You’ve probably heard “failure is not an option”. But does failure have a place in growing your painting business? Yes, but only to a point.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Learning from failure
  • Maintaining the right kind of momentum
  • Using risk as an asset for growth without being reckless

For more information about the tools and techniques discussed in this episode, please visit:

Episode Transcript

Below is the transcript for episode 27.

Introduction: Welcome to Grow Your Painting Business, a podcast for commercial, residential, and industrial painters to grow their businesses in their local or regional markets. We’re experts in digital marketing for painters and other trades, and this a show to share our experience with you. Grow Your Painting Business is a free podcast from, the experts in digital marketing for the trades.

Chris Raines: All right, welcome to episode 27 of Grow Your Painting Business. The podcast from, and Michael’s already losing it in laughter. And personally, Michael, I’m offended at your laughter.

Michael Utley: I love recording the podcast.

Chris Raines: But then I’m easily offended so I would have been offended if you weren’t laughing.

Michael Utley: You’ve always been kind of thin-skinned.

Chris Raines: That’s right.

Michael Utley: I think is the phrase, yeah.

Chris Raines: Micheal, we’re going to do a short episode, and this is going to be not about digital marketing. It’s going to be about problems that business owners face when it comes to taking risk and failure.

Michael Utley: Yeah, that’s right.

Chris Raines: What are we talking about?

Michael Utley: So this actually a two part series. We’ve identified two things that we think owners face quite a bit, and there’s a lot of confusing information out there. So I’ll just start off by saying the title of this episode and unpacking what it means. The title is Failure Is Not An Option Is Not An Option.

Chris Raines: That’s a great title right there.

Michael Utley: Yeah, and this came up in a meeting of some business owners and just through our experience working with a lot of painters and roofers and landscapers and other people across the United States. But there’s kind of a moment in the zeitgeist where a lot of small business and medium-sized business is being influenced by the philosophies of Silicon Valley, where really private equity and venture capital tend to swing everyone’s risk-reward dynamics in a very different direction than what’s traditionally existed in the American economy. Through most of history it’s been, if you can figure out a way to do it, make some money at it, or get a few investors, and hang a shingle, you could try out a new business.

Michael Utley: And now there’s really this really widely accepted idea that the way to do something is to make a lot of mistakes and learn from every mistake and get better over time, and if you just kind of believe, eventually it’s going to turn out all right. The problem is, a lot of that thinking has led to, for one thing, the dot com bust of a few years ago, but also a lot of companies that have just sort of struggled, they haven’t really been functioning in a real world scenario. Maybe they’ve been getting some dollars in or taking on some debt for advertising that they shouldn’t have. Or maybe they’ve been a little bit overconfident in building up their equipment and their operations, and they shouldn’t have. And so yeah, so we’re going to talk about that a little bit today, and kind of break it down really into two or three succinct points, and try to set everyone up for success to be essentially protected from this type of thinking of failing our way to greatness.

Chris Raines: Yeah, so failure has two sides, right? The thing that you mentioned was almost failure porn, the Silicon Valley model of, “We’re going to fail so much because failure is good and failing gets us where we want to be.” But then you’re failing on other people’s money if you’ve got investors.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: That’s not good. That’s reckless, and it wastes people’s money.

Michael Utley: And just as an asterisk to that, even if those investors are your own family, trusting you and giving you enough rope to hang yourself. Or family members who are giving you money for your business, even them.

Chris Raines: So there’s that, and that’s bad. And then on the other side, you’ve got people who are so adverse to risk, so adverse to getting anything wrong, or failing in any way, that they wind up not taking action and getting locked up, and never deploying risk, never going into new territory, never taking the risk to buy a new truck.

Michael Utley: That’s right.

Chris Raines: Never trying to move into a different industry, never investing in their website, because they only see the downside to risk.

Michael Utley: Never avoiding going out to job site and trusting a manager to do his job. Another thought, the word momentum applies really in physics to two things, an object in motion tends to stay in motion. But guess what? Momentum also describes objects at rest. An object at rest tends to stay at rest, unless it’s acted upon by an outside force. Those are both correct usages of the word momentum.

Chris Raines: Yeah, so those two categories of risk, one being exorbitantly risky, reckless, one of them being not near risky enough and staying in one place and being complacent. I think if you think about painting businesses, contracting businesses, most of them probably operate one the second one, and I know as a business owner myself, and I’m sure you’ve been there, where you tend to get locked up in inaction because you’re afraid of what might happen, what catastrophic thing might happen, if the worst case scenario plays out based on a decision that you’re thinking about.

Michael Utley: Right. You get over extended, you have too many projects across too much geography, you’ve taken on too much capital expense in too short of a period of time, you have slow payment on the part of some customers. All of those things are things that are sort of marks in the column for not taking those chances. But, on the other side, you’ve got missed opportunity because you didn’t take the job that you totally could have done, and you know you could have done it, and that’s just heartbreaking, or just not putting yourself out there, not sending a signal to the world that you’re open and ready for business. Everybody can smell failure, but you know what everybody else can smell? Hesitancy. Hesitancy, it’s like the movie Dune, fear is the mind killer. Hesitancy is just an absolute killer, and when you’re in that mode of working from a place of fear, you can kind of catch yourself being sort of bounced like a pinball between these two points of inaction or over-action.

Chris Raines: That’s right, and I like to think about fear, so here’s the thing, I don’t think fear goes away. Fear is built into us just as organisms. We’re hard-wired.

Michael Utley: That’s good, yeah.

Chris Raines: And if I walk outside, we’re on Main Street, Nashville, a lot of semi trucks go by really fast on the road, if I walk outside, my brain is wired to protect me from walking out into the street and getting leveled flat by an 18-wheeler. So that’s a good, healthy fear that’s hard-wired. And so that doesn’t go away, that fear will never go away, and so there’s a good point of fear. It’s what kept us from getting eaten by bears, when we were roaming around in the grass. But I think what we need to do, instead of eliminating fear, is we need to deploy fear in the right direction. So this is me preaching to myself, I have a tendency to think of fear only as, if I do this thing, if I take action in this direction, then I’m overcome by the fear that it won’t work out in the way that I want it to. And the thing we need to remember is, there is a tremendous amount of risk to not doing anything.

Michael Utley: Yeah, and that’s really the punchline there of, failure is not an option is not an option. So let’s just recap this to kind of drive it home, and I hope this episode is helpful to people. For me, when I hear things like this from someone whose been in business for a while, or they’ve kind of been in the trenches, of they’ve had a lot of experience that our clients have had, to me it’s helpful. I hope this is helpful to people, but what we’re saying, I think that this sort of editorial perspective we’re taking is, neither extreme is acceptable. There’s kind of a weird trend in the zeitgeist of saying, “Oh, no, no, no. You know, failure’s not really failure, it’s an opportunity.” And my old boss, Craig Hanson, used to say that was kind of, like, Amway thinking, like there was this optimism in sales people selling for Amway out of something like his parent’s renter or something.

Michael Utley: But it was people who couldn’t say anything was bad. Instead, they would say, “Oh, this is an opportunity.” So there’s a problem of being sort of Pollyanna if you say, “Failure’s not a failure, failure’s just an opportunity.” No, you were trying to achieve something, you didn’t make it, so you need to own that and let that be. But, on the other end of the spectrum, if we look and see the people who have successful, thriving businesses, do we think they’ve avoided mistakes, do we think they have a perfect record of not having had some shortfalls? No, they were the ones who kept going, unashamedly said, “Oh yeah, sorry. We’ll get back out there. We’ll make it right. Thank you for letting us know, I’m really sorry you had a concern.” But they’re not the people who, like the way a lot of people would criticize our space program today, created a scenario in which failure was not acceptable.

Michael Utley: So yeah, so I referenced kind of the Apollo mission, failure’s not an option is not an option, we’re working in a situation where building a business in today’s climate means that you can neither accept the idea of, failure is okay, and it’s just part of the norm and don’t worry about it, and you can also not accept an extreme where you say, “We cannot make a mistake,” because somebody else who’s a little bit more rough and tumble is going to be out there moving ahead, getting ahead of you, and taking that business. And so failure’s not an option is not an option, and always failing is not an option. And that’s one that kind of solves itself.

Chris Raines: You’re playing the middle a little bit, and what I’ll say is, if you’re going to tend to one extreme, tend towards the action extreme, because you can steer a ship that’s moving , but if a ship that’s standing still, you can spin the wheel all you want and you’re not going to be able to control it. Back to what you said about anyone who’s successful, whose built something that’s lasted, who is wealthy, you name it, they’ve all used risk as an asset to deploy.

Michael Utley: And typically would even kind of spit in the face of fear, those are the people a little bit over the top, but the really good ones are the ones who do that, but also learn as they go from their mistakes. They just don’t cry about it as much, they don’t sit in the dark and wring their hands as much.

Chris Raines: And they knew when to pull out, and we’ll end with this one, but I’ll come at it from a digital advertising perspective. What we do a lot with my company in digital advertising is there’s so much testing involved, because you don’t know what’s going to work when you go out there. For search marketing, with keywords, with Facebook it’s images, ads, text, you’re just kind of going out there, and you’re making your best guess. And what you do is, you’re not afraid of an ad failing or getting bad comments or whatever, you’re not afraid of a landing page not working. What you want is you want to find that failure as soon as possible. And soon as you’ve spent enough money on that, to know that it doesn’t work, you cut it off and you move that to the next ad that does the best. And then you take that ad and you try to make it better. So you want to see, whenever I launch a campaign, I’m looking for the shit … Wait, is this, a PG podcast?

Michael Utley: Yeah, we’re PG. That was your one for the year.

Chris Raines: That was my one for the year.

Michael Utley: We’ll keep it.

Chris Raines: I’m looking, I’m keeping an eye out for the crappiest ad, the crappiest image possible, so that I can go, “Okay, this is not what the audience wants. This is not what my market wants.” I cut it off, and then I’d go the opposite direction.

Michael Utley: Right before I walked in the studio, Jeana and I sat down and mapped out a campaign and we said, “Does this landing page have a video or not?” If the page has a video, it’s going to be raw, it’s going to be bullet points, one, two, three. We kind of determined what the video would be and we said, “Wow, that’s either really good or it’s really bad. And we don’t know the answer, but guess what? We don’t need to know. We’re going to send 50% of the traffic to option A, and 50% of the traffic to option B, and we’re going to let the market tell us what’s better. And we’re going to know within two weeks, because we’re going to have 200 to 400 visits to that page within two weeks, and we’re going to have enough data to know which is better.” And so I think that’s the middle path, that’s what we’re saying. But, if you have to lean to one side, in reality, in business, you have to have a bias for action. And that’s what it’s all about.

Chris Raines: Yep.

Michael Utley: Excellent. Yeah, thanks everybody. This is kind of a unique episode. We have these conversations, we spend a lot of time on the phone every month with owners of commercial painting businesses, big, multi-million dollar, multi-state operations, and when we ask them, “Hey, tell us a story. What have you have had happen this month?”

Chris Raines: Can I guess what they don’t say? “Well, we just kind of played it safe and optimized for safety and just kind of tried to shore up.”

Michael Utley: Never heard him say it. Never heard him say. Any time the question was, should I buy the truck or not? It typically answers, buy the truck.

Chris Raines: You can always sell a truck later.

Michael Utley: Yeah, you can sell a truck. You’re not going to get everything out of it, but you can sell the truck. All right, excellent. 

Outro: The Grow Your Painting Business podcast is a free service of Visit us today for more information on how you can grow your business using the latest tools in digital marketing.