How to Profitably Spend Time & Money During the Pandemic


Brandon Lewis here with The Painter’s Academy and Painter’s Weekly. In a moment I’m going to talk to you about this three column strategy that I really think that you should be focused on. However, in the meantime I want to say I think we have reason to be very optimistic about what’s about to happen in the wake of this pandemic.

Number one, they’re talking about getting people back to work. We have to have that conversation before we get people back to work. I know they’ve caught flack about it, but we do balance health, lifestyle, and safety concerns and the economy every time we make a decision in life. That’s why we do not go to work in a car with a NASCAR roll cage, helmets, and a flame retardant suit. Would it be the best thing to do for your personal safety? Yes, but we draw these lines everyday. To use one side of your brain and not the other is very foolish.

Number two, it looks like although we recognize that the virulence of this disease is way worse than the American flu, but it looks like the death rate may be very similar. According to tests that they’ve been able to run when testing was available on the entire population, not based upon those that were reporting to hospitals and being tested because of really rough symptoms but rather when an entire population was being able to be tested, and then that was extrapolated across the larger population. That’s good news which means the main focus right now needs to be ensuring that our health system is not overrun.

Finally, they did pass a relief bill in the Senate. It has some things in there that will help our workers, many of whom are at home right now and some of our office staff. And it does give us access to liquidity and capital for our businesses and a few other things that I think will really make a difference. It’s not perfect, but it’s something.

Now, let’s talk about what you can actually do using a three column strategy inside your painting business. First, let me tell you the number one problem that I see among painting contractors is because they come up in a technical trades environment and because they are constantly working on projects, and then they become the owner of a company, that myopic focus on getting projects, completing projects, and almost doing nothing else is really what prepares a company to go out of business during a pandemic like this. It is that mindset that shuts off the brain, conditions you to not really be able to put systems in place, to not be forward thinking.

Everyone’s asking the question, “How do I get more projects?” That’s really the wrong question. The question is, “How do I build a painting business that will increase my income and will also allow me to work fewer hours while having the type of lifestyle I deserve, and build equity?” Those are the types of questions you need to be asking.

Now, when we look at this three column strategy, obviously there has to be a sense of urgency and a pecking order depending on the environment that you’re in. But I’m here to tell you that if you spend all of your time on column one, you’re going to be in a really bad way forever. Let’s walk through this.

Number one, column one represents things that you can do right frigging now to make huge improvements in your painting business. Things like easy leads, that’s going after your client list. That’s reaching out to people that you know. That’s emailing, calling, reaching out to unconverted leads, people that have received an estimate but have not said yes, that’s making sure that the people you have in the funnel that have already booked work get scheduled and that you communicate clearly so that work that is booked does not cancel. Okay?

Sadly, about the only thing that I’m hearing that painting contractors are doing right now is just this. Easy leads. Easy leads, easy leads. Got to find easy leads. Where are the easy leads? And not even the rest of the stuff in column one they don’t even work about.

Now, before I move onto the other things in column one, it’s important for you to know that you’ve got to spend time on your painting business doing things in column one, column two, and column three all the time. You have to do them simultaneously. If you’re starving, if you critically need things, you might have to spend a little bit more time on column one. But if you never spend time in column two, if you never spend time in column three, you are royally screwed forever. This pandemic will not last forever. Okay? And for many of you who actually have time on your hands, spending time in column two and column three is frankly the best thing you can do during this entire pandemic. Okay?

So easy leads, improve your sales process. What does that mean? It means improve the persuasiveness. It’s not just about showing up, petting the dog, and emailing in a .pdf estimate, and then calling a couple of times, and hoping it closes. It’s about pre-positioning, presenting well, post-positioning, followup, using all mediums at your disposal, mail, email, phone, text, video. It’s about putting together sales tools and processes so the phones answer the way. So it’s answering it live 100% of the time. So you start talking about how your painters process is part knowledge. Things like that are different and superior. Putting together sales tools with project books, company stories. I could go on and on.

But it’s about raising closing rates, and it’s about making sure that you also raise your average transaction size and your billable rate. Okay? Producing well. This is things like job costing. Job costing doesn’t need to be done a week later. Job costing needs to be done daily. It needs to be easy. It needs to be simple. It needs to be known by the operations manager or the owner, and it needs to be known by the painter in the field. It needs to be known daily.

Cut labor. Okay? Right now if you’ve got painters that are sitting around not doing anything, and if they’re not producing, you need to let them go on unemployment. If you’ve got office staff that don’t have anything to do, you probably need to let them go on unemployment. Because if your company is not around, not around for them to come back to because we have worked with one side of our brain, and now when this thing is … when we’re freed up to work in two weeks, four weeks, and there’s not a company to come back to, that’s going to be kind of sad.

So sometimes you have to make some decisions in the short term with people which is your largest expense. Bonus structure sounds crazy to think about a bonus structure in this time, but it should be in column one. Why? If you send your painters out there, if you’re doing job costing to produce well, and if you’re having company meetings and things like that that’re good, we need to incentivize them to come in on budget or otherwise they may mow up the clock thinking, “Well, where’s the next job going to come from?” The jobs that are produced have to be produced profitably, especially in this time. Okay?

Column two, B to B relationships. Need to be working with realtors, interior decorators. You need to be working with other people that are roofers, that are gutter installers, that are window installers, that are siding installers, that are landscapers. Especially people that are outside. Because we’re going to be able to get to work outside a lot quicker than we’re going to get to work inside.

Commercial marketing and prospecting. A lot of these companies are shut down. If you don’t have a marketing campaign that you can put to these guys, you need to get one or develop it. If you don’t have a commercial prospecting points program to make sure that your personal efforts and the outreach to this audience and discovering who the prospects are, you need to develop one.

Operations. What does it look like to start, run, and finish a job daily for your operations manager? From scheduling to inventory and process to hours available to weeks that you’re booked out. What does it look like when you send them out with an ultimate [inaudible 00:08:27] packet? Do they have everything in that packet that they need to succeed? Do they have a laborer tracking? If they have a good scope of work, if they have a problem solving sheet, equipment checklist, dual column checklist, payment envelope. Do they have an upsell sheet? Anything that they have for change orders or addendums? Something that’s clear to understand so they can actually do their job. A checklist for how to start, run, and finish a job. These are important things. Paperwork, whether it be digital or analog, really matters. Web improvements. It’s a great time right now to build a new website. If you need help with that, contact our office. John is doing a lot of them right now. I’m surprised how many people are focused on this type of work right now. Smart guys.

You know, the internet is not going to sleep while this is going on. So improving your ranking, improving your conversions, setting up digital newsletters to reach out to your clients who will be your lifeline if we end up in a down economy when it comes after this which we probably will. Okay?

And then finally, column three. Hiring and recruitment. Well Brandon, I’m supposed to be working on hiring an recruitment now? A little bit now? I got to spend all my time on getting leads. I got to spend all my time on getting jobs. Well, that’s what dummies do. Can’t be a dummy. Can’t spend all of your time just laying down the tracks in front of the train two feet in front of you. You’ve got to build the track all the way down the road. You’ve got to setup the next way station. You’ve got to make sure there’s water at the end of the track. You’ve got to hire engineers to make sure it can run. You’ve got to set up protocols and systems to make sure the trains don’t run into each other. It can’t just be about put a little track down, put a little track down. That’s how people with shortsighted vision end up in bad places.

Management. How are you managing your people? What do the metrics need to look like for your crew leaders? How do you need to run your crew meetings? How does the agenda need to look like? What do the metrics need to look like for an estimator? Not just closing rates but all of the inputs that create the outputs. Average transaction size. Is he losing the big ones but getting the small ones? Those kinds of things. What does your time need to look like for your administrative assistant? What’s the output for that operations manager? The people in your organization that really matter.

Leadership. How are you going to encourage and lead these people during a difficult time? Are you being steady? Are you not panicking? Are you being someone they can look to for advice? Are you conducting yourself with clear communication and laying out a strategy for what it looks like right now, what it looks like a few weeks from now, and then what it looks like when we get out of this thing? You need to be communicating that clearly, okay?

And then finally, education. It amazes me people have two weeks, maybe four weeks, where they don’t have as much to do in their business, or in some businesses have really been shutdown, and they’re not spending any time on figuring out how to prepare their business for when they get out of this situation, when they can go back to myopically focusing on getting leads. They’re not even prepared. We could be going into something that is similar to, at least for a short time, the Great Recession. And people aren’t spending any time, money, or energy on figuring out how to build a business that will survive in that situation. Man, that’s just dumb.

So, when you’re working in your business, you’ve got to spend time in each of these three columns. Things that are urgent that can help you right now, things that can help you 30-90 days from now, things that can help you 90 days and beyond. You know, some of these things you could put in here might even be things that help you next year. But for most painting contractors, I’ve found that thinking further than the next order’s pretty darn tough. Okay? So let’s just keep with the next order for right now.

Listen, we’re going to make it through this just like we made it through other things. The thing you need to do is make sure you’re one of the companies that survives and thrives. In the Great Recession, we had hundreds of thousands of people in the painting business that went out of business. People that were established, that were technically talented, could really put the paint on the wall. That’s not what saves you. We had people that muddled by, accumulated a lot of personal debt, and accepted a lower income. They made it but at a high cost.

Then you had people that thrived, that did well. I watched my business in 2008 in a midsize market in a bad economy, and we grew, and we had good margins, and I even sold it in 2013 for $440,000. How do you have different painting companies in the exact same environment arrive at completely different incomes? And it’s because some people focus on column two and column three, and they focus on these things in column ones and not just this thing. That’s how you get there. So make sure you spend some time doing that, and if I can help you in any way just reach out. You know my email address. My phone number’s pretty easy to find. It’s 423-800-0520. I’m happy to help you, but you’ve got to be working in all three columns, guys. Let’s work together as a team. Let’s get through this. The market’s going to be great when we get on the other end of it. Talk to you soon.