In this episode, Michael and Chris break down four crucial factors of running a successful residential or commercial painting business, specifically aimed at building trust between customers, workers, and vendors.

In this episode, we cover:

The importance of setting expectations and getting details in writing when hiring.
How and why to define roles within an organization.
What traits make for the best hires?
The interplay between attitude and aptitude in determining one’s role.
The importance of only working with vendors with a firm accountability structure (i.e. written contract or set of deliverables).
Avoiding qualitative language with vendors and others.
What does it mean for a commercial, industrial, or residential painting business to simultaneously “be steel” and “be cotton?”
How to set a good example for employees and build trust with vendors and customers.

For more information on the tools and resources mentioned in this episode, please visit:


Chris Raines: 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 marking for painters and other trades and this is 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: Okay, welcome to Grow Your Painting Business, the podcast from This is episode 20, right? Wow, episode 20 can’t believe-

Michael Utley: Episode 20.

Chris Raines: A milestone.

Michael Utley: Mmm hmm (affirmative)

Chris Raines: My name is Chris Raines, I’m joined by Michael Utley who you just heard.

Michael Utley: Hello.

Chris Raines: How’s it going?

Michael Utley: Good. Hey Chris.

Chris Raines: So today we’re going to episodes a little bit different and its about managing and getting more out of your employees and your vendors. So Michael tell me, why did we pick this as an episode? It’s a little bit outside of digital marketing obviously.

Michael Utley: Yeah, yeah, I think … I don’t know. Things are little crazy these days. There’s all sorts of different work arrangements. A lot of our clients have just an ongoing pattern of always trying to figure out how to manage people better and a lot of entrepreneurs, a lot of people who are building and growing businesses are very entrepreneurial and they have to think about all aspects of the business. And this is just something that between me and you and other entrepreneurs, you know, David Chisholm or Bob Alessio, any of the guys that are sort of a part of our network of friends, these are some of the things that we talk about. If we’re in town with a vendor and getting together and maybe having a beverage, this is kind of some of the stuff what we start to end up talking about. People consistently just need structure for how to think about managing people.

Chris Raines: Yeah.

Michael Utley: Yeah so I thought we’d make it an episode.

Chris Raines: Yeah, great. So how do you want to kick it off here?

Michael Utley: Yeah, I think this is a little bit different. I think I’ll just sort of run through my ideas and sort of my accumulated thinking about how to be a good leader. So this is a little bit different. I would say these are the things that would make up the philosophy of how I’m trying to run my business, GoEpps which is the parent company and the creator of SearchPrimer and the SearchPrimer podcast. But yeah, I don’t know I just kind of informally talk through these.

Chris Raines: Okay, great. So we got them listed here. Number one: set expectations and be clear and in writing what you expect … what you’re expecting when you hire.

Michael Utley: Yeah, so one of the best things that ever happened to me was I had a company that inquired about purchasing GoEpps. It was another digital marketing agency and they were the type that liked to acquire other companies as sort of one of their methods of growing their base of clients and it wasn’t something that I wanted to pursue but it was a really good conversation and I’m glad that we had the conversation and one of the things I found that they sort of gave to me through that process is if they had acquired me I would have come in as I think a VP of something and they created a contract for a potential employee and it was a really good contract and I’ve sort of modified it and used this over the last few years for myself but essentially it’s a process for determining every aspect in writing of a position before someone is hired.

Michael Utley: Sometimes we get in a hurry and it’s like “We just need somebody in here to work on this stuff. Just get them in here and we’ll figure it out.” But it’s really good to go through and define all these things. So I’ll just sort of read off the categories of information. Number one is you’ve got to know what department are they in. Who do they report to? Literally what section of the company are they going in. It seems pretty obvious but-

Chris Raines: And if it’s a small company it might be multiple hats, multiple departments but you need to know what their role is.

Michael Utley: That’s right and sometimes, and I’ve had this happen before, someone gets into a position because it’s the opening but they really are kind of more interested in a different activity and they sort of migrate and they always seem busy and their always doing good work but it’s easy to forget wow ‘Wow that’s not why we hired you. That thing that you’re really passionate about and doing a really good job at may not be the strategic need that we had.” So defining what the department is that their in and what they report to, that’s … it sounds very obvious but it’s actually quite important to have in writing.

Michael Utley: The next is just overview of the responsibilities, and then another thing is what type of attitude this person needs to have. There’s sort of a list of proactive, positive attitude, friendly to everybody and that’s good but you need to go one step further than that with more detail. If the job requires for example managing outside vendors or managing a job site, that person, it may not be that you want to identify them as friendliness being the number one characteristic. So determining the attitude that’s going to be necessary in the role is really important.

Michael Utley: Another is what level of experience do they need to have. Some positions are going to need one to two years of experience because you want somebody who’s come in who’s kind of a blank slate and maybe is lower in their career and more affordable. Others are going to require maybe ten years of experience to come in and manage large commercial and industrial painting projects. So knowing that experience level is really important.

Michael Utley: Education. This is important because there are all sorts of different people coming from a lot of different backgrounds but if you want someone who’s going to be, for example, a CFO, they probably need to have a business degree and you don’t need to hesitate to set requirements. If you’re the one hiring, you’re the one who gets to make the rules and determine what the appropriate educational background is for a position.

Michael Utley: Compensation; important to have that in writing. Benefits are part of a total compensation package. Those all need to be outlined because sometimes they really get undervalued. And I would actually even say it’s a good idea to follow the recent trend of putting a dollar amount on those benefits and showing them as a part of a total compensation package.

Chris Raines: Yeah.

Michael Utley: A lot of times people are hired, get jobs, move up in their career but they don’t really realize how much a company is investing in them. Last things: functional responsibilities and then similar to that, how success will be measured. What will be the ways that they will be judged and evaluated and then after that just how to apply and that sort of basic information. But yeah, setting clear responsibilities and determining what KPIs, key performance indicators, or other metrics will be used to evaluate their success. That’s a good thing to have for them on the front end and to know coming in because you’re essentially asking them to commit to a contract made up of all those things I just listed.

Chris Raines: Right, and so out of all those characteristics, Michael, this is just me asking you personally. You’ve hired people in your previous work when you’ve had full time jobs and you’ve hired people, lots of people at GoEpps. What’s the … what have you found is the most important if you could drill down to the most important factor out of all of those?

Michael Utley: I think the … sometimes I think attitude and aptitude are the two words that we talk about as being the most important to us and experience is less important and sometimes I need … this is, there’s sort of an unexpected thing. Sort of a non-intuitive or counterintuitive thing that I’ve noticed. A lot of times people who are really passionate about something are the worst at doing it because they dig into all the details and they tend to want to do or fix everything themselves. Sometimes it’s better to have someone who is a step removed from something and maybe they’re not as passionate but maybe they’re good at pointing out to someone else what needs to be fixed and letting the person who’s actually supposed to do the work do the work. So having an owner who can’t help but go out on job sites or having a site manager who can’t help but pick up a paintbrush, that’s a real problem.

Michael Utley: So sometimes it’s not passion for the business, it’s actually someone whose attitude is aligned or aptitude is aligned, both of those, with the work. And it could even be that you need someone who’s a little bit disinterested and dispassionate so that they can keep things moving on schedule.

Chris Raines: Right. That’s great. Anything else? This is a shorter episode but those are some really good thoughts on how to go into a relationship, and it is a relationship, in a contractual relationship.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: You go into it with the biggest chance for success for both parties.

Michael Utley: Yeah. Yeah, I’ll share a handful of other ideas. So number one, set expectations, be clear, have it in writing what you’re expecting when you hire. That’s the list of things that we just talked about. Number two is don’t work without vendors without a stated contract or a set of deliverables and it’s okay if that’s in the form of an email but it’s got to be a numbered list. We had a website for a client asked us to do recently and we were already working with them and we had a clause in our contract that says you can add on more services and we can provide pricing for that. So I did not need another contract but what I did insist on was that we have a written set of characteristics of the project that we’d deliver and always tied to that same set of characteristics is the number, the budget, and ask them for their approval via reply e-mail and they replied and approved.

Michael Utley: But yeah, getting all those things in writing clearly stated where there’s no number that’s discussed and then characteristics that are provided or discussed but never captured in writing. That’s really unacceptable for a professional company to be in that situation. You really, if you’re running a business and you’re providing for yourself or for yourself and your family with this you really don’t have any excuse ever for doing work that is not reflected by a written commitment with a customer.

Chris Raines: Yeah, it’s treating your relationship with the people that work for you in the same way with the people that hire you.

Michael Utley: That’s right.

Chris Raines: You always want to go and properly scope out a job site; how much square footage, you high do we need to go, how much paint are we going to use? So it’s just carrying over that same mentality to employees and contractors.

Michael Utley: Yeah I find that the people that are highly empathetic and always want to take it on the chin to make things right, often it’s not a mistake of a customer changing their mind, it’s often that things were not pre-identified. It’s okay to have a change order process or to have an initialed approval stages. Something I’ll do is I’ll create programs where we have identified stages of approval and once those approvals are done, any changes to the previous phase of the project carry a cost. And that’s a reasonable way to handle it and that’s the best way. You need to be sort of the thing that things can pass through but you don’t move. You don’t need to be pulled apart or compressed because of everyone else’s poor planning. You need to plan well, set clear expectations with your customers and then on the back side with vendors just like you said it Chris. You’ve got to be rock solid in the middle and not torn apart because of everyone else’s eagerness to negotiate things that are not negotiables or to get a little bit more when it hasn’t been included in the project.

Chris Raines: Right. Those are great tips if you own a painting business or a really if you own any business at all. Right?

Michael Utley: Yeah. And then number three, something I notice a lot of salespeople will do and people will do this when they are trying to get a vendor on the hook and committed to doing something is they’ll use qualitative language. They’ll use language like … they’ll say something like “Well here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to get this going and what we really need is this and, you know, we’re going to see this start to happen.” There’s often a lot of very passionate discussion when people are on the front end of talking about a project or hiring a vendor. “Hey I need you to do this. This is going to be great. You’re going to make a lot of money on this.” It’s actually good to just cut all that colorful language that’s highly energetic and sort of meant to be inspiring, it’s good to cut all that out. It’s better to have a conversation that’s just brass tacks.

Michael Utley: If you’re hiring someone you need to be able to say “I’m expecting this amount of work during this period of time. I’m expecting you to manage five people. I’m expecting you to travel 25% of your year to do this job.

Chris Raines: Right. You may have to work in the evenings.

Michael Utley: I’m expecting you to work in the evening anytime we are working around an industrial painting customer who cannot stop operation during business hours. This could consist of up to nine months of your year. And before you sign on with us, you need to be prepared and understand that. If you minimize these expectations, you’re just hurting trust down the road and you’re going to have to not only be frustrated with yourself but you’re going to have to argue with that person to keep them in that position for that much longer.

Chris Raines: Yeah because they’ll feel like they’ve had the wool pulled over them.

Michael Utley: That’s right. And last thing on the getting more out of your vendors and workers, I call it “be steel, be cotton.” Be steel: don’t flex; be totally dependable. That means say what you mean, mean what you say. Be cotton: be positive toward everyone involved. Make personal interactions consistently helpful. It’s always good to take the attitude toward workers and vendors “Hey I’m here to help you. You seem to be struggling with this. What do you need in order to be successful?”

Michael Utley: And training employees is a lot like training … working with animals. The more you behave in a certain way the more trust goes up. It’s the same with kids, employees, animals, friends, and that doesn’t just go for people who work for you but people you work for. If you’re a hot headed person and blowing up every time there’s some minor issue you’re basically training people to be afraid of you and if you go the other way and you show up with a service attitude toward your workers, you’re going to develop trust and always have insight into what’s going on under the hood and probably be a lot more effective at helping them solve their own problems.

Chris Raines: Well those are great tips for really any business but particularity painting businesses. And one more time, if you didn’t catch it at the beginning we’re giving out free audits. Go to If you own a painting contracting business or any business in the trades and you’d like to know how your website stacks up against your competitors, areas that you can improve, things that are great about your website and things you need to fix, there’s a full audit that we offer. Go to and hit the big button that says “give me my audit” and we’ll get back in touch with you. Takes about 30 seconds to fill out so take advantage of that.

Michael Utley: Yeah, excellent. Thanks Chris.

Chris Raines: 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.