I talk to a lot of painting contractors on a regular basis, and I am constantly amazed at how many of them are always complaining about one aspect or another about their business. Whether it is employees, customers, or their competitors, painters always seem to feel out of control. It’s been a while, but I can remember the days when I was constantly running from one emergency to the next. Not that I don’t have the occasional fire to put out, but they are few and far between. And when there is a problem to solve, I can usually track it back to what system failed, so I know who to talk to, and how to avoid it in the future.
As the business owner, you have to wear many hats: marketing, accounting, HR, sales, production, etc., etc. So many hats and the one thing I have found is that the larger I grow my organization, the fewer hats I need to wear, and the easier things get. However, this would not be the case if I did not have systems and processes in place to make sure things happen the way I want them to happen as well as making sure people get trained on the right way to do things.
“But it’s just me and one guy…,” you might be saying right about now. But let me ask you, has that ONE guy been easy to train, or have you gotten frustrated that he/she did not do things the way you wanted them to be done? What happens the next time you get super slammed? Will you hire again? The best time to build systems in your business is when it is just you and an employee or two. Why? Because then it is more controllable, and as you add more people, you will have the systems already figured out.
My small painting business is up to 15 different job sites at any given time. We have 18 painters in the field and about 27 total on the team. If I had no systems for what we did, and hoped for the best, we would have all sorts of problems, complaints, and issues. My life would be a nightmare. BUT instead, we have extremely happy customers, a team that loves their jobs, and we almost doubled in size this year, AND we were not out of control. So much so, we won Best Painting Contractor in Colorado by ColoradoBiz magazine. That would not be possible without having good systems.
How to start building systems.
When I first started my business, I was introduced to a book called The E-Myth by Michael Gerber (which you can win by signing up for The Business Brush newsletter). I highly recommend you pick up a copy. I read it (or listened to it) about 12 times. There is a lot in that book, but it is hands down, the best book out there on how and why to build systems in your business. The answer, however, is not in reading the book, but rather taking action on putting in the systems into your business, so step ONE is to read the book, and step two is to start implementing. Knowing that you are going to run over to Amazon and download a copy of the book, I still want to give you a few practical things to do to help you get started on the road to building your systems.
List what you HATE to do.
What are the things you just do NOT like doing in your business? For me in the early days, that would include answering the phone, accounting, and calling customers back for appointments. Then, write out how you would like these things to be done and how often. These are the first tasks I suggest you outsource (or in-source). You most likely procrastinate these tasks, don’t do them on time or as often as you should, and don’t do them well. This is also taking valuable time away from what you do best, either sales or production. You need to start here so that you can hire someone to take the tasks off your plate. If you do this, you will be able to generate more money that the company needs to support these tasks and give you more time.
“But I can’t afford to hire someone.” I can hear you saying. Trust me, you can. If you are spending (or should be spending) 15 hours a week on these tasks, and you bill out at least $50/hr, you can hire someone at $13/hr to help you, freeing you up to bill yourself out for at least 10 additional hours per week. This will create $500 in additional revenue per week or $2000 per month. Your cost to hire this person would be $900 (with taxes) and give you an additional $1100 in gross profit for the month. AND now you have less frustration.
Once you get this accomplished, you can start to breathe again, have a little bit more time in your schedule, and not have the weight of tasks you hate looming over you. Now you are on your way to gain control of your service business.
Identify low paying tasks.
As a painting contractor, you probably bill out anywhere from $35 to $60/hr. depending on your market. What is your time worth? Are you worth $50/hr? Then why are you still doing tasks that you can pay someone else $12 or $15/hr. to do? You can even outsource some tasks if you hire a virtual assistant (or VA as they are called). I just talked to a painting contractor that hired a full-time VA for $600 a MONTH! Yes, this is one that is overseas, but she has an accounting degree and works on all of her HR and payroll. It is a global economy now, and to be competitive you should be taking advantage of these types of opportunities.
Make a list of all the low paying tasks that need to be done, and then see if that is enough to hire someone part-time. Obviously, you don’t want to hire someone to do payroll and tape baseboards, but you get the idea.
When it comes to painting, most painters just want to hire an experienced painter. But that is expensive! I recently took a survey of hundreds of painters, and they told me that 80% of their daily tasks had to do with prep. Now prep is super important, but you do not need to be the BEST painter in the world to set up shop, tape baseboards, cover floors, clean rollers, and clean up at the end of the day. These are all tasks that should be done by a low paying PREP painter. Someone you pay $12-15/hr. for… not $25-30.
Until next time… Keep dreaming big and building that beautiful business of yours.