Saturday, December 18, 2010

10 questions: Are you a Professional or a Prima Donna?

Are you a Prima Donna? Decorative painters seem to have a bad rap from contractors sometimes. We spend a lot of time and money fine-tuning our portfolio, printing promotional material and developing our web presence, but sometimes we neglect the importance of our real-world presentation on the job. I've been guilty of most of these at one time or other myself. It's no wonder I have time on my hands to write blog entries, instead of being too busy answering the phone to new clients. This stuff comes back to bite us in the end. Time to step up our game and spruce up our image. 

1.
Have you ever walked around the job-site with a coffee cup in one hand and a brush in the other? Have you ever come in to work and found yesterdays latte still hanging around on the scaffold?

2.
Do you wear your regular clothes to work instead of painters white pants and an apron?

3. 
Have you ever asked one of the other contractors if you could borrow a tool that you forgot to bring?

4. 
Do you take long lunch breaks? Do you take lunch breaks at a restaurant instead of eating your lunch sitting on a bucket like everyone else? Do you disappear for long periods on errands?

5. 
Are you generally the last one to show up in the morning or the first to leave?

6. 
Have you ever complained to the client or designer about conditions on the job-site? Ever complained about the condition of the toilet or the dust? Ever moaned out loud about contractors in 'your' space?

7. 
Have you ever talked about money with others on site?

8. 
Ever hit the client up for more money at the end of a job because of 'unforeseen' circumstances?

9. 
Ever leave your brushes sitting in a bucket of water overnight?

10. 
Do you sometimes skip taking 10 minutes to sweep the room and tidy away your tools at the end of each day? Do you leave full garbage bags on site overnight? Ever just throw a tarp over everything and call it a day?

A professional demeanor goes a long way towards securing future work. Repeat business from designers and recommendations from General Contractors should be of paramount importance, and as such we would do well to pay close attention to how we present ourselves while on site. 

1.
Make a job-site checklist of all tools and materials and refer to it before packing for each job. Brought your own garbage bags? How about enough ladders, lights and tools to remove hardware? If you need to use a scaffold, be sure to establish that while estimating: don't assume that the GC will be okay with you climbing on hers, as there is a very real liability issue for her whether or not the designer tells you it's okay. 

2.
Take a moment while preparing your estimate to consider real-world conditions: will you be required to put down Masonite or other protection in the room and corridor? Where is the closest paint store? Is lunch available close by or should you ask your workers to brown bag it? What time does the freight elevator close? What are the building access hours and issues? If other contractors are going to be working there too, you may need to account for slower progress, touching up damage to your work and more time spent mitigating dust and cleaning up at the end of the day. All of these affect your profit, which affects your mood. If you're stressed while working it'll be apparent. Nobody wants to work with a stressed-out freak. 

There will be legitimate add-ons to any job. Be sure and have a price agreed before doing them. What you don't want to do is surprise the client at the end by charging a "getting off my ladder every five seconds to open the door to let contractors through" fee. 

Nobody likes talking money, but being up-front and realistic about expectations will make you a happier worker. 

3.
Establish a friendly relationship with the GC and contractors. Bring in a box of donuts every now and then. Buy the elevator guy a coffee. I know a decorative painter who places a bunch of flowers in the house every time she finishes a job. 

4. 
Under no circumstances talk about money while working. Other contractors always want to know how much you're charging. Make no mistake: it's not an innocent inquiry, and they will be happy to underbid you on the next project. At the very least, talking money builds jealousy and bad feelings which means you're less likely to get the call on the next job. 

5.
Make your area the cleanest on the site. Using a paper-hangers table to mix your colors looks really good. You can drape a canvas drop cloth over it and store all your other junk underneath. You can be sure that the client and/or designer will be doing after-hours walk-throughs, and you never know when they'll decide to drop by unexpectedly while you're there. 

6.
Pay close attention to your appearance. Ever notice that the best painters are also the cleanest? Buy a new apron and painter's pants before every big job, and make sure your workers dress the same. Do not allow anyone to use their pants as a paint rag. That's what rags are for. 

You can buy large canvas bags and have your company name or logo put on them and your clothing quite cheaply these days. 

Make sure you have business cards and photos of other completed projects. You never know where the next job will come from. 

7.
Keep the music turned down (or better yet wear headphones), and for ¥#%$ sake; no cursing! For that matter, never bad mouth the client, designer or other contractors on site or on your Facebook page: you never know who's listening. 

8.
Make sure you're there on time every day, and stay all day. Besides maximizing profits, it just looks good. Be sure you can start on the day you specified, and bend over backwards to be out of there when you said you'd be. You're the only one that cares that it took you an extra day to re-glaze a wall because the electrician dug a channel for a sconce down the middle of a finished wall: the client doesn't want to hear it. Hire extra help if you need to, and if you haven't agreed to an extra cost for damages, just suck it up and say nothing. With a smile on your face tell the designer that you'll take care of it. You'll be seen as a problem-solver, not a problem. 

9.
Guard your recipes and techniques. Tear the labels off those Home Depot paint cans, and develop some arcane method of marking your pots. Keep your medium in a glass jar. I'm not kidding! Think how cool it would look to a client if you had bell jars of obscure dry pigments and your best polar bear fur brush out for show. Who cares if you never use them. 

The European Guilds played their cards close to their chests for a reason: if people realize how easy it is to do what you do, you can't justify the exorbitant prices you wish to charge. 

It's all about the appearance of professionalism. Okay, enough procrastinating and sitting in my car typing. It's time for me to get back to work!

8 comments:

  1. Excellent , I really like that. After years of experience I have built up the same kind of "to do" list .The one thing I still sometimes do is to use my pants as rags, I know it is wrong but fast and convenient. I do not do it when I wear working pants I like though , like the ones my swedish friends offered me last year :-)

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  2. Everything I own has paint on it. Sometimes experience wins out over professionalism. It gives me something to think about when I'm unemployed!

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  3. Ye-ouch!!! Guilty of six....(left two brushes today in a cup of water) I do know how to eat on a bucket though :) Thanks for the perspective.

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  4. i don't think the two labels are mutually exclusive. if the site messy or otherwise isn't ready rather than complain, or other trades are making my life hell, i just leave and come back when they are out of my way.sometimes that involved a complaint to the GC or designer, but NEVER the client. i take long lunches but i never eat in the workspace or on the scaffold nor do i leave open paint unattended.
    i used to have velvet slipcover on the scaffold with gold fringe on it, so no one would look at my mess (or my butt) when i was working. that's an idea i got from larry boyce. (now HE was a prima donna.)

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  5. I wish I wasn't such a 'yes man' sometimes. If I showed you a photo of this jobsite you'd laugh. I'm supposed to gild a very low ceiling while there is a chop saw and literally two inches of sawdust on the floor directly underneath. Am I going to complain? I thought about it.

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  6. ...btw I meant "expediance wins out over professionalism". I can't even edit my own comments on blogger :p

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  7. Uhm. How did I miss this post? I'm not even going to tell you how many I related to. ;) You gave very good points to think about, Alan. I'll have to share this. I do have to say, though, that my pants are messy...very messy. I just can't seem to use my rag often enough. (head hanging)

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