Tag Archives: Consultants

What Painting Can Teach You About Your Business

My wife and I recently decided to paint our kitchen. We painted it once before, about a year and a half ago when we moved in, but now we’ve got a better idea of what we like, and the time seemed right to change it up a little. So we enlisted the help of another couple friend and got cooking at the end of January.

One thing we noticed when we painted the kitchen the first time around, about half way through the job, was that there was actually still wallpaper under at least two previous coats of paint. And we were adding a third. With the rush of moving in and already being halfway through the job anyway, I elected to move on and worry about getting rid of that old wallpaper later. Now, knowing that we were going to add a fourth layer of paint on top of this wallpaper that had no doubt been there since the mid-80’s, I decided the smart thing to do was to strip the wallpaper before we started painting. Our friends concurred, so we made it happen.

In addition, our kitchen has popcorn texture on the ceilings, which, again, dates it a bit. Our friends told us popcorn was easy to scrape off, and retexturing is a breeze. Even though we have 15 foot vaulted ceilings and lots of angles and hard to reach places in the kitchen, it seemed like the smart thing to do, and our friends, who had done it before, said it was easy, so were were in. Now, before a single drop of paint was going to hit our walls, we were completely stripping down our walls and ceiling, and retexturing all of it.

If you’ve done much painting at all, you know that the painting is not the hard part; it’s the prep work that’s a real whippin’. You can pretty much triple the time it takes to prep when you’re scraping and texturing. Every inch of your kitchen that you don’t want covered in dust and old pieces of wallpaper has got to be covered in plastic. Lining up the blue painter’s tape perfectly along every single edge in the room, and then making sure it adheres to the plastic takes FOREVER.

On top of that, scraping the walls was extremely difficult. The layers of paint understandably made getting through to the wallpaper a challenge. On top of that, the high ceilings and various nooks made scraping the ceilings more of a chore than we figured.

It took us two full weekends for four people just to scrape everything off the wall. Still no paint.

After scraping the walls, scraping the ceiling, texturing the walls and texturing the ceiling, at about 9:30 on the Saturday night of the second weekend, my wife and I got out the rollers and brushes and started to paint our kitchen. We were dead tired and sick of working, but the thought of actually getting paint on the walls was enough to keep us going. The good news is that we still had all the plastic and tape up from texturing, so we didn’t have to worry with any of that.

At about midnight, we were finished. Though dust was absolutely everywhere, our shoulders hurt from reaching all day, and there was still a good deal of cleanup awaiting us for at least the next hour, we were excited to pull the tape from the edges and take a look at the finished product. It would make it all worth it.

As we pulled the tape, I noticed right away that some paint had leaked through onto our trim. Not a big deal; I could quickly touch that up. But the more I pulled, the more I realized this was to be the rule more than the exception. I don’t know if the dampness of the texture had affected the tape, or if we simply hadn’t taped well, but there was leakage everywhere. On our trim, our cabinets, our windows, our countertops.

I don’t know of a time in our young 3 1/2 year marriage that my wife and I have been so bitter. Our feelings of accomplishment were instantly traded for a deeply-rooted hatred for home improvement, work in general and our kitchen. It felt hopeless and absolutely frustrating. It felt like we had wasted a full week, and our kitchen actually looked worse.

That was the first weekend of February. Today (March 16), I finally finished most of the touchups. The last thing in the world I’ve wanted to do for more than a month is work on that stupid kitchen. On top of that, there are still some messy spots, but my painting skills have been maxed out. It will get no better.

So what’s this got to do with running a business?

There are lots of angles to make the truths of this DIY story applicable to your business. I could tell you how important prep work is, and how it’s often overlooked. I could tell you that a project you’re really excited about making happen can sometimes only happen when you address some issues that you don’t want to deal with (like the popcorn ceiling and the wallpaper). I could tell you that it’s the details, the touch-up, that makes what you do really special and different.

But that’s not the point I’m going to make. Here’s the real point we can all learn from:

Hire a professional when you want to get something done right that’s out of your expertise. Yeah, it’s probably fun to figure things out. Yeah, it’s probably really cool to pull it off and discover a new skill you didn’t know you could nurture. But more times than not, that doesn’t happen.

I can’t tell you how much I’d like to go back and hire a professional painter to come in and take care of our kitchen. Originally, we figured we’d be saving money, plus it would be fun learning how to make all of these improvements. Well, it did save money, but only about $300 when it was all said an done. And I did enjoy learning how to texture and patch, and all that. But the end result and most of the experience wasn’t worth it, and my kitchen is suffering for it. It took too much time, as well. Most importantly, neither my wife or I am pleased with what we produced.

Hire a professional to help you when you get outside your area of expertise. Get a web designer, don’t try to learn code. Hire a writer, don’t try to “brush up” on your grammar or AP style. Get someone who’s going to give you something you know you’ll be glad you have. It inevitably is always worth it, one way or the other.


Outside Looking In

The closer you get to something, the harder it is to clearly see it. Likewise, the further you get from something, the harder it is to clearly see it.

Try it with your computer screen to make this simple point come to life. Put your face about an inch from the screen. Is it as easy to read as it is when you’re sitting back at the chair at your desk? Of course not. You lose focus, and the white light actually hurts your eyes. If you do it for too long, you’ll get a headache.

Now, get up, and walk to the opposite side of the room from the screen. Can you read it? Of course not, and the further away you get, the more the page and words mush together into a sea of gray.

When you’re really into a project, be it work, family or whatever, you’re going to get so close to it, so hands-on, that your clarity on the situation is going to be obstructed. Stay there too long and it really affects your performance.

The analogy sparks two reactions for gaining perspective when you’re knee deep into a project:

  1. Take a step back. It’s rare in today’s business world for the strategically gifted to spend most of their time on producing strategies. Most of us, even at the senior level, are expected to produce the strategies AND oversee the execution. This is how you get too close to a situation, and why you must force yourself to take a step back.

    Plan for regular check-ups on your projects that answer these questions: a) What can be done to improve the execution of this project? b) Is the work I’m doing producing the results needed as defined by the original strategy? c) Is the original strategy still relevant, or has something happened that calls for a new strategy? d) If I keep doing what I’m doing, am I going to be pleased with the results?Keep these moments pretty regular and disciplined. Schedule them in Outlook. Write the questions out and fill in the answers. Most importantly, do something with your answers.

  2. Get someone else to step in. Ultimately, being as close as you are to a situation will form certain biases and opinions that you can’t shake regardless of what steps you take. That’s why you need someone to step in and help clarify things with a fresh perspective. These are the consultants and counselors that have expertise in what you’re doing and can give qualified feedback in a relatively short amount of time. These are also mentors and colleagues that you can depend on to shoot straight with you. This is not always friends and family, as they might hold much needed info back because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.

    These folks are the ones at the opposite end of the room who only see gray when they look at your screen. They need you to invite them to come sit down at your desk, take a look, get a little history from you and then be left alone for a little while so they can muster up their take on things. Their fresh take on things.

    The key here is not so much what they give you, but how you receive what they give. You must be convinced that you need a fresh perspective and that it’s very possible, even probable, that you could be doing some things better.