Use the right tools for your painting business

I seriously doubt that any painting contractor would use a 1” sash brush to paint walls. It would be inefficient and the results would likely be less than desirable. It simply isn’t the right tool for the job.

Yet, when it comes to other aspects of their business, these same contractors often fail to use the proper tools. The result is the same as painting a room with a 1” sash brush—inefficiency and less than desirable results.

One example is accounting software, such as Quick Books. Such software, when properly used, provides a wealth of information about the finances of the business. That information does more than simply tell you your profit, it helps you make wise decisions regarding planning. And the best part is, you can accumulate years of data that is easily accessed.

Another example is web sites. I continue to be amazed at the number of contractors who do not have a web site. A web site provides 24/7 access to information about your company and is an invaluable tool in reaching potential customers. Hosting can cost less than $10 a month.

A third example is estimating software. There are an abundance of programs on the market, and while none is perfect, each provides an efficient and accurate method for pricing jobs. The savings in time is usually well worth the investment.

Using the proper tools helps you get the job done faster and with better results. Doing things the “old fashioned way” may be quaint and nostalgic, but it isn’t good business.

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.

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