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Wednesday, March 24, 2021
A recent poll by American Painting Contractor magazine asked painting contractors about their biggest business challenges. This is the last of three blogs addressing the most reported challenges.
In the painting contractor business, time is money – and unscheduled time is lost money.
Running a business takes money. So does paying your employees – including yourself! When you’re short of work, each empty hour on the work calendar is a missed opportunity to pay for each of those things. Light schedules can also lead to other problems. If your employees aren’t satisfied with the number of hours you’re providing them, they’ll find another employer who can provide more.
All of these stressors can lead painting contractors who are short of work to swing into full sales and marketing mode – cutting prices, increasing advertising and saying yes to more types of jobs. But while packing an upcoming month with work might offset the financial losses of a slow month, it also causes problems of its own. Boom-and-bust work cycles put you and your employees on a roller coaster of money worries and physically exhausting 60 hour weeks.
So a balanced schedule is important. But how do you navigate through customers schedules, unexpected employee absences and seasonal changes in demand to get a well-rounded weekly calendar of work? It’s no wonder that painting contractors with more than one or two teams often employ an office staff member who spends most of their time juggling the scheduling needs of customers, employees and the business itself.
Are there other ways to spread your work out? Unfortunately, nothing is going to completely get rid of scheduling challenges. But there are ways to improve them. Here are three things you can do to make schedules work out better for everyone.
The most avoidable scheduling challenge is the scheduling mix-up. If you and your customers sometimes have a different memory of what time you agreed on, a new process may save some future headaches. Calendar software like Google Calendar or Calendly will allow you put an appointment on your calendar and to send “invitations” to customers via email for that exact same time.
Right after agreeing with a customer on a time add the job to your calendar and send an invitation to the customer as well. You’ll get a notice if they accept the invitation and you’ll know both of you have the same time on your calendar. Another bonus – calendar software will also notify you if you try to schedule two customers at the same time, helping you avoid a last-minute customer apology and scheduling shuffle.
If you’ve ever rented a house for a vacation you’ve probably noticed that the prices can vary dramatically depending on the season when you’re visiting. For instance, if you’re looking to stay on Mackinac Island in northern Michigan, you can probably get a significant discount in January. You’ll also need to plan pretty carefully, because the ferries stop running when the waterways freeze over.
Painting has a peak season too. And if your schedule starts reaching a point when you feel pretty comfortable that it’s going to fill up during peak season, it might be a good time to start offering a fall or winter discount for new customers who aren’t in a hurry. You might not make quite as much profit on the job in the fall or winter, but you’ll avoid a lot of stress in the spring and summer. And you’ll also be happy to already have jobs on the calendar for months when work is harder to come by.
Review your calendar regularly and make sure to give employees as much notice as possible when you’re facing a busy week (or month). If employees only have a week’s notice, they might not be able to move other obligations quickly enough to provide the extra hours you need. If you already know that next month’s schedule is looking crowded (and you don’t expect that to change) letting employees know a month early gives them extra time to prepare for a heavy workload and the extra pay that comes with it.
To learn how ProPainter Websites can help your painting contracting business bring in more customers, call us at 919-424-6121 or email us at Team_PPW@ProPainterWebsites.com.
Friday, March 19, 2021
Several months ago, I had one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. During a nasty storm, I watched as a (thankfully small) tornado spawned in the cul-de-sac just outside of my house. I was also extremely lucky; while several roofs and cars in the neighborhood were crushed by falling trees, the only damage to my house was a single piece of fascia flashing that was bent and ripped off the house.
Then, something even more unusual happened – I couldn’t get anyone to fix it. I called roofers, siding contractors and even handymen. Nobody would call me back – it was too small of a job for contractors, and too high up in the air for a handyman.
I must have called a half dozen companies in the weeks before I saw three roofers on a house two doors down from mine. Their company truck was parked out front and had a phone number on the side, so after a few minutes of thinking about it, I called, and a guy picked up the phone and asked me how he could help. It only took me about 30 seconds to notice that the person on the phone with me was standing right there in the neighbor’s lawn.
We got off the phone and both took a 15 second walk to my house. After looking at my bare fascia, he said he had flashing in his garage that would work perfectly, and he’d do it for $100.
After all the time I had wasted on trying to get this fixed, I would have happily paid twice that – maybe more. I just wanted to know when he could do it. He said he was returning to work on the neighbor’s roof the next day and could take care of it then. And he did – by the time I had dropped my kid off at school the next morning, it was already fixed.
But, it gets better.
I paid him $150, and offered $50 more if he could quickly look at my roof and confirm there was no damage from the tornado (thankfully, there wasn’t). I was thrilled with this arrangement, but he must not have felt right about taking the extra money. While he was examining my roof for damage, he also cleaned out my gutters – another task I had planned to deal with later in the week.
From my perspective, this guy is a hero. He took care of three problems for me in one visit, and did each of them more cheaply than I would have paid for anyone else to do them. From his perspective, he made $200 for an hour of work and $25 of materials, with no travel time at all. It’s hard to keep a business afloat with $200 jobs, but if they come along that easily, why not take them?
Here’s the most important part. This business owner knew that he wasn’t just doing a job. He was marketing his business, too. That’s why he left me his card after he was done, and asked me to call when I need a new roof.
I put his number in my cell phone. Guess who I’m calling when I need a roof in a few years? Here’s a hint – it’s not any of the roofers that didn’t even bother to price my small job.
This story offers several examples of how to think like a growth-focused small business owner.
This contractor was on a job and could have easily screened my call. But he took my call instead and stayed focused on my problem during the conversation.
It would have been easy to tell me his calendar was full and offer to come back at a later time. But when I asked for help, he saw the request as an opportunity and not a complication.
And most importantly, he knew I was frustrated with a problem he could fix quickly and easily. So he took the time to fix it. That’s how companies earn five-star reviews. That’s how word-of-mouth marketing spreads. That’s how small businesses turn into bigger businesses.
So if you’re painting someone’s house and see a vehicle slowing down and taking an extra look at your truck (or the work you’re doing), take the time to introduce yourself. Ask if they need help. And if they do need a small job done a few doors down, give them the no-travel rate and knock it out quickly. Be a hero.
And then leave your card behind for when they – or their friends or family – need a real paint job.
To learn how ProPainter Websites can help your painting contracting business gain new customers, call us at 919-424-6121 or email us at Team_PPW@ProPainterWebsites.com.
Friday, February 26, 2021
A recent poll by American Painting Contractor magazine asked painting contractors about their biggest business challenges. This is the second of three blogs addressing the most reported challenges.
It’s not easy to hire painters and it’s also not easy to keep them. Reliable and professional painters are often poached by competitors. Others start a few jobs on the side and end up running a business themselves before they realize it. And many painters can easily transition to other contracting jobs. While this can be a good thing for all involved during the winter lull, it means that many painting contractors face a fresh hiring challenge each spring.
But there’s a best place to work in every town and in every industry. The best employees know where that place is, and if they get the chance to work there, they’re likely to take it and not look back.
How do you earn that reputation? Here are three things to keep in mind about your employees when you’re building your business processes.
We explained earlier in the month that winning is losing when it comes to price wars.
One of the biggest reasons not to pursue rock-bottom pricing is your ability to take care of your employees. If all of your revenue goes to covering salaries and job expenses, there’s nothing left for you to spend on marketing or sales to fill your calendar. There’s nothing left for promotions or pay increases. And there’s nothing left to help out an employee facing big life challenges.
Instead of being the price “leader,” offer a better, more reliable service and guarantee better work. Then charge what you need to charge to make that happen. When your business is ready to grow, don’t hire anyone who can’t meet your company’s high standards. If your pricing is right, it will be much easier to afford – and to keep – those employees.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is certain. When employees feel like their jobs (and their hours) are reliable, they’re less likely to leave a job or start another one on the side. On the other hand, companies with boom and bust cycles are much more likely to burden employees with both burdensome work demands and short paychecks.
Painting businesses that work hard at balancing their workload throughout the year are going to be perceived as better employers. Working to fill the calendar is one of the biggest roles of management for a painting contractor.
If there’s a light season, start trying to book discounted work months ahead of time. And while there’s always an element of taking the business when you can get it, remember there’s a real cost to booking work into a packed calendar, even if it looks profitable on paper. The more time your employees spend thinking about how many (or how few) hours they’re working, the more likely they are to find somewhere else to work.
Trades workers, including painters, do hard work. Sometimes that work includes odd hours, harsh weather and tiring physical labor. Unfortunately, they don’t earn as much respect as they deserve for that effort. Some employers and customers are rude to them, and many are guilty of looking down on them.
Because of this, it stands out even more in the trades when an owner or manager truly cares about their employees.
Unlike higher salaries or better benefits, it doesn’t cost anything to show your employees that you appreciate their hard work and really care about them. And it will impact employee retention.
Recognize employees when they work overtime to meet a tight deadline. Take an interest in employees and their families and celebrate their successes. When they have important events happening in their lives, try to adjust schedules to help them meet their personal obligations.
At some point, your best workers are going to be offered more money. They might be promised better hours, or opportunities for promotion, or less physical labor. The one thing another employer can’t promise is that they’ll start their new job with the trusting and respectful relationship they have with their manager. If your company feels like family – if you’ve shown them that you really care about them – that might be enough to keep them where they are.
To learn how ProPainter Websites can help bring you more business, call us at 919-424-6121 or email us at Team_PPW@ProPainterWebsites.com.
Wednesday, February 24, 2021
A recent poll by American Painting Contractor magazine asked painting contractors about their biggest business challenges. This is the first of three blogs addressing the most reported challenges.
Every business has competitors, and when they get lazy, they compete with low prices. It’s lazy because it rarely works. Your lowest priced competitor is probably going broke one job at a time. They might be covering this month’s bills, but they aren’t putting anything away for the big expenses down the road. When their truck breaks down, so will their business.
No painting contractor wants to compete in a price war, but many do because they worry that the cheapest contractor will win all the business. The good news is that customers don’t care as much about price as you might think.
The cheapest option for most people is to just handle the painting themselves. But instead, they call a painting contractor to do the job for them. This is especially true for interior painting, where homeowners would only be a few feet off the ground to reach the top of the walls in most cases.
When it comes to home services like painting, most people don’t go with the cheapest option. They would rather pay someone else so they don’t have to even think about it – they just want the problem to disappear. And most people will need more than a time and a price to really cross the problem off their list.
Unfortunately, most customers don’t ever tell you about their actual problem. Here’s are some things customers don’t always mention when they ask for a quote:
These are just a few examples of customer problems on top of the paint job. Even customers who don’t mention them would happily pay a bit more to forget about those problems too.
Here’s a thirty minute exercise to increase your price and your win rate.
The next time a customer calls, put the plan into action. Before you offer a quote, ask them if they have any other specific concerns – and address those, too.
Finally, offer a price that’s at least 10% higher than you would have before the exercise. You’ll probably be surprised how many people take you up on it!
To learn how ProPainter Websites can bring more customers to your painting contracting business, call us at 919-424-6121 or email us at Team_PPW@ProPainterWebsites.com.
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
This past year was one of the toughest our country has had in a very long time. Economic crises, health crises and political crises peaked at different points all across the country.
This chaos hasn’t had the same effect on all businesses, but it has left some painting contractors hanging on by a thread. While empty schools and businesses brought opportunity early in the crisis, residential painting was hit hard. Some homeowners didn’t want to share space in their homes with contractors, and others were left without a job and a paycheck. In either case, a fresh coat of house paint was not a priority for them.
So far, 2021 is feeling a lot like 2020. But by the end of the year, the pandemic’s impact on daily life should fade significantly. And despite all the news articles about how the world will be changed forever, most people will be thrilled to get back to the life they had before.
What does this mean for painting contractors’ bottom lines? It’s unclear what this year will bring. But change always brings new opportunities, even in normal years. Here are three opportunities for contractors hoping to squeeze some positive news out of another year of uncertainty.
There’s plenty of talk about city workers moving hundreds or thousands of miles away to rural areas because they can work remotely. That will probably take years to happen, if it happens at all. Most people won’t move until they know remote work is acceptable over the long term.
But even after the pandemic, there will be more people working from home at least some of the time than there were before 2020. That means that fewer people will be in the office each day.
Office complex owners might have difficulty renting out their largest spaces, and may need to split them into smaller offices. Businesses in long-term leases will probably want to redesign their offices to make better use of the space they have. That might mean more videoconferencing rooms, more shared offices or even subletting some square footage.
These changes will require knocking down walls, and they’ll need a paint job to pull everything back together when they’re done. Painters with commercial experience (or those who have relationships with the general contractors who win these jobs) may pick up some larger projects from this work. Make sure to keep in touch with commercial real estate management companies in your area!
The transition to work-from-home status happened quickly last spring. People set up standing desks in living rooms or repurposed a kitchen corner so they could stay productive – and employed. While that might have worked for a little while, it’s not a home layout most people will want when they can start inviting friends and neighbors over again.
Once people learn that they can work from home more regularly, many people with a spare bedroom will choose to build a home office. Having a room used exclusively for work is more convenient, more productive and potentially tax deductible. For those who are repurposing what was once a specific-purpose room such as a kid’s room or exercise room, a paint job may be in order.
If people are only repurposing a room (or two) for a home office, that’s going to be a small job. But those conversations can turn into something larger – and even if they don’t, if they’re happy with your work, you’re likely to be their first call when they need an exterior repaint or decide to do a facelift on the whole interior months or years down the road. For painters in need of work in the short term, these small jobs can fill empty schedules and create new sources for referrals as well.
The previous two opportunities came from positive developments. But it’s also an unfortunate fact that COVID has devastated not just businesses, but entire industries.
If these industries fail (or shrink massively) they will leave millions of square feet of retail space vacant. Building owners can’t afford for that space to stay vacant forever, but they’ll need to repurpose it if they want to attract new businesses.
Whatever ends up happening to this space over the next several years, you can bet that contractors – including painting contractors – will be needed to make repurposing it a reality.
To learn how ProPainter Websites can help you find new customers, call us at 919-424-6121 or email us at Team_PPW@ProPainterWebsites.com.