Growing Pains

If you are like most contractors, you dream of growing your business. You may want to get out of the bucket and turn production over to others. You may want to hire a salesman or office manager. You may want to add another crew. Regardless of your own particular goals, growth can be a painful experience if it isn’t managed properly. And the key to properly managing growth is having systems.

Growth necessarily entails delegating tasks and responsibilities to others. If we want to get consistent, desirable results, then we must have systems in place to ensure that our employees are taking the proper actions.

When I first began delegating responsibilities, I often lamented the fact that my employees didn’t do
things the way I wanted. It took me a surprisingly long time to realize why—I hadn’t trained them to do things the way I wanted. I assumed that they would somehow know. That erroneous assumption led to a lot of growing pains. Systems won’t eliminate all of the pains associated with growth, but systems will minimize those pains.

With systems in place, we have a process for handling the myriad issues that accompany growth.

For example, if we add another crew, we need to sell more jobs. And to sell more jobs, we need to generate more leads. When we sell more jobs, we have more customers to keep informed. We have more paperwork to keep organized. Without systems, we could easily find ourselves dealing with an endless stream of emergencies, jumping from issue to issue in an effort to put out the latest fire.

But with systems in place, we have a process for generating leads, for selling jobs, for communicating with customers. Fewer things fall between the cracks. We can be proactive and manage the company’s growth, rather than be reactive to the crisis du jour. And that is a lot less painful.

Training Our Customers

Most contractors recognize the need to train their employees. If we want work performed to a certain
standard, we cannot assume that our employees know how to achieve that result. We must show them the proper way to perform the tasks required in their job.

Unfortunately, we often fail to recognize the need to train our customers. Yet, the results can be much worse than failing to train our employees.

Consider: You have given the customer an estimate and they ask if you can do better on your price. If you immediately cave and reduce the price, you have taught the customer a lesson—his wish is your command. And he will likely continue to act on that premise.

However, if you tell the customer that you can reduce the price by changing the scope of work or by using different materials, you have taught a much different lesson—your price is determined by the labor and materials required, not the customer’s desires.

Virtually every interaction with our customer implicitly trains him as to what we expect and will tolerate. We can train the customer to use and abuse us, or we can train him to treat us with respect and professional courtesy.

As professional contractors, we know what it takes for a job to go smoothly. This requires everyone involved—our employees and the customer—to do their part. We spend time training our employees to do their job efficiently and to our standards. We should do the same with our customers.

It’s Just Theory

Every so often I run into a contractor who claims that any talk about systems and best practices is a waste of time. It’s just a bunch of theory, and theory, they claim, is useless. Ironically, their claim is itself a theory, and a very impractical one at that.

If you were going to drive across the country, I doubt that you would just hop in the car and start driving. You would probably consult maps and develop a plan. You would consider numerous things: how far you would travel each day, places to visit along the way, weather forecasts, and more. In short, you would figure out how to reach your destination with the combination of efficiency and pleasure that you desired.

Of course, this would all just be a bunch of theory. Who knows what might happen once you get on the road? Why spend a bunch of time making plans when you might get a flat 100 miles from home? It’s better, the critics of systems would claim, to just start driving and deal with things as they happen.

Certainly, you could drive across the country without a plan. And you can build a successful business without systems. But you can also win the lottery.

The Best Way to Market a Painting Business

A common topic of discussion among painting contractors is how to market their business. The question is usually posed as if there were a single, one size fits all answer. The real answer is: It depends.

It depends on your company’s skills and goals. It depends on your target market. It depends on the types of jobs you do most profitably.

For example, if you have a three-man crew, it probably isn’t wise to market for large commercial projects. If you specialize in custom painting, marketing for apartment make readies is a waste of your skills

The best way to market is to first identify who you want to market to. Then identify what media will reach that market. You can’t be all things to all people. Don’t try to market to everyone either.

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