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From Residential Painting to Commercial Painting: How to Find Customers (Part 2)

So you have a great residential painting business but want to expand into the commercial market for all the reasons we discussed in Commercial Painting-Expanding Into New Markets.

So how do contractors make a foray into the commercial painting world? What are the steps to doing this? How do I attract customers? Develop a presence?

My name is Scott Lollar and I’m a DYB Coach and I want to give you some ideas on how you might take your first steps into the commercial painting market and beyond.

First of all, I would document exactly what kind of projects you think you would be a good starting point and how much you would revenue you like to add in the next year. In order to know what your work mix is today and tracking it into the future, you will need to make sure you have sufficient classes in Quick Books. So a little sidebar here.  

I would encourage you to track as many classes in Quick Books as make sense for you. So at a minimum, I would track Residential and Commercial separately. I also would track Interior and exterior separately. This will help you clearly see where your revenue is coming from. If you run a really clean QB file, you also can look and profit and loss by class but this can also be done in a job profitability report as well.

So as you look to budget revenue for the year, you can add an amount that you want to add in the commercial class. So your goal might be to grow from $750,000-$1,200,000 but to add $300,000 of that growth in the commercial market. You can track your success here by separating the two classes on your P&L.

Now, why is it important to write down these goals? Well first of all because written goals are more powerful than non-written which is another topic. But my real reason is the Law of Attraction. The Law of Attraction is the ability to attract into our lives whatever we are focusing on. What have you been focusing on until now? Residential repaints.

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What have you been telling people is a good fit for you? Residential Repaints. Is there anyone out there that knows you can or want to paint offices? Mezzanines? Lobbies? Warehouses? Parking lot poles? Building exteriors? No. So you need to attract these people into your circle and create leads where before there were none.

As you focus on this new sector, you will encounter people that can either use these new services or can introduce you to people that can use them. It is a whole additional set of people that need to be activated to be your ambassadors for commercial painting work. By adding the amount you want to add will help you track how you are doing towards it.

Now if you notice, I chose my words carefully. I said commercial “re-paints”. This is because the most logical first step is to begin painting areas that are similar to what you do today. I think it would make little sense and very likely be a disaster if you jumped into spraying 50,000 square feet of corrugated metal decking on a lift 30 feet up in the air.

That is so totally opposite of what your team does and most likely has any experience doing. But how about painting an employee cafeteria or a bunch of offices or a mile of hallways? You do that everyday. It is just called something different. A bedroom. A living room. A stairwell. Same substrate. Same process. Different location. Start here.

So how do you go about finding commercial painting leads?

The first thing I would do is modify your website to reflect the two distinct sectors you are now serving. I like the option of two links on your landing page. One Residential and one Commercial. Then the prospect can enter whichever division is the best fit for them.

Why? I think the message to these two classes of customers are entirely different and by creating two paths gives you in effect two websites in one. The other reason is I am not attracted to an all in one company and website. I see many websites that convey to me that you will do anything that I am willing to pay for. Interior. Exterior. Industrial. Wash Windows. Carpentry. Install Christmas Lights. Babysit your kids. What do you really do and do well?

If you do everything, I assume you don’t do anything well. So be clear about your profit centers and eliminate the other options. The commercial side of your website should have the same framework as your residential side. Some visual proof with pictures and video showing that you have done work in this sector. Some of your capabilities.

Show off anything you have done that is unique. Challenging. Has a wow factor. Show them pictures of commercial projects you have done. Tell them a little about what you might do to serve them and that’s it. These prospects are not going to go deep into your site so give them what they need to show them you are the right choice. And then a link to send you some information and maybe a RFP.

This is not the appropriate place for an appointment link. Wrong customer. But make it easy for them to send you a short message and the best time to call. Short and sweet.

Next, you will need to expand your circle of leads. A universal truth is people do business with people they like. So you have to go meet them. Connect with them. Talk to them. You will need to develop trust before you ever get your first opportunity.

So where do you do this? A couple of options.

I think a chamber of commerce is a great place to start. Some are better than others. If you live in a metro area, find one that has a robust membership list that includes people that have buildings and property managers and less insurance agents and lawyers.

BOMA-Building Owners and Managers Association. This is a great place to network with property managers but the challenge is getting in. BOMA typically limits members in each trade to three so you may or may not be able to get into your area chapter. But you may be able to exhibit in their trade show. We have before and once we were in we always were invited back. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

IFMA-International Facility Management Becoming an associate member in this organization can expose you to people that use your services. Chapters have monthly meetings and there are opportunities for sponsorships as well.

If you want to get into larger scale townhouse properties including condos, CAI-Community Associations is where you need to be. Chapters have a trade show that will expose you to many property managers. They also have lots of ways to plug in and serve as well as sponsorship activities.

Linked In is a good way to promote your business far and wide and can also get you exposure to people that you might want to do business with. A consistent approach to posting content as well as building your connections will be crucial. Don’t expect to get any lead flow with a casual or short-term approach.

I also believe you should use your current customer list to ask for referrals to building owners and property managers. Past clients are raving fans and you should tell them how you are expanding and what kind of people you would love introductions to. Send them an e-mail through your marketing channel. Everyone knows someone and you will never know if you don’t ask.

Now if we are going to focus on re-paints and stay away from GC’s (more on GC’s later) who are my customers? They are property managers. Every business you pass has someone committed to maintaining their building. It could be a dedicated facilities person. It could be the property manager. It could be a purchasing agent. Everything needs to be painted and even things that come prefinished eventually will need to be repainted. This is your customer base and you will never run out of these people to call. How do you find them? Law of attraction is first. Then google them. Find out who they are in your area and find out if you have any common contacts. Linked In can help you with that and that is why you should be connecting with people there. So then what? You call them and see if they have 15 minutes to help you. Who wouldn’t help others!  When you get a yes, here is you script you can use:

  • My name is Scott and I am a successful residential painting contractor and want to use my experience in the residential re-paint market and bring that same expertise into the commercial market but wanted to know a little more about what you do and what your needs are if any. My goal is simply to understand what you do day to day so I can make sure it is an industry that I can add value to. Is that fair?
  • What kind of things do you do day to day?
  • What kinds of contractors do you utilize in your portfolio of buildings?
  • What are the characteristics of the different contractors you utilize that make your job easier?
  • What are some of the things that you encounter that drive you crazy?
  • What painting company do you use most frequently?
  • What do they do that you most enjoy?
  • If there is one thing they could do better, what would that be?
  • I promised this would only take 15 minutes and I see that it is gone so I want to honor my promise and Thank You for helping me with your insights.
  • I am glad that you have a trusted partner in ABC Painting and as promised, I am not going to ask you to consider switching. We think loyalty is a great quality.
  • If there is ever a time when ABC can’t quite get to something or if there is any way I can serve you in the future, would you consider giving me an opportunity to work with you even if it is a very small project?

That’s it. Then follow up with a handwritten note and a connection on Linked In. Then add them to your e-mail list and hit them once every 6 weeks or so just to stay top of mind. You will walk out of some of those meetings with an opportunity that day. And you also learn what to do in order to be the favorite painter when you do get an opportunity.

Now for some of you, this will be very uncomfortable. You can do it and if you are nervous about it, I know you will be great at it because your discomfort means you are an introvert and not pushy and that is what we are striving for here.

In addition, set a goal of how many of these you will do each week. 1 should be a minimum. Set a goal and don’t let the weekend without hitting your number. And push for a face to face even if it is in their office. Don’t make them travel for coffee unless you can schedule it during a site walk at one of their properties which they do as part of their routine.

I want to conclude with a word about construction project services like The Blue Book and General Contractors in general. I would never declare that you won’t get work from these types of services. I will tell you the ROI for your time will be very low. It fact I promise if you take the same time and network or even make dials to potential clients, your time would be better used.

Most of these services are farming all sorts of data bases to “provide” you with opportunities. I think most construction companies that are doing work where they are located have a trades list that they work with consistently and will continue using. Your bid is just a spot check to make sure the number they already have and will use is honest.

In other words you are providing a free bidding service and will never be awarded a job. It you are bidding to a GC that is bidding to an owner, your odds are worse. You are one of 3-5 painting contractors bidding to 5 construction companies. Your odds of being awarded this work are not very good unless you are the low bid which is even worse! You are the low bid!

As far as GC’s go, they are not all terrible. If you know one locally that you think are reputable and would like to work with, give them a call. Go have coffee with someone inside and find out their culture and process and ask to be put on the bidders list. I would advise starting with something on the smaller side where you can manage the risk.

Working with GC’s will require additional capital as you wait for payments and will also require more management of timelines and people. But it can be done. There are A and B level GC’s out there and over time you can develop an A list of General Contractors that are excellent customers. When you set up your meeting, go through the same scrip as you used with the property managers.

So to recap, I believe there are many reasons to add commercial work to your company which I addressed in my previous video and I hope what I have shared here gives you some sort of direction how you might go about getting more opportunities. And if I can serve you in anyway, don’t hesitate emailing me at or better yet, lets connect for a strategy call. I would love to hear your story and help in any way I can.

About the Author

Scott is a 30+ year veteran of the Painting Industry - having run his own company for 20 of those years. For 10 years, he has been working with others to scale their companies achieving rapid growth and operational efficiency. His knowledge in all aspects of running a business, including running a multi-million dollar company, allows Scott to identify and guide business owners to overcome in areas of current weakness or deficiency. Scott specializes in companies trying to break the $1,000,000 barrier and beyond.