My 5 Biggest Mistakes, and the Lessons I Learned from Them to Improve My Business

In this article, PPC contributing writer Terry Begue talks about the biggest mistakes he made when he started his Ohio-based residential painting company, and what he did to correct them and turn his business around.

From train wreck to business success

I started my painting business 45 years ago. I was just out of high school and, to put it mildly, I was a train wreck! I knew little about painting and even less about operating a painting business. For nine long years, the only jobs I won were the ones I was the lowest bidder.

Fast forward to today. My painting business is successful beyond my dreams. I charge a premium price and all my business comes from referrals and repeat customers who understand that a quality job costs more.

So, how did I turn it around?

Here are some of the mistakes I made – but more importantly, the changes I made in my business that changed everything for the better! Maybe they will help you too.

Mistake #1: Not seeing the importance of my personal brand

During those early years my image was less than professional. I would return calls whenever I felt like it, was late for appointments and didn’t care what my customers thought. Without saying a word my brand screamed LOSER! It took years to realized that I was the problem, and that happy customers are the key to success.

I began paying attention to how successful business owners act and present themselves. Then I started working on who I needed to become going forward. The keywords here are “going forward.” It’s never too late. Your reputation is in the past, but your brand is who you are now and in the future.

Take a proactive approach to creating your brand so you control the narrative. It should align with your core values and be the standard by which all decisions are made. People will always prefer to work with people before businesses, so be sure they see your best you.

Mistake #2: Not believing in myself or that my service was anything special

I used to think price was the only determining factor when choosing a painting company, and that people would only hire me if my price was the lowest. I didn’t believe in myself, I spent most days hoping for the best and just reacting to my business’s ups and downs. Instead, I should have developed a business mindset, and created what I wanted my business to look like.

A business mindset means you’re confident that your service is worth two to three times what you charge! That belief is supported by using the best products, hiring the best people, and standing behind your work unlike no one else. If you don’t truly believe you’re the best, why should your customers?

Sometimes you need to take a hard look at your business to discover what’s keeping you from excellence. If you can’t see what’s holding you back, talk to someone you trust or reach out to other people who own successful businesses. A business mindset is an all-in commitment to providing a customer experience that’s second to none!

Mistake #3: Not grasping the significance of networking

I knew at a young age that I could never work for anyone. To me, independence was more important than money and I didn’t see the importance of networking. I thought I could do it all on my own – big mistake! Not learning from others cost me the most in terms of time and money.

My wakeup call came the day my wife said three little words to me… “Terry, I’m pregnant.” That’s when I realized I had to change. I swallowed my pride and started talking to other business owners. I joined NARI, PDCA (now PCA) and my local chamber of commerce. I even set up a small booth at two home and garden shows. By the time my son was born, I had hired four people and quadrupled my income!

What can you learn from this? Don’t try to make it on your own. People will help you, sometimes even your competition. Keep in mind, I made these changes pre-internet. Today, there is help everywhere; social media, chat rooms, online workshops, coaching, you can even “Ask Sherwin Williams.”

When I say networking, I’m not talking about just passing out business cards. Think about who you would like to trade places with, who is where you want to be and reach out to them. I still do, and I have never had anyone tell me to buzz off. Just the opposite, most people are flattered that you asked them to share some of what they know.

Networking is face to face marketing, and that requires that you get out of your comfort zone, but the rewards are worth the effort. The connections you make today are the seeds of your future success. Just remember, nothing happens until you take the first step.

Mistake #4: I hated selling my services

Growing up, I had a friend who was a car salesman. He would often boast about how he’d lie and trick his customers into buying at a high price. Many times, selling cars for more than the dealership wanted and collecting huge commissions. I remember thinking, “How could anyone make a living by cheating others?”

Without realizing it, I held on to the idea that selling is dishonest. To compensate, I undervalued my services and priced jobs too low. This caused me to rush through each job, adding unnecessary stress to myself, my crew and my customers.

Fixing this mistake was relatively easy. Since the problem was created in my head, the remedy was there too. I changed the way I looked at selling. Instead of thinking it was dishonest or manipulative, I started looking at it for what it really is: helping people.

Don’t over-think it! Selling is simply listening to your customers and confidently offering a solution. Then engaging that business mindset by truly believing and communicating the value your service provides is much greater than your fee.

Mistake #5: I didn’t appreciate the power of trust

I can’t express the importance of trust enough – it’s at the core of every business’s success or failure. It’s buyer confidence and is every business’s hardest sell, but the benefits are priceless. When you’re trusted, business is easy. Clients don’t question your price. They’ll wait as long as it takes for you to get to them, and they’ll refer you to friends.

People will do everything possible to reduce their risk when making a buying decision. Do your actions answer the one big question that’s in every customer’s mind? “Is this person really going to do what they say?”

Customers expect respect, and are always looking for little clues that speak to your character. What am I talking about?

  • Returning calls promptly
  • Being on time
  • Keeping promises (even the little ones)
  • Communicating clearly so people don’t have to guess your intentions

Operating a successful service business is not hard if you commit to being the best you can be. Make listening to customers and helping them get what they need a priority. If you consistently deliver on that goal, you’ll already be ahead of most of the competition.

This article was published in the Summer 2023 issue of PPC magazine. ©2023 Randall Reilly. Story by Terry Begue, owner of Begue Painting Inc and a frequent contributor to PPC magazine. He is the author of Crushed It: How I Made $7.5 Million As A House Painter & How You Can Too! You can read more of Terry’s articles in the PPC magazine archive.