How To Be A Better Contractor – Advice From A Denver Painter: Part 2

“With any large task, you just have to start and sometimes, one thing at a time is all you can do.”

Last week, I shared information around how building systems has helped my field service business and personal life. Today, I’m focusing on how you can start to do this yourself, so you can be on the road to being a better contractor. Let me start by asking: Have you heard the question: “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer is one bite at a time. That means, with any large task, you just have to start and sometimes, one thing (or one bite) at a time is all you can do. This will look different for everyone, but let me suggest a strategy that should work for most field service business owners.

How to Build Systems for Your Field Service Business: 

1. Figure out where you want to go. If you were taking a vacation, you wouldn’t just get in the car and start driving. You would have a destination in mind first and then map out your options. Should you drive? What car and route should you take? What will you bring? Who will come? And so on. For your business, do you want to eventually have a team of 5? A team of 10? A team of 50? Do you want to focus on residential, commercial or new construction? This is the most important step, so don’t just wing it. If you need help thinking about your goals, I would talk to people that know you well and avoid negative people because they will always be negative.

2. Take inventory. What do you have, who do you have, and what skill sets are available? These are your tools and you always need to know what tools you have in your shed. If you were doing a project in the backyard, you would know what tools you have and then you would start your project. If you wanted to add a deck this weekend, bought all the materials, but then had no saw to cut wood, you would be dead in the water. Always know what you have to work with.

3. Start with the phone. What happens when a customer calls you? I think that is one of the best places to start. We all know what we want to see happen, but we also need to know the reality of what happens. I am a big proponent of having office staff or someone that answers your phones because first impressions are huge. I have a podcast that a friend of mine and I do and we did a segment on answering the phone and called our own business numbers to see how we could improve upon what we currently doing. I recommend taking a listen to your own calls. Then write down how you would want to improve these conversations. What information should be collected? How is it going to be recorded? Who is in charge of this? Don’t leave these details to chance. I think this is the biggest hole in most field service companies. The phone rings and no one answers it, so the customer goes on to contacting the next contractor on their list.

4. Create a sales system. Nothing will happen in your painting business if you don’t have a sales system. Again, think about how you want it to be. What information do you need? How will you capture it and how will you present this back to the customer? I’m amazing every time I request a bid for something on my house. It usually takes a week or two to get a bid back. For my business, we work to get bids back out within 24 hours and most of the time, we’re able to do the same day. If you have someone interested in hiring you (a red hot lead), don’t waste time. You’re not building an entire house here. Use a system to write your bids and get it back to the customer fast. Our team uses to manage and track all of our customer information. It is easy to use, inexpensive and cloud-based. Check them out! They even have a free trial. My testimonial is on their front page actually (scroll down towards the bottom of the page). I love those guys!

5. Follow up. You need to have a system for following up with customers. I don’t call our customers and pester them, but you do need to make sure the customer receives their estimate in a timely manner. We send everything out in email, but as you know, sometimes emails get lost or go to spam, so my office calls every customer two days after sales appointments to make sure customers have received their estimate. This does a few things:

  • Gives us another touch point with the customer
  • Makes sure they have the estimate
  • Makes sure my sales guys have sent out the bid on time

6. Consider your production. With this, you need to first list out all the things you do. For example, for me, it’s painting walls, painting trims, painting cabinets– you get the picture. Now, for each of these, you need to create a list of all the things you need to do, from start to finish, including but not limited to: preparation, material management, asset protection and the physical work (for me, painting parts). Outlining your production process will take a while, but I would suggest starting with the services you do the most. You may decide, like I did, to start eliminating some things that you either don’t like to do or the things that don’t make you much money. For me, I decided that we would not paint any exteriors or do any drywall work or staining. We focus instead on residential interior painting.

I hope these tips have been helpful! I’d love to hear how you have set up systems for your business. Feel free to share your comments with me below.

Read Part 1 of “How to Be a Better Contractor” >>


Nick May owns Walls by Design, based out of Denver, CO. He started the business in 1999 with one employee, and grew it to be one of the largest residential interior painting businesses in Colorado. May believes in systems, team building, and marketing…not necessarily in that order. When he’s not working with his team, you can find him playing soccer or hosting his successful interior design podcast called The Chaise Lounge where he shares the stories of some of the most successful designers in the industry today.


Last modified: April 6, 2018

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