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June 12, 2017  Pay Attention to the Details to Improve Sales by Chuck Shinn
During the years of the severe housing recession, home sales plummeted by more than 80%. Builders fought for sales by increasing their sales and marketing budgets, discounting sales prices, giving away upgrades, customizing homes, increasing sales commissions and doing whatever else it took to close a sale. These were expensive reactions to generate sales but often it was the little things-the details-that killed a sale.

June 12, 2017  Holding the Line on Costs by Ed Hauck

Cost increases are on builders’ minds right now. It seems like prices for materials and labor are going up on every new bid. The best bet is for builders to work with suppliers to get long-term deals and some price locks from manufacturers and trades. The way to do that is to use whatever volume you have as a negotiating point.

Read More


June 12, 2017  What is Your Soft Cycle? - By Matt Collins
Most builders work to tightly control their production cycle, but few take the same approach to the "soft cycle," the time between contract and release to production, a period laden with down time and delays.

June 12, 2017  American Classic Homes
Robert Gladstein says that his brother Michael, his cousin Joel, and himself — the three partners of American Classic Homes in Mercer Island, Washington — are “just regular Joes.” If that’s the case, then these regular Joes obviously have what it takes to be successful home builders.

February 27, 2013  Participate in the 20th Annual Financial and Operations Study

 It is time once again to conduct our annual financial, operational, and compensation and benefits surveys.  Click here to access the survey documents.  All information provided will be held in the strictest of confidence. You can submit the information by e-mail, fax (303) 972-7667 or mail. Please return the completed packet no later than April 15, 2013.

   Participants in prior years have found this exercise to be very beneficial, since they have been able to quickly identify areas of concern and develop strategies to increase profitability.

   Now in its 20th year, the purpose of the study is to benchmark each company’s financial and operational performance against other participants; and to provide information on compensation packages for 37 different positions.


     A preliminary analysis of the 2012 results will be available on the Shinn Consulting website. Final results will be available for distribution in July 2013. For companies submitting the requested information, the report will be available for $250; the cost for non-participants will be $500. The report will include analysis of the results and narrative explaining concepts and trends. If you would like to receive a copy of the report, fill out and return the order form

   Click here to access the survey documents.  If you have any questions regarding this survey, please call Emma Shinn at 303.972.7666 or eshinn@builderpartnerships.com.

 
 
 

December 8, 2011  Scope of Works that Work! - Charles C. Shinn, Jr., PhD

I am a strong believer that all builders should establish a detailed Scope of Work document for every agreement drafted with their trade contractors. Without a viable, clear scope of work, you never know what you can expect. Some trades may have a high standard for project completion, others may not. Some may be used to doing it the way most builders do it but that may not be how you like it or it might not even be what you are expecting. The only way to get what you want is to clearly explain it at the front end through a clear scope of work document that is attached to the trade contractor agreement. You have a trade contractor agreement, right?  If not, let’s talk!

A scope of work is used to establish the requirements for performing the work needed to achieve your project objectives. The document describes the work to be performed or the services to be provided. It describes tasks, directs methodologies to be used, establishes the quality standards, and sets forth the period of performance. It must be clear, accurate and complete.

Let me give you an example of why this is needed. You may think it is a given that an experienced plumber knows exactly what to do when working on a new home. He will come into your house and put in the piping, faucets, and fixtures. However, how he does it is questionable and very dependent on the individual plumber. How is the quality of his work? Will he work quickly? Will he leave a clean area when he is done? Which products is he using? The answer without a scope of work is, "It depends." It depends on what he is used to and what has been acceptable for him in the past. Are you okay with that? You shouldn’t be. You need to provide a clear understanding of what is expected from your company in terms of quality, products to be used, and the time allowed to do the work.

A good scope of work is clear, complete, and logical enough to be understood by the people executing the work and those managing it as well. Because it describes the details and expectations for performance, it serves as the source for developing checklist to verify the job has been done according to your requirements.
The enforcer of the scopes of work is the field manager, builder, or superintendent supervising the construction process in the field. It is not unusual for me to find companies with great scopes of work, and when I ask the builders about how the scopes are helping them, they don’t even know the company has scopes of work. The scopes of work empower the field managers and enhances their authority to supervise the jobs. Therefore, continual training of the field supervisors and their participation in refining the scopes is essential. I see the same problem with trade crews where their supervisors do not train them on the scopes of work. In many instances it falls on your field supervisors’ shoulders to train and make your expectations and requirements known to the trade crews.

Developing clear scopes of work can require quite a bit of time and effort on the front end, but I can assure you that you will save a lot of time and money on the back end. You will be able to guard against rework, unfinished work, delays, and other issues. Combine a clear scope of work with a job completion check list and have your field management team review the trade contractor’s work prior to signing off the pay request. You will be surprised at how quickly a sloppy trade can turn things around if they know they need to get a box checked for cleanliness in order to get their check.

You are putting your name on the homes you sell; make sure you build a product that is consistent with your vision and standards so that you can stand proudly next to it when the buyers move in.

A good reference for construction scopes of work was compiled by the Atlanta HBA. The Partnering Guide was created in coordination with builders and trades to detail the specific standards of performance for each residential construction trade. In addition to a model Trade Contractor Agreement and Lien Waivers, the Guide includes for each trade a "Job Ready Checklist," "Scopes of Work," and a "Job Complete Checklist." Each residential construction trade has an individual chapter in the book, containing information pertinent only to that trade. Some trades have multiple chapters, reflecting the various stages of construction. The Guide includes a CD containing all the chapters in Microsoft Word format. After signing a Licensing Agreement, purchasers can customize the Guide to fit their specific needs. Contact the Atlanta HBA for more information on how to get your copy. Email bookstore@atlantahomebuilders.com or call 678-775-1469.

October 28, 2011  Get the Loan: The Role of Financial Ratios to Lending by Emma S. Shinn, CPA MBA

Lenders are tightening the rules of engagement for construction loans. They used to be relatively liberal in the debt-to-equity ratio. We’ve seen it as high as 15 to 1, but have always recommended builders maintain a debt-to-equity ratio of 3 to 1. This target seems to be in line with the lenders today, although some may require a 2.5 or even a 2 to 1.

The debt-to-equity ratio is calculated by dividing the total debt of the company by the total owners’ equity or invested capital. The question is what can you do to improve this ratio. There is more than one way, and it may take a combination of solutions to achieve the desired target.

Secure additional capital from private investors. This approach is being used successfully by many builders. They have found private investors to provide capital, which achieves two goals. One is the capital provides funds for construction of specs and pre-sold houses. The second is it strengthens the private capital position of the company and paves the road to obtain loans from banks. As private capital increases in relationship to the liabilities or debt of the company, the debt-to-equity ratio will decrease.

Increase profitability and keep a greater percentage of the profits in house. The organic way to improve the debt-to-equity ratio has always been by retaining a high percentage of the profits, thus increasing the owners’ equity. However, there is a tendency in the industry to pull out as much of the profit as possible to minimize the risk of losing capital in the event legal proceedings are brought against the company. To follow this strategy means the debt-to-equity ratio could increase to dangerous levels where risk becomes too high for lenders.
Of course, to utilize this strategy, the company must be profitable. All the normal tenet for increasing profits applies; achieve a good gross profit margin on every house by keeping land costs and construction cost in line with the sales price, and balance the operating expenses to the projected sales volume. This entails a lot of hard work, planning, coordination, and management of the entire process from sales through warranty. But even during these very tough market conditions we see companies that have adjusted their product and operations to achieve superior profits.

Do construction/perm loans for your buyers. Do not carry the loan liability on your books. Certain areas of the country are more disposed to this method of financing pre-sold homes. Because of the benefits to the builder/buyer, though, this mechanism is now being found in markets across the country. It pushes the loans out of the builders’ financial statements andguarantees the closing since the sale effectively is done at the time the construction/perm loan is executed. That eliminates the possibility of a fall through when construction is completed.

Manage the spec inventory. A big detriment to the debt-to-equity ratio is holding completed houses in inventory. Normally, these houses have been financed by a construction loan, which continues to be carried on the financial statements as a liability and increases the debt-to-equity ratio. Establish a policy to handle completed inventory houses that sit for extended periods. In addition, companies should also have a policy that ties the number of specs homes it starts at each community to the present sales rate in the community. The objective of these policies is to minimize the average time loans are outstanding.

Improve cycle time. Probably the easiest and least painful way to decrease the debt-to-equity ratio in our present environment is to improve construction cycle time. That reduces the amount of outstanding debt required to finance the same number of units. The chart below provides an example of how a reduction in the cycle time reduces the loan requirements.
Consider a company that anticipates it will close 300 homes. If it takes 180 days to build the houses, the company will have 150 houses under a construction loan at any particular time. If the company reduces cycle time and it only takes 90 days to build the houses, it will only have 75 loans at any particular time or a decrease in the outstanding loan amount of 50%.


 

Budgeted Closes

300 420 600 720 900
150 Homes Under Loan
Cylce Time 180 Days 2.0 turns 210 300 380 450
150 Days 2.4 turns 125 175 250 300 375
120 Days 3.0 turns 100 140 200 240 300
  90 Days 4.0 turns 75 105 150 180 225

Decreasing the cycle time has far reaching consequences aside from the obvious improvement of the debt-to-equity ratio.

It increases the cash flow because it allows for faster closings
It increases field productivity because production can build more houses with the same number of people
It increases customer satisfaction because buyers don’t have to wait as long to close
Change orders tend to decrease because the construction process moves faster
It increases profitability by:

  • Reducing financing expense
  • Reducing indirect cost
  • Reducing G & A expenses
  • And if the additional profits are retained they willdecrease the debt-to-equity ratio.
August 22, 2011  5 Tips for Improved Estimating by Charles C. Shinn, Jr., PhD

In a recent article, I focused on the importance of maintaining spec inventory and models. With no exception, your spec inventory and models need to be kept fresh and clean…ALWAYS. Figure out how to incorporate this into your processes. Have someone clean the homes on a regular basis, even if it is just dusting and cleaning out the cobwebs. With the limited number of buyers out there, it is crucial that you do all that you can now to ensure you are putting your best foot forward. Keep your models clean.
This month, we will focus on the estimating process. You may not realize this, but the estimating department can have the greatest impact on your bottom line. Inaccurate or sloppy estimates can significantly diminish the amount you can make per home. However, good estimating practices can increase your profitability 2 to 5% overall. This is significant.
The Estimating department sets the construction cost budgets and releases purchase orders. They determine the costs and then help to price out the options and upgrades. If there is a lot of waste and inaccuracy in the system, this will show up. Your estimates should be accurate to 1% variance or less. This includes over and under variances.

Most builders do not have adequate systems in place. Excess material is ordered and then left laying around the job site, fill-in orders are needed to make up for underestimating the materials needed, and the builder is left dealing with many variances, which can significantly add to the costs for each build.
Below are some tips on how to improve your processes:

Start with complete, accurate specifications—All selections for any home need to be as complete as possible prior to the start of construction. This will allow the estimating department to create a more accurate construction budget that will contain costs within reason so that you can maintain the target profitability on the home.

Continually monitor and analyze variances—If each home built is showing the same variances over and over, evaluate whether it makes more sense to eradicate the variance or incorporate it as part of the standard budget. Whatever is decided, this event should not continue to be considered a variance on future homes built.
Conduct as built audits—After products have been installed, the estimator should evaluate what value and quantity of materials were used to determine whether the estimates were accurate. Adjust the numbers if necessary to get as accurate as possible.

Proactively manage the bid process—Create standard bid packages and trade specification sheets. Require as much clarity and standardization as possible in the information provided so that you can compare directly across the board. Establish a structured bid analysis process that is clear and simple. Work on keeping the vendors and trades honest with their bids.

Get the excess material out—Work towards elimination of all the variances. Order just enough materials to get the job done. Do not order any extra or build contingencies into the estimate. Involve the Superintendent and Trade contractors in getting to an accurate estimate. If you order excess materials, chances are it will be left lying around the job site and most likely will be damaged and just add costs for the disposal.

Implement a few of these ideas and I can almost guarantee you will improve your bottom line. For more information, I would also recommend that you review my book: A Practical Guide to Material Estimating for Residential Construction. There are some more great tips and ideas in there on how to get to an accurate estimate.

Good luck to you!

July 29, 2011  Building Systems and Processes by Charles C. Shinn, Jr., PhD

Emma and I recently completed the 18th Annual Financial and Operations Study of Home Builders. The study includes builders who have been working with our organization through consulting, seminars and webinars over the last several years. We were very pleased to see more than 70% of the participants were profitable for 2010 as they embraced new systems and technologies to help them run their businesses.

You may think these builders did something that no other builders could do, but I can assure you that with discipline, focus and determination you too could return to profitability.

Once you make the commitment, you may ask yourself, “Where do I start?” The first step is to look internally at how you manage your organization. Get your company organized to streamline systems and processes and to balance expenses to your present sales volume. You need clear vision and direction to get to profitability.
Even as a custom builder, you must evaluate, document and standardize systems and processes to create a basic road map that will guide the sale, design and construction of each home you build. If you do not, you will be reinventing the wheel for each new house and will be wasting a lot of time and resources trying to find your way when you should already have a road map.

Throughout the many years we have collected and analyzed the financial performance of builders, it has been evident that builders with standardized systems and procedures and the discipline to follow them have been able to react and adjust to changing market conditions faster than their competitors and improve their standing in their market place.

Here are some tips to get you started:


Focus on items within your control; there are plenty to keep you fully occupied
Know your buyer inside out; what they need, what they want, what they dream of and focus on creating value for your customer
Establish a profit objective; know what you want and what you can achieve
Develop Quantifiable Goals and Objectives to measure progress along the way in:
Marketing
Sales
Inventories
Production
Quality
Warranty
Customer service
Financing and Accounting
Compel Events to Conform to the Plan
Involved the entire organization as a TEAM and continually improve ALL processes such as:
Customer processes
Sales process
Selection process
Special pricing process
Change order process
Customer meetings
Delivery/Closing/Settlement process
Warranty process
Customer relations
Technology applications
Budgeting process
Pre-construction
New Product development
Cad
Estimating
Purchasing
Payment
Quality control
Permitting
Start release
Variances
Accounts payable
Loan draw process
Analyze each of your processes with the objective of eliminating inefficiencies
Document each process in writing
Review each process with your team to fine tune
Implement good management practices
Produce the right product at the right price
Develop plans and strategies on how to achieve your goals

Beyond the checklist above, here are some details about executing those tasks.

Create overall operating standards—Determine what kind of quality you expect and communicate this to your staff and trade contractors. Without a communicated standard for performance, you cannot be assured of the type of quality you expect.

Document all your systems—Start small and work your way through the company. Follow a document or process from start to finish, documenting its current state as you go, to see what exactly occurs to get things done. This will highlight many of the inefficiencies, some of which you can improve on the spot.

Write down your procedures—Once your processes have been analyzed, they need to be documented. Creating living documents that you and your team can review and revise as systems become more streamlined. Make it a goal of your organization to continually improve all your processes to become as efficient and effective as possible.

Get feedback from your teams—The people doing the work know best. Ask your team for ideas. Chances are they will be able to come up with many ways that you can improve your processes and procedures. You don’t need to implement them all, and they may not all be great ideas, but this will help you to think outside the box on how to increase efficiencies.

Evaluate and Improve—Use the management cycle: Benchmark your current operation; establish a goal for improvement; develop an implementation plan; execute the plan; measure the results; take corrective action to modify the plan or its execution and reimplement. The use of the management cycle generates a continually improving organization. There is no finish line.  Continually review, analyze and adjust your systems to drive to excellence.

By making a few small changes, you will see a marked increase in performance, integration and commitment from your team, all resulting in greater profits and a more streamlined organization.

July 25, 2011  18th Annual Financial and Operations Study Results Available Now

The 18th annual Financial and Operations Study for 2010 provides compelling insights into what happened in the home building industry during the downturn and gives detailed accounts as to how participants were able to make some hard decisions to get back to profitability.

The report includes analysis of the results and narrative explaining concepts and trends, to help you quickly identify areas of concern and develop strategies to increase profitability. 

Order your copy today.

July 6, 2011  Financial Studies Report Shows Builders Moving to Profitability

The most recent financial study information from Shinn Consulting shows builders are beginning to turn the corner toward profitability and gives indications of the effect of their decisions throughout the downturn.

Since 1993, Shinn Consulting has been collecting and analyzing financial data about their home builder clients, who have some of the best run companies in the industry. The trends and benchmarks Chuck and Emma Shinn have established from this research and other work have become industry standards.

Below are the preliminary results for the most recent study with commentary from both Chuck and Emma. The full report was presented in a webinar titled “Building Profitability in a Downturn: The Shinn Group's 18th Annual Financial and Operations Study Results” on June 24, at 11AM EDT. To view a recording of the presentation, go here

Chuck: Most of our builders made the right decisions early on, but they faced a couple of problems. They couldn’t move fast enough and nobody expected the downturn to last 5 years.

Emma: This first chart shows the average profit for the group since 1993 when I first started collecting the information. I want to say the increase in profitability was due to the builders only following our advice but it was really a combination of them becoming more efficient and the ability to raise prices above the cost increases. In 2006 the pressure for pricing started and you can see the stall in the profits. 2007 was saved by the first half of the year that benefited from the backlog that was still in place. 2008 was the first year of full downturn and you can see the precipitous decline in profits.

Chuck: Our builders were able to get rid of land, but they were stuck with their existing product. The downturn was so steep that they couldn’t get new product onto the market so in order to sell, they had to discount existing product. They got hit on volume and gross profit because of that.

Emma: This chart shows the components of profits (Direct Cost and Operating expenses) shows how it happened. 2009 was almost a duplicate of 2008 with a slight decline. Finally, in 2010 we begin to see a recovery on the profitability front.

Chuck: Nobody expected the downturn to last this long, so they held on to staff. Many of the builders held on even until last year. So, their operating expenses went from 18% to 25%. A lot of them told me that shedding staff was the hardest thing they had to do. And they especially wanted to keep their core group around.

Emma: Gross Profit tells me what happened to Direct Construction Cost since my definition of Gross Profits is " Sales Price - lot cost - direct construction cost (only sticks and bricks and direct labor to put them up)." 2006 was at the peak and, you can see gross profit almost at 30%, which is our target. Operating expenses are at about our target of 18%, which includes indirect construction cost—or the cost of running the production operation—financing expenses, sales and marketing expenses, and G&A. In 2007, the pressure on sales prices as the builders began to discount their product caused the gross profits to decrease. The volume of sales still has not suffered much so the operating expenses, which are for the most part fixed in nature, are still in check. Increased a bit but not significantly. The increase was mostly caused by the decrease in revenues caused by the decline in sales prices.
During 2008 and 2009 the pressure on prices continued, and the builders tried to reduce cost by negotiating with trades. But they are still building the same product. (There is a limit on how much cost you can cut on those houses.)
The builders pay a big price for holding onto staff. Now, sales volumes have declined significantly and the percentage of cost to sales continued to increase because of the down push on prices and the failure to cut cost from the trades while building the same houses as in the past.
Because sales revenues decline significantly and the builders are maintaining the same levels of staff, they get a double whammy. Operating expenses go totally out of kilter, rising to almost 25%.

Chuck: In the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010, the builders were able to make changes to their overhead and get new product in place.

Emma: In 2010, we finally see the results of some hard choices made by the builders. There is a significant increase in gross profits, which is a result of redesigning the product to meet the new price ceilings adjusting for cost of the structure and specs. On the operating side, the builders are closer to reaching a balance between their operating expenses and their sales revenue. Staff has been cut to the levels required to sustain the new volumes. These costs are still above our target as builders are trying to protect their core management team but there has been a significant adjustment from 2009 to 2010.

Order a copy of the complete report for more details on the findings from the 18th Annual Study.

 

February 2, 2011  Participate in Annual Finance and Operational Study

 It is time once again to conduct our annual financial, operational, and compensation and benefits surveys.  Click here to access the survey documents.  All information provided will be held in the strictest of confidence. You can submit the information by e-mail, fax (303) 972-7667 or mail. Please return the completed packet no later than March 31, 2011.
   Participants in prior years have found this exercise to be very beneficial, since they have been able to quickly identify areas of concern and develop strategies to increase profitability.
   Now in its 18th year, the purpose of the study is to benchmark each company’s financial and operational performance against other participants; and to provide information on compensation packages for 37 different positions. 
     A preliminary analysis of the 2010 results will be available on the Shinn Consulting website. Final results will be available for distribution in July 2011. For companies submitting the requested information, the report will be available for $200; the cost for non-participants will be $450. The report will include analysis of the results and narrative explaining concepts and trends. If you would like to receive a copy of the report, fill out and return the order form

   Click here to access the survey documents.  If you have any questions regarding this survey, please call Emma Shinn at 303.972.7666 or eshinn@shinnconsulting.com.

August 4, 2010  Builder Financial and Operations Study Results

The 2009 study marks the seventeenth consecutive year of our financial analysis and operations study. It also marks the worst performance in the industry since 1970, when Chuck and I started analyzing financial performance for the housing industry. Chuck published the first Cost of Doing Business Study as the Director of the Business Management Department at NAHB in 1971. Since then we have been monitoring builders' financial health.

To obtain a copy of the final report submit the order form or contact Emma Shinn at 303.972.7666 or eshinn@theshinngroup.com. If your company participated in the study the price is $200; for non-participants the price is $450.

February 26, 2010  As You Like It

Unwilling or unable to compete in the price wars, many builders see customization as the key to riding out the recession. Some treat it as an art; others as a science.

To read the entire article by Jenny Sullivan at builderonline, click here.

February 26, 2010  10 Ways to Improve Your Performance During the Spring Selling Season

The all-important spring selling season becomes even more significant this year with a slow housing market and temporary home buyer tax credits. Here are 10 tips to improve your chances of having a successful campaign.

To read the entire article by Nigel F. Maynard at BuilderOnline, click here.

February 23, 2010  Participate in Annual Industry Research

How did your company do last year compared to others in the industry? Participate in this research study to find out. - Download Forms

Now in its 17th year, Emma Shinn’s in-depth study benchmarks individual company’s financial and operational performance against other participants and over time. It also includes information on compensation packages for 38 different positions. Participants in prior years have found this exercise to be beneficial, since in the
analysis, they have been able to quickly identify areas of concern and develop strategies to increase profitability.

All information will be held in the strictest of confidence. You can submit the information by e-mail, fax 303.972.7667or mail. Please return the completed packet no later than March 31, 2010.

A preliminary analysis of the 2009 results will be available on our website and through the newsletter. Final results will be available for distribution in July 2010. For companies submitting the requested information, the report will be available for $200; the cost for non-participants will be $450. The report will include analysis of the results and narrative explaining concepts and trends.

If you have any questions regarding this survey, please call Emma Shinn at 303.972.7666 or eshinn@shinnconsulting.com.

December 15, 2009  Using Key Metrics: The Why, the How, the Results

If a builder is not careful, critical facts can get buried in cluttered reports. Too much information is much the same as no information and can lead builders to make critical decisions based on a gut feeling rather than on performance or facts. It is vital for builders to be able to identify the key metrics or key indicators needed to track and evaluate the health of a company and the performance of departments and functional areas. In this white paper, Emma Shinn gives a detailed examination of “The Why”, “The How”, and “The Results” of using key metrics, and includes specific resources available to help builders set up a system that will allow them to use real information to make meaningful decisions.

To read the white paper, click here.

December 1, 2009  Journey to Excellence: Improve Profits 2% to 10% by Increasing Efficiencies and Cutting Costs
In this white paper Chuck Shinn discusses the many changes in the industry, as well as the advent of technology, that have brought us closer to the desired goal of integrated management systems. What years ago was a great feat has now become much easier to accomplish through developments in technology. Click here to read the paper.
September 13, 2009  Boyce Thompson and Chuck Shinn discuss Emerging Opportunities

September 18th at 11 AM Eastern.
In this webinar, Boyce Thompson, BUILDER Magazine, and Chuck Shinn, The Shinn Group, team up to give builders a view of the current state of the economy with the goal of helping builders develop a vision and a plan to take advantage of opportunities emerging out of their own markets.  Register Now.

April 13, 2009  Ivy Zelman: Industry Overview

We have an opportunity to have Ivy Zelman, Zelman Associates, host a special update webinar on the housing industry for Builder Partnerships members and participants this Wednesday, April 15th at 3 PM Eastern.  Register Now

Participate in Research and Get Regular Industry updates
 
She is also offering the chance for your company to receive regular monthly updates from her, which contain excellent information on the industry and what the public builders are doing.  All she asks is that you participate in her short research surveys on a monthly basis.  Click here for a sample of the types of surveys she sends out each month.

Sign up to learn more on how to participate in her research projects.

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If you are familiar with an article or publication you think other builders would benefit from, please send it to info@shinnconsulting.com, and we will get it posted.