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September 23, 2013 / Dale Melchin

The Painting Business: A story of love, hate, and why I will never go back

So many times in our lives, we suffer through set backs and failures and we never take the time strip off the husk of adversity to find the seed of benefit inside.  If we are able to do this, we are, tough, stronger, wiser, and more resilient on the other side, leading to greater successes later on.  Today I’m going to tell you about my experience in the painting business, what I loved, hated, and why I’ll never go back.  Originally, this article was going to be much longer.  It had a lot of content leading up to why I loved painting, hated it and why I’ll never go back.  However this format is much simpler.

Painting: A love story

I painted for about 5 years and I loved the work itself.  I loved being outside when the weather was beautiful and being able to enjoy the fresh air mingled with the smell of the paint.  The solitude of being in an empty house was quite enjoyable.  If it was a particularly nice one, it created vision fodder for what I’d like to have in the future.  It also made me think of all the work or the kind of work folks had to do to get there.  Believe me, there are so many modern success stories out there living under our noises, if we only take the time to look.  Sometimes, it was just simply being up on a ladder, just me and my music player, the bucket of paint hooked on to it and the brush in my hand.  There was also the satisfaction of accomplishing a project, having the customer happy and of course getting paid!

On the business side of it, I also loved it when I started partnering with other people, especially the competent ones.  And if you are reading this, you know who you are!  Having those guys on my team gave me more latitude with my time to market the business.  I also loved meeting to people and making the sale as well.  Nothing is more satisfying then when you are on your own and you are on an upward trend.

I also learned tons of things about marketing, managing costs, estimating, and communication that I never would’ve learned had I not gone through the experience.  If I did go back, I would do much better having had two years of objectivity to view the whole experience.  However, with every good experience, there is always a dark side to it.

Painting: A Loveless Marriage or a story of hate

Having my own business was not without its set of perils.  The first is partner problems or contractor problems.  While I had great people on my team, sometimes, if you aren’t careful you can end up partnering with people who are completely incompetent or who have no vision.  If there is a willingness to learn, I can fix a lack of skill.  Painting’s not that hard, but if you don’t have vision, I don’t want you on my team!  I don’t want to dwell on the negative, but there is truth to what Michael Hyatt says about clients and employees.  Hire slow, fire fast.  The wrong people in an organization can cause all kinds of problems.  Its like throwing a wrench into a machine.  It is something that going forward in my business endeavors, I’m going to opt to do everything myself until I am reasonably sure I have a candidate who has a great attitude, a willingness to learn, openness to feedback, and a burning desire for excellence.  Technical skills can be taught later if needed.  I now know the warning signs of those people who lack attitude and excellence.  In my future endeavors, I’m going to expand slow.  You should too.  I know there is power in delegation, but, there is too much at stake to trust a vital project to someone who doesn’t care.  Especially when you are starting out, every project, every contact, every client matters.

The next problem is cash flow issues.  When I was starting out, I was completely committed to starting the business debt free and expanding my capacity as the company grew.  I’m still committed to this model no matter what endeavors I undertake.  Whether its counseling or coaching after I get my degree, or consulting.  I’m not gonna do debt.  Its all going to be on a shoestring.  I know that if I’m able to fill the funnel with the right kinds of people, the cash problems will take care of themselves.

The next issue is customer problems.  Aside from personnel issues, this is the biggest one, because they so vital.  The vast majority of my clients were stand up people that I was able to build a great rapport with.  I can think of about two that I would never ever do business with again. If I could one of those two I would warn all my fellow business men to avoid.  My problem during that time, I couldn’t say no to a potential client because I didn’t have a good client acquisition system in place.  Most of my problem clients were the ones who tried to negotiate down the price of a bid.  That’s easy enough to take care of with a little back selling.  Letting them know the benefits they stand to gain with the offering and letting them know the perils of cheap.  If you want a good resource about client acquisition, listen to This Is Your Life 62.  Michael puts it together so much better than I could.  I wish I would’ve had his model when I started out!

The next problem is safety issues.  This is something that is particular to the construction business.  Thank God I never had a problem with one my partners or contractors getting hurt on the job.  I do give them credit, even the ones that didn’t work well, they were very safety minded individuals.  I recall a story where I fell off a ladder and was out for about 45 minutes.  It was weird, because I had a dream about being held prisoner.  I just kept saying my name, rank and social security number until I woke up screaming it.  I tried to get back on the ladder and keep working, but I couldn’t do it.  I called my wife and she freaked out so she had some friends come and get me.  I had to sheepishly admit to the homeowner what happened that there would be a delay as I was going home for the day.  He understood and was very professional about the thing.  And I did end up finishing the project by the end of the weekend.  Ever since that accident I’ve been supremely careful with ladders.  The thing is if you don’t have the right systems in place to deal with such problems, you open yourself to tremendous risk.

And addition to safety issues, there is also the stress of not knowing where the next job will come from.  Now, this wasn’t always a problem.  Even though I was small, there were times where I was back to back with my jobs.  I’d be busy for a month straight sometimes a couple of months, which I thought was a huge accomplishment for me.  I LOVED being busy!  But then there is the issue when the work dries up, even for a week, where it gets worrisome.  I hated it.  It wasn’t a huge problem after I quit delivering Pizza’s because I was actively marketing.  But there were a couple of dead spots that I can recall.  It wasn’t fun.  The solution to this is make sure you are active with your marketing and make sure you are using the right kinds of marketing.  For a while I was going door to door promoting my business.  People didn’t like it.  Even if you were just trying to hand out a business card and talk to people, most people didn’t like being interrupted.  If I had to do it over again.  I would take the biggest ad in both phone books so we’d be overloaded with calls.  I also would’ve started blogging about my projects and showing before and after pictures, and make sure every single post had SEO optimization so that way people would find me before my competitors.  In fact, just writing about that is giving me ideas…… NOPE.  Not going back!   There was another problem that made me hate the painting business and I’ll elaborate on that next.

Suffering several setbacks in a row is the worst.  In September of 2010, I had a project where the client put me on blast for items that were not on the punch list.  Mind you he wasn’t very internet minded, thank God.  But we ended up crossing blades in such a way that if I did go back to painting, I would never do business with him or anyone from his town.  I lost all of the money on the project and I still had to pay my guys for the project, which I did happily.  It was stuff that could’ve been easily corrected.  I’m pretty sure all of the people in that family had conspired to try to bring us down.  Then after several other projects, work dried up for the winter, and the labor cost on the last project had outstripped the budget.  At that point, I was done.  I let the other guys go and had my operations manager finish up the other jobs that were left in the queue and I walked away from the business.  It was one of the worst times of my life.  But again, I learned so much.

At that time I realized there are few things that beat a steady paycheck other than the will to win in business.  I’m slowly now, working up that will no to win.  The problem was at the end the problems had outstripped my personal resources.  So when the final set back came down, I was glad it was over.

Painting: Why I’ll never go back

The first is that I have found my calling.  I want to help people solve life’s problems.  I know there are so many that are out there doing it, but with my business experience, I am learning to niche down, and also expand out, and solve problems within the business context as well that will make me better than others.

The second is that painting would be a distraction. After learning so much about the business, I could go back and be a serious contender, I know it.  But I know my calling now and it is time to move on and stop fighting with God about where I need to be.

Finally there is the issue of dealing with people in your organization who don’t take things as seriously as you do.  I’m not a misanthropist by any means.  But these people tend to have no vision, simply want to be paid, and are often very high maintenance.

Finally, I’ve also realized that the problems to be solved in painting, are cosmetic problems.  My vision is to help people with life problems that have to do with themselves, not just their worldly possessions.  I realize that in counseling and coaching I will likely deal with problem people.  That’s the nature of the business.  But I also realize nothing in this universe exceeds the value of the human soul and its fate.  I’ll also have the necessary mechanisms and defenses in place to properly deal with these people from a business standpoint.  I’m also going to make sure that the future business is diversified enough so I don’t have the problems and have a the funnel so full that I don’t need to worry about the problems, when I can just manage it using the systems I’ll have in place.

At the end of it all though, its more efficient to find your calling early and get after it.  So often we take the idea of the wandering years as a given, especially here in America.  Don’t get me wrong, its great to explore, but eventually you have to grow up and focus.  This is what Dan Miller calls the clarification process.  The best way to get through the clarification process quickly is to know yourself, thats 85% of the heavy lifting.  Once you know that and what you are suited for the other 15% finding a career that fits falls right into place.  If you are young, get with the school counselor, take those personality tests, honestly and start working toward your career before you get out of high school.  Get busy at trying different work while you are young so you aren’t stuck drifting later.  I know this seems boring to a kid, but you’ll have plenty of time for playing after you’ve become financially independent by intentionally saving and investing that money you’ve earn early on.  Also after the personality tests, listen to your heart.  Not the base desires but your heart.  That still small voice you hear after you let go everything you want and everything you think you want.  That will tell you what you are supposed to be doing.  That will help you lay the frame work for your vision.  Don’t allow yourself to get caught in the trap I did of doing something you love and hate.  I know not everyday is going to be a mountaintop experience, even if you are working in your dream job.  But if you are doing what you love, you are competent at it, and you have a market, you’ll be set for life.

If you aren’t young, don’t worry, you can still turn the ship around, especially, if it is already moving.  There are stories of hundreds of people who have managed to re-energize and go after their calling.  It may be after a conversion experience or an existential experience when they realized where they are supposed to be in life.  Regardless of where you are in life, you can find it and get after it.

Question: So what about you?  Have you ever gone through a business experience to which you will never go back, but gained priceless experience in the process?  If so, leave your comment below


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