Guest Interview: Brad Ellison of Ellison Painting “The Birth of a Giant” Episode 2

Published On: February 6, 2023

Categories: Podcast

Brad Ellison
In this series titled “The Birth of a Giant”, Brad Ellison of Ellison Painting will be discussing what it looks like to start a professionalized and profitable painting company from day one.  It is a 4-part series.
In episode 2, Brad will dive into what it loks like to launch a highly professionalized painting company from scratch.

Video of Interview

Podcast Audio

Topics Discussed:

Episode 2: Rocketman

  • launching a highly professional painting company from scratch

Audio Transcript


Welcome to the Painter Marketing Mastermind Podcast, The show created to help painting company owners build a thriving painting business that does well over one million and annual revenue. I’m your host. Brandon Pierpont, founder of painter marketing pros and creator of the popular pc. A educational series, learn do grow marketing for painters. In each episode I’ll be sharing proven tips, strategies and processes from leading experts in the industry on how they found success in their painting business. We will be interviewing owners of the most successful painting companies in north America and learning from their experiences in this series titled the birth of a giant brad Ellison of Ellison painting will be discussing what it looks like to start a professionalized and profitable painting company from day one it is a four part series.

In the first episode brad discussed his decision to walk away from his previous partnership and the assets he found available to him in episode two this episode brad will dive into what it looks like to launch a highly professionalized painting company from scratch. In episode three, brad will discuss how to effectively build systems and processes that create a road map for future success. And in the final episode episode four brad will elaborate on what it looks like to scale a painting company both in terms of mindset and concrete steps.
If you want to ask brad questions related to anything in this podcast series you can do so in our exclusive painter marketing Mastermind podcast forum on facebook just search for painter marketing Mastermind podcast forum on facebook and request to join the group or type in the U. R. L. Facebook dot com forward slash groups forward slash painter marketing mastermind again at U. R. L. Is facebook dot com forward slash groups forward slash painter marketing mastermind there you can ask broad questions directly by tagging him with your question so you can see how anything discussed here applies to your particular painting company brad.
Thanks so much for returning for the second episode man. Thanks for having me. Brandon as always. Pleasure to speak with you, my friend. It’s a pleasure it’s a pleasure to be on with you man. This episode is titled Rocket Man. It is all about launching a highly professionalized painting company from scratch most most painting companies never get there. So I’m excited to hear what you have to say. Yeah excited to share what little knowledge I have. So let’s start. Yeah the humility you you are doing your knocking out of the park.
I think we touched on your revenue figures from episode one past a million in the first six months of sales it’s out of control. Um but we’re also going to go down, break it down to basics here start from the basics from from literally filing um you know letters of corporation and everything. Let’s walk through. Just step by step sure and uh full disclaimer here like there’s probably some details that I’m gonna be leaving out. So I’m just gonna be painting a broad picture of, here’s the things that I knew how to get done, here’s how I did them.
And this, this episode is probably gonna be less sexy than the one we recorded last time. Um but this is stuff that I wish had been laid out for me, if, if, if this had been laid out two or three years ago, I wouldn’t even have considered by another company and be like, oh, it’s actually not that difficult and here’s a step by step process, right? Certainly not legal advice, but if you follow these steps and you implement it in your business by law that you do owe me 5% of your company, not you Brandon, but anyone listening.
So this is my path to financial freedom. So the first steps, they’re really just like man, here’s, here’s the logistical steps that you need to take in order to actually have a real company and the reality is Brandon, you know this as well as I do that many painting companies exist for years and years and years without doing most of these even. But my goal obviously was not to be a, you know, a quote unquote painting company, but to be a real legitimate business. And I wanted to appear as legitimate as possible from day one.
So the first thing I did is I actually filed letters of corporation through the state of michigan now, this is something that I did not do myself and this is going to be a common theme through the step by step. These steps that I’ve gone through. I try not, I try to do as little myself as possible because I’m not an expert. So I hired an attorney and he is a local guy and someone that I trusted and had used for a couple other things previously and it was quite simple.
He literally got all the information he needed, He filed it digitally through the state of michigan and by the end of the day we had my um employee tax I. D. Number. So there we go. Letters of corporation. I mean was that pretty expensive to hire an attorney to do that he charged, it’s like $100 like nothing so you can do it through through legalzoom I think you can do it yourself online. But again I’m always worried I’m gonna make some silly mistake because I’m so ignorant on this stuff that I would rather, even if it’s going to cost me twice as much in this case, you know, rather than $1003 it cost me $100.
I would rather hire someone that knows what they’re doing, going to get it done right the first time. So there’s zero chance that there’s gonna be a delay in me launching my company. Yeah. Uh once I had the letters of corporation I got my liability insurance in my workers comp now this is something that I think every painting company should have because I use subcontractors and I don’t have employees. There’s an argument there that maybe I could get away without workers comp. Um I just I just like having that blanket coverage just in case and you know, that’s what I present to all of my potential customers when I’m going out to do an estimate, they get a copy of both of those and that’s pretty simple as well.
Um That is something that you uh you can just speak to any property and casualty insurance agent and they can get it done relatively quickly probably within a day or two have you should have your certificate back to you. Um Or you could check out gusto. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Gusto Brandon. Um Gusto is basically a kind of like a payroll um software that you can, you know, it’s very very cheap. Um And we’re using gusto for a few other things, but I know you can get your workers comp and I think your liability coverage through gusto as well.
Uh So that was kind of like the all right here. Now I’m an official business. I got my letters of corporation filed, I have my my necessary insurance coverage. Um I don’t have a builder’s license in michigan, you don’t need one other states. I know that you do in michigan, you do not, I will be getting that and that’s part of my goal for this winter as we’re slowing down is to actually take a week, go get the class, get my builder’s license. So I have that, that and again for what we need, what we do, we don’t need that.
But I do think it certainly, it certainly gives me a higher degree of credibility when I’m going out to do estimates and they can say, oh well Ellison painting brad’s got his builder’s license and joe schmoe and his beat up truck like never even gave me his liability insurance certificate. So maybe I could justify paying a little more, a little more legitimacy. Right? Um, so next up, um, one thing that, that’s important to me and I think should be important to everyone is I started to think about the branding of my company not only the, um, the, what it should look like as far as the logo, but also what name should I use.
And I threw threw out a couple ideas for names in my company And um, I just settle on Ellison painting simply because I think my last name carries some notoriety in my local area. My dad was the mayor of my hometown for 13 years. I have a lot of cousins, um, and family members that live close by. So even if you don’t know my dad or if you don’t know me, you don’t know one of my many siblings, you probably know, you know someone named Ellison. So for me as a strategic decision if I want to launch quickly, I wanted some sort of name recognition even though my company had zero at that point.
Uh and then we brainstormed ideas for the logo and my brother came up with this really, really great idea of the, this phoenix logo that I’m that I love so much So I hired a designer, gave him the idea like here’s what I’m looking for, he threw back some some sketches pretty quickly and I wasn’t really happy with him and he was just dragging his feet. It was just taking a long time. He was he had already committed to some bigger projects than than my logo. And ultimately I said, you know what, you know, thanks for helping out, I’m just gonna find someone else.
And I went on fiber and I hired a designer on fiber paid him like less than $100 and came up with exactly what I wanted. So uh that was that. So now I’m listening, that’s that’s F I B E R R dot com. It’s a place that you can hire very inexpensive virtual assistants to help you. Things that have designers, all kinds of things. I wouldn’t hire hire them for the client touchpoints or anything, anything really that requires a lot of skill, but for design, graphics, things like that, you can find good options, yep, so they do, yeah, my designers on fiber also do things like my business cards, but outside of that I don’t have any strategy.
It’s just like, hey, I need this designed quickly, get it back to me, yep. Um Alright, and then I, so once I have my business is real, I’m covered with insurance, I have branding and logo ideas. Next thing was website domain. So before I chose Ellison painting as the name, I did some research on that and some other companies, company names that I had to see which domain names were still available and um, Ellison painting dot com actually wasn’t available and there’s actually two other Ellison paintings that I could find.
Ones in Kentucky and one’s in Australia, both smaller companies and neither was willing apparently to spend the money needed to buy Ellison painting dot com. So it was one of those things where some, some company had purchased it, not a painting company, some company that just buys website domain names. And they were selling it for like, I don’t know, $1000 or $750 or something. And uh, it was important to me that I had Ellison painting dot com. I didn’t want to do Ellison painting michigan dot com or Ellison hyphen painting hyphen brush dot com, you know, whatever.
So I negotiated with the company, I had it bought it for like 500 bucks and bingo bango. Ellison painting dot com was mine. All right. And so as far as like the logistical, how to launch a business at that point, I thought I was ready. I had my, my minimum viable product as far as my online presence. Um, and next step was honestly to start selling even before I had subcontractors. So I guess those are the next two steps start selling jobs, start finding subcontractors. So you, you had a game plan, right?
When you, you know, you kind of set up this legal framework, but I know you and Rachel, your wife strategized a lot. What was your game plan at launch? So the game plan revenue wise was to do $1 million within our first year of operation. And I based that on my experience selling painting services and running that other painting company. I thought that was a bit of a stretch goal, but I thought it was attainable even starting as late as we did, we started really right as exterior season was starting.
So I had no jobs lined up. I know crews lined up. I knew I was going to be playing some catch up at the beginning, but I was quite confident that if I could get my marketing rolling, if I get leads rolling in, I could start selling jobs and if I could sell jobs and I could find subcontractors. So I thought the million dollar revenue goal was, was, I thought it was realistic. Um, but more importantly than what the number was. I mean, you know, it’s, it’s just important to have goals, a lot of people launch a company and they haven’t written down anywhere or even verbalize or talked about, you know, what is, what is the goal of this company and it could be in revenue, it could be a number of employees, it could be, you know, I wanna hand it off to my kids in 20 years, but if there’s no goal, I feel like you’re just gonna be floundering and kind of banging your head against the walls, trying to find the path in the dark.
So that was the first goal, the second goal we had was In order to meet that $1 million 503 painters uh, that are working with us essentially full time. Um, and then the third goal is a little bit more amorphous is simply to make some money, right? So if I’m going to start a company, I need to be able to make some money, we didn’t need to make money right away. But if I’m going to start a company, the obvious obvious goal is to have to be a profitable company and something that I can do as my career.
So those were our three kind of goals starting. Yeah, and I think, like you said, it is very important to have goals, the actual, uh, specificity of the goal is not always quite as important, but what I want to highlight here is your first goal that you said was, was a sales goal right? You wanted to get to a million dollars within your first year and there’s a very well known concept in, in sales business really, marketing in general, what you focus on expands, so when your mind is on selling, you say, hey, I want to hit a million dollars, that’s your number one goal.
But the odds are you’re gonna sell more and and ramp faster than the guy who’s starting and well his goal is to sell and and do this and X, Y and Z. And but he’s not laser focused on my goal is to get $2 million within a year. Well having been in the industry and speaking to so many smart people in our industry, I know that if you have a certain revenue level that you can extrapolate that into a profit and that if I could do a million dollars in my first year, then that means I’m Rachel and I are gonna make at least 100 and $50,000 which is not as much as I was making before, but certainly more than we need to to live comfortably.
So yeah, that was our goal and you know, I got the goal really was more than a million and I got some pushback from specifically chris Elliott who’s a friend of ours, right on it, painting. He’s like, dude, I don’t know if the goal is a million dollars, then it’s, you know, making a million dollars. I’m like, no, but what if, what if I find out that it’s my goal should have been two million, shouldn’t I then aim for that? He’s like no aim for a million.
Well, I don’t, I don’t listen to him. You know, the bottom goal was a million. And the stretch goal was whatever the limit is going to be, you know, that we can comfortably manage and sell. So yeah, never Yeah. Right, Right, Right. Yeah. Uh, so yeah, again, it doesn’t matter what the number is. You know, from Chris’s perspective, maybe I should have chosen $1.5 or $2 million dollars as the goal, but I was comfortable that one million was a stretch goal, but it was attainable and ideally we would fly past it, right?
Yeah. And I think that’s important. You know, people have this temptation to set, you’re gonna set a goal to set some unrealistic goal. And if you set an unrealistic goal that’s almost as harmful, it’s probably more harmful than just not setting a goal because then you’re just gonna feel defeated. The reality is the goal is not gonna help because it doesn’t make any sense. Set that goal that almost feels like possible, but but it’s just like you said, it’s a stretch goal. Like you might get there now, maybe you’ll blow it out of the water, you’re going to blow it out of the water, but it should be something that’s feasible, but you’re gonna have to work for it, Yep.
And I think some people actually can benefit by setting goals that are 100% attainable. You know, different people have different personalities or drives and some people are driven simply by checking things off the list. So they may say, you know what, I wanna hit the 500,000 goal, that’s all I need to do is 503,000 my first year and they’re going to get it within the 1st, 56 months. They check it off and boom, that motivates them to set a higher goal next and continue to move on. I’m a little different.
I’m a little more aspirational. I wanna swing for the fences right from the get go. But I think that it doesn’t have to be, doesn’t have to be a goal that feels unattainable. It could be a goal that, you know, you’re gonna get some people wake up and they write a check list for the day, the first thing I gotta do, brush your teeth, they gotta take a shower, they gotta get dressed, they gotta get to the office on time and those four things that they know they’re going to check off at the beginning of the day, gets that ball rolling, so the rest of the day is also going to be um, uh profitable and get stuff done.
No, it’s a great point and they’re, they’re almost like gamifying away, you know, check things out, feel good about it. But then it also, it also keeps them focused right because even though someone might, might know they’re gonna hit half a million, they can hit half a million if they’re not focused on it. They could also miss it even if it’s easily attainable because they actually didn’t focus on it and prioritize it. Um, So I wanna, I wanna kind of focus on your approach now here, which is less of the checklist and more of the swinging for the fences and you really, you really kind of lead with the sales first mentality, let’s talk about how do you balance that with fulfillment?
So when I, when I share that with some people that I started selling before I even had any crews to paint what well, what if you couldn’t find any cruise, what are you going to do? Because you can’t paint right. So what are you gonna do? Like, I don’t know, I was, I forced myself to figure it out. Now I was confident, you know, based on my ability to recruit crews in the past for my other company, I was confident that I was going to be able to find subcontractor crews to fulfill.
And so I, I stepped out confidently and I started spending money and in marketing, I launched that marketing before we had any firm commitments for the crews to handle the work. And um, but I did also, I mean I started recruitment right away. It wasn’t like I was like, hey, I’m gonna start selling, sell a bunch and then start worrying about, you know, of course. And especially when you, when you start marketing, it’s not like leads are gonna come in, you’re gonna get 100 leads in your first week.
Like, no, that’s that’s gonna be scaling. So you’ve got a lot of time until your lead flow is really demanding enough that you’re gonna be spending all your time on estimates anyway, marketing, right? When you need the lead, You need like a million leads yesterday. I thought that’s when you start investing in the marketing, I’m sure that’s those are the people that you talk to most often right there. Like how do you know what I need 600 yesterday, like. OK, cool. Right. And of course there are some marketing tactics that you can get leads more quickly than others.
But the lead sources that are the most valuable to you that have the highest Arli are the ones that gonna take the longest to get. So, uh yeah. So even the, even though I was willing to spend money on the tactics that would get me leads more quickly, it was still obviously going to take time to get that demand that, that lead flow up to the point that I was needed to spend most of my time on estimating. So I was um, I was recruiting subs from the get go.
Um, yeah, so that’s that I just, let’s start selling I guess. Yeah. So when you, when you landed your first sale, you know, got your first commitment, did you then have to go find a crew or do you have someone locked in at that point? I didn’t have anyone officially locked in. I had this guy that had worked with me a few years ago that was called me um was very uh providential, I guess that he, he called me, he said, hey, I’m moving back from florida, I’m gonna be in town for like nine months and um, I’m gonna, I’m gonna recruit some of my old painter guys, you know, nick just told me that you were starting a painting company.
Do you have any jobs for me? I was like, yeah, actually the timing might might be perfect. So he was, he was coming back in town in, in May, we launched in april so I had a couple 23 weeks or so that I was selling in banking jobs before he came back. But even that, it’s like, how many times are we told that someone’s going to do something or they’re gonna commit to something, There’s no guarantee. And, and the reality is he kind of committed to us, that he was going to have five or six painters to cruise and they were going to be totally at our disposal.
Well, the first three or four weeks he had one guy working for us and that one guy was doing $13,000 jobs and taking forever. So we that forced us to be like, all right, well, maybe he’s not as reliable as we’re hoping he’s going to be, who else can we find? And fortunately, because we’ve been recruiting already, we were able to fill up that pipeline of subcontractors relatively quickly. Yeah. And I think that’s an important point to when you call it a pipeline. You know, people think about a pipeline in terms of deal flow, you know, you want to have these these um potential perspective customers in a pipeline.
They also want to have potential subcontractor crews. Or even if you have w two employees, you wanna, you wanna constantly be be almost marketing advertising. You know, however, you’re trying to do it, whether it’s the referrals or whatever the reality is, you’re advertising your marketing your positions and you want to be having a pipeline. So that when that that work grows, you’re not scrambling for painters. You’re not one of the many people on facebook saying, oh, I need painted, how how do I find because you’re already putting in that work up front, Right?
And the kippers? And Elliott’s kind of switched my, my my mind about that. I used to think that I didn’t want to have these subcontractors in like with my company unless I could actually provide them work full time. Right? I felt like I was doing them a disservice if I wasn’t able to keep them busy full time and they’re like, no, no, no, no, no. Listen, you’re gonna have you’re gonna have some crews that are compliant and active, meaning you have all of their insurance information, They’ve signed your subcontractor master agreement and they’re doing work for you.
You’re gonna have some subcontractors you interview that are never going to be compliant. They’re never going to provide you the necessary information. They will never ever be a crew for you. But then you’re gonna have a big group of of crews that are compliant and not active. And then they might be not active for a bunch of different reasons. It might be because you don’t have any work for them. It might be because they’re took on a big project with another contractor. Maybe they have their own work whatever.
But that is that that’s almost the most important part because your crews that are always compliant and always active. Great. That’s steady. You wanna treat those guys very, very well keep them happy so they stay on. But if you want to scale, you have to have those other crews that are compliant and not active so that when you need them to be active. Boom, you can add three or four crews to your work. You’re working pipeline. Yeah, that’s a good point. Yeah, not not every crew is gonna be the same, their availability is not gonna be the same and if you try to time everything perfectly, that’s just not how life works.
Certainly not how partnership works, almost never. So I wanna touch base on your corporate structure, what does that look like? So when we launched and even now it’s very, very simple, very small. So it’s, it’s simply me and I handle the marketing strategy and in sales and estimates um in recruiting of subs and then I have a project manager, so the project manager is essentially responsible for everything after someone says yes to one of my estimates, they handle all the scheduling, uh they schedule color consultations, they schedule the actual job, they coordinate the subcontractors as far as the scheduling of the start of the project and they handle all that from that point on.
So once an estimate is accepted, I’m essentially hands off unless I’m needed for something. And then, as you know, all of my painters are actually subcontractors. Now, the reason I’m able to keep that the corporate structure pretty lean right now is outsource many, many things. I outsource my marketing, I outsource my bookkeeping, I outsourced my accounting and design work and uh even even drip jobs, I would say is kind of outsourcing some of my sales activities and automation. So uh so really that’s it, that’s, I felt confident that I could not do it by myself.
I know some guys could, I didn’t, I felt like I wouldn’t have the bandwidth to be managing the marketing strategy, selling jobs and scheduling jobs, being there for job kick off in order to in order to project, manage, manage these projects the way that I thought they needed to be done at the level that I wanted Ellison painting to operate, I had to have someone else that was their full responsibility and it was a very, very wise decision from my perspective because that’s not one of my expertise and the customer satisfaction has been just through the roof having someone there to to be that point person once the job is accepted. Yeah.
And if you’re, if you’re out there, you know selling and project managing and doing everything else then you end up being spread too thin and it’s almost every, every different project that you take on, especially big ones, it becomes like an ankle or like a weight tied your ankle, your customer service, you’re filming everything just progressively gets worse and I think I’m overwhelmed for sure and I think that I have a higher bandwidth to take on multiple tasks of multiple varieties than some other people. But I I knew that your as you just said it would suffer so other areas would suffer.
I’m only doing everything maybe at a B minus instead of an A plus, if I focused really on what I need to focus on. Yeah. Who would you kind of focused on getting getting everything to an A plus level and this might be kind of diving the next thing we’re gonna talk about. But who would you focus on hiring first? Uh You mean like as far as like I mean for me project manager, project manager because and that’s because for you you like the the estimated you feel really comfortable and and solid in the sales.
Well yeah, the more generic, more generic answer is whatever your weaknesses are, that’s what you should be hiring for. Right? So I I think I’m very strong on sales and overall business management and managing marketing strategy. I am not graded organization and follow through on getting jobs scheduled and coordinating colors and all that. Uh Not only am I not good at it? Certainly not anything that I want to do. Some people, I think we mentioned this in the last, in the last episode we recorded some people really thrive at that and they’re not great at sales.
Okay, well then that founder needs to hire a salesperson as their first person and that’s what’s gonna help them to scale more quickly. Yeah, I think that’s a great point. Everyone, you know, a lot of people think they need to be this master salesman if they’re going to start a painting company but you don’t, but you do need to have one partner hire one for sure. So let’s talk about your struggles, you know, we’re talking a lot about your successes as you know, we try to make the this paint market mastermind podcast very relatable, very action oriented.
People can listen to it and what I don’t want is just, hey, it’s so easy, look at me, you know, I crushed it and you should be crushing it too. Don’t you feel bad, right? So you, you’ve had struggles, you know, you’ve had advantages, but you’ve also had struggles. Let’s let’s kind of dive into those. Sure. And we should preface this by saying of course I have struggles professionally personally for me. I think I’m a naturally optimistic and driven person. And so I don’t find myself drawn to focusing on the negative and I certainly don’t need to publicize the negative.
Some people when something bad happens to them will go online and they just complain, they complain about it, right? Oh, what was me? This is what happened. You know what, I’m self aware enough to know that my problems, most people don’t care about and certainly me publicizing them on facebook is not going to solve any of my problems. And so I tend to post positive things and that’s partly because my life is generally positive. Like I am so blessed and so happy with my life that for me to complain about anything would be so disrespectful to the life that I have and that I’ve been blessed with.
Um but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have struggles, so I’m happy to share those and I do quite often with people that ask, I would say the the first struggle I had is we had, I found myself in this groove where I was working like 20 hours a week, I was making good money, I was able to be home with my family quite a bit, I was going to the gym, you know, 503 to 7 days a week, things were just felt, they just felt easy and surprise, surprise when you launch your business, you gotta work more and where I where I had an admin before in a project coordinator and a quality control person and a bookkeeper and a partner to help handle any of the numerous issues that come up on a day to day basis, I didn’t have hardly any of that.
And so by nature I had to hustle and I had to work more. So that was, that was the first struggle. Um the solution to that was obviously have my wife on board, um so that when I’m giving up time with my family, she understands why and she’s okay with it, but also to try to automate as much as I could in an effort to be perceived as the most professional painting company in michigan, I’ve been trying to create any processes I can that make my life easier, but also prove that we are more professional lives than anyone else around us.
So um you know, even software solutions like I know that you’ve tripped jobs, you mentioned tanner mullen earlier uh drip jobs has been such a great tool for us, especially at the size of business that that we are to handle incoming lead requests and scheduling and the actual, the marketing educational piece estimate, delivery, the back end scheduling, invoicing and everything. It probably takes 15 hours off my plate or off the plate of someone that I would have to pay to do that stuff. Uh and then even even other solutions like open phone, open phone is, I think I mentioned in the last last episode too, it’s just basically a call forwarding service, but it allows me to not have to answer the phone when someone calls.
So if someone calls, they can leave a voicemail or they get an automated text message back that says, hey, are you, are you calling to schedule an estimate, click this link and it gives them the drip jobs link and then it goes into that automated process. So while I am working more, I figured out ways to work smarter. So instead of having to work 60 hours a week, I’m working full time, which is really 40. So it’s not even like a crazy amount of hours, it’s what most people are used to working.
It’s more than I’m used to working or have been used to working. But it’s yeah, been on vacation for a few years. So I had to work more. But all this stuff, I mean the biggest, the biggest struggle it created was family tensions and you know, I love my wife so much and I know I brag about her, but you know, we had our moments this summer where she, she gave up the summer with, with the kids. Um and it was the last summer my daughter was gonna have before she started kindergarten and she gave up those from april through october to work with me full time.
That was a big sacrifice for her that we had, we had constantly made this decision a few years ago that she, she was going to be a stay at home mom that was really important to her and she gave that up and there was a lot of tension. There were a lot of conversations over the summer where she stressed out, She’s sad that she’s missing this and this and that and it’s like, okay, well listen, if you need to quit then quit. Well let’s find you a replacement.
It’s as valuable as it is having you working with me because my wife is so smart and capable. It caused tensions. And so it would have been worth it to me to then hire someone else to take over for her. So she could just relax would have been a financial sacrifice, but a sacrifice that would have been good for the family. Um, ultimately she wanted to tough it out and she did and I’m glad she did. It gave us a few more months of not having to pay someone.
And even though we had childcare costs, it was the right decision I think for the business. Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s tough, you know, business owners, entrepreneurs in general balancing work and family, especially with young kids, it’s hard because you’re, you’re trying to work, you’re trying to create that legacy. You’re trying to build that business and provide financial security for your family and hopefully, you know, potentially something to pass off if you want to. Um, but at the same time you’re also sacrificing time while you’re doing so you’re kind of, its approach con to your family and it’s a real big con if it actually doesn’t pay off.
So I think what you’ve said about systematize ng automating using whatever software as you can, as soon as you can hiring, you know, putting the right people in the right seats where you’re weak as soon as you can get that stuff off your plate that the sooner the better. 100%. Yeah. And it’s a, it’s a long term view. It’s, yeah, I’m sacrificing time now when my kids are two and five, but when my kids are five and eight and now they’re playing sports and the games start or the practices start at 3 30 or four o’clock in the afternoon.
Hopefully by that point I will have worked myself out of the estimating and kind of day to day job and I’ll have my time back during those other formula tive years where I can be more actively involved. Yeah, that’s great man. Um Okay. And then how about this this idea that, you know, you you had your, you know, you said your father was the mayor in your city. Um That’s a bit unique and then you have a big family, but you’re also, I want to get into the population of your service area because you’re saying that people are gonna just assume everybody in the world knows you and and I know that that’s not true and I also want to get into what’s what challenges maybe you faced starting a company that didn’t have any reputation.
So the population, So we were in metro Detroit. If you look at Metro Detroit, which is kind of a tri county area, there’s about 4.4 million people that live here. Now. The, I would say I would I argue all the time that the reputation that Detroit has is being kind of a crap hole. It’s not exactly true, But it is true that there are some lower-income areas around here, there’s also some way higher income areas that people probably would never guess existed. So there’s 4.4 million people, that doesn’t mean that that’s 503 million possible customers if you whittle it down to where we focus, we focus on Oakland County which is closer to about 1.3 million people in population.
And then within Oakland County there’s certainly a lot of areas that we don’t focus our marketing efforts on that are lower income and just we don’t think are gonna be a great return for us. So I would say we’re probably at about 500,000 for the population in the areas in which we actively spend money for marketing. Um one of the reasons why I was so drawn to buy someone else’s company. Originally was this idea that, you know, company has been around for almost 40 years and has 1000 reviews on Angie’s list.
And you know, there’s some sort of reputation that’s really what I was trying to buy. Was that that name that that reputation and I thought it was gonna be a big stumbling block to start from scratch. Now we did we did choose the name specifically. We chose certain geographical areas that we’re going to target first for marketing because of my last name. It’s a it’s called a beachhead strategy for those that don’t know, you choose kind of one very specific geographical area or target demographic and you just hit it as hard as you can.
We did that in order to launch uh when when we the way we did and that that worked. Uh But we still didn’t have reputation online. If people googled us, we didn’t really exist. Maybe they stumbled upon our website before we had really any traction on S. C. O. But honestly Brandon what I found is you don’t need to have a previous reputation. You need to just spend money strategically to market or get your marketing message out there strategically and then follow through and do a good job.
And if I all I needed to do was get in front of people and it didn’t matter if I was estimating against companies that have been around for 35 or 40 years if they met me. And if they saw my approach and how Ellison painting operated I don’t think it mattered how long we’ve been in business. Some people did ask and they say well how long you been in business and in May you know how I answered that question? Like well honestly I’ve been in the industry for about five years but I just launched Ellison painting last month.
The good news is the painters that are working with me have been in the industry far longer than me and we’ve already established the super professionalized system that is just wowing our customers already and that was it. That’s all they needed to hear. You know they don’t need me to have 40 years of painting experience. They don’t apparently they don’t need me to have any painting experience. They just want to feel comfortable and trust that I’m going to be able to do what I say. I’m gonna be able to do. Yeah.
I mean it’s about that trust factor when they’re asking you questions like that about your experience or really anything related to that, they essentially want to trust that you’re going to do a good job, you know what you’re doing. So the kind of um, novice, I guess fear approach would be all, no, I don’t have all these years or decades or whatever of experience. So they’re not gonna choose me. That’s not what the question is about the questions can you do the job? Am I sure that you can do the job?
Right? So when you leaned on the assets of your subcontractors of those painters, they let me assure you they’ve been doing this forever covered. And then you also write to turning weakness into a strength said, Hey, we have a super, super great way of ensuring your satisfaction, right? You guys have a streamlined sales process. So if you’re newer to the industry and you’re worried about these companies have been around for decades, you know, family legacies, whatever. You can basically position it as, hey, here’s what’s wrong with the painting industry and here’s how we fixed it, right?
That’s what we do. Painter, marketing pros, people don’t like marketers, they’re dirty marketers, right? So we came in and we fixed it and that’s what you position your painting company to do for sure. And I could have, I could have simply lied. They’re not going to go back and check to see when I filed my letters of corporation right short term win. But that approach, Yeah, I’d rather I’d rather be honest. And as you mentioned, turn it into a positive. Yeah, I love it man. And people, you know, don’t get scared, right.
That’s ultimately what you’re conveying here. You didn’t, you felt you knew that you were going to produce a good result. You weren’t afraid. You, you stood by confidently and a lot of it’s also how you answered, if you’re really sheepish like, oh well, you know, actually we’re kind of new. No, you said you know what, we’re actually new, but guess what? We’re gonna do a great job because the painters have been doing it forever, right? Right. And I will touch on one more struggle. I had, I get asked a lot about how to find reliable subcontractors and I don’t want it to sound like this is the easiest thing in the world for me and I just have like subcontractors raining down on me day to day subcontractor treat right?
The reality is if I, if I talk to 10 possible subcontractors, uh, I will schedule a time to meet with eight of them and out of the eight that I scheduled to meet with. Half of them are gonna show up and I’m never gonna hear from me ever again. That leaves me with four of the four that show up One of them is not going to have their insurance or workers comp even though they said they did and they’re not going to spend the money to get us.
That leaves me with three Of the 503 of them is gonna say, uh this guy’s just like every other contractor I’ve ever met, even though he says he operates differently, he doesn’t, that leaves me with two and of the two, I will try them both out. One’s gonna flame out for some reason. And if I have a 10% success rate when interviewing subcontractors, I’m very, very happy with that. Right? And then once I get that one subcontractor As I mentioned time and time and time again, it’s making sure that they feel respected and honored and compensated and so they’ll stick around.
But it’s it’s never ending battle. It’s not like you can, you want, okay, I need, I need 30 painters. I need six crews and you find the six crews and then you’re done. It’s that’s a constant battle of finding subcontractors, recruiting, interviewing, testing them out so that you can grow with the crews that will be able to manage to your expectations, right? Yeah. And that’s why you have to have that pipeline constantly running. I want to circle back to something you said to that’s really important. You know, your metro Detroit, right?
4.4 million people, one of the mistakes we see painting companies make is they think they need to target everybody or if they, if they get more narrow, Oh no, my business won’t be as big. The reality is you don’t have the resources and it doesn’t even make sense to target everybody. So you went from 2100 to 2100. Okay. And you also actually started with even less than that. And even if you don’t have a brand name, you can still choose neighborhoods to strategically start use your resource when you’re smaller company have to use your resources really purposefully for sure.
And be willing to admit that a certain tactic that you’re in love with is not working and stop spending money on it. You need to be tracking that data. Yeah. Cool man. Well, so those were, those were a lot of the things that you found difficult, right? You have to work more because you had to come out of retirement to bring brad out of there. Yeah, I will say, I will say my fitness level has suffered a bit. Uh, you six daily trips. It’s just, it’s just not the same without you man.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. The family tensions, you know, that’s a real thing. I live with that. I understand that, um, the reputational reputation piece at the end of the day, I do want to kind of touch on the people do not care about your brand as much as you care about your brand, right? You want to present a good brand, but the reality is what they want is a paint, a paint project done well that that they know is going to be taken care of, that’s what they want.
If you convey that the fact that they don’t all know you already is okay. Um and then finding the reliable cruise, right? And basically aiming for a 250% success rate, which means, and then sometimes you’re gonna lose that one out of 250, they might just, you lose them eventually, so you have to keep those wheels turned. Um so those are all your struggles, let’s talk about some of the advantages you had going into this, yep, I would say the biggest advantage I had was my experience, it wasn’t like I was coming out of college or leaving another industry and trying to start a painting company from scratch.
I had five years experience running a pretty decent sized painting business. I had made mistakes before, I’ve done it before, I had scaled before, I could very clearly see the end goal uh and where I could be, you know, 250 years down the road. So my experience, I’m sure was is a huge advantage, but most people when they’re starting a painting company or if they’re thinking about maybe scaling a painting company that they’ve already owned, then you have experience too. We have different types of experience, but you have experience within the industry, you know how to talk about painting, you should know how to sell jobs, you should know how to manage projects.
Most people should have um, similar type experience that I had. Right. Um, I did have the advantage of having free labor. So as I mentioned, I talked my wife into working with me for the first six months and we both committed to not really taking any money until we needed to. So yeah. Right, right. I did use, I do use my kids in my marketing there, my family pictures on every single piece that we put out. You know, you can actually do not to get too far so you can actually do attacks like a write off for that.
Yeah, I know that that scoundrel in Minneapolis has already told me about the how he pays his kids. Yeah, some weird thing. Yeah. Yeah. Um, so the free labor when I was free, I mean we gave up our time of course. Um, and we were willing to do that because we had the cash reserves to survive it. But she was also willing to give up her her summer give up those six months because she knew it was an investment and the money that they’re the time that she put in was not only saving us the money from paying someone else, but also it really allowed us to ramp up as quickly as we did.
So she knows an investment. Um, that all ties into the third advantage, which is the cash reserves. Now I would say there was an advantage, but it’s not like someone gave us $250,503. We lived very, very smartly and wisely leading up to this. Um, we don’t live, we live well below our means. Um you know, we live in a really nice neighborhood and we live in a cool house and we drive nice cars, but we we do that um as a result of us making wise financial decisions and not wasting money on other areas, right?
So it was an advantage but it’s something that everyone should be able to accomplish. And as I mentioned in my last episode brain and we had that big cash reserve and it turned out we didn’t need it. We, you know, we really needed 250,2100 or so. And I want to, I also want to interject one second brad like the cash reserve. It was helpful, it was kind of a, it was almost a security blanket for you use very used to temp of it, use very little of it, but it it didn’t, it’s not why you succeeded, right?
All this other stuff. It’s why you felt more comfortable going for it, but it’s not why you succeed. No, no, it’s certainly not why I succeeded. And I think that someone that is already in the industry that’s trying to scale that maybe can scrounge up or save 10 grand to, to scale, they should have the confidence that, that $20,000 is going to be well spent in scaling the business and it’s, it’s like the greatest investment you can make if you take $20,000 and put it into the stock market, even if you take out the last year, so where the stock market has been absolute trash, maybe you get a 12% return at the end of the year, Well, what is my $20,1003 investment got like 10,000% return?
I’m not good at math, I don’t know, but you’re never, you’re not gonna have a better chance of getting a sweet return on that investment than investing it back in your business, you know, it’s a great way to look at it. Yeah, yeah. And then I think you had in the last episode, you had mentioned one other. Yeah. So apart from, like my wife, I would say, my biggest advantage is the friends that I’ve made within the industry, uh some of my closest friends in the industry who kinda helped provide a roadmap to what I should or shouldn’t be doing as I launched.
Um and that those friends continue to pay dividends. Now, we had formed a, a peer advisory board with some colleagues, it’s not a board of directors or anything like that, but it was important to me to have a consistent, consistent schedule where I can talk to people that I thought were wise that that are running successful businesses like mine can, we can we meet, you know once a month and really hold each other accountable for our business. And that’s, that’s, we started that a few weeks a few months ago um, with kippers matt and Maggie with Shane, Vork, Vork Brothers out in grand rapids.
So another michigan company actually, and then Ryan Davis of cardinal concrete coatings and service legend out in phoenix. And uh, and that’s been really helpful. They, they helped me to know what I should do and they’ve helped me to know what I shouldn’t do. And we were, I was seriously considering launching in Cleveland this next year and those, those three families said too early, man, don’t do it, focus on what you’re doing now. And so it’s as helpful as what I should do, knowing what I shouldn’t do has also been super valuable hard to swallow, much more hard to swallow.
But shiny object syndrome. You got it man. Yeah. Well what can, what can people do who are listening, who maybe don’t feel that they have those same close connections. Our friendships with people who are doing really well already. I don’t think you need the close friendships. There are so many resources out there like in people, the people that I count as friends. Uh, you know the kippers, the knicks Slavic, Jason paris, these chris Elliot, these guys that are these families and these these contractors that are so smart, they’re offering their time and their resources for free online anyway right now you gotta pay to talk nick Slavic if you if you respond to one of nick’s post saying, hey can I get your S. O. P. S. Can I get your marketing strategy?
Yeah. Yeah. Shoot me an email. A shoot me an email at dot com. Yeah. Yeah. And and within within a day he will have sent you his resources for free. So yes it is nice that I can pick up the phone and call nick and talk to him but he is as available to anyone else as am I as is Jason and everyone else I’ve mentioned on these podcasts, right? Uh the painting contractors facebook group, the your facebook group, the painter marketing pros forum group. All you gotta do is get on there and ask questions and people will give you honest, constructive feedback and answers and they’re not going to charge you any money for it.
You know what’s what’s been a lot of fun for me is since I started doing these podcasts with you and some others uh and managing that, that painting contractors facebook group, I get asked all the time. Hey, you know, can I pick your brain on something? Sure. So at least once a week I’m spending 45 minutes on the phone with someone from around the country just asking me questions about how to find subcontractors, what type of marketing strategy uh you know what how do you sell? And I take the time to do it and I do it because one I think that as leaders we are we are called to give back.
But also what kind of guy would I be if I had taken all this free knowledge and resources from other people and then not responded in kind for other people that are just a step behind me, right? Um The the goal of the P. C. A. And the goal of our friends Brandon is to elevate the industry. And instead of trying to elevate myself and pushing others down, I would rather while I’m elevating myself, reaching back and help the next guy up who can help the next guy up and we can we can elevate the industry as a whole rather than just have these you know a few companies that are doing it right?
We could we could all be doing it 100%. We’re all standing on the shoulders of giants right? 100%. So it sounds like everything went perfectly for you. You didn’t need to pivot was all smooth or was there some pivoting that you need to change some things? There’s always pivoting and if you’re not pivoting then you’re probably not growing as quickly as you could. Uh But there’s something to say here. You know sometimes things don’t have to be catastrophic. Things don’t have to actually fail in order for you to pivot?
Um, I mean I mentioned your marketing right. If you’re, if you’re spending a bunch of money on google marketing and you’re spending a bunch of money on social media marketing and your social media marketing is getting a sweet R. O. I. And your pay per click campaigns are not doing anything for you right now and you have limited funds. What I would say is shift all your marketing dollars to what’s working right now. You can always re evaluate and come back later. And so we, you know, I tracked that data and I’ve, I’ve started with with some marketing strategies and pivoted to others and those were successful for a period.
And then I pivoted to others. I’m constantly trying new things to, to figure out what can get me the best R. O. I. And the most consistent lead flow. So while none of my marketing efforts, I would say have been, you know, quote unquote failures, there are some that are clearly more profitable and more successful than others. And so I pivot my marketing strategy and my dollars towards what’s working best, um, along those same lines with all the recruiting that we’ve done with subcontractors, we’ve had crews in and we’ve had crews out the, you know, the first three crews, I think that we started with are are not taking work from us anymore.
Um, I kind of made that sound bad. It’s not because of anything. We did, I don’t think. Yeah, right now, you know, they got busy with with their own work and um they saw their opportunities and we certainly weren’t gonna begrudge them that. But what if you look at Ellison painting in May and the May and june the cruise we had working compared to right now, there’s there’s not a whole lot of overlap. So crews are in and out, which is why that my constant recruitment of subcontractors is so valuable and important.
Uh You gotta have, it’s like that uh the new England Patriots, you know, uh next man up, right, you gotta you gotta have the next crew ready to go so that if something happens and you lose one crew, you got someone else to take their place. So, you know, we when you’re early, when you’re early on in your launch, I think that you’re going to be more permissive of who you will accept as one of your subcontractors. And that’s just the nature that you’ve got to take more risks and a crew that you say, kind of 50 50 on them.
Now, I wouldn’t take my chance on a 50 50 crew even, you know, one of my seven months. And even now I wouldn’t take my chance on a 50 50 crew. But when I started, like yo I got all these jobs lined up, I have my wife is my project manager, so she’s at least gonna be catching things if they go awry early, I have to take the chance and, and some of those crews really paid off and really stepped up and now they’re a players and some of those crews fell off.
You can’t be super picky when you launch. Um, at least at least I couldn’t and still stay ethical entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart for sure for sure. And then the last, the last and biggest pivot is um, we transitioned my wife out of the business and that was a big pivot. That was really hard. Um, it was really hard for me. I would say it was bad for our business, but really good for our relationship and my, my relationship with my wife is far more important than Ellison painting.
So it was really healthy transition for her. I, she asked if she came on board if I would commit, you know, at the six month mark that she’s done and I wouldn’t try to talk her into staying and right, right. And I committed Yes, yeah, 100%. You have my word that I will not try to get you to stay. And so we, uh, leading up to the six month mark, we started recruiting and found someone to replace her and that was, that was a big pivot and it’s been successful so far.
Um, but certainly I launched a company knowing that my right hand man is going to be changing in six months. Yeah. Kind of probably let even more of a fire under you. Yeah, that means we have to have the systems built within six months because I need to be able to hand it off to someone else. Yeah, and that, that’s kind of another lesson to even if you have someone who’s handling all this, juggling all these balls for you, you never know what’s gonna happen if somebody’s gonna leave.
You know, nick calls it the, he’s usually referring to the owner, but the turkey, turkey truck tests or whatever, you get hit by a turkey. I don’t even know what a turkey truck is really don’t have those here. But if you get hit by this proverbial turkey truck then is your business going to be alright, right? Everyone, any single person should be able to get hit by this truck and everything should be able to run, right? And really anyone we hire, it’s not gonna be with us forever.
No way. I mean, if you, if you’re hiring the caliber of people that you want to stay forever, they won’t stay forever. There’s going to be better, bigger and better things maybe for them down the line, whether it be running their own company or you know, using the experience they had with painter, marketing pros or Ellison painting to, to, to get a bigger, higher paying job and a different industry, who knows? Um, but the type of people that I want to recruit and hire are probably gonna be the types of people that um I’m catching them before they really hit their full value, right?
And the goal, of course I would love for them to stay forever. Um but when you hire a sales guy, when you hire a project manager, but teach them, you’re teaching your methods, try to get them to buy in, uh give them your knowledge and pour into them so that they can grow personally and professionally and hope they’ll stay along, stay along for the ride. Um But most people will not, Right? Yeah. I mean, the fear is, is uh if I invest in my people, they might leave me, right?
But if you don’t invest into your people, do you even want them with you? If you don’t invest in your people, they will definitely leave you. Yeah. And if they, if they stay with you, then it means that they’re definitely not an A player right there. Okay with that. I want to circle back to one more thing right before you finish because it was a really important point that you made from a sales and marketing perspective, I think it could be easily over missed. So you talked about this builder’s license right now, you you don’t need to have it, but it’s, it’s almost like this, wow effect, right?
Because you you already have, we already have doubled up essentially on your workman’s comp because you have the subcontractors, you ensure, but they have it then you have it. So now you come in with that and then now you’re gonna take your builder’s license and and layer that on top. So you’re providing so much authority. So much trust, so much security to the homeowner like, hey 123. So when chuck in a truck or you know, whoever else rolls up and they’re not producing these documents, it’s just, it’s night and day. Yeah.
Well, and that’s the only reason why I would get it. You know, I’m not gonna be out building things right? I don’t know. But having a builder’s license will give me a certain amount of authority. But there’s also things we can do to, to get authority. That won’t help. I mean, I have an actual business degree. Brandon, I went to college, I have a bachelor’s degree and most, most people that run painting companies probably don’t. Um Actually I saw recently nick’s Plavix got his degree in accounting or something right?
Or business administration with a minor in accounting or something. He never talks about that because he knows that that’s not going to help his cloud, It’s not gonna help his authority, which is why I never mentioned, you know publicly or to my customers that. Oh yeah, I have hurt you because, and get suspicious. Oh, he’s running some slick business. He’s going to take my money. What they care about is your, you’re going to take care of them, they don’t care that you’re a slick businessman that’s gonna actually hurt you?
Exactly. And in some situations, it will help. And I certainly will mention, you know, Yeah, I graduated from Oakland University if I see that they’re an ou alum or you know, you know, if they, if they work in business administration and sometimes it will because they, some people want to want to work with a company that has the leadership. It’s like what they consider, you know, educated people. Uh, so I will use it to my advantage, but it’s not something that I would publicize. Like I would a builder’s license. Sure.
Yeah, approaching from an empathetic standpoint. Like what do they value? And how can I, how can I position it differently? And the reason I want to bring up the builder’s licenses, not because everyone should go out and have one whether you need it or not, But how can you position your painting company? What can you do differently? How can when you convey more trust or security, can you offer a bigger workmanship warranty again? You give your direct cell phone. But what can you do? That’s different from the next guy who’s gonna walk into their house and give them an estimate that’s gonna make you pay, that’s going to make them pay you more money than the next guy and still hire you?
Yeah, brad. This has been incredible. As always, I love our conversations. Is there anything else that you want to wrap up um before we wrap up the second episode of the series? Yeah, I’ve got a bone to pick real quick. So Jason paris acts like he’s the smartest guy in the room. He’s so successful, he’s so smart. But he asked the dumbest question on your forum. Does, does brad when brad sits in an office chair to his feet, touch the ground or are they just swinging swinging style?
I’m five ft seven. Obviously my feet are swinging below the desk right now. Okay, my feet can’t touch the ground. Jason was smart. He would know that I strategically raised the chair as high as I can so that I’m more eye level with the people I’m speaking to which then makes my feet swinging swinging. That’s a that’s a great point. It was something, it was a topic. A lot of people in the facebook group are interested. I’m glad you address that. That’s awesome, brad. Thanks man, Thanks for your time today.
Alright buddy, appreciate it. We’ll talk to you soon if you want to learn more about the topics we discussed in this podcast and how you can use them to grow your painting business, visit. Painter marketing pros dot com forward slash podcast for free training as well as the ability to schedule a personalized strategy session for your painting company again that you are. L is painter marketing pros dot com forward slash podcast? Hey there painting company owners. If you enjoyed today’s episode, make sure you go ahead and hit that subscribe button, give us your feedback, let us know how we did.
And also, if you’re interested in taking your painting business to the next level, make sure you visit the Painter Marketing Pros website at Painter Marketing to learn more about our services. You can also reach out to me directly by emailing me at Brandon at painter marketing pros dot com and I can give you personalized advice on growing your painting business until next time. Keep growing.

Brandon Pierpont

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