An interview with a Commercial Painter

in Entrepreneurial, Independent Contracting Jobs, Physical Work, Self Employed

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What do you do for a living?Commercial Painter

I’m a commerical painter.

What does your work entail?

I started out doing everything, doing all the painting, getting the estimates, getting the estimate turned in, getting all the paint, have it delivered to the job site, then actually do the work, finish and make sure the client is happy, then get your payment, deposit that and record all this process all while hoping that in the middle of that job you are booking other jobs. So that got to be a challenge which is where having the guys helped out because now basically all I do is go out and do the estimating and the invoicing and then just quality check. So, rather than eight hours of my day spent actually doing the labor, I’m going around trying to continue the booking process and the invoicing and all that work.

How did you get started?

I was in school to get my athletic training degree and we moved into a place and we asked the landlord if we could get a decreased rent to paint it and she said ‘ok’. The landlord had someone she hired to paint the other side of the duplex and paid them $1200 and ours equated to $300 bucks, and our side looked better and so she said ‘well, there are plenty of people that have property that could use this’. So me and my friend that I lived with at the time came up with a name and put together some paint buckets for the logo and put out flyers all over town at hardware stores and that was in 2000, so seven years later here we are. For awhile I did it only part time. I started getting more calls for the painting thing and I was like ‘I’m going to give this a try’, because I’d get my pay check from my other jobs and I’d be like, ‘I still need more money’, and so I would plan on the paint jobs to make that happen and I was like, ‘maybe I can just turn that into something’. And it was difficult in the beginning but that was two and a half years ago now. So I went full time self employed and now I’ve had a crew of guys for over a year and I’ve been keeping them busy enough to keep them around.

What do you like about what you do?

It’s kind of a double edged sword. I love it and sometimes it’s challenging at the same time. I can basically write my own schedule. If I don’t want to get up in the morning, I don’t have to get up in the morning but then later in the day I’m just thinking about what I could have gotten done if I had gotten up in the morning. So, I love that that aspect of it, but at the same time if you are not disciplined about it that can be your downfall.

What do you dislike?

The inconsistency, it’s not like a regular job where you show up and you know you are going to get that money and you know you are going to have that money to count on. I can be in the middle of a job that’s going to end at the end of this week and I haven’t gotten any calls and I don’t know where the next job is going to come from. So that’s my biggest, the thing I hate the most is just not having any idea where the next job is going to come from.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

You walk in and you just got to figure out ‘how much is my time worth on this?’, ‘Is it my time or is it my guys’ time?’ ‘Alright, I have to pay my guys this much and I still need to make some money off of this.’ So planning those things out and then coming as close to possible as measuring square feet for paint costs. Another thing that a lot of people don’t take into consideration is the taxes. You try to figure out those numbers so that you do have a profit margin, otherwise it will get eaten by those little figures that don’t get taken into consideration very often. Then you put all those things together on a QuickBooks estimate form and send it to the customer and hope that you are able to fit all of that into their preconceived budget that they have in their head.

How much money do you make?

I had a really,in my opinion, a good year. It was our first full year of the painting company, with two guys only working six months of the year. We grossed $110,000. I ended up netting close to $50,000 from my first full January to December year of self employment, that’s pretty exciting.

What education or skills are needed to do this?

I don’t think a degree is necessary. But having a business education definitely would help. I mean you’ve got to know accounting, you’ve got to know how to set up the corporation right as far as an LLC, then you get to learn how to save money on taxes and make sure you are fileing properly so that you are not getting taxed the most possible. Then there is the invoicing and the management of customers. Then there is the advertising aspect of it, to make sure that you get your name out there enough to get more business and then there is the labor aspect of it that you might have to be doing until you get to the point where you don’t have to do it. It can be done, which I’m proof of the first three or four or five years I was doing it, while I was in college, but, then if you want to keep growing and reach different levels you’ve got to manage it on a higher level. And there is always the risk of getting sued or injured. If you get injured you’re screwed because you are your source of income, there’s not disability you can take or if you screw up somebody’s house on accident you could get sued. So, there are always those concerns that a lot of people just forget about.

What is most challenging about what you do?

Keeping your crew motivated and keeping them paid, and worrying about where the next job is coming from. You can’t think so selfishly about how am I going to get paid, and how am I going to be able to afford to live and then have some fun at the same time, because you’ve got guys that are depending upon you. One of the my guys has a wife and two kids. So I have got to provide for them and keep them happy first otherwise I ‘m not going to be able to get the work completed, especially considering that it’s been a year since I have actually done a lot of the work and you get rusty after that length of time. So just managing all those aspects of it and then managing the other people is the challenging part.

What is most rewarding?

At the end of the job, seeing the guys happy that they are getting their paycheck and enjoying the work that they do. And what’s amazed me the most, and I guess I just never thought of this because of my ambitions as far as wanting to own a company, but there’s people that just want to work. So that parts probably the most rewarding. I had one guy with two kids and a wife and another guy with three kids and a wife and I’m supplying them with solid work. It’s a pleasure to watch them enjoy doing the work for you. And being able to communicate with them and kind of empower them to a certain degree that they feel that they have some control as far as decisions are made and things like that.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

It’s tricky. I’m actually just now getting to the point where I am prepared to do things the right way. And I say the right way in that, the majority of the people who start up a business, ideally have a business plan, ideally they have capital and then put all those things together and put themselves on the market. If anything I had negative capital because I was in college and and trying to get to this point. As a result I was kind of piecemealing things together, you know, ‘oh I have an extra $500, we’ll call that marketing money and make some business cards’, so I’ve just been piecemealing all that together. The advice would be, in a perfect world, be disciplined about putting together a structured business plan and having goals, even if they are small goals, and say, ‘I am going to make sure I get three jobs this month’. If you get more than that, then that’s good. You’ll beat your goal and now you can have something to grow from. But it can be done without that.

How much time off do you get/take?

I like to think there a controlled out of control situation where sometimes you feel like, ‘I’m taking a lot of time off’ but then again there are time’s when I am working at two o’clock in the morning because that’s when I am feeling the most motivated. I am not always that person who can get up at eight o’clock in the morning and go ‘okay, it’s time to get work done’. Sometimes it is one o’clock in the morning and there are some creative juices flowing.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

That I don’t work. People always say he is “working”, you know. But there is a mind draining process to all these things. I’m in one of the few painting companies that have a website, and website development is probably one of the most mind draining things that I do. It’s lot’s of little things and then, ‘how can I plan for tomorrow to make it the most productive?’. So there is a lot of seemingly idle time that’s not idle.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

I don’t just want the painting company. I have an idea box full of other things from at least a half dozen or more inventions that I would like to pursue as well as other business ideas. Someone could argue that I have already spread myself thin, I’m trying to make sure I don’t and focus on what I’ve got going on right now and keep that growing.

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