As a young carpenter-builder I searched long and hard for advice about the non-construction aspects of residential building: how to manage money, deal with customers, use professionals, hire and manage employees and subs, and much more. Either I did not find it at all or I found it scattered in bits and pieces and most of my answers came by trial and error: a slow, confusing, and often painful process. Throughout my career I met hundreds of tradesmen and builders who, often without realizing it, were looking for the same information that I was. Therefore, this book is written for myself 30+ years ago, and for the painter-plumber-drywaller-carpenter—for the tradesman—who, having mastered a craft, determine to open a business.

The idea for this book came while working as a carpenter and going to college where I discovered The Elements of Style by Strunk & White. The book explained English composition succinctly in a manner I could both understand and use. As it says in the introduction, the authors “…cut the vast tangle of English rhetoric down to size and write its rules and principles on the head of a pin.” It provided rules, but more importantly it discussed nuance and possibilities and almost from the moment I discovered it I imagined finding a similar book for residential construction. Like its namesake it would provide rules and the more elusive information required to establish and run a construction business. I envisioned a small book, well worn, which, like a seasoned builder, offered encouragement and advice gleaned from years of experience.

I never found such a book, but I held onto the idea throughout my career and kept notebooks of mistakes made, lessons learned, solutions found, advice received, and the best of the books and articles I found. And while writing this book, I did extensive research and interviews and pushed to make the central ideas brief and clear, that is, to write them “on the head of a pin". Some of what it contains is idealistic, as I believe that life and by extension business should be an ongoing effort to improve and expand. Some of what it says will be obvious one day, but when starting out simple things are often not obvious at all. Some of it is my opinion, with all the shortcomings they contain, and there are ideas that contradict each other because there is no one right way to run a job, hire an employee, or establish and manage a business. I believe the book gets to the heart of the business and addresses much of what will be encountered along the way.

Establishing and growing a construction company can be exasperating, because it is complex and there are few absolute rules, and exhilarating, because the way is open for originality and problem solving. It is a path with great freedom and creativity, and if one persists, there remains a fundamental value in the process and the result.