Episode 8

Published on:

22nd Nov 2023

Reducing setbacks and empowering collaboration in business with Brandon Lewis

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, welcome to the show. Today I have another special treat for you. This guest is one of my favorite people in the business and I love his no nonsense approach. Brandon Lewis, founder and CEO of Painters Academy. Brandon grew his business [00:01:00] from flat broke, like a lot of us, to over 1 million in revenue repaint sales and 20 employees during like the worst recession since the Great Depression, as he likes to say.

And in less than five years, he went on to sell his business for over 440, 000 when the economy was still struggling. Brandon's an author and speaker. His works appeared in American Painting Contractor Magazine, Paint Contractor Magazine, InPaint Magazine, Professional Painting Contractor Magazine, and PCA Educational Outlets, just to name a few.

You probably already know this guy. But Brandon's worked with over 450 franchised and independent contractors in six different countries, ranging all the way from startups to 50 plus million dollar organizations. And he helps owners realize their dreams. Hey, welcome back to the show.

Brandon Lewis: I am excited to be here. [00:02:00] Thank you for that introduction. It was worth the 20 mailed you. And I'm a big fan of Jason. Jason spoke at our Painting Profits Summit a couple, two or three years ago, I can't recall about the very hot topic and it's getting hotter. Right now if my, if the reports from our members and in general in the industry are to be believed the dual employment W2 slash 1099 conversation is getting hot and heavy with the new administration.

And I believe that there's been a few of our members that got caught with their pants down to the tune of a quarter to half a million dollars, and we're going to see where it goes.

Jason Phillips: That is real and I talk to guys regularly that. Do not have that set up and that, that might could be another episode all on its own. We could probably even get a, a labor law attorney in on it as well.

Someone that could officially speak to it, you and I, we can speak our opinions and what we know, obviously we're not attorneys, but that is [00:03:00] definitely a risk and exposure that business owners have for sure. So Brandon, tell me, but by the way, before we get off this. I want to talk about your upcoming summit, but not yet.

I've got some questions I want to ask you. You were originally a painting contractor, right? So what prompted you to cash out there and start doing what you're doing now with Painters Academy?

Brandon Lewis: I've done a variety of things. Before I ran my painting business, I was in politics and non profits. And so I used to run U. S. Senate, U. S. House, state and local races. I wrote a book called How to Raise Money for Political Office. And ran political campaigns and really enjoyed it. I had great success at it.

I ran I think 13 of them and never lost one, but it was just, it was a meat grinder, and so I started looking for franchising opportunities. Couldn't afford it at the time, and ended up starting my own painting business. And after five years of that, I was also simultaneously getting ready, as I sold my business, I was running [00:04:00] Congressman Desjardins re election campaign.

I put his team together when he beat Lincoln Davis and flipped that seat. And I really am not the world's best manager. That is just the God's honest truth. Everybody will tell you they're great at everything. I'm not the world's best manager of people. But what I really was good at was sales, marketing, and putting operational systems in place.

Meaning if there was a problem that existed in a painting business, I would come up with a solution in a way that was reproducible. And it got to where, because everybody else was struggling so much during their session, and we were doing so well, that a couple of times a month, and I know that you get this all the time, somebody calling and saying, I got trouble with my business.

I got trouble with my business. I got trouble with my business. Can you help me? Can you help me? Can you help me? And after a while, I was like, maybe I'm better suited since there are a lot of contractors and not nearly as many people that really want to help folks, the business into the business.

Maybe I help people do that instead. And so I started out with a mixed [00:05:00] breed approach. And then I quickly just niched down to. Painting contractors, not because I think a man in a van business is much different from one to the next. I don't think it is, fundamentally, but clients do. Clients do. And so rather than have a 20 or 30 minute conversation about how the plumber is different from the painter, from the roofer, from the gutter guy, I decided I just would not have that anymore.

We would be the Academy for Professional Damn Painting Contractors, and I've never since had anybody asked me you would work for painting contractors? Yes, it's in the name.

Jason Phillips: is awesome. Man, where were you when I started back in 1997?

Brandon Lewis: Where was anybody

Jason Phillips: had to learn everything the hard way. I had to, so to say step in the wet paint so many times and trip and fall and waste a lot of time and a lot of money until I finally figured it

Brandon Lewis: lot of money. I wasted a lot of money too. Left a lot of money on the table when I sold my painting business. If I'd done it, if I'd done three or four different things from the beginning I could have sold that thing [00:06:00] for a million something instead of 440 in the same time elapsed, that's.

Wisdom comes from age and experience in most cases, and so that's just life, baby. You don't get to go back in the Wayback Machine. That's for Bill and Ted's excellent adventure and

Jason Phillips: So, you know, Your philosophy, I've been to your summit a number of times. Amazing event. Amazing event. Tremendous value. I hear you constantly talking about the importance of business systems over, making, the craft of painting. I like to call that just making your widget and how did you come to this realization or like you said earlier, maybe you're just a systems thinker.

Brandon Lewis: I suppose so. I can't paint. I've never painted. Two times I think I was 16 Dr. Garrett, I worked for a veterinary and tried to get me to paint a rental house. And three days later, nothing had been done. And what had been done was poorly done. And then again my, I built a wheelchair ramp with, for my grandmother, when she had fallen, I took one of our painters to Alabama.

We loaded up in the van and we built the ramp. I said we own a painting business. I guess we should paint the ramp. [00:07:00] It was terrible. My wife took the brush away from me. She said, you are never to do this again. And because I didn't have any painting responsibilities in running my company, I was like I've got to figure out production rates and job costing.

And I've got to find out how to work these B2B relationships and need to go after commercial repaints. This sales process is not very persuasive. What can I learn about that? And so I really, at the beginning, I had a lot of time on my hands. And I had to spend all that time marketing because in 2008, everybody was holding onto their dollars and you had to put in twice as much marketing to get half as much in the way of leads and revenue.

And so it was put up or shut up time. And I had too much pride to fail even though I probably made a bad decision at the time making my transition, but I wouldn't admit that to anybody then, I'd do it now. And so I was just forced to do it.

Jason Phillips: Man, just talking to you is just making me think back to that time that in 2008, that was, for those that were [00:08:00] in business, that was an interesting time. A lot of contractors went bankrupt during that time. A lot.

Brandon Lewis: Yes I'll tell you a quick story. I founded a thing called the Chattanooga Trades Association, and I'm a big, huge fan of B2B referral relationships. I don't know why people don't invest more time, energy, or effort in them. I think a lot of people just aren't relationship focused, but. I went around this, I've got this idea, we're going to survey our clients we're going to have a bi weekly meeting and we're going to exchange these surveys every time we do an estimate.

It was remarkably successful because, we saw 20 estimates a week or so, they saw, 14, 27, however many they saw. They checked 70 percent of customers would fill it out, they'd check 2. 1 boxes, we got together and swapped these things around. And it amazes me how remarkably receptive in 2008 people were to Anything.

Anything that would make the phone ring. If I went to present that idea, maybe today they'd be a bit similarly interested. But if I had gone to present that idea, two [00:09:00] years ago, everybody turned their nose up at it. But in 2008, everybody's I'll, whatever keeps the

Jason Phillips: You know when you have no when you have no option but to succeed, you start getting creative. And like you, I've never I've never really painted. I've painted I've painted twice in my life. The first week that I was in the business I was a helper on a crew and, or on a crew, on a two man crew.

It was a spray band and me, we painted this big, huge house and I was the helper and gosh, I learned a lot about. Hand painting French doors and divided light windows. Learned a lot. And and the only other time I've painted was we were doing a TV show a few years ago Hey, we want to see you paint Jason.

And I'm like, Oh, hey, Rodrigo, get off that ladder. Give me that spray gun. And now, that was it. He's you're gonna make a mess. No I'm not a painter either. Some guys are, they come in as craftsmen. And my background was sales and marketing. And each of those two gateways or paths tend to, I see, have [00:10:00] entrepreneurs that have different limitations in their business.

And so

Brandon Lewis: you've been pointing out, would you say 85 to 90, maybe even higher percent of people that are painting contractors today are really trades folks turned business owners? That's what I see. Maybe I get a little bit more of a skewed number because of the size, but. It's primarily, that's the pathway.

That's most people that are in that own a painting contracting business. They were a painter and a crew

Jason Phillips: That's what I'm seeing by and large. And what, what do you see, Brandon, is the number one mental hurdle that these guys need to get over?

Brandon Lewis: So it seems to me that every painting contractor is remarkably opinionated and dedicated to painting a project the right way. For example, we're not going to paint it, pressure wash it, scrape it, and prime it in that order. We're just not. And everyone [00:11:00] would say that is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard.

They'd jump up and down. Something you should probably post in a Facebook group just to see what would happen. But when you talk about sales the prevailing opinion is that it can be done any old way. When it comes to estimating, they think you can guess, and you can't. It'd not be accurate without variance.

They think that there is no methodology. or best practice way to stay in touch with or generate repeat and referral business or to manage your cash flow or anything. They're like, no, I just do a good job and it's all word of mouth and whatever. And that is a mindset of poverty. If you are going to do anything for a living, you need to get really good at the component parts and become a serious student of it for some period of your life.

If you do not in the trades business, you will work yourself to death for about 20, 30, 40 years. And then there at the end. Right before you go off to your great reward or leave your widow behind, you will roll your crap out on the side of the road, and you will [00:12:00] run a Craigslist ad for old used paint equipment.

That will be the sum total of your economic legacy. And so if folks don't want that to happen to them, and I see it happen with such regularity, it is disheartening. Because there's money laying everywhere. Everywhere. And you just gotta go pick it up, but there is a way to pick it up and there are things to learn above and beyond.

Putting the paint on the wall or attaching the gutter to the soffit or whatever it is you do

Jason Phillips: I liken it to the Peter Principle. And that's more of a corporate term where, managers, good, good performers get continued continue to get promoted until they're in a place of incompetence. And then you end up with a whole company of people that are really incompetent. And now when you're incompetent, you're insecure and you don't want to hire a superstar underneath you that might make you look bad.

And in a similar way in business whether we came in as a salesperson or as a trades person, we don't know what we don't know. And if we don't understand that we're not in the, [00:13:00] we're really not in the painting business, there's, there's business skills, there's people skills. And if we're going to.

What's our future dream? What's our vision? You know what? I think most people want when they start out when they start out their business is And they're wanting some definition of freedom now They're free their definition may be different than mine and different than yours But what is that?

What does that freedom? You know look like and when it comes to business it I want my business to provide me with time and money Now, that does, that's not total freedom. You still need health and relationships and faith to get total freedom. But from the business, there's that time and money.

 And most guys can't step away from their business without things falling apart within a very short time. I see that, you, Brandon one of the, one of the things I've heard you talk about a lot of times is a system for, We'll say Generating Leads Enduring Uncertain Economies.

What are some best practices, maybe some [00:14:00] tips that our listeners could adopt?

Brandon Lewis: so there are a few things that work and that create predictability and equity in your painting business and I always talk about low hanging fruit and about making sure that your foundations are real strong Even, Jason, when I talk to folks that run in 3 5 million dollar painting businesses that are only clear in 300 grand or 150 thousand dollars or whatever it may be, which they could make painting themselves for 2, 000 labor hours at 60 bucks an hour.

Just them. No helper, no business. You don't need 50 people to make 150. You go make 150 by yourself. It'll be a lot easier. aNd and when they come to me and they've got all these problems, like it's the same basic system omissions or broken systems over and over again. So a few of those in the marketing department, number one is you have this huge client list of people. That most painting contractors do not ever communicate with. They will spend ungodly amounts of [00:15:00] money to talk to strangers that have never behaviorally experienced the hiring of a painting contractor yet. When you ask them how much money or time or effort they put into people that have already funded their kids education, paid for their mortgage and their cars and their lifestyles, I don't spend any money on them.

It's the strangers. But if you ask people, if your kids were kidnapped and held at gunpoint, and you had to generate a hundred grand in three weeks, what would you do? It's never I would swap a credit card and run Facebook ads, it's I would call my customers, I'd email them, I'd go by and see them, I'd run, I'd go reach out to everybody who's ever referred me I'd go after some commercial, maybe some property managers that could give me some work real quick, and I'm like, why the hell aren't you doing it today?

When you describe that desperate scenario, everyone knows what works, but it requires a little effort. It requires a little knowledge. Staying in touch with your clients with an emailed and mailed newsletter every month. Gosh, that is so basic and fundamental. But it's what [00:16:00] every major industry does.

You stay at a hotel, you give to a political candidate. If you go to a retail or a restaurant establishment that has their act together, they try to get you into a loyalty or awards program, so they can market to you until you buy. Again, or until you die, but we don't do it in the painting industry, and the only reason we can get away with it, is because our margins, if...

They should be about 50 percent which means you double your money on every project in about two weeks. It's because the economics in the trades is so forgiving that we can screw up everything in the business and still make money. Whereas if you try that in retail, you try that in the hotel business, you try that in a political campaign, you're gonna be out of business.

The other two points that I would make, and these are low hanging fruit, are B2B referral sources. Realtors, interior decorators roofers, plumbers other people, they are in front of your clients and they have a client list of thousands of people. They are constantly in front of them. I believe that relationship [00:17:00] marketing is so much more powerful than picking off homes one at a time.

When you find a realtor who can send you 150, 000 a year, predictably in revenue, go find some more of those. Have a program for that. And then finally commercial repaints. It's very, it tends to be a lot more recession proof especially during the winter months. You've got year end spending and folks are putting together their fiscal budget for the next year.

And they are also spending their fiscal budget for that year. You have winter shutdown work. People aren't in offices as much. So those are three areas, your past clients and unconverted leads. Your B2B referral sources, and then your commercial repaint or commercial services. If you run a HVAC company, if you run an electrical company, these are the same people in my niche.

They're painting and yours, you may be cleaning the carpets or emptying the trash cans. Who knows what you're doing, but it's all about the same. You got a man in a van going to do something in a big box, and the [00:18:00] marketing and sales 

Jason Phillips: Brandon, why do you think that so many small business owners, contractors, painters don't keep in touch with their existing clientele?

Brandon Lewis: tHere, I think there's an, there's. Probably three reasons. The first, it is the trades person transition, right? You walk out the door a crew...

Show artwork for Contractor Freedom - Break out of Contractor Prison

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

Profile picture for Jason Phillips

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!