The rapid changes we have been seeing in the last weeks, and especially the past few days, have left many with a feeling of surreal shock. It's understandable. Such dramatic shifts in public and economic policy are unprecedented, in both their scope and scale.
We know a few things for certain- market indicators and federal policy are signaling major upheaval in the economy (no surprise to most of us), and relief measures are often slow to implement and questionably effective. Tax credits or slashed interest rates are of little comfort to owners who may be struggling to pull together enough cash for payroll next Friday.
However, it is times like these that can bring out the best in people (and provide an opportunity to truly make an impact). The following are a series of thoughts I'd like to share, in the hopes of starting a conversation about the opportunities before us:
Take Care of Your People
For many of us, I'm sure the primary focus has been "How can I keep business going so that I can support all of the people who depend on us?" As we come upon the season that is traditionally busiest for painters, the sudden postponement of work or drying up of leads can stoke panic.
Economic recovery and a return to the consumer spending we are accustomed to WILL happen; it is simply about weathering the storm until then. Take measures to increase stability for your workforce, while retaining the framework that you have carefully grown.
Be proactive in telling leads and customers what you are doing to protect their safety and that of your team- safe distances, face coverings, routine hand-washing, avoiding interior work on occupied spaces until further notice. When a concerned customer calls about postponing work, ask them what their concerns are and address them directly.
Don't want people in your home?
“We can complete your exterior work at a safe distance and even communicate over the phone and via picture updates so you don't have to answer the door.”
Concerned about cash while work is slowing down?
“We would be happy to continue your project at the currently scheduled dates, and will work with you on a payment plan/deferred payment.”
Remember: demand is going to come back, and you don't want to push everything back, then struggle to meet the production need! Better to have cash in the pipeline, than a glut of leads that could go somewhere else if you aren't there quick enough.
With the massive shutdowns affecting most school districts, large employers, and locations such as restaurants, event venues, and possibly churches, there are now many unoccupied spaces that are historically difficult to schedule maintenance for, and which don't pose exposure problems for your staff and customers.
Many of these organizations may be excited about the opportunity to address long-needed maintenance items, especially for potential discounts if a vendor (like you!) is ready to strike while the iron is hot. Outreach to these organizations should focus on language around "not missing their opportunity to take advantage of these closures" and address their issues in a timely and convenient fashion. If they had planned to do work in the next year or two, "why delay and cause disruptions to your work down the line?"
Again, for those businesses poised to weather a period of slower cash flow, incentives such as payment plans could make a huge difference. Or, seeking these projects at discounted rates is a worthwhile endeavor as well- work "on the margins" to keep your team gainfully employed, and you can mine the opportunity for social gains. Recognition and referral for doing great work in a pinch can be extremely impactful. Don't overlook the opportunity to raise some "social capital"!
As Brandon Lewis of the Academy for Professional Painting Contractors is known for pointing out, painting businesses are often sitting on a gold mine in their leads lists which are just in need of a savvy reactivation campaign. You may have a list of dozens of businesses that were interested in completing these projects but delayed for whatever reason. Unexpected closures may have removed some of their excuses!
Desperate Times & Measures
As noted above, we are in a landscape that is quickly changing, and the most successful of us will be those that can think dynamically and act quickly. (As a panel of industry thought leaders in a recent PaintED podcast pointed out when discussing this subject, "Paralysis is not allowed" for leaders).
We have just seen the news break that dramatic directives to "Shelter in Place" have been enacted on American soil, and news of economic stimulus packages or relief measures are filled with unknowns.
One thing is certain- in a time of such dramatic shifts, there are suddenly major needs in the marketplace that most people (and businesses) were not prepared for. This is where the entrepreneurial spirit thrives- contemplate where the needs are, and act.
Painting businesses have a variety of strengths that could be uniquely impactful. As a business, you have a physically capable workforce who is motivated to keep busy and to serve their communities. Being flexible in your day to day duties is going to be key.
"Shelter in place" and the closing of all non-essential businesses means that painting work in some areas may be halted for a period of time. What's the fix here?
The essential services in any area revolve around supply lines, grocery, delivery of food and necessities, and of course utilities and healthcare work. But in a major health crisis, the concerns of physical illness and closures of schools mean that many of the vital workers in these "essential service" industries are not going to be able to work, and the infrastructure to quickly fill these roles has not been set up.
You may have a team of individuals who can be rapidly mobilized, can follow basic instructions or be quickly trained, and are ready and willing to temporarily step into some of these roles to serve the needs of your local community.
You may have fleet vehicles (trucks or cars) and trailers (or the ability to access some-especially if you leverage your relationships with your own vendors), which could mean the ability to serve as a buffer in local supply line shortages. Delivery of essentials from the warehouse to store, or from store to care facilities, distribution spots (like churches), or even directly to residences is going to be a huge need, and many of the businesses already in these roles have been overwhelmed, or aren't accessible to all communities.
As much as we may hope for relief from some of our governing bodies, the only action that can truly be relied on is yourself. I urge any business owners in communities that are being affected hard to take the initial steps in reaching out to your local community organizers, whether they be officials, church leaders, or local business leaders like in your Chamber of Commerce, and ask what plans are being implemented to fulfill these shortages or provide for these unique needs.
Raise your hand and step up to the plate- local, direct action is going to be the key to riding out this crisis, and the way that we respond as leaders in our communities is going to be the deciding factor in how we fare during recovery.
The next several months may not look like what anyone expected, but there is room to grow- as individuals, as communities, and as leaders.
With Confidence in Your Abilities,
-Morgan Ray and the team at Bookkeeping for Painters