Considerations in a family business

Many paint contracting businesses are family affairs. This can add to the complexity of the business, as the lines between our personal and professional lives get blurred. Unfortunately, many such businesses do not have clearly defined roles for each family member and the business is operated like a democracy.

While input from family members can be a good thing, too many chefs can spoil the soup. If each person is adding a pinch of this and a pinch of that, you can wind up with a rather nasty tasting soup.

As Erin Duckhorn writes on the E-Myth blog,

If you tell a child one thing, and your spouse tells them another, how does the child know what they are supposed to do? Mixed messages lead to trouble. The same thing goes for an employee, and it’s especially important when the employee is reporting into a family situation. It’s vital to have a clear management structure so your employees know exactly who they report to and what’s expected of them.

A family business is no different from any other business, except that it can be more difficult to operate. A business should not be a democracy. Clear lines of responsibility should be drawn, as in any business.

Certainly, the emotions involved and the personal knowledge of family members can complicate matters. But family members must realize that when they enter the business door personal issues must be pushed aside. The success of the business demands it.

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.

Five steps to starting a successful painting business: Planning

The first step to starting a successful painting business is to plan for success. Business success does not occur by accident. It requires both intellectual and physical action. It requires that you identify what you want from your business, and how you will achieve it.

Many painting contractors think that planning is a waste of time. They view planning as nothing more than idle dreaming. They want to get out there and put paint on the wall. After all, that is what brings in the money. But before you put paint on the wall, you must generate leads, estimate accurately, sell at a profitable price, and much more. You must identify how many leads you need, what price is profitable, and much more. Addressing these issues is what the planning process is all about.

Let us say that you have modest goals–you want to make $40,000 a year. How many jobs will you need in order to make this? How many man hours will this require? How many leads will you need to generate in order to sell those jobs? How will you generate those leads? At what price do you need to sell in order to make your desired income? These are the types of questions that must be answered. (And to answer most of these questions, there are many other questions that must be answered.)

The refusal to answer these questions–or as is more common, the refusal to even ask them–is an invitation for stress, frustration, and failure. If you don’t know the answers, how can you possibly take the actions that will create the results that you want? In short, you can’t.

Even the best of plans will not go perfectly. There are many variables and unknowns in owning a painting business. But the lack of planning makes almost every aspect of the business an unknown, and therefore, uncontrollable.

To illustrate, let us take one of the issues listed above–the number of leads you must generate. If you know this number then you can develop a plan to accomplish it. You can establish a marketing budget. You have a benchmark by which to measure your success as you move forward.

If, for example, you need to generate 10 leads per month, you have a specific number to shoot for. You can determine how many door hangers to distribute, how many postcards to mail, etc. You can determine what this will cost.

Planning is not a magic pill. Plans seldom work out exactly as we intend. However, they provide you with a road map to where you are going. And that will get you far closer to your intended destination than if you choose to drive blindly.

Five steps to starting a successful painting business: Introduction

It is said that hindsight is 20-20, that if we knew then what we know now our decisions would be better. This is generally true–experience and new information can certainly impact our decisions. And it would certainly be true if I were to start my painting business today.

Nearly 25 years in this business has taught me that there are 5 key steps to starting a successful painting company. Today I will introduce those steps, and over the next 5 days I will address each in more detail. The steps are:

  1. Planning– Know where you are going and have a road map for getting there.
  2. Systems– Develop and implement procedures in key areas of the business.
  3. Know your numbers– Understand your true cost of doing business.
  4. Estimating– Know how to estimate consistently, accurately, and profitably.
  5. Sales– Know how to sell at the price you need to be profitable.

It is certainly possible to start a painting business with following these 5 steps. Indeed, most of us who have started a painting business did so. But starting a painting business is different from starting a successful painting business. In addition, following these 5 steps will reduce stress and frustrations.

When I started my painting business I did not have the benefit of the many resources available today. The Internet did not exist for the average person. I, like many of my peers, had to learn by trial and error–an expensive, time consuming, and stressful process. So, in addition to the 5 steps, I would also advise you to take advantage of the resources that are available.

Don’t think that you need to re-invent the wheel. Learn from the mistakes, and more importantly, the successes of others. Then, when you have built a successful business, you can begin to invent a better wheel.

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