What makes a successful painting company?

A recent poll on a popular forum for painting contractors asked if a company grossing $560,000 a year could be considered successful. It is impossible to answer this question for two reasons.

First, the gross revenues tell us nothing about the owner’s income or the company’s profit, which are the financial aspects of success. A company could gross any amount of money and still be going bankrupt.

Second, to define success purely in financial terms is a mistake. People start businesses for many different reasons. Some don’t care as much about the money as having time with their family or for hobbies or other activities. If someone creates a business so that he can enjoy these things, and his business allows him to do so, his business is successful.

Too often people want to impose their own values on others. Such people believe that anyone who makes less than $X is unsuccessful, which ignores the fact that many very wealthy people live miserable lives.

Don’t let others define your success. What you want out of life–and your business–is your choice. If your business provides those things, then your business is successful, no matter how much you make.

Why don’t painters get any respect?

It is generally recognized by those in the painting industry that painters get very little respect. I think that there are several reasons for this.

Perhaps the most significant is the perception that anyone can paint. Most people have had some experience with painting in their own home, and even when the results are less than desirable, they still regard painting as relatively easy. People who would never consider doing plumbing or electrical work will quickly pick up a paint brush.

Another reason is that painting is primarily visual. A bad paint job is visually unappealing. A bad electrical job won’t be visible until your house burns down.

A third reason is the widely held idea that all painters are drunks and dope fiends. I certainly don’t know the numbers of painters afflicted with such “habits”, but I seriously doubt that they are significantly higher than any other trade.

Another explanation is that there are fewer barriers to entering the painting trade than other trades. Many states do not license painters, while most (if not all) license plumbers and electricians. The capital requirements are certainly lower—one can literally start a painting company with no equipment.

The perception of our industry presents both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is overcoming these erroneous perceptions. The opportunity is that it makes it easy to shine.

Some bad advice for starting a painting company

On a number of forums for painting contractors, I often see a new contractor ask for advice in starting his business. Invariably, he will get a number of suggestions telling him to go work for someone else in order to learn the business. I believe that this is about the worst advice that can be given.

Statistics show that 90% of the contractors in business today won’t survive 5 years, and nearly 99% will fail within 10 years. So what is a new contractor to learn by working for one of these other contractors?Certainly, you could learn many things to avoid if you don’t want to fail, but that doesn’t tell you what you should do to succeed.

Further, I can tell you many of the things you should avoid. And you won’t have to spend years to learn it. Here is a list of things you shouldn’t do:

  • Don’t depend on “word of mouth” for your marketing
  • Don’t concern yourself with the “going rate”
  • Don’t estimate by the square foot method
  • Don’t use “checkbook accounting”
  • Don’t think that good painting skills will make you successful

I could add to the list, but the above covers the big items. So now that you know what not to do, are you any closer to success? Learning what the mistakes are doesn’t tell you what leads to success, only what leads to failure.

Working for someone else is a good way to learn how to paint. But if you want to learn how to run a business, chances are very good you could spend your entire life working for someone else and never learn that lesson. If you want to learn to run a successful business, study successful businessmen.

Five steps to starting a successful painting business: Sales

You may regard sales as a dirty word, but if you are going to have a successful painting business, you must accept the fact that you are a salesman. (Or you must hire a salesman.) If you are going to have a successful painting business, then you must be successful at selling paint jobs.

If you have followed the advice in the earlier posts in this series, you will realize that your selling price must be significantly higher than what many of your competitors charge. This is not an impossible situation, but it does require sales skills and a sales system.

There are many different sales systems that are effective and my point here is not to promote one system over another. Many factors are involved, including your market, your clientele, and your personality. The point here is to find a system that fits your needs and perfect that system.

Many painting contractors believe that a sales system requires a slick presentation, high pressure, and other tactics that they find uncomfortable. I personally find such sales methods contrived, often unethical, and generally ineffective.

I have found that the easiest, most natural, and most effective sales systems involve little more than having a conversation with the customer. Such a system is low pressure and informative. It creates trust and confidence.

A conversation however, can go in many directions, particularly if you do not take control. A customer may want to discuss issues that are irrelevant or of minor importance. A sales system will allow you to stay in control, direct the conversation to those issues that are most important, and yet do so in a manner that is not offensive or pushy.

As in every area of your painting business, a sales system will help you to achieve consistent results. Tomorrow I will offer some final thoughts on starting a painting business.

Five steps to starting a successful painting business:
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