What kind of primer should I use?

As a long time participant on various forums for painting contractors, there seems to be no shortage of questions and discussions regarding the right primer to use, the best caulk, or how much everyone is paying for paint. While technical issues certainly have some merit and can be helpful, they seldom matter in the long-term.

It is a statistical fact that 90% of small businesses fail within 5 years. Painting contractors don’t fail because of the primer they use or what they pay for a gallon of paint. They fail because they don’t know how to run a business.

Forgive me for being blunt, but the odds are that you will be out of business within 5 years. If I made a $100 bet with everyone reading this that they would close their business within 5 years, I would make a fair amount of money. And it’s a bet I would be willing to make, except it would be hard to collect.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The painting forums can be a great resource for technical issues. I occasionally run into something that is new, and being able to tap into the experience and knowledge of other members is incredibly helpful. But solving an occasional technical issue isn’t going to make or break my business.

However, if I don’t generate enough leads, I’m going to have serious problems. If I don’t sell jobs at the right price, I’m going to have serious problems. If I can’t manage my crews and run my office, I’m going to have serious problems. In other words, if I don’t take care of every piece of the puzzle, I won’t be around to worry about Mr. Smith’s door peeling.

I realize that each of us has different goals and defines success differently. But whatever your goals are, your business is the means to that end. And your business will not succeed if you don’t have a good handle on the business side of the operation. If you don’t market and sell you will be a statistic.

Building a business is not easy. Statistics prove it. But it can be done, and statistics prove that as well. Building a business requires focusing on the right things—business things. Things like marketing, sales, and administration. In the end, business isn’t about primer or caulk. It’s about business.

Good in theory is good in practice

We often hear someone say, “That is good in theory, but it won’t work in practice.” The intended meaning is that some idea sounds logical, but in the “real world” it just won’t work. But the fact is, a theory that won’t work in practice isn’t a very good theory. Good theories make good practice. Ideas are our guide to action.

Many people—and contractors are certainly no exception—are loath to try new ideas. They get locked into a certain mindset and often refuse to consider new alternatives. They may not like the results that they are getting, but the comfort of the known is more powerful than the unknown of trying new ideas. When they hear a new idea, they are quick to reject it as “good in theory”.

I see this almost everyday. One of the most common examples is the claim by some contractor that his market won’t bear higher prices. “You don’t understand my market,” they argue. “My customers simply don’t have the money to pay $40 an hour for painting services.”

Such contractors often concede that they must charge $40 (or more) an hour to make a decent wage, but they refuse to consider methods for doing so. On paper (in theory) they agree that they can’t make money charging $25 an hour, but in real life (in practice) they can’t charge more.

Consider what this really means: The facts indicate one thing, but I am going to ignore those facts. I choose to cling to my old ideas, even though I am going broke. All of your fancy math formulas won’t change anything. Your ideas are good in theory, but they won’t work in practice.

If we consider the rate we charge in complete isolation of other facts (or consider only a few other facts), this might be true. But our selling price is not an isolated fact, divorced from many other considerations. Our selling price is a consequence of many factors; the market in which we operate is only one of those factors.

As an example, we have many options when it comes to buying a hamburger. We have McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Jack in the Box, and other fast food restaurants. We have upscale burger joints like Fuddrucker’s. We might have local establishments as well. Each prepares their food differently, uses different condiments, and might even bake their own buns. In other words, each tries to do something different to differentiate themselves. If they didn’t—if their burgers were exactly the same—the price they charge would become the only difference, and consumers would make their choice solely on price.

But the fact that they offer something different adds another element to our choice. When choosing where to get a hamburger, we have other considerations, such as the flavor of the meat or the sides offered or the condiments used or the entire dining experience. We are willing to pay more for a burger at Fuddrucker’s than a burger at McDonald’s. And we expect more in exchange.

The same principle holds true of painting contractors and the prices we charge. If the paint job we offer looks just like the job offered by our competitors, price does become the deciding factor. If our company looks just like everyone else, then price is most important.

Now, you might think that this sounds good in theory, but the fact remains that your market simply won’t bear higher prices. But how do you know? Do you believe this simply because that is what others have told you? Have you truly tried to differentiate your company? Have you tried to become the Fuddrucker’s or are you stuck in McDonald’s mode?

The truth is, if you regard the theory as good, then you must put it into practice. A good theory leads to good results.

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