Were your sales flat, or less than flat, in 2007? Don't feel left out. Many home improvement companies had a difficult year. Leads cost more and were harder to come by. Sales were off. Competitors, who formerly worked in new construction, appeared. Consumers grew more wary in their spending.

And guess what? The earliest predictions for a turnaround cite the final quarter of this year.

In the meantime, what do you do? Send everyone home and disband? White-knuckle it?

A slowdown, of course, is just a different set of business conditions. They happen, you respond. Actually, you can choose to view the slowdown as an opportunity to position for the rebound, which will be here soon enough.

Fewer leads? Have a companywide contest to come up with five entirely new lead sources. Leads cost too much? Leverage those costs by having your salespeople call past clients and sound them out on the possibility of additional work this year. Set a goal to get a certain percentage of business from past customers, offering special promotions geared just to them.

Take a fresh look at your Web site. If it isn't inspiring visitors to call you, you might want to invest in upgrading it. The Web is going to be a powerful marketing tool in home improvement. Some companies are already getting a third of their leads from it.

And the leads you do get, being more scarce, shouldn't they be handled differently? Are you mapping where that lead goes once it comes in? Or does it just vanish if there's no sale?

Maybe it's time to re-script key steps in your company's sales process.

These days people can easily find out what a new roof or window costs. So it's the quality of the experience you bring, not necessarily the product you sell, that will compel a buying decision. Have you ever asked prospects who bought from a competitor, or didn't buy at all, why they turned you down? If you got on the phone and called them, they would probably be more than happy to tell you.

How about your installers? Do you have a program that rewards them for bringing you new business? Companies that do this get lots of new jobs.

Of course, if you have more leads than you can run and a six-month production backlog, ignore this. But if you want 2008 to be a banner year, and 2009 to shine, now's the time to get started.

Jim Cory, Editor