The Story of a Painter
I was about 28-years-old, moving from one task to another, living pay check to pay check. It was hard to find a stable job, let alone something I actually wanted to do. One week, I could be stocking products on my local supermarket shelf, the next I was trucking cross-country, running deliveries in my semi-trailer. I didn’t mind the constant change in pace, but it also meant that I had to be really careful about how I spent my income because stability wasn’t guaranteed.
After I while, it became hard to secure something frequently and I knew I had to find a way to set myself up for a better life. The bills were piling up, as they always did. I couldn’t go on like this forever and that made me worried anxious.
It was one of my last few shifts and I was helping a friend out doing painting jobs, when I first thought about becoming a painter. The work was precise and there were long hours involved, but I really appreciated how quickly a few coats of paint could liven up a room. After we finished up,the owners of the house walked in and their faces lit up at what they perceived to be a new space. The white window sills illustrated a crispness that seemed to bring in fresher air, the skirted, off-white walls opened the room up and the pure white ceiling wrapped it all up, bringing it all together. Painting breathed new life into old spaces and that’s exactly what I needed.
First thing was first, I knew I had to be trained. There was no point in trying to compete against people who had mastered their craft over a 30-year time frame and expect the same result they can offer their client. If I was going to be serious about this, I had to make sure I was trained to give my best performances for the jobs that came my way. There was also the fact that I didn’t know much about different paints, paint finishes, scaffolding—there was a lot to learn.
My friend gave some advice—talk to a careers advisor and get yourself enrolled in a certificate at a tafe. So that’s what I did. It took me a few trips to a careers advisor to decide what course options I had in front of me and which tafe I wanted to go to, but once I decided, I knew I was set. Getting back into the routine of study was difficult—it wasn’t something I’d done since I got my high school certificate after Year 12. I’d never gone on to do further study at university, so I found the whole process a bit restricting. It didn’t really help that there wasn’t really anyone my age. The younger kids were friendly enough, and eager to learn. I was steadfast in my concept though, this was something I had to stick to.
I studied part-time and during that, my friend was able to get me an apprenticeship with his boss, who I’d become acquainted with through the jobs I’d helped out with in the past. It was a tough time and I still worked odd jobs here and there to make ends meet, but I figured that if I put in the hard work now, I’d reap the rewards later.
While I was studying and completing my apprenticeship, I was able to use the tools that were available to me. I wanted my own kit, but I was going to need lots of savings, as the tools for this trade were many and expensive. Those costs piled up but I managed and budgeted where I could.
Finishing my training was relief and I was ready to get started.My apprenticeship wrapped up and my boss decided that he’d like to give me a small job to do on my own. He said that I’d been doing well and had picked up the trade quickly. I made sure to ask a lot of questions and watch other employees to see how they worked, their techniques and methods, so I could get the same result. He knew I wanted to start my own painting business one day and because he had too many jobs backed up, he referred me to a client, so I could get a feel for what it was like to work independently. I was confident I could do it and he assured me that if I needed a hand, he was a phone call away.
My first client’s house was in Camberwell—a beautifully renovated art deco home, with three bedrooms.The client wanted all three bedrooms freshly painted. Each room had a feature wall and was painted various light colours. The client wanted to tone it all back, to feature the rooms in their best light with white and off-white bedrooms to match the rest of the house. There was something different about working on your own. You were the sole decision maker and every choice you make would affect the result.I knew it wouldn’t be easy and I didn’t have all the right materials, which was one of the first issues I face. I decided to rent out what I could and brought the paint. I planned carefully and put allmy theory into practice. The job was over in a week and though I didn’t work as fast as everyone else, the paint job was completed beautifully, and the client was very happy. I had traded under my own business name for the very first time. I felt accomplished. I knew there were things I had to work on and due to my mismanagement of my first client income, I ended up nearly breaking-even. I sat down with my old boss and discussed with him the best next steps. We devised a plan and I wrote a list:
- Start including rental equipment into your price point
- Make up some flyers and try and get your business well-known locally
- Start saving to build your personal equipment collection
- Try and get ten new clients in the next three months
There were lots of challenges, but I kept at it and worked as hard as I could. It took me around five months to get my first ten clients, but I really refined the way I did business, working smarter and faster than before. I still hadn’t given up doing little bits and piece there but the need for the side jobs grew smaller and smaller. I made sure to get reviews and feedback from my clients to see where I could improve. It was important to me to work towards being the best painter I could be.
By the time the year was up, my business was flourishing. When I looked back to a year ago, I realised how far I’d come. I was proud of myself and my hard work was really starting to show. My income was fantastic, and I’d stopped needing to do extra work outside my business. On the last few occasions, I’d even had to call a few friends to get them to come in and help me out. I decided it was time to try and hire my first employee.
The process took a few weeks and I advertised the best I could through word-of-mouth, the local newspaper and the internet. I had a few strange interviews before I finally made my decision. An 18-year-old came in determined that he wanted the job but insisted that he only wanted to work four hours a day, two days a week. He said he didn’t want to overwork himself. Another 22-year-old phoned me to say that he didn’t think it was a hard job and he couldn’t understand why it was important for him to have trained beforehand or be in training now. I decided that my best course of action was to take on an apprentice and give them the best chance at learning. The final interview I had was with a trainee 19-year-old who was still studying. He was keen and willing.
Jobs started rolling in from all over Melbourne and the apprentice was a fast-learner. I was grateful for his help. The jobs got completed faster, which meant I had more time to focus on other jobs totalling a quicker turnover and a higher income. As with everything though, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. One customer refused to the price we agreed on because he ended up believing that all the work we’d completed over the course of week at his home, didn’t warrant the price I’d charged. I explained to him that it’d take him three times as long to finish the job and he’d be out of pocket for all the equipment he’d need to buy. He was pretty stubborn and self-righteous, even though we’d discussed the price and work in advanced, in detail.In the end, he payed up. He was disgruntled about it, but when I asked him to fault our work, he couldn’t, and his wife was very happy with the outcome of her freshly painted house.
At about the two-year mark, six months after the apprentice had graduated and become qualified painter, we were working on an office. This office was newly built and had a stairway that led up to the second-floor with and exposed ceiling. I was painting the wall space in-between both floors on a high ladder. I was finishing off the last few paint strokes when I lost my footing. I fell a storey’s length straight to the ground and knocked myself out. Lucky I was quick and put my hands up to my face to protect my head otherwise my injuries could’ve been a lot worse. I woke up to the sounds of paramedics calling my name and my pale-faced employee staring at me. Paint was splattered all over the place. I was in hospital for a week with a dislocated shoulder, concussion and a collapsed lung because of a broken rib. I had a 3-week recovery time at home, which was stressful because I had to leave the business in the hands of painter who’d just graduated. There were lots of phone calls and pushed back deadlines but I managed to get in a few more employees, who were friends with my painter and had completed the same course. With guidance from me, they managed to put their heads together to solve problems and get the work done. I’d be looking to expand and had talked about bring in some new people to help out with the workload, I just didn’t think that this was the way it was going to happen. It taught me that I’d done the right thing in hiring the people I did. They were trustworthy, upstanding individuals who didn’t let me down. As an employer myself now, I was really proud to have a good team around to support me when I needed it.
Another year later and in hindsight, starting my own painting business was one of the best things I’ve done. It gave me the freedom to work how want, with whom I want, when I want. It still involves long hours on your feet but I’m working for myself and learning new things every day. After three years of hard work, managing and operating my business, I now have grown to have five employees and we work together to service four clients a month.