Why staying busy is overrated

I frequently talk to someone who will remark that some contractor is staying very busy. They say this with great respect and awe, and there was a time that I would have had a similar attitude. But staying busy really isn’t such a great accomplishment. In fact, it is very easy to stay busy.

Staying busy just means that you have a lot of work. Actually, it doesn’t even mean that–it really means that you are doing a lot of work. But if that “work” consists of putting out fires, are you really staying busy? If that “work” isn’t profitable, is it really a good thing to be busy?

There is one way to stay busy that is almost fool proof. I say fool proof, because it is usually fools who use this method, and they don’t seem to mess it up very often. That method is– (drum roll please) charge dirt cheap prices for your work.

If everyone around you is charging $25 an hour, imagine how much work you can get if you only charge $15 an hour. You will have more work than you can ever imagine–everyone will want to hire you. Of course, you won’t make any money unless you hire a pack of circus chimps to do the work. And then you will likely have lots of problems, which will keep you even busier.

Staying busy is really not what you should be worried about. Making money should be your primary concern. If you could make the money you want/ need and only work 3 days a week, would you complain about not being busy? I didn’t think so. Certainly, we want to have an adequate supply of work. But that is vastly different from staying busy.

Some contractors seem to equate staying busy with success. Au contraire, mon frère. Try painting interior walls with a 2″ sash brush–you’ll be busier than a bumble been. And you won’t be very successful if you consider being profitable the measure of success. In other words, you can spend a lot of time doing something, but if your efforts are inefficient, you won’t accomplish the results you want.

Staying busy is wildly overrated. And usually, the contractors who focus on staying busy will soon be busy doing something else– like looking for a job.

Convert tire kickers to value buyers

Painting contractors frequently lament “tire kickers”—customers who are perceived as simply price shopping. Contractors generally view such customers as a complete waste of his time, because they often have little interest in a professional paint job.

Many tire kickers are concerned with nothing but price. But this does not mean that “tire kickers” can’t be converted to value shoppers.

Consumers don’t purchase painting services everyday. Many do not know what constitutes a professional paint job, or all of the factors involved in the entire service experience. They don’t know what they don’t know. But when exposed to a professional painting contractor, many will change their focus and priorities.

Contractors who develop pre-conceived ideas about their customers are no better than customers who develop pre-conceived ideas about contractors. Both are pre-judging, and both can be wildly wrong.

If you wish to grow your paint contracting business, you must discard your pre-conceived ideas about customers—including “tire kickers”. Approach each customer with the same mindset. Educate each customer regarding the value of hiring a professional painting contractor. If you do, you might be surprised at the results.

Expanding the range of your services

Having worked with a lot of painting contractors over the years, I have been amazed and flabbergasted at how many shoot themselves in the foot. And not just once, but over and over and over. In fact, they do it almost as a matter of pride.

These contractors vary in their choice of weapon, but it all amounts to the same thing. Some refuse to do drywall repair. Some refuse to do carpentry repairs. Some refuse to do exteriors painting jobs.

Now there is nothing wrong with specializing and not offering other services, such as drywall repair or carpentry. But when the business is struggling, year after year, offering these services can make a huge difference. And this is even more true when you consider that in Houston, virtually every job requires either drywall or carpentry repairs.

Contractors who do not offer these services lose many jobs because of that fact.

Expanding your reach by offering other services can extend far beyond repairs. Installing radiant barriers, offering deck refinishing, or providing pressure washing services are easy methods for offering more to your customers and creating additional revenue streams.

I am not advocating trying to be a jack of all trades. But most painters have pressure washers and spray rigs. Using that equipment to provide other services that easily fall within the typical painter’s skill set is simply making use of that equipment and those skills. And sometimes those additional services can help land a painting job.

How to eliminate problems in your painting business

If you have owned a painting business very long, you have run into problems on a job. The customer can’t make up her mind on the color, or the customer insists you complete a 10 day job in 7 days, or the customer breaks out the magnifying glass and crawls around on his knees to inspect the baseboards. In the 24 years I’ve been in business, I’ve experienced all of these things and much more.

The interesting thing is, I’ve experienced most of these problems only one time. Almost every time I have a problem, my contract gets changed to address that problem. And seemingly like magic, I don’t have that problem again.

While it is probably impossible to cover everything, and a customer who refuses to abide by the contract will find some way to create problems, getting these issues addressed in writing can make life a whole lot easier.

Some discretion is advised. If we literally addressed every issue in our contract, it could get to be very long and complex. It is more important to address the essential issues, for doing so will often eliminate other issues. For example, if your contract states that no job will be scheduled until paint colors are selected, you won’t get on the job and have to kill time while the customer picks colors.

No contract will be perfect, nor will it eliminate all problems. But a solid contract that addresses the majority of the issues that cause problems will go a long way to make life easier.

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