On this rainy West Coast Sunday morning I'm thinking about how many contractors I have personally talked to over the years that have told me that they grew their business to sometimes 2 or 3 dozen people, only to hit a major crisis (health, family, bankruptcy, lawsuit, etc) and decide to scale back, way back, to just themselves and a helper.
Like a cool Sunday morning rain, running a small business is just more laid-back.
Small is low risk. Small is low stress. Small is manageable. Small is profitable. Small is freedom...
So a few years back I was paying for my paint when my friend and colleague Mike walked in. And it hit me.
At the time I was busy and had a closing rate of about 1/3 of my estimates. But taking one look at my friend, I realized that if I was a customer, I would hire Mike, not me. Why?...
How do you know when it is time to make a change?
There is a theory that says people generally do not change until the pain of the status quo is greater than the pain of change.
“Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”
- Tony Robins
That is why we hear people say things like: 'getting fired was the best thing that ever happened to me'. They likely hated their job, were to afraid to leave a stable paycheque, but since the decision was made for them they were then free to move in a direction of their choosing. We change. What made us happy and brought us satisfaction at 20, becomes different at 30, or 50.
So how do you know when it is the right time to make a move if you are unhappy about an aspect of your life? Do you have to wait for someone else to make the decision for you? Do you have to wait until you just can't take it anymore and you have a breakdown? When to initiate change is something I have struggled with over the years...
In an earlier post, I discussed the importance of Respecting Capacity.
But I've come to appreciate another facet of capacity that relates to our business - viewing capacity as an asset in your business and leveraging it for maximum profit.
Used to be that I got nervous if I was booked up for less than 3 weeks in advance. I was used to being booked 6 - 12 weeks out and that demand felt good, felt secure.
But these days...
The idea for this list came from a list Chase Jarvis made for Creatives, which was a variation of a list Guy Kawasaki made titled What I Learned From Steve Jobs.
Here is what I believe when it comes to running a small painting business:
1. There is no substitute for craftsmanship. Be wary of jobs where craftsmanship is not valued. Quality work should be non-negotiable.
2. Work begets work. Not busy enough? Get out there and add value somehow. The easiest way to find work is to be busy working. Too busy doing jobs you hate for people you don't like? Stop doing that, otherwise you will get more of it.
3. Profit is a proportional bi-product of the value you create.
‘FOLLOW YOUR PASSION’ '
FIND YOUR PURPOSE'
‘DO WHAT YOU LOVE’
These have become the de-facto career advice you hear these days. It’s as if we all need to be doing something incredibly inspiring and challenging in order to feel time spent at work is worthwhile. Does work need to be a spiritual, higher-calling endeavour to be satisfying?
Oscar Wilde is quoted as saying, ‘Everything popular is wrong’. Could today's popular career advice be wrong?
When we started our small contracting business, time is something that we invested heavily. Funds and experience and equipment may have been minimal, but time is something we all get an equal allotment of. If working for ourself is a priority, we will spend as much time as needed to get it off the ground.
The danger is that we stay stuck in departure mode. Imagine being on a long journey aboard a jetliner that was in lift-off mode for the entire 12 hour trans-atlantic flight. How stressful! Take off is exciting, but everyone's happy to sit back, take a deep breath and order a drink once everything is under control...
As entrepreneurs we must be effective problem solvers. Problems come in all variations: financial, health, technical, scheduling, staffing, etc. One type of problem that we will eventually encounter is people problems.
People problems can be particularly difficult to handle if you have an aversion to confict. Many people would rather experience just about anything but having to confront someone about a problem. I know, I used to be one of those people, and I still have to fight that tendancy. And that is a benefit of the road we travel as business people...it exposes our weaknesses and provides opportunity to confront them one way or another before you can achieve success. Learning to deal with people problems is one of the biggest hurdles facing a start-up. We all want to be liked and we all hope to get along with others, but things can go pear-shaped pretty quickly when mixing money, deadlines, personalities and expectations.
So here are 4 things I have found that help to difuse potential hot spots...
If each party in a transaction over-delivered by 5%, what room would be left for disagreement?...
Over the years I've noticed that there are 3 quick, free and easy things that most experienced painters refuse to do that holds their quality back from producing professional results:
1. Caulk with a wet finger or rag, prior to painting. This reduces drag, leaving a smoother finish on the bead of caulk. It also prevents building texture with drag lines and tiny chunks of semi-dry caulk. The caulking deficiencies only look worse once painted, so proper application will give a better paint finish. Caulking applied after the painting is done will eventually collect dust, discolour and look unprofessional in a short time. Caulking requires top-coating with paint...
Storage of equipment in work vehicles has been an almost constant irritation of mine since I started working for myself 13 years ago.
Over the years I've worked out of old beater trucks (large and small), an SUV, a cargo trailer, new trucks (large and small), an old van, and even commuted out to one job in the country on my scooter one summer.
I've noticed that with my (and many colleagues) extended cab work trucks, the back seat area is usually full of equipment. Some tools and materials need to be protected from the rain, snow or thieves. It almost always ends up a mess, unstable and impractical, because the floor is uneven. Well one day a couple of months back I had enough and pulled into the hardware store and built myself a simple set up that has worked much better...
You might be thinking about taxes at this time of year. And that maybe causing you some stress.
Or you may be feeling taxed by the stress of a busy painting season just ahead.
I've been thinking about work stress recently, particularly about the toxicity of stress and the toll it takes on our health, relationships and general job satisfaction. Stress is real. The effects of stress can be as simple as being more irritable to more complicated - like the inability to sleep properly, addictions, memory loss, a compromised immune system. Stress can even lead to heart attacks and death. My observation is that some of us don't consider stress enough when looking at jobs. For me, I need to be more intentional about limiting it's influence in my work life where possible.
We are just painters after all, not surgeons, so why all the stress? Is it necessary? What factors lead to some projects being more stressful than others?
Governments tax behaviours that they deem unhealthy for individuals or society, to reduce consumption/exposure and raise money to finance the side effects. So...why not tax stress in your life, particularly in your business? Add a surcharge to jobs that involve more stress, put a premium on that stress to discourage and reduce the amount of stress and raise money to deal with the consequences of stress (vacation, massage, therapy, date nights, exercise, healthy food, etc...).
With that in mind I created a Project Stress Analyzer and Tax Calculator. I fill it out as part of the process for every project I quote in 2017. In fact, I print a bunch of these sheets and use the back side to make my notes during the site visit. If a project has an average (or lower) anticipated amount of stress there is no premium tacked on. But for every degree of stress above average I add 2% to the quote, to a maximum of a 100% stress premium...
So one day about 8 years ago I went to a client's summer home to continue an exterior painting project. It was mid morning and the homeowner meets me at the front door with a serious look on her face and a glass of wine in her hand.
"Simon," she says, as she pulls me inside her house by the arm, "today you won't be doing any painting."
This article is a guest post by Steve Maxwell, one of Canada's most read home improvement journalists and editor of Pro Painter magazine. Pro Painter has been an excellent source of support to my business over the years with technical tips, business advice and industry trends. Look for a re-vamped Pro Painter debuting in 2017.
Every painter wants a schedule full of great jobs, serving clients who appreciate good work and pay good money. But whether or not you actually get this kind of work depends on more than just your skill with a brush, a roller and your estimating book. All these things are critical, but success in painting, as in life, ultimately depends on deeper qualities like energy, honesty, selflessness and humility. Please forgive me if this sounds like a Sunday school lesson, but reality backs me up. A painter I know named Gary Walchuk reminds me how true it all is...
With a new year just around the corner, you as a business owner may be thinking about your sales numbers - what they were like this year compared to last year, what next year should look like, etc.
Like the economy, everyone assumes that a healthy business is a growing business. Progress and increase are quick validation that we are working hard and things are going well. If you are not growing you are shrinking, contracting, losing market share, in a recession...all negative sounding things we have been conditioned to have an aversion to.
Let's assume for the sake of this blog post that growth is good, necessary even, for your micro-business. We want to measure our efforts and see fine results: higher sales, and more importantly - higher profit...
At this time of the year many people begin thinking about what goals they may want to set for the coming year. I've always appreciated the importance of having goals, but have always struggled with the achieving of them. Here are a few things I have learned about goals over the years, as I have begun to use them as an important tool in feeling like I'm moving forward in my life...
When painting a room I find that having a system leads to the most efficient and consistent results.
One simple part of my system is working left from the entrance into the room and proceeding from left to right, top to bottom. This way nothing gets missed and no time wasted deciding where to start.
Another part of my system is to...
I just watched a few really interesting talks that contained some good take-aways for me and my business...thought I'd share the links in case you might be interested in some positive psychology...
After 10 years of operating a painting business in the Okanagan Valley I had a nice client base of about 300 customers, which I had worked very hard to acquire and service.
It felt good to have so many happy customers...it gave me a sense of security. The problem is that I couldn't service so many customers well. Sometimes my best, most loyal customers had to wait 6 or more months for me to fit their project in. I wasn't delivering top level service to my best customers and I was often over-booked and stressed.
So when I opened another painting business here on Vancouver Island in 2015, I decided that I would try to get to 100 customers as soon as possible. This, I thought, would give my business a solid base, while giving me a more manageable number of customers, hopefully leading to less stress and better service.
We may think we need a lot of customers to have a successful business. So it was interesting when last week I looked at a report of my sales by customer for 2016 thus far. You know what?...
Greetings from Reykjavik! What a cool place!
We often hear about or strive for 'balance' in our lives. The idea of balance has always kind of stressed me out because I picture myself as a juggler trying to focus equally on multiple machetes in the air coming down on me and me panicking to keep it together and keep it all going while not dying a bloody death.
Balance has always felt unattainable, and thus the pursuit a little discouraging. Lately I've been more interested in the concept of focus...
Hello from Praha!
My brother-in-law has been a painter for close to 30 years and early on when I started he gave me a simple peice of advice that has proved effective...
Chase Jarvis, founder of Creative Live, has recently posted a series of 30 long format interviews with some of the world's leading creatives, entrepreneurs and influencers. 30 interesting interviews to get you thinking about creative new ways to clarify your vision, reach your goals and make a difference. It makes for engaging listening at work, or while stuck in a long commute. You might hear something that gives you a 'light bulb' moment, inspires you, or leads to a break through in your business...
One of the key benefits of self-employment is the ability to have more control over our work life.
What control do you have? You can respond to an opportunity you see in the market by creating something of value. You can set objectives for your business. You can set boundaries for your customers and yourself. You can make many of the day to day decisions.
So many factors conspire to restrict our freedom and impose stress on our projects and lives. This is where we must push back...
An observation from the last 12 years of self-employment:
The more you charge, the better you are treated.
How does that work? I'm not sure, but I would guess a couple things are at play...
A good friend of mine likes to reply to the question:
'How are you bud?'
'I'm on the right side of the dirt!'
I love that response because it puts everything in perspective. If you are alive, it can be a great day.
But these days Busy has become the new Good.
Everyday you can hear a conversation go something like this...
'How are you Jim?'
'Oh yah, crazy busy. Can't keep up!'