A Different Model for Paint Contracting

I’ve often heard it said that there are two types of painting contractors—those who focus on the technical side and those who are more oriented towards marketing and sales. Of course, a successful business requires the proper combination of both.

For the contractor who enjoys painting, sales and marketing are a “necessary evil.” He recognizes that, without some level of marketing and sales, he simply won’t have the opportunity to paint. For the contractor who is more inclined towards marketing and sales, production issues can be a constant headache.

Fortunately, there is an alternative to the traditional contracting business that allows each type of contractor to focus on what he enjoys. Indeed, I did this for several years, and it proved to be a win-win for all involved.

In the model that I followed, I offered a sales and marketing service for other painting contractors. They retained ownership of their company and were responsible for all production. I simply helped them with marketing, and then did all of the estimating for them. I received a commission for all jobs sold.

For my clients, they didn’t have to spend a large part of their day (or evenings) giving estimates. They could stay on the job and focus on production. They became more efficient. For me, I didn’t have to worry about production issues. I sold the job and then turned it over to them.

I won’t claim that this wasn’t without some problems. First, I spent an incredible amount of time on the road. My clients were servicing a large part of Houston, so I was giving estimates over an area of more than 1,000 square miles. That began to take a toll on me. Second, my clients were sometimes reluctant to do the marketing necessary to generate leads. Because of this, it was sometimes difficult to keep them with the backlog of work that they wanted. Of course, these issues can certainly be overcome.

Some might think it odd, and perhaps even damaging to one’s business, to work with competitors. While I still had my own contracting business, our service areas overlapped very little. In fact, I often received requests for estimates that were outside of my service area, but I was able to sell these jobs for another contractor who did service that area. So I was able to earn a sales commission and the contractor wound up with a job he otherwise wouldn’t have even bid on.

There are certainly variations to this model, but the important point is to create a win-win situation. And this is true whether you are the technician or the salesman.

Marketing for winter work

Winter is often a slow time for painting contractors. Unfortunately, many contractors wait until it is too late to start marketing for winter work. The time to market for winter work is not in the dead of winter. If you haven’t started marketing for winter work, do so today. Even with a limited budget, there are a number of effective methods that you can use to create leads going into the fall and winter.

Marketing to past customers is one of the most cost-effective forms of advertising. You can do a mailing as simple as a postcard or as elaborate as a four-page newsletter. An email newsletter is even cheaper. Services such as Constant Contact and AWeber offer a variety of templates that make it easy to create professional looking emails. Whichever route you take, the goal is to stay in front of your customers and remind them that you want their business.

Another creative marketing method is what I call the “sign promotion.” This marketing involves placing a sign in the yard of past customers (with their permission, of course). At the end of the promotion, hold a drawing for those who participated and give the winner a gift certificate to a nice restaurant. You have a lot of flexibility in how you do this promotion.

For example, you can do it for a few weeks or an entire month. You can put out all of the signs at one time or stagger them over a period of time. You can give a single prize or multiple prizes.

The more concentrated you can get your signs, the better. Imagine the impact if you have a dozen signs in a single neighborhood—it will appear that your company is painting every house in the neighborhood. The repeated exposures in a short period of time can have a very strong impact on home owners in the market for a painting contractor.

No matter what you do, if you want this winter to be better than last winter, then you must take different actions. And that means marketing early and often.

The lure of owning a painting business

The lure of owning a business, along with a slower economy, has swelled the ranks of painting contractors. Low cost of entry, minimal equipment requirements, and the attitude that anyone can paint has led many to start a painting business. Statistically, these new contractors are facing long odds—most new contracting companies fail within five years.

The chances for long-term success for these new contractors can be greatly enhanced if they take the time to learn some basic business skills and develop systems for their business. A contracting business involves much more than putting paint on the walls. Unfortunately, many overlook the business side of the equation and think that the only skill they need is the ability to spread paint. They worry more about what ladder to buy than what accounting software to acquire. They put more effort into selecting a paint brand than branding their business.

Certainly some level of technical ability is needed, but without marketing, sales, and administration there will be few opportunities to demonstrate those skills. Without the ability to generate leads, sell jobs at a profitable price, and manage the business, there simply won’t be any jobs. Technical skills alone will not make for a successful business.

The ability to generate a consistent flow of leads is crucial to any painting business. Doing so requires more than “word of mouth” or randomly placing ads. It requires a marketing plan, careful tracking and analysis, and an adequate marketing budget. It requires a consistent message and proper targeting. It requires a long-term commitment to building brand awareness.

Selling at a profitable price presumes that the contractor knows his actual costs. This requires an understanding of accounting basics, as well as an identification of the true cost of doing business. Ignoring expenses won’t make them go away, but will make it difficult to pay the bills. Perhaps more importantly, without an understanding of financial matters the contractor could easily wind up broke and in debt.

Whether a contractor works alone or manages multiple crews, he will have tremendous demands on his time. He must be able to prioritize, focus on the long-term, and deal with many different issues. This requires time management skills, leadership abilities, and the patience to train employees. It requires systems to operate efficiently and consistently.

Neglecting these facets of a paint contracting business does not mean automatic failure. But it can result in unnecessary stress, frustration, and wasted money. It can make it more difficult for the contractor to accomplish his goals and build his business. It can add complexity and problems to what is already a difficult task.

Starting a painting business is not rocket science. But it shouldn’t be approached in a lazy or slipshod manner either. It should involve careful planning and thought. It should involve a commitment to ongoing education regarding both technical and business issues. Doing so will greatly increase the chances for success.

Two simple ways to market your painting business

A favorite topic among painting contractors is marketing. It seems that every contractor wants to find the “magic bullet”–some dirt cheap way of generating leads consistently. There really isn’t such a method, but there are tons of ways to generate leads inexpensively. This article will examine two inexpensive, yet effective methods for marketing your painting business.

The first method is proximity marketing. This method involves marketing around an existing or upcoming project. The idea is to create multiple exposures for your company in a very targeted area and in a very short period of time. After all, if your customer needs your services, it is very likely that his neighbors do as well.

There are a number of ways to market to the neighbors. One easy way is to use a service such as Quantum Digital to mail postcards to a select number of neighbors. This service allows you to mail as few as 20 postcards. You can mail to the same homes multiple times, with different messages. For example, you could announce that you will soon be doing a job in the neighborhood. A second card could announce that you have started the job. And a third could state that the job is completed.

A second part of proximity marketing is to put a sign in the yard as soon as possible, even if it is a week or more before you do the job. The longer the sign is in the yard, the more exposure you will get.

The third part of proximity marketing is door hangers. While on the job, spend a few minutes each day distributing door hangers to the neighboring houses. Even if you only do 10 or 15 a day, you will be increasing your exposure. Combined with your sign and mailings, a potential customer could be exposed to your company many times within a week or two.

The second method is customer retention—that is, marketing to past customers. This can be as simple as a periodic email thanking them for their past business, or as elaborate as a printed newsletter. The important point is to stay in front of your customers, to remind them that you want to do business with them.

If you contact past customers at least four times a year, you will remain fresh in their minds. When they need painting work, or are asked for a recommendation, your name will be fresh in their mind.

Contact with past customers does not need to involve a constant sales pitch. Indeed, it would be better to provide them with information that is useful, such as home improvement tips. Offering such value differentiates you from competitors without coming across as being pushy.

A very good aspect to both of these methods is that they can be turned on and off easily. If you are swamped with work and need to reduce your lead flow, you can easily stop either of these.

Despite the effectiveness of both methods, they are often overlooked when marketing a painting business. Include them in your advertising mix, and you will have a powerful and inexpensive tool at your disposal.

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