expert in my field. Instead of dealing with the time-consuming oddball tasks that came with every general remodeling project, we’d be repeating — and perfecting — the same tasks again and...

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