Episode 11

Published on:

3rd Jan 2024

From Soldier to 7-Figure CEO: How a Veteran Entrepreneur Built a Million-Dollar Painting Company

Jason Phillips: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Contractor Freedom Podcast. I'm your host, Jason Phillips. This show exists to help small business owners like you escape the tyranny of Contractor Freedom and enter the bliss of Contractor Freedom so you can have the Time, Money, and Freedom to Live Your Life With Purpose Beyond Your Business.

As a certified human behavior consultant in DISC personality styles and motivators, I'll be sharing with you skills for life, love, leadership, and business. I'll also be connecting you with experts that can help you scale your business and your life. So if you want to build the business and life of your dreams, then you are in the right place.

Let's go.

Jason Phillips: Hello, Contractors! I'm excited. You are gonna want to stick around for the entire episode today. We've got a very special guest with us, Mr. Nick Slavik. He is the proprietor of Nick Slavik Painting and Restoration Company, and he's also the host of Ask a Painter Live. He has been a national and [00:01:00] international speaker.

He is a U. S. Army veteran who volunteered for two tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. After he got out of service, he attended college. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in business management. And by the way, Nick is also a family man. He and his wife have four kids. And Nick has traveled the U. S.

hosting masterclasses for business owners and craftspeople. As a matter of fact, Nick is a craftsman himself with more than 30 years of experience. His company has been awarded 15 national awards for craftsmanship. And he's currently the chairman of the board of directors of the PCA. That's the Painting Contractors Association.

And Nick, I just want to thank you so much for joining us today and say welcome to the show!,

Nick Slavick: You are making a Minnesotan blush. We are very self conscious about that sort of thing. And to list our own accomplishments in front of us, you're making me turn red,

Jason Phillips: you've got quite a list. Just read, reading your site and your bio and all of this stuff. Man, you are, almost like, you're almost like a Renaissance man. I'm just, I'm not kidding.

Nick Slavick: aNd so you have no idea how much I appreciate that because one of [00:02:00] my mentors outside of this industry is the prototypical renaissance man where his politics don't align with his hobbies. His hobbies aren't his politics. He's his own person. He builds stone huts. shoots things. He's he's an avid person in politics.

He loves family. He does this. There's nothing in his life that fits any bucket. He's a fine artist. He makes things and it's just Great entrepreneur. And to me, people who don't fit the mold like that and are just they do what they like, they try to do the best and create good opportunities for others is inspiring to me.

Jason Phillips: You are inspiring a lot of people around around the nation and I'm sure beyond, obviously you're an international speaker. I've seen you travel here and there and speak in different countries. You and I were talking before we hit record and about the difference We're both on the same journey and our listeners are on the same journey of entrepreneurship, owning small business. And, my listeners know that I came in completely broke with a sales and marketing mindset, but you came in a different door.

But we all were, we both ended up at the same place. Could you tell us a little bit about your journey and how you got to where you're at today?

Nick Slavick: Yeah. So this was there's [00:03:00] not many origin stories. One of them is I did it in college. One of them is my dad did it and made me do it. And I was, my dad was the, I did it in college. I was the, my dad did it in college and then made me do it. So we encompass a lot of the origin stories.

There's very few people like Jason Phillips who come in here with a certain amount of knowledge and education and things like that, and and have an entrepreneurial mindset. Yeah, I was just forced to do it since I was 10 years old. By the time, by the time I had graduated high school, I was a really dang good painter.

I was fast and good. There was nothing I couldn't do. There was nothing I didn't look forward to and I could train others and I could handle the clients and everything else. So I had a really, I had a, I had an eight or nine year a professional career by the time I was already out of high school.

So it was that thing where dad started the business, made mom and brother and me work and we just gave a heck

Jason Phillips: Wow. That is awesome. One of the things that I see so common, and I want to get your input on this. I see in so many of the contractors I meet, it's something I experienced. I came in with my own strengths, but I also, I quickly got to a spot where I was hitting these ceilings [00:04:00] because I didn't know what I didn't know.

And some of the things that I didn't know were how to make scalable systems. I knew how to make systems that made me a personal powerhouse. But I couldn't I, other people couldn't take those and make something awesome with them and continue them. Another one was gosh, I was not a really good leader.

aNd then the other one was just, higher level business skills. So I could sell, I could market, I could get the leads, but I quickly hit this critical critical velocity. I just couldn't go any faster, any higher without everything blowing up. And what has your experience been with that?

Nick Slavick: Yeah. Same, except that I started out not possessing the knowledge of some obvious things that I feel like you did and some other people did. For the majority of our industry when you go by the stats, 99 percent of all big paint businesses in the United States are single owner operators.

Historically, they start out by somebody being very good and fast at painting and not finding a professional company to work for. So they start their own business, which is an interesting thing because they don't come in. Believing some obvious things about business, which is a separate [00:05:00] checking account and job costing and a marketing thing and a hiring process and legal guide work, like an employee resource guide or a handbook.

And there's things that are obvious to some people in the world that are not obvious to painters. None of those are there. So I've had that same track. The weird data point that I can offer this industry, and I think it's why a lot of the things I do and say are relatable is because I have literally done this the hardest possible way that you could do.

And I, I've been using grit, brute strength, and hours to solve all these problems. Not dissimilar to making yourself a physical powerhouse, which is, I love this. My name's on the business and everything is going to go through me. And soon you realize. That doesn't go as far as

Jason Phillips: like, oh crap, everything has to go through me.

Nick Slavick: Yeah. And you're forced into an 82 hour week. You have created a business that demands 82 hours a week from you and not only 82 hours a week, but all the risk, all the payroll. It costs 55, 000 a week to run my business. And that is risk. No, whether we make that or not, I owe that. And so not only are you putting yourself [00:06:00] in for 82 hours, you're having all the risk and there needs to be a equivalent reward for 

Jason Phillips: Man, that is said so well. You know what, my family in my early years, I worked those type of hours. And my business was getting the best of me. And my family was getting my cold leftovers. And I just, I had this wake up call. And it was a very powerful moment in my life and I made a decision that I was going to do things differently and grow and build a team.

Have you hit these spots where you've had this, even maybe this emotional, a moment even.

Nick Slavick: Jason, you are describing my 2023. This literally what you just described, I have gone through the largest epiphany. lightning bolt, professional, personal revision I've ever done in my life, ever. And literally it's, I'm just coming out of the flux of that right now. And this year has been. Absolutely wild, personally and professionally.

And like that, it comes to a breaking point where everything's fine until the proverbial straw that broke the [00:07:00] camel's back gets laid on top of you. And guys like you and me are super achievers. We have. A high pain tolerance. We're willing to do anything to get anything done to take care of those around us.

The problem is, you and I do have a breaking point. I reached mine in a couple different ways in, in not like crazy dramatic ways, but getting wise enough to take in input from others to say, Nick, this is fine. You say you're fine now, but what happens next year or the year after? If you think you want to keep doing this and growing, I don't feel you can do this forever.

So you need to start thinking about the future and. Last thing I'll say is, the thing you said right before I started talking has so much deep wisdom in it and people are all going to nod their heads and agree and fine. But if you haven't been there, you don't know how deep and impactful what you just said was.

This gas tank, this proverbial gas tank. We have a gas tank and we'll empty it into our community and our friends and our business and our clients and everything else. And business owners have this horrible trait where they save no fuel for their family or their self. And they are the main sufferers.

And we have amazingly resilient families that put up with a lot. They too have their breaking points.

Jason Phillips: Wow, [00:08:00] that's true. And I'm thankful that my wife has tremendous patience. She had tremendous patience and, in the early days, she did, but we worked out, I was going to do X, Y, A, B, C, and she was going to do X, Y, Z, family wise. That doesn't mean it wasn't pressured. There was, man, there was a lot of pressure.

And when I finally got over that and got out of that hole, I just, I started taking vacations with her and my family constantly and just making up for lost time. And I'm so thankful to God that, that I was able to do that. It was man, it was one of my most powerful moments, again, man, there's this emotional connection that comes with being an entrepreneur.

I was, okay, I'm older than most in this industry right now. walked my first daughter down the aisle to get married, from the back of that chapel to the front was, I don't know, 20 steps. Life together, every highlight, every dad daughter moment from learning to ride a bike, learning to walk, learning to swim, even being born, you drive a car, all those things flashed before my eyes [00:09:00] in just a few short moments and tears were streaming down my face. And I was recently meeting with some contract the gathering of in San Antonio.

And I told them, I said, guys, it was exactly 20 years before that, that I slammed my fist on the desk and said, no more. I've got to do things different. My family's getting my leftovers, I can't do this anymore. And I'm so glad that I had that moment of reality check, of anger, of pain. So that, that I really, I experienced all those memories with my daughter and I, my heart goes out to all the other contractors I see.

I see that they are where I was, so many of them, and I want to help them get over that. And I think, I see you doing that same thing.

Nick Slavick: man. And honestly, the worst thing that happens to guys like us is having a high pain tolerance and putting up with this. I, my, my wish to this entire industry is that people would get broken in their first year. Learn from it and move on and never make the mistakes again. Now, it would be great, Jason, if they would never have that thing at all, but honestly, guys like us who have high revving sort of motors and all we see is missed opportunities and we're happy and optimistic and high pain tolerance, [00:10:00] I think we need to hit that control out, delete or have it hit for us every once in a while, just to be like, it, it takes some monumental things to reset us and reorganize our priorities.


Jason Phillips: It's what Mike Tyson say, he said, everybody's got a plan until you get punched in the face. And no, you're right, man, that, that is great. I haven't thought about it that way that would happen within the first year of business.

Nick Slavick: It'd be great. Now, listen, what I'm hardened over is that, you and I have been in this industry a long time. I was raised in trades V1, which is. Old grumpy men screaming at me. And that's how most of us have been here. And I've had to go from being a young grumpy man, screaming at people into a middle aged grumpy man, trying not to scream at people, trying not to be a grumpy man at all.

So I've encompassed two feats in two different stages of the industry. And I'm very heartened now when I travel the country and we're in a room with. 50 to 100 contractors at some industry event and the average age is 31 and a half and they're coming in having job costed their first job.

They have a separate checking account. They're have employment agreements and standards in the company and they know their P and L and things [00:11:00] like that. And they actually talk about a work life balance. And I was like, it's taken a long time for me to not get angry at that because I look back at my life and say, I should have done that sooner.

I'm now a little more sophisticated where that makes me proud now to see these young people doing this. And I feel like that's my maturation

Jason Phillips: So being as A craftsman, did you struggle with making the leap from craftsman to business person? Or did you not struggle with that at all?

Nick Slavick: Oh no, this has been the biggest struggle of my life. Forming a business. So interestingly enough, like founding, growing, scaling is the easiest thing on earth for guys with our personalities. You just rev high. You just dump resources in, lots of hours. Boom. We can collect a lot of people. We can do a lot of stuff.

Not a big deal. Making the transition from grower, founder, scaler, cowboy, firefighter to professional, consistent manager that my company needs literally broke me. It like, it is the hardest thing with our person. Physically, it's easier. It's an office job. It's standard office hours. It's being consistent with tiny little tasks throughout the day.

And I want to rip my face off. So[00:12:00] I've been trying to, I've been trying to make that professional transition with the help of a lot of people. And honestly, I would rather scrape a water tower in the sun than do that most days. But I'm finding love for it now that you realize it's a higher calling.

It is a tougher task and I love a tougher task. So it's been a weird journey.

Jason Phillips: Wow, that's, I love the way you define that. One of the things that I've done to help me, I get bored easily. And I'm my personality style on, on the DISC platform is a high D, high I. And, which is all fast, both of those are fast paced. So I've surrounded myself with some slower paced thinkers and supportive people that they really love to do the things that I'm terrible at. And I get to do what they don't really want to do. And so I, unfortunately I didn't learn this until I was rebuilding my company, which is a whole nother story. But I learned, personality styles and behavioral tendencies really understanding that really changed my life and my leadership.

And, using that to position people on my team has just been absolutely [00:13:00] trans transformational. But I see all these guys that And guys and gals that are trying to wear all of the hats in their company when what they need to do is maybe, outsource their weakness if you could say that.

But I see that a lot. And but I feel your pain. If you're going to be, if you're going to be the leader, there are certain things that you have to be good at. And one of those is inspecting what you expect. And realistically, that's managing and that, that accountability thing. Now, so when I think about Nick Slavik, here's one of the things that I think of you in so many ways as SOP guy, because I've constantly seen you share these your SOPs online with guys that ask.

And they're so clear cut, do this, then that, then this, then that. And just, it makes it so easy to follow a process. Is that something you started your company with? Because unfortunately I didn't. I had to go back and do all that.

Nick Slavick: Oh, Jason Phillips. How funny. How funny. Oh no, I didn't have any of this stuff. Listen, I've been in this industry over 30 years. I've owned my business for 16. I didn't have an SOP or anything written [00:14:00] down until five or six years ago, honestly. So literally I was left like five or six years ago, maybe even seven now with.

No employees having a bunch just left and I reformed the entire company and got serious with the help of other people. So no, this, it, what's really interesting too is that yes, most people have this reference point that I'm the SOP guy. People have no idea how much I hate them and how much I fight against them.

It is a necessary evil, Mr. Jason, because SOPs are standard. I literally came from the military where all we do is SOPs. There's an SOP to make your bed. They give you a stick with colored bands on it, and you lay the stick over the sheets, and the sheets have to be folded back, and I want to rip my face off.

I thought, this is stupid, what are we doing? But there is a point to SOPs, and I've, and again, going from cowboy firefighter, To professional manager, you realize that you have to be genuine in your own way of running a company. I don't like SOPs, so I crafted them in the most simplest, straightforward, intuitive ways I can.

They fit my personality and that of the company and finding your own voice within your company as a [00:15:00] manager and leader has been very important to me because I can't do the Jason Phillips way. It would be very maybe I could, I don't know, but I can't do a lot of what else I see out there.

So you got to find your own voice and be

Jason Phillips: I think you and I are probably more alike than we might realize after hearing some of this. By the way, I knew there was an SOP for how to make your bed. I did not know that there was a stick with colors on it. And it makes me think about, okay if we think about how much does a pound weigh or how far is a foot or a meter, there is actually, somewhere in the world, I don't remember where it is, there's a standard by which, you know and the gas pumps every year, gas pumps are measured to make sure you truly get a gallon of gas.

And that's what, as a as a business owner, we need things to be consistently repeatable. And if we don't have a measuring stick. to tell us if someone followed the process, not just tell us if they followed the process, but they can know whether they followed the process. We're just going to be firefighter cowboy forever.


Nick Slavick: aNd it is that thing where we, problem is. I got presented in the last 36 months, lots of things that challenged me and things and knee [00:16:00] jerk reaction. We once held as a point of...

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About the Podcast

Contractor Freedom - Break out of Contractor Prison
Earn the Time, Money, and Freedom to live your life with purpose beyond just running your business.
Embark on a transformative journey with Jason W. Phillips, the seasoned owner of the multimillion-dollar Phillips Home Improvements, on the Contractor Freedom Podcast. This podcast is an oasis for small business owners seeking an escape from the all-too-familiar Contractor Prison. Our mission? To help you find your way to the bliss of Contractor Freedom.

With Jason's rich experience and certification in human behavior consultation, this show aims to grant you the knowledge and insights required to not just run a business, but to do so in a way that complements your life. You'll discover skills for life, love, leadership, and business that will empower you to live with purpose beyond your everyday work.

The Contractor Freedom Podcast doesn't stop there. Jason will introduce you to a host of experts who have mastered the art of scaling businesses while balancing personal life. Their stories, experiences, and insights will provide you with the tools necessary to build the business and life of your dreams.

If you're tired of being shackled to your business and yearn for the freedom to live your life while succeeding professionally, then you're in the right place. Join us on the Contractor Freedom Podcast, and let's carve your path to freedom together.

Subscribe now and step into the realm of Contractor Freedom!

About your host

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Jason Phillips

Meet Jason Phillips, a visionary entrepreneur who transformed his one-man show into a thriving empire. His journey from struggle to success with a move into roofing and gutters, his company skyrocketed, earning a spot on the Inc 5000 list five years in a row. Overcoming roadblocks, he reinvented the business, achieving astonishing results. Now, he's dedicated to helping other small business owners to break free by helping them foster a team built on trust, faith, teamwork, and excellence. Join him to create "ABLE-Systems" for scalable, repeatable success and customer satisfaction. Don't let mistakes drain you; let Jason guide you to new heights!