(Craftsman vs. Entrepreneur)
I approached the PDCA expo in New Orleans with a naïve attitude. This became clear to me as I presented both my educational topic and my argument in the ‘throw down’ debate. I tailored these presentations to people like me: someone who has strong business acumen and someone who leads their crew in the field each day. The discussions I had and the people I met created in me a crisis of faith, at least in terms of where I stand in the painting industry. Should I be hiring more people? More trucks? Am I a sucker for advertising in a newspaper? Am I doing too much, or too little for my business? What about technology?
Understand this: not only do I not cast dispersions on those who do not actively pick up a paint brush, I in fact, admire their position and what it takes to run a business with that structure. But I met many people who reacted to my daily schedule with curiosity and pity. Judging from people’s responses, I believe their opinion to be ‘I just haven’t figured it out yet.’
I keep normal hours during the day to practice my craft with my apprentices all the while maintaining my necessary business obligations. I answer the phone; conduct all estimates as well as consulting with my customers on color and design. I do my own financials and I create my own content for social media. At the expo, I was surprised to find that I was a minority in this regard.
So what is a person like me to do in this situation? Should I reconsider my role in my own company? Am I needlessly toiling? Am I lowering myself to the status of common laborer instead of devoting my time to running my business?
Any college business program would applaud the business owners that I met at the expo. They have outsourced, silo-ed, delegated and optimized. But there were common concerns with all of these businesses: the need to generate more leads and the ambition to eventually not paint or to not be doing what they’re doing so they can actually do something they love– both things that I have no problems with. Is one of us right?
To all of these people, I ask,” what if you actually love what you do?” What if preparing an income statement, doing payroll and creating your own marketing excites you? What if you take pride in experimenting with finishes to further your expertise? What if you love to restore antique furniture and spray industrial epoxy? What if your company’s best asset is the trustworthiness of its leader? What if both painting and entrepreneurship happen to be your passion?
My time at the expo made me take a second look at my business. I was inspired by young entrepreneurs at the helm of nationally-recognized painting companies, by a painter who created his own App to assist other painting contractors and by another young business owner who built a company like mine into a 50 person entity known for their quality and moral among employees. What I’ve realized is that the choice between tradition and progression does not have to be a choice at all. You can embrace both.
I could argue that my life is happy. And with that realization I shook that crisis of faith, at least as it pertains to my business, and have now stopped looking down on what I’ve created because it doesn’t resemble other painting companies. I don’t see myself as a lesser businessman because I still paint with my crew. It seems that people have taken sides: Painter vs. Entrepreneur. I consider choosing one or the other as an excuse for not having the fortitude or patience to see to both sides of your business. I argue that you can generate substantial revenue, maintain high margins and look your customers in the face and say “I, and my apprentices, are the best painters.”
So I have a proposition for our industry: Instead of judging your success by price per lead and market capitalization, judge your company by these 3 questions:
- Can your customers find another contractor who creates a finer finish than you?
- Do you have the happiest customers?
- Can you call your life happy?
I consider these non-negotiable fundamentals.
All else will follow.