Are You Just A Painter?

By Joel Hamberg
First Vice President, Craftsmanship Forum
President, Joel Hamberg Painting, Inc.

When asked your profession or what you do for work, do you reply, ‘Oh, I’m just a painter’? At times, are you embarrassed of your profession? Are you hesitant to identify yourself as a craftsman?

What could be the underlying reason? Do you think painters have a diminished role in the building trade organizations? Do you feel that your work on homes, businesses or other facilities should be secondary to more high profile trades?

What do you think can help raise the bar, thus enhancing your self-image and your company’s reputation? We will examine four areas that can be improved to overcome stumbling blocks to advancement and self-image:

  • Dress & grooming
  • Impression your vehicle conveys
  • Businesslike communication
  • Confidence & determination

Dress and grooming

Ask your clients about the appearance of your employees, and openly accept suggestions where your company can improve. When in a paint store, observe the dress and grooming of other painters. How does your company measure up?

If you dress sloppy, how will that reflect on your craftsman image? Put on clean whites, shirts, and presentable shoes. Never wear old, torn or grimy pants, shirts or hats. You as an owner set the standard in presenting a professional clean appearance and aroma.

After you’ve improved your own image, educate your employees about clothing and hygiene. Require them to arrive shaved and smelling fresh. Have you considered the impact to a client when an employee changes job sites from a muddy exterior to a polished interior, without changing into clean whites?

Provide pants, shirts and hats for employees. Shoe covers, for example, cost just pennies. ‘What?’ You say, ‘It’s too expensive to provide employee’s clothing!’ Consider what your budget is for advertising, such as business cards, signage, mailings and phone book ads. If you can spend hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on marketing, you can and should provide attire that will reflect your company’s improved image!

Think of the gratifying reaction when your company arrives clean and professional to your job site. Feel proud as a business owner to wear your logo on your company shirt with clean pants and acceptable shoes. People will notice!

Impression your vehicle gives

Is your work vehicle an old rusty beater? Is your dashboard cluttered, overflowing with receipts, color charts, fan decks, or your half eaten lunch from last week? Does your van or truck have paint running out the doors?

What type of impression do you think this makes on people who are meeting you or your company for the first time? If you have never worked for them before, they don’t know the type of high quality work you are capable of. They could base their hiring decision by what they see. Take a look at your competitor’s vehicles. Probably 70% look like they are headed to the junkyard to be put out of their misery. Don’t you make judgments on how well your competitors are doing by how their trucks look? Your customers think the same way as you do!

Of course you’re busy, but how long does it really take to clean up and organize your vehicle? It would probably take an hour or two, and once it’s clean it will only take an extra few minutes a day to keep it looking good. Also, how much does it cost to run your vehicle through the car wash? You spend more when you go out to lunch.

Next time you are driving up to a prospective client’s property for your initial meeting, remember that you are making a lasting impression. A sparkling clean, well-maintained and attractive vehicle shows your client the care and attention that you will focus on their property. Set yourself apart from the rest. Be the standard! Your clients and your competitors will look up to you.

Businesslike communication

Consider how you are seen as a communicator. Do you listen carefully? Do you blurt out comments impulsively? Do you swear or use vulgar speech for emphasis? Are you overly familiar? Are you always right? Do you always have the last word? Each of these mistakes could be hindering your communication.

In contrast, you can build communication by listening and using good eye contact. First, weigh what you’ve heard, and then speak. If you do this carefully, you will put others at ease, and open the door for them to openly express their concerns and needs. Summarize verbally what the client told you to clear up possible misunderstandings.

All verbal agreements should be put into written form. This is also a form of communication that will avoid potential disagreements. Decisions based on assumptions from verbal communication can lead to trouble. Take specific notes, use change order forms and follow up with signed agreements to avoid the pitfall of imperfect memories.

Some tradesmen consider swearing and vulgar speech to be an ordinary part of communicating. It is inappropriate in today’s business environment. Why open the doors to possible legal action, from using abrasive and defamatory language?

Find colorful expressions that aren’t off color. Using high quality speech dignifies the client and shows class.

If your client doesn’t say much, ask questions to discover their unspoken questions. Some issues, such as preparation, job sequencing, choices dealing with paint selection, and why paint fails may be questions they don’t know how to ask. Every profession has a special vocabulary; learn to explain painters’ jargon in laymen’s terms. Educate your clients about what to expect from a professional craftsman.

Build professional, friendly relationships with mutual respect and understanding. If you see a need for improvement in your communication style, look within PDCA for advice. At Chapter meetings and functions, there are many opportunities to express yourself. Get involved in group discussions and public speaking to enhance your communication skills.

Confidence & Determination

Linked closely to being professional is being confident. Your years of experience, training and learning from mistakes can put you high above the competition. You must communicate your technical expertise to your clients without boring them with too much detail. They will respond to your confident manner and you will win more contracts.

However, don’t mistake confidence for self-assurance. If you think you can paint a waste treatment plant, while your real expertise is in residential faux work, you have a lot to learn. That can contribute to the deflated, self-defeating attitude that you are only ‘just a painter.’ Failure can be written on your face when you are too proud or stubborn to just say ‘no’, or ‘I don’t know.’

Be a problem solver, but not a boasting know-it-all. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know the answer to a difficult application issue or the cause of a paint failure. Educate yourself and get help to get the answer. If you are too busy, don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Refer work to other PDCA members who specialize in areas you don’t.

‘I will do better, learn more, listen, and make changes.’ These are all positives, not negatives. Try using these words, instead of: ‘I won’t; I can’t; I’ll do it later.’ Positive thinking inspires changes within and is noticed and appreciated by others surrounding you.

Every worthwhile goal requires determination. Improving your image is going to take time and effort, but its worth it. Be known as a Craftsman with pride, enthusiasm and a vision for the future.

As you reach for these goals, you will clearly distinguish yourself as more than ‘just a painter.’

Joining the PDCA Craftsmanship Forum is a big step in improving the four areas discussed in this article.

Skill standards are being established that can help gauge how you and your company are meeting levels of competency. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are being developed, which make for a more uniform performance of your painting crews. Wisdom is being shared with contractors from all parts of the country and in all facets of the trade: residential, commercial, industrial, decorative and restoration.