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.