Having a painting business for 13 years now, it has been my privilege to work with some pretty solid guys.
Stef and I are opposites in many ways, but like oil and vinegar sometimes it works out just fine. He is a clear thinking person, unlike me who has a tendency to get lost in the greys. I was fortunate to have his help over a couple of years. I learned so much from Stefano, it would be hard to list it all, but I will share a few gems.
1. Italians love to argue. Its a sport for them. Being half French and half German, naturally we disagreed on 99% of everything. Which makes all mundane details in eveyday work life far more exciting, cause everything you say has to be defended and debated. If we ever got bored at work we would just pick a random topic to debate in order to pass the time. Never could convince him that hockey is superior to soccer....
Realized today as I was working on a ladder most of the day, and working under an old deck too, that painting has helped me overcome two of my biggest phobias.
I used to be really scared of spiders, but working on exteriors in the Okanagan Valley where the Black Widow, Brown Recluse and Wolf spiders thrive, eventually provided enough exposure therapy to dull the panic attacks. Look close enough in any yard and you are likely to find one. Best just not look, and keep on painting ‘cause you ain’t getting paid till that section behind the bushes is done. Oh, and don’t forget that area under the deck...dang...
‘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?
What if, on the next 5 estimate site visits, instead of going in with a mindset of 'How can I get this job?',
we asked ourselves...'Is this my ideal customer?'.
It may be a more difficult question to answer, but it is the more important question for the success of our business and our personal well-being.
As the busy season ramps up, we may find ourselves front and centre in some stressful situations.
Here are 3 more tips on preventing conflict:
1. Put everything in writing, and both sign an agreement prior to ordering paint and starting a project.
2. Use you i-phone to take a lot of 'before' pictures of the project, details, paint codes, etc. Email them to yourself...
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?...
"Oh, I don't really have a business, I just work for myself."
Is something often heard out in the field. It sounds like a simpler, more manageable way to work independently without all the hassle of running a business. Who wants the headache? Get work. Get paid. Repeat.
But getting stuck in that cycle is a problem...
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...
The entrepreneurial struggle can arouse some powerful negative emotions - frustration, self-doubt, jealousy, anger, disappointment, exhaustion, conflict, confusion, and depression, to name a few. As a business owner you put yourself out there on a daily basis and face the world, hoping other people will accept you and your offerings. You face judgement and rejection. You battle threatening market forces that are out of your control - competitors, the economy, technology, weather, etc. Your entrepreneurial mind faces negative forces from within yourself, the people you deal with, and the circumstances you work in.
It can be difficult to navigate through challenges while keeping your head right...
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."
Our service trucks and vans work hard. They could be considered our most important tool.
We depend on them as transportation to work, as our sales vehicle, our mobile office, storage unit, lunch room, equipment hauler, and maybe for the odd weekend getaway to the woods.
Maintenance is important to keep the wheels turning safely and efficiently. With that in mind, I wanted to pass along a simple but effective tip that I learned last year from an experience shop mechanic...
Have you thought about starting a small business but are afraid of either the challenges, or the thought of quitting your job? Or maybe you are already in business but are looking to transition into a different type of business - one that is more creatively fulfilling, is easier on your body, or that can provide a side income for travelling or savings. If you are ready for a new challenge, Chris Guillebeau just launched a project today that might just be for you...
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...
Do you suffer from Dread of Red like I did for many years? Doesn't it seem that if you are going to have problems with a colour, it is likely to be with red?
One of my first bad spills was with a can of Benjamin Moore Collections in a deep red...right down this particular hallway actually, in the middle, on brand new carpet. I was so excited to impress a bunch of realtors, thinking this might be a great opportunity to make an impression and get some referrals. Well I think I succeeded in making an impression alright.
I've learned too that red paint, when you open the lid, can look pink. That can fool an in-experienced painter into marching back to the paint store assuming there was a tinting error. But we learn that the magenta dries out of the paint and it actually looks red, not pink, once dry.
And fast forward a couple of years where I experienced the dreaded 'red feature wall' that most painters encounter at some point in their career...the one that requires 8 or more coats of red, and still doesn't look good (poor or uneven coverage, 'picture framing', texture build up, slow curing...).
Over the years i've tried several things to try and solve this vibrant red coverage issue...cutting and rolling small sections at a time to keep a wet edge, putting the paint on heavy, different naps and sleeve materials, different brands and bases of paints, pink primers, etc...
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...
Advice I would give to my younger self if I was just starting a small painting business...
Answer the phone...
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...
As a former high school drop out, it is not my place to say that getting a degree is a bad idea.
However, it is clear that education is changing fast and that the cost:value ratio of traditional post-secondary institutions is becoming more of a burden than an asset for many students.
Technology, industry and economic shifts are developing so fast that a 4-year program is sometimes obsolete by the time you graduate.
The skills that seem to be valued in the current job market are adaptability, life-long learning, working with others, project management, entrepreneurial skills, value creation (rather than getting paid to 'show up'), problem solving, social influence and so on. It is a dynamic work-scape out there, with few guarantees or long term commitments on both sides of the employer/employee divide.
I'm definitely not an expert on any of these issues. And there is no question that some types of post-secondary training can lead to higher paying work. Having a basic high-school education these days doesn't open a lot of career doors. I just thought it would be practical to think about whether starting a painting business is a viable option for a young person, as opposed to pursuing 'higher education'.
The cover story on the August 2016 issue of Consumer Reports stated that 42 million people owe $1,300,000,000,000 in student debt. While many countries around the world offer free education, in North America adult students are drowning in deep pools of debt. Is it a wise investment?
Jackie Crowen, aged 32, from Portland Oregon, with $152,000 in student debt is quoted as saying "I kind of ruined my life by going to college." Let's play with some numbers...
If she attended school for 10 years, that is an average of $15,000/year in debt. If she had worked instead of attending school during those years, lets assume she could have earned an extra $15,000/year in earnings. That is $300,000 over 10 years that she is behind someone who didn't attend school and started painting full time, earning $30,000/year. How many years will it take her to catch up? If she gets a job paying 50% more because of her education, it would take 20 years! But that is assuming she doesn't end up working at Starbucks, as many highly educated people do. You sometimes end up over-qualified for entry-level professional jobs while lacking experience required for middle-tier professional positions. And that is assuming her skills and education are even still relevant after all that.
Now there are other factors to consider...
So about 8 years ago my brother-in-law and I requested a meeting with my business mentor. He kindly granted us a 20 minute meeting so we could run our latest idea by him. In our enthusiasm we never expected to receive the advice he gave us that day.
My brother-in-law Andre and I get along amazingly well. We both paint for a living. We have very different but complementary strengths and skills. We both recognized that painting is better with 2 people, and we had a lot of fun whenever we worked together. So it seemed logical that maybe we should consider a corporate merger and blend our businesses into one.
Let me give you the short version of Mr. Mentor's advice...
1. It is unethical. It indicates that you are willing to sell your integrity and honesty for the privelege of working on a project. You don't pay sales tax - it doesn't come out of your pocket, you simply collect it for the governement. So there is little incentive for you to rip off the government. You may feel pressured in order to win the bid, but consider whether you want to work for someone with such ethics. Interestingly, I've had teachers, police officers, Christian clergy and devout Muslims, among others all ask me over the years to 'work for cash', hoping to save 5 - 12% in sales tax. Either you are honest, or your not, simple as that.
2. It is illegal. Do you want audits, fines, assessments, bank accounts frozen, customers contacted by CRA, interest charges, jail time, legal fees, a criminal record? All these are possible consequences of fraud.
3. You never know if it is a test - to see if you are an honest person. Clients are trying to determine if they can trust you with thier most valuable possessions and working around their precious family. Trust is the only thing you are selling. People assume you are a proficient painter...what they want to know is if they can trust you. Trust and honesty go hand in hand. Best to have a solid policy and stick to it firmly and respectfully. You may even be talking to CRA/IRS auditor...