It’s a difficult time for everyone right now, and the decorating industry is no different. Economic experts and even the government are talking about the coming recession being the deepest for many decades. It’ll be economically stormy for a while now, and we all need to have strategies and take practical steps to make sure that we come through safely.
The good news is that there’s always something you can do. Here are a few ideas that might help…
When times are tight, it’s a good idea to take a long, hard look at your bank statements – business and personal accounts.
What expenses can you reduce but still get the job done? Can you reduce your mileage by focusing on more local work? Can you check your stocks of materials and use things up, even if you’ve switched to another brand you prefer? Are there any subscriptions you can reduce? Even things like having homemade lunch instead of a meal deal or going to the chippy can save hundreds or even thousands of pounds a year.
Time to take on a trainee?
A recession might seem like the worst time to take on extra staff, but if you can find enough work it might just be the best time to take on a trainee. The government is strongly incentivising apprenticeships and the creation of jobs for young people. If you can find someone with a good attitude, they can help you to get more work done in less time, it can increase your profit margin or allow you to take on bigger jobs. Take advice from the PDA about the new schemes.
Diversify or Specialise… or Both?
Yes, I know, it seems like a contradiction, but hear me out. Diversifying is great for picking up more work, but promoting specific skills can get interest for people looking for those skills. There’s no reason you can’t do both.
Marketing yourself as a specialist makes people looking for that specialism more likely to find you. If you do exterior decorating, including window repairs, why not put some posts out on social media ‘Are your windows rotten? I can repair and decorate them.’ It’s specific, but targeted campaigns can be very effective.
On the other hand, if you’re a kitchen painter and all of a sudden the enquiries are a bit sparse, go back to more general work. It can still be high end work, but when times are tough you can’t get too precious about what you want to do.
This is just a posh term for collaborating. Get to know good chippies, good spreads, good sparks. Let them know that you’ll be recommending them and ask them to recommend you in turn. Get alliances with as many trades as you can. People having work done on their property, whether it’s residential or commercial, are highly likely to need a range of services.
In some networking organisations these strategic alliances are called ‘power groups’ – known to be a very good way of getting more business.
At the time of writing we don’t know if we’ll have more lockdowns, either national or localised. Prepare for the unexpected. It might be exterior work, even if you swore you’d never do it again after having been rained off a million and one times. Get in touch with lots of local businesses to ask if they need any decorating doing now or in the next 12 months. If they say they may have some in the future, make a note. If a lockdown happens, contact them and say you can do it when they’re closed to minimise disruption. Always have a Plan B.
Prices and ‘value adds’
I’m a great believer in sticking to your prices, and not to compete on price but on value. So look at how you add value to the customer. Can you do it better, quicker, tidier, quieter, cleaner? Do you offer a guarantee? Sometimes it’s the small things that’ll delight a customer (steady on) – if you see a couple of doors that get bashed in a high traffic area, say you’ll give them a free refresh in six months. Be creative. Sometimes you know you’ll have to drop your prices to get the work, but it should be a last resort.
Like a tree, in stormy weather you need to be strong but flexible. There’s lots of great advice on the PDA website too, so use it. The best way through this is if we all support each other.