My Painting Business: Employees

In previous blog posts, I talked about the start of my painting business: my advertising, my biding on jobs, and buying ladders and a truck. Today I will talk about hiring help (employees). When I started out, in 1981, I just hired one guy—a friend. I suppose I could have done the work myself, since I didn’t have a great deal of it; but I went on faith that more work would come in and I wanted to be ready when it did.

As it turned out, each year brought in a little more work; and so, more employees were needed. According to my records, my best year was in 1987. And so, as I remember, I had the most employees then, about 6 or 7. Those were the days. It was fun having that many workers, but also hard keeping track of everything.

I’ve always done my own payroll and taxes, and I also have been the only one to train the workers and supervise them. I guess I never have been too much of a business man, or else I would have known more about how to grow my business. My main focus has always been on doing a good job at painting and making sure my workers had the same focus. For some reason, I could never just supervise; I had to always be working myself. And that made it extra hard, because I always had one eye on the work I was doing, and the other eye on watching a new worker—making sure he was doing what I wanted him to do.

After 1987, the workload, and also the employees, gradually decreased. But surprisingly, my income did not decrease. I learned how to make money having fewer employees. I learned that paying a few good employees more money was more cost efficient that paying many so so employees less. I also learned that I could get just as many jobs if I charged more. People were willing to pay more if I could convince them that I would be doing a good job. Since 1997 I haven’t had any employees. Wow! That’s 23 years without employees. And I’ve been doing fine. I don’t make quite as much money now, but its been easier.

One of the things that was always hard from year to year when I had employees, was having to lay off most (or all) of them in the fall, because of a lack of work, and then have to re-hire new employees in the spring. I really didn’t mind the hiring process, but I hated the fact that all, or most of the guys that I had to lay off were forced to get other steady work. So, all the training I did was just for one year, and then I had to start all over again the next year.

But there were two guys that did come back from year to year: Kevin and Dave. I hired both of them in 1985, and they lasted until 1991. They were by far the best workers I had—which says a lot about the wisdom of sticking with good workers, even if you have to continue to give them raises. I would rather pay a lot for good help then to hire a lot of cheap help.

Next time I will talk about all the great customers I have gained over the years.

Starting A House Painting Business

After I resigned from Seminary, and put my ministry goals on hold, I determined to look to the future. I immediately thought of starting a painting business, because I had been doing that already and it seem like a logical step. My brother Jim happened to be thinking along the same lines, so we decided to do it together. But after the first few jobs, it was apparent that we weren’t thinking the same way. I wanted to have a legitimate business (which included paying taxes) and he did not. So, we went our separate ways.

One of the first things I did was to go and talk to a man (I think it was in the Minneapolis Federal building) about how to start a business. It didn’t take long. He asked me what kind of a business I wanted and he set me up. The name of my company would be Nielsen Painters. I felt good about it. I had a business name, a business tax number, and I was good to go. All I needed now was some jobs and maybe some help.

The year was 1981. I was off. I put an add in the Newspaper and also did my best at making fliers to distribute. The first few fliers didn’t look all that great, but they got better. Sometimes I walked around a neighborhood myself and put the flier just inside the screen door or under the mat. Sometimes I would pay to have about 5,000 of them distributed as an insert in a local newspaper. And sometimes I had my nieces and nephews (my sister’s kids) help me pass them out. That was great fun for them, and I paid each of them one stick of Juicy Fruit gum for the day. They thought it was a good deal! And you know what? After forty years they still remember that day and laugh about it.

Surprisingly, the adds and the fliers worked. People started calling me and I went to give them a bid. I did paint estimates (bids) before, but I had never been trained at it. Some guys go around measuring everything and use certain calculations. But I was never comfortable with that method. The way I saw it, it was easier to just walk around and try to guess how long it would take me to prep and paint each section of the house, then add all those numbers together and multiply that number times what I wanted to make per hour—which at first was about $15 per hour. Almost always I gave them a firm bid, which most people wanted; but sometimes, if the job was harder to estimate, I tried to get them to agree on doing the job by the hour.

Usually people got more that one bid, so I didn’t expect to get every job I bid on. Normally, I got about a third of them. But I have learned some tricks along the way, like taking time to talk to the client. People like that. They want to know who is going to paint their house. And if I give them a good impression—even charm them a bit—that always helps.

Right away, after I landed a few jobs, I knew I needed some help. I asked a friend from college and he was more than willing to help me; and he was a pretty good worker too. The first house we painted I had to rent ladders, but I knew that couldn’t continue.  I decided right then to use all the money I made on that first job to buy two 32 ft. ladders, two 20 footers, a 16 ft. plank and two ladder jacks. We were all set!

Not long after that I bought and little blue Mazda pickup truck. Those were the days. Whatever I needed for the business I found a way to do it.  The first few years were kind of scarce, but each year was better. I had no big dreams; I was just doing my best to live by faith. And He was moving me, each day, one step at a time. I didn’t know what exactly He was calling me to do—with a painting business, but I knew that if I stayed obedient to Him, He would show me.   

Western Seminary: Trusting God, Painting and Classes

This is this Mount Saint Helen erupting, on May 18, 1980.

After I graduated from Northwestern, I very quickly started thinking about Seminary. It was my plan all along to go into some kind of Christian ministry, maybe even a pastor of a church. One Sunday, after the church service, I approached the pastor and asked him what Seminary he would recommend. He said that Bethel (in Saint Paul) was good, but that Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon was the best. So, without question, I went with his suggestion. And before long, I was all signed up to go to Western—Western Conservative Baptist Seminary.

Seminary didn’t start until the fall, so I had the summer off—except for work. For the last three summers I had been working for a company called Super Painters, painting houses. It was kind of fun, but also a lot of work. They had quite a large operation, maybe about 20 employees. Usually there was 3 or 4 crews working on different projects. But sometimes, when a job had to be done quickly, they would put everyone together. Those were the most fun. Can you imagine 20 painters at work, with ladders and plank all around the house, and paint brushes flying? Oh, it was great. A little chaotic but great. I am so thankful for my start with them. Not only did I learn how to paint, I also was given confidence to later start up my own painting company. I’ll talk more about that later.

A car driving in white ash from Saint Helen’s eruption.

When the time came to start Seminary, I took a leap of faith with my car, and also with my financial situation. My car was quite old and had some issues, but I thought it could make it—driving from Minnesota to Portland, Oregon. And it did, without any problems. Thank God. One thing I will always remember on the trip was that from South Dakota, all the way there, it looked like it had snowed. But it was white ashes from the eruption of Mount St. Helen that had blew its top the day before. So bizarre.

My financial situation was simple. I had no money, but I was trusting God to provide. So, when I approached the clerk at Western, I explained that I was planning on paying my way a little at a time by the painting jobs that I would get. That was my plan. And it worked. Thank God. Each day at Seminary, between classes and in the evening, I walked around the neighborhood and asked people to let me paint a room or two. And I got work, enough work to pay my tuition and all my bills while at Seminary!

Surprisingly, my Seminary classes weren’t any harder than my college classes at Northwestern. They were really just more of the same, classes like Hermeneutics, Bible Survey and Greek. The only thing that was different was a couple classes that were more geared toward being a Baptist—like the class called Baptist History and Principles. I got a D in that class! All the other class I did pretty good—A’s and B’s. Oh, except Greek. I also got D’s in those classes.

My Work: House Painting

This is my work truck. I had a small painting job at this location.

My work. It’s been a while since I had work. But I’m retired. I started a house painting business in 1981. At the beginning it was just me and one employee—a good friend. We had no contacts so I had to advertise. I put adds in the local newspaper, and I also made small, half-sheet fliers to distribute. Sometimes I distributed them by hand, door-to-door, with help from nieces and nephews. Other times I paid to have them delivered as an insert. That kept us busy, just busy enough.

The summers were good, but the winters were spars. After the first couple years I hired more help. That was fun during the summer time, but during the winter months I had to lay them off. There was just not enough work. So in the spring time I usually had to rehire and retrain people—because the ones I had before, had gotten other jobs. But then there were a couple guys who kept coming back—the faithful.

Well, I don’t want to bore you by giving you a year by year run down. But there were some interesting stories to tell. Working with a crew of guys is always fun—but sometimes aggravating for me, the boss. I remember, one of my guys would always call me Boss, or Boss man. I hated that! Because I didn’t think he was genuine. Yea, I had some characters—all different. Those were the days.

I retired when I was 63, seven years ago. But I didn’t totally stop working. At first, I cut about a third out of my hours. Today my hours are cut about in half. I have never had so much work that I was able to save a lot. So I figured that with my Social Security payment I still need to work some.

But you know, I really think it’s for the best. I like working a little. At 69 I don’t feel much like working full bore, but I think its good for me to work a little. And I like seeing faithful clients. I have some clients that I have done work for, for over 30 years. For some of them, I have painted their entire house 4 or 5 times, or more. Some of them call me for work almost every year. And I try to call all of my clients once a year, just to keep in touch—but of course I will ask them if they need any painting. Out of about 30 calls I get roughly one job out of it.

 I’m waiting for someone to call me right now. I am ready for a job. A small job. This retirement at times sucks! All I do is sit around writing, blogging, reading, and doing my chores. Other things too, and it’s getting very routine. I need a job. I’m getting too lazy.

I’m afraid retirement for me will never be typical—like rich folks. You know, traveling and golfing and going on cruises. I will have to keep working as much as necessary to have enough in savings for when I get too old to work. I have to keep a tight budget. And it will always be, for me, a life of trusting God. That sounds good to me. He will provide and keep me joyful.

My Retirement: Life Is Slower These Days

This is the trail I walked on just after I wrote this post.

My retirement. Let’s see. Where to start. Life is a little slower these days. Everything is in small increments. I plan it that way. I am 69 years old. I have been officially retired since I turned 63. Or was it 64? Actually, I’m only semi-retired. I still work a little. I have had a residential painting business since 1981, and I occasionally get calls from faithful clients. I am proud to say that most of them still like me and know I will do a good job for them—so if it’s a small job, I don’t mind doing it. I can always use the money.

It’s Saturday morning and I’m at Perkins, trying to decide if I should get pie. I may not be able to resist—even though I had a great breakfast. Yes, pie would be good. Pie and coffee. Ah, life is good. God is good!

Now that I’m on the subject, I will share my breakfast schedule. I don’t know why, but much of my doings is scheduled these days: my eating, my time, my jobs, my duties—everything. I like to think ahead and know what I’m doing. I guess it makes me feel more secure and in control. But I know that as a Christian I must also leave room for the Holy Spirit to lead me. So I will not be too set to my to do list.

 So my breakfast schedule is this: Saturday is Perkins, Sunday is coffee and doughnuts at church, Monday I will eat at Panera—Coffee and steel cut oatmeal, Tuesday at McDonalds (cheaper), Wednesday I will eat oatmeal with fresh pineapple at home (I make it), Thursday and Friday are a little more flexible, but I usually go back to Panera again. And when I go out to eat, I always stop at my favorite gas station to buy a newspaper, and I usually bring a book too. I do most of my reading when I eat.

I don’t think I mentioned that I am single—divorced. But I’m happy to be single. It gives me more freedom to do what I want to do. I don’t think I’m a selfish person. I like people. But I also enjoy living by myself.  I regard it as a gift of God; and I think He has called me to it.

I was reading this morning from Psalm 139:5, how God has enclosed me behind and before, and He has His hand on me. He not only keeps me safe; He keeps me feeling secure, and I know that He is always near me. He takes me gently through the different phases of life. He knows what I need, and even gives me things (services) that He wants me to do. He keeps me busy doing His work.

Mainly, I think that the service He has given me is writing. For the last 30 years I have been writing as a self-publisher. I also do blogs. I have two other blogs going besides this one. So writing keeps me very busy, and I am glad to be doing it. I don’t make much money on it, but I’m still glad to do it. It’s the Lord’s work and I know that the benefit people will get from it will be my heavenly reward. It is now filling up my heavenly treasure chest. Well, I think this post is finished, and I didn’t even have pie. But I feel fine—very content.