FAQ – It never rains but it pours

As I’m writing this a few weeks before the magazine is published I can’t predict what the weather will be when you read it. Although as it’s summer time… It’ll probably be raining.

Summer is often the busiest time for decorators with everyone asking for exterior quotes, frequently with the phrase ‘can you start next week?’ If I had a pound… and all that.
  Of course some decorators will have already filled their order books for exterior work this year. Some will be playing it safe, booking just a couple of months in case of a wet summer, some will have booked June to October and crossing fingers.
  Whether you’re a sole trader working on your own, or manage a team of decorators, there’ll be times when you’re really busy and still get asked to do more and more work. How do you handle that?
Here are a few things that worked for me over the years…

Be so good they’ll wait
If you get a reputation for being one of the most reliable and skilled decorators in your area, and a pleasure to deal with, many clients will be happy to wait. It’s difficult to find reliable tradespeople, so when someone does they often can’t be bothered to play the tradesperson lottery again to find someone else they can rely on. The better you are at your job, and at client relations, the longer people will be prepared to wait, and they’ll know to plan ahead too which makes your life easier.

Hopefully you’ll know some other good decorators in your area. Maybe you’ve worked with them on a few jobs and you like them as people and know they’re skilled. You can operate a referral system where you pass on jobs for a percentage or one-off fee. This can work especially well if they do work you can’t or don’t want to do, whether that’s spraying, exteriors, or something very specific like paint effects.

Just say no
It can be tempting to take on too much work just in case a client drops out, but it can lead to stress on your part by trying to please too many people, and can lead to disappointment on clients’ part as they might end up having to wait longer than you thought you’d be. So begin turning down the jobs you don’t want, or, even better…

Take on more people
Taking on some extra help can be a game-changer, but it can also be stressful. Managing people is a real skill, it’s something I’ve certainly struggled with in the past. They might not do things as well as you do, or as fast, they may not be as reliable, they might not relate to clients as well as you do. If you can get the management right and take on the right people, it can mean taking on more jobs, bigger jobs, and you can end up with a more profitable business. Unless you’re already skilled at managing people, I’d do this slowly. Maybe take on someone for the odd job, or an apprentice, and build from there.

Bigger jobs, fewer customers
One of the strategies I ended up using a lot, was to specialise in things few other decorators were doing at the time, such as stripping-back and repairing iron lattice windows, and exterior timber repairs using resin.
  Doing jobs like this can take a very long time, and some in the decorating trade find them too fiddly or just don’t have the patience, but I loved them. Because I got known for doing these specific jobs, I got recommended, and because each project would take many weeks, or even months, I needed fewer customers.
  That took the strain off having to do so many quotes, and meant I could just refer more work to other decorators, meaning I could still get a small referral fee.

When it really does rain
Given the title of this article, one thing I have to mention
is the strategy I used for all my exterior work, and that’s to ask all exterior clients for some interior work to drop onto if it rained.
  I’d explain to them that in the past, if it rained for a few days, I’d often have to go and do an interior job for another client and I’d only be able to come back once it was done. Nearly all my exterior clients found some interior work for me to do, which meant I’d never get rained off the job, they’d keep me on site, and I got more business. Everybody won.
  Whatever strategy you decide on, it’s good to plan it in advance. Always have a plan B, and a plan C if you can. Get a few people you can call on to help out, get a list of people you can refer work to, be happy to turn certain jobs down, and keep refining your strategy to manage your workflow. Oh, and always carry a brolly.