In this episode, Michael, Chris, and David discuss digital marketing:

  • What are the preferred online marketing tools for painters?
  • How does digital marketing help you connect with more qualified leads?
  • How can digital take you from a “hunting” mindset to a “farming” approach with your leads?

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

Below is a transcript for this episode.

Episode Transcript

Intro: 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 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: All right, welcome to episode 29 of Grow Your Painting Business, the podcast from My name is Chris Raines. I’m joined by Michael Utley. How you doing, Michael?

Michael Utley: Good. [crosstalk 00:00:36] Happy Friday.

Chris Raines: Happy Friday. It’s Friday. I’m feeling good and we have an episode. This is a cool today because we’re going to be talking to David Chism. We’re going to do an interview with him and we’ve had David on the show before-

Michael Utley: Yep.

Chris Raines: And I like talking to David and I know you like talking to David, too because he’s been in the trenches with painting businesses for years. He’s essentially a growth coach-

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: … for painting businesses. He runs a company called A David Creation, and he has a lot of insight to bring on, really, how painting-

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: … businesses should be marketing themselves.

Michael Utley: Yeah. And I’ll tell you, just to interrupt that, what I like about A David Creation is he’s not coming in with … There’s a lot of business coaching out there that’s sort of like … almost a canned franchise model of business coaching. David actually grew up, organically, in the painting business. He-

Chris Raines: Exactly.

Michael Utley: … he actually came from within the painting industry. So he’s not somebody who’s just kind of a business coach, trying to follow somebody’s book and set up a business coaching business. He’s actually a painter who’s sort of gotten … He’s just kind of a nerd and he’s gotten into digital marketing for, gosh, I don’t know, 15 years now?

Michael Utley: We’ll have to ask him. But, yeah, so he’s a little bit of a different animal in that sense. A lot of times I think people hear “business coach” and they think, “Oh, gosh, this guy again.” It’s like being called on by the insurance people, but … Sorry, insurance people. But, yeah, so David’s really passionate about helping companies grow.

Chris Raines: Yeah. So, let’s get right to it. What we’re going to talk about today, and, Michael, what you’re going to have a discussion with David about, is how the advent of digital marketing and the advent of the internet has changed the way painting contractors get leads and get sales.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: So there’s a lot of stuff to talk about. So let’s just get right to it.

Michael Utley: Yep. Excellent. So welcome David Chism. David, can you hear me? Audio working?

David Chism: Yes, it’s great. Thanks for having me on the show.

Michael Utley: Excellent. Glad you’re here. Happy Friday. So I want to ask you about digital marketing. You know, we talked to a lot of people throughout the months and the years, and we hear … We talk to people whose businesses are in a lot of different stages and some of them, a handful of them, have actually been around since before, really, the internet was the primary driver and sort of the main focus of anyone’s marketing efforts.

Michael Utley: But want to ask you, kind of digital marketing, just from a high level and for thinking about things like, business culture, leadership, how people set about growing their businesses, how has digital marketing sort of shifted everything for painters? Commercial, residential, everybody. What would you say is sort of top line for you on thinking about how digital has kind of changed lead generation?

David Chism: That’s a great question. I mean, I would say painting contractors, in the last 20 years or so, the early adapters, it’s been about at least 20 years or so, where painting contractors have been able to kind of use the web to start getting leads and just started or … My first experience with digital marketing for a paint deal was probably about like 1998, I would say.

Michael Utley: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

David Chism: So around ’98 is when I built my first website for my dad’s company. And, you know, it was so awesome to get a lead from the website back then because like, “Wait, we got one.”

Michael Utley: Yeah.

David Chism: You know? And because before that, it was all a lot of print, it was … you know, Yellow Pages, it was yard signs. It was all the things that … You know, there’s still some benefit to the offline marketing, but digital was … You know, when I first saw it come in to the scene with my family business, it was extremely light. In other words, there wasn’t a whole lot to do, but it’s usually internet first. You know, just getting your website up there, having your email, and then people would fill out forms.

David Chism: And then, all of a sudden, it really started to take off with like the inbound marketing kind of thing. So like probably 2004, I would say, was where … That was when I actually hired my first SEO company, I think it was right around 2002, 2004. Some of that range, where I actually had hired a guy to come in and do search engine optimization and keywords, and watching our family business company go from … basically, absolutely, can’t find it to all of a sudden showing up in the search.

David Chism: Back then it was more Yahoo than Google, and then moved over to Google. And he just did some magic behind the scenes. And ever since then, what we did even 15 plus years ago was … we started getting two, three, four, five leads a week on the … off the web.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

David Chism: And then … So, I mean, yeah, it’s revolutionized the way contractors, home improvement painters run their business. Where, in the past, it was all print, everything else. Now, some guys can run a hundred percent digital marketing to grow their business. And it is just the way … It’s just still in infant stage.

David Chism: So I think there’s still a lot that we’re going to be learning about. So, yeah.

Michael Utley: Yeah, yeah. It’s funny, I think one of the real sort of markers for a company, in remembering their own timeline, is when they started spending money or budgeting for a certain type of activity. They might’ve had a little bit of activity, but when you start to spend money on something, that’s the point at which you’re actually serious about it. And, in full disclosure, everyone listening, David and I do work together with a lot of clients.

Michael Utley: He has A David Creation and A David Creation pulls in SearchPrimer to be the SEO company for a lot of his clients. Not all of them. He’s got a few he’s holding out on me on but, yeah, in full disclosure, we do work together quite a bit and David is an independent person, not associate … not part of SearchPrimer, but a friend of SearchPrimer.

Michael Utley: But, David, I would say that some of the people that we’ve worked with over the last couple of years would say that five years ago they weren’t investing in digital. They were maybe taking some little advertising spots here and there. Maybe Yellow Pages had called on them. Maybe Yelp had called on them, maybe HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List had called on them. And they had, essentially, little … Essentially, Yellow Page listings.

Michael Utley: But I don’t think any of them were sort of including this in their budget in a big way. What would you say you’ve seen, in terms of the shift from people treating the internet almost as a problem to be dealt with, or, yeah, they got a call from the sales guy, you know, and whatever, you know, “Should we do this yes or no?” Over to saying, “Hey, this is a tool for us and we’re going to use this to grow.”

Michael Utley: What would you say has been kind of the timeline and the history, and some of the experience you’ve had with people negotiating sort of that shift?

David Chism: I would say that it’s varied across the different types of paint [inaudible 00:07:47] So you have your house painter, the guys that do residential, and then you’d have more of a commercial paint company or industrial. So I would say that I’ve seen the residential guys jump on digital marketing a lot sooner because they kind of had to.

David Chism: When you have a a home improvement business, especially, residential focus, you’re going to be relying on a lead flow that … whether it’s ten a week or several hundred a month. So the residential guys knew early on, “Hey, the print, the mailers, the Yellow Pages, yards and truck signs, all that stuff, just isn’t enough.” Even repeat clients. So I saw a big jump probably when the economy tanked, 2008, where I started to see the residential guys …

David Chism: It’s funny, that’s really where I think the internet started to really boom. A lot of people switched gears, where they had to think of more affordable ways to … They had to cut costs and so they … that’s where inbound marketing really became popular, like the blog writing and YouTube and all that. That was about 10, 11 years ago.

David Chism: And when it came to the commercial guys, the commercial painters, they were … that’s taken them a lot longer. I think they’ve relied primarily on the face to face meetings. [crosstalk 00:09:10].

Michael Utley: Interesting.

David Chism: They have all their Sales Reps out there connecting. And so they’ve been able to … I mean, that always still works really well. I mean, in that type of industry, connecting with businesses and property managers, maintenance engineers. Obviously, you still have to do that. But what I started to see is, probably the last four or five years, those guys have been approaching me to say, “Hey, you know, I’ve been watching, you know, the internet, this digital marketing stuff. And, you know, I have a website that doesn’t do anything. It’s just basically just a brochure.” And I’ll ask them, “Do you guys get any leads at all?” Like, “No.”

David Chism: And so, again, in four or five years, they’ve been saying, “Hey, what can we do? Let’s get started.” And that’s where we’ve been able to come in and help them with their … Obviously, I redesign most of them. And then SEO, social media, just really give them an online footprint where they went from no leads, not even really anyone ever will find them unless they typed in the URL, to having a very steady flow of quality leads and business. And it’s taken some time, but if they commit to it, it’s working well.

Michael Utley: Yeah. Yeah. I think, in my experience of sort of watching your business from afar … You know, you and I were friends before we worked together, and so for four years I got to know your business before we really, in earnest, started to … for when I put together the previous version of SearchPrimer, which was another SEO type of set of actions, but under a different name.

Michael Utley: But I think what I’ve seen you do over the years is help people understand how to not be afraid of some of this stuff and to make it central and to see it as an asset, to see it as an opportunity, more than just a problem to be dealt with.

David Chism: Yeah, I think that’s correct. I mean, I speak the language and know how these guys think when it comes to … You know, paint companies tend to be cautious with spending money, and so it’s not inexpensive to do an online footprint and get digital marketing started. But the guys who have stuck with me, have done really well. I’ve seen them go … Again, like I said, I have one company in the Midwest who just had no online footprint whatsoever.

David Chism: They were relying on call centers and print media and everything else … you know, their sales reps. And, I mean, they’re selling millions a year just off the web alone. And, I mean, you’re working at kind, as well, but, I mean, they’ve had to trust us and we’ve had to have lots of meetings and lots of discussions. So you can’t just outsource it. You can’t to say, “Here, go do that thing.”

David Chism: The success I’ve seen at these companies is that they talk with us, they give us feedback, they … And that’s what you have to do. Because you have to be engaged, you’ve got to be willing to … I’ve also seen like if an owner or the management staff is disconnected in any way, it was not … not all that successful. So they have to be all in …

Michael Utley: Yeah.

David Chism: … for it to work.

Michael Utley: Yeah. So let’s talk about that. What’s like a typical size of a company that would be ready to have a serious sort of commitment to digital marketing, and for it to be a central driver of their business? Like is it once they’ve hit maybe a million dollars or do they need to be huge? Do they need to be, you know, 5 million? You know, because there are a lot of guys out there with a truck and a dream.

David Chism: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Utley: What’s kind of the starting point for folks for … typically, for getting into your realm and starting to work with a company like us, but to have someone like you as a quarterback? What’s kind of an entry point for … in terms of say, annual revenues for one of those companies?

David Chism: So, I think, first of all, before we get involved, I like to tell any paint contractor, because I get a lot of inquiries, that if they’re just, like we said, just a small operation. They don’t have … maybe they’re even painting in the field themselves, the owners. You know, they can get started with digital marketing without hiring consulting firms.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

David Chism: You know, quarterbacks like myself. And so they could just dive right in. And so we … I mean I see a lot of that. Some good, bad, and ugly, but I mean if they can jump in there with … use their phone and they start taking photos and videos of the work and getting reviews and having a simple website, and just kind of working it, they would have to be educated on best practices and how to do it.

David Chism: But there’s a lot of things they can do to kind of get their feet wet and kind of get them to grow. But I think once … What I like to see and what I tell guys is that once you take this serious, where you have a …. you know your budget and revenue goals for that year, and you can commit to getting some outside help. I would say, typically, for a paint company, it’s usually about a million dollar level on up, is where I see these guys getting more outside help.

David Chism: So that’s where someone like myself will come in and be a marketing manager and consultant for them. And then that’s the kind of the cream of the crop for then we get the SEO team on board and paid search and social media taken up.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

David Chism: I do have a few that do it before the million dollar mark, where they might have seven to ten employees. But those are guys that see the big picture and they go, “Yeah, you know, I’m going to cough up the cash to get it … to get me to that level. You guys are going to help me get there.”

Michael Utley: Yeah.

David Chism: And knowing that I might take, you know, a year or more to get there. But I have taken some folks that were … that started at like 300,000 in revenue and they hired me. You know, they didn’t have a lot of capital and we were able to extend some of the … I remember when we built one of their websites, we just said … Well, they couldn’t pay us up front for … but, also, we extended it for like two years.

David Chism: “Pay us back in two years.”

David Chism: Because I believed in … I knew that we could get them up off the ground. I knew we can get them where we wanted to. And they’re still with me, five, six years later. They’re over a million dollar mark now.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

David Chism: And still doing well. But baby steps.

Michael Utley: Yeah. And on a top end, gosh, I don’t want to reveal anyone in particulars numbers, but I feel like we’re working with some that are … You know, we’re also doing commercial, industrial, for essentially, regional, major sections of the United States … companies. But what do you … I don’t even know, maybe a top end that would be appropriate, but there’s, at some point, where people tend to kind of build an in house team or do something.

Michael Utley: I don’t know, I would guess maybe 25 million … before somebody has to do something like that. And even then they don’t have to.

David Chism: Yeah, I mean there’s still benefits [of] … to outsourcing, too. I mean-

Michael Utley: Yeah.

David Chism: … in-house teams … Again, if you can afford it, that’s great. But, again, the only thing I’ve seen with in-house teams is that … How are they going to keep up on the latest and greatest? So I think it is still … There’s a benefit to having outside help, whether that’s SEO, paid search, social. If you’re going to have anything in house, sometimes I might be pulled out of [inaudible 00:16:11] manager, but …

David Chism: So, you still have to have a good team of people, of experts, to keep up on changes. Because, as you know, I mean Google’s always in this beta mode, where they’re always beta testing this and that, and new apps and new ideas are coming out. But also got to keep up with consumers and how they search.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

David Chism: And how they buy. [crosstalk 00:16:32] that’s tough to do all in house.

Michael Utley: An outside person, like having A David Creation, suddenly you’re not just learning from what issues you ran into with your own company during the last 30 days, you’re learning from what tens of different painting companies across the United States, in different markets, different situations, different weather patterns and seasonality, different regional needs. You’re learning from what all of those situations are … All the problems they’re running into.

Michael Utley: So yeah, if there’s a shift at Google and they change their algorithm, or say, “Hey, we think whether your website is mobile friendly or not, is the most important thing in the world.” You know, if you have an outside partner, you sort of pick up on that stuff faster. Because, for them, it’s not just, “Oh, hey! Marketing’s have some kind of issue.” It’s, “Wow! Our entire world just changed.”

Michael Utley: And so they might be a little more sensitive to it than someone who’s in house and, essentially, just –

David Chism: That’s right.

Michael Utley: … just serving one client. Yeah.

Michael Utley: A couple of things-

David Chism: Yeah, that’s right.

David Chism: We have a …

Michael Utley: Yeah, go ahead.

David Chism: You know, when I get on my monthly calls with clients, I mean, they … I almost did it. I get asked, quite often that, “Hey, what are other painters doing? What are you guys in the Midwest doing? What are the guys in Northeast doing right now? And how is the lead flow, you know, for a company my size in Florida?” You know, that kind of thing. So I get asked very detailed questions and they want to know, across the country, what are they doing?

David Chism: And that’s really hard to do if you’re doing it all in house, you don’t have that outside help. And then, also, have … Because I am able to work with guys like you, that I’m able to kind of keep up. And I expect you guys to keep up on the latest and greatest in your industry, too.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

David Chism: And I have a few others that I’m not a partner with, but I work on accounts where they already have an SEO firm or they have a paid search guy, and I get to watch what they’re doing. And, you know, sometimes I can tell you what they’re doing. So I like to have that checks and balances in there and that’s been really helpful for my industry.

Michael Utley: Yeah, that’s good. Yeah. And that really is what happens between you and your clients, is you are sort of a check and balance to them. They have what they’re experiencing. And I’ve heard the way that you open a lot of phone calls. You know, typically, your first question is going to be, “Hey, how’s business?”

Michael Utley: And it’s not small talk, it’s “Hey, I don’t want to prejudge anything or I don’t want to put anything onto the table yet. I want to know what you’re experiencing and start from there.” I think that’s a really smart way to do things.

Michael Utley: Couple of thoughts and insights I’ve had, just as we’ve been talking. One is the relationship between residential painters and the market. The parent company of SearchPrimer is GoEpps, Epps is my middle name, and about half of our business is in the healthcare industry.

Michael Utley: And I’m often, I’ve mentioned this on the podcast before, in other episodes, but I’m often meeting with healthcare people and saying, “Listen, we also work in the construction industry, with commercial and residential painters, and I’m going to bring a lot of things into this relationship, healthcare client, from residential painters. And if you think that’s below you, here’s what you don’t understand. They are better at digital marketing than you.” And if the relationship moves past that, I know I’ve got somebody who wants to learn, rather than someone who wants their vendors to know how smart they are and just wants to manage budget and be responsible for budget dollars.

Michael Utley: And so I think that also applies to commercial painters. Something that I had never thought of, that you just explained, is that the commercial painters were actually a little bit slower than the residential painters. They’re sort of the canary in the coal mine for the commercial industry.

Michael Utley: And so I think commercial painters might say, “Oh no, no, we’re not doing houses.” And I think that could be a real mistake if they’re not careful. They’re really sort of positioning themselves, if they think that way, a little bit like my healthcare clients who are more concerned that the vendor respects them or whatever, then saying, “Hey, what can I learn from you? What can I learn from you?”

Michael Utley: And so those residential painters, they really are the front edge of innovation in our industry because they’re dependent on that lead flow. They’re desperately dependent on that lead flow and very sensitive to what’s happening.

David Chism: Well, yeah. And I’ve also seen residential guys that have now become commercial painters. So there was a shift, too, 10 years ago when the economy tanked, that … you know, not as many homes to paint, or at least people were not spending the money. But these, the residential guys, from what I’ve seen in growing up in a residential painting businesses, they tend to do … You’ve got to be to be really professional, you’ve got to be clean, you’ve got to do a quality job in painting people’s homes.

David Chism: And so these guys were able to migrate into the commercial business. In fact, I would say back in the day, commercial painting, not throughout the US, but in general, commercial painting was a little … You didn’t have to be as professional. You can hire guys and paint in facilities, and not have to worry too much about what they look like, and all that.

David Chism: They tend to be a little messier than the residential side. But what was happening is these guys were … You know, they rely on all these leads coming to the door and doing a really quality paint job, and then the economy tanked. They got involved more on digital marketing and they try to get more leads [inaudible 00:00:22:03]. And then they started saying, “Okay, residential is kind of not drying up. Let’s move into commercial.”

David Chism: They took those same best practices of professionalism. You know, keeping on [inaudible 00:22:11], servicing the folks, moving that in the commercial world. Now the commercial folks, all these folks that have to hire commercial painters, they are kind of impressed with the quality that they’re finding in the commercial painting field.

David Chism: It’s just stepped it up. It’s so different than it was even 10 years ago. And now these guys are almost moving away. I have guys that moved a hundred percent away from residential, they don’t want to do it anymore and they are commercial painters that are getting a lot of internet leads, along with everything else they’re doing too, but that’s a big part of the growth of their business.

Michael Utley: Yeah, I hear you’ve got a siren near. There it is. Downtown Frederick, Maryland.

David Chism: Yeah.

Michael Utley: Love it.

David Chism: There it is.

Michael Utley: We’ll let it roll through.

David Chism: It’s probably every hour.

Michael Utley: Yeah, we don’t mind some authenticity here. And we’re off Main Street in Nashville, Tennessee and have lots of good sirens going through here all the time.

Michael Utley: One other thought that I had … Even though you’re the guest, David, I want to kind of give my 2 cents. I think a lot of companies would … they still have the idea of leads coming in as sort of something they’re hunting.

Michael Utley: So, “We’ve got to get that lead, we’ve got to go get a lead. We got to bring in a lead, we got to bring in this many leads this month,” or, “Here’s how many leads we brought in last month.” And I think a shift away from hunting and toward farming would benefit a lot of companies. To not just see a lead as a sales opportunity, but to say, “Hey, if this lead is not ready, maybe we can stay in touch with them by email and maybe this wasn’t the time for them to say yes because of cost. Or if we didn’t have any finance options that worked for them and it just wasn’t the right time. Maybe we can nurture them and stay in touch with them by email.”

Michael Utley: And, if someone does become a sale, thinking of them as being a new source of a good review on Google. And sharing, maybe, a highlight of how great their project looked after it was done, on social media. So thinking about these relationships with customers, not just … And this goes for residential, commercial, industrial flooring, painting, industrial cleaning. This goes for everybody. But not think … Not having a hunting mindset, but having a farming mindset.

Michael Utley: And thinking in terms of every one of these prospects that comes in, not just being a sales lead, but being a nurture lead or a social media lead or a lead for a referral or a lead for a good review. So, I think even though, culturally, the internet is sort of dominant in our thinking, sometimes we don’t quite get our thinking about … How to think about it, updated.

Michael Utley: And so I bet there are a lot of folks out there who are frustrated and just thinking about the leads. And they’re not really taking full advantage of what the real digital ecosystem means for a business. But I think it’s a real shift. I think mature companies are really shifted from hunting to farming.

David Chism: No, I agree. I think that’s the benefit of having good software, as well, to manage your pipeline of sales or lead generation. So like a CRM program, [which stands for] customer relationship management. A lot of contractors now, within the last decade, are utilizing software more, utilizing good quality CRM programs and lead generation programs. But I still think that they can do a better job of really implementing all of these softwares … programs have to offer.

David Chism: So, from the moment it comes in, whether you take it as a phone call, an email, a text, send them an email. You know, there’s a lot of things that these guys can do. And I also feel like … To some degree, a lead is a lead. If you’re going to market yourself online and people are going to read reviews or go to your website and fill out a form, that’s a viable lead. I think that there’s still a tendency to think, “Ah, it’s a web lead.”

David Chism: “Oh, it’s just junk, they don’t really know who I am,” but you have so much opportunities to put yourself out there, your company, and have really good branding, through the internet, to get quality leads. And it might take awhile, so not everything is going to be super warm and hot, you know? Ready to sell right the second you get it.

David Chism: Like you said, that’s where the farming comes in. That’s where you can send them quality email updates and give them a phone call, or just send them a handwritten note. Go out and see them and then make notes in your CRM and just kind of nurture that. And then just repeat.

Michael Utley: Yeah. If you’ve got a burned out sales team that’s saying, “Man, I didn’t get that one. It wasn’t a good lead.” So sometimes it’s not-

David Chism: Well-

Michael Utley: Sometimes it’s not the lead, either.

David Chism: Yeah.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

David Chism: Well, I’ve written about this in some of my blogs in the past, that it gets easy, with technology, to become lazy.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

David Chism: And I hate to say it, but sometimes estimators, too … or sales guys, you know, they’re trained to sell. And now it’s easy to just rely on lead gen to kind of spit out, lead the other [inaudible 00:27:27], run them, and sell them. But-

Michael Utley: Yeah.

David Chism: … sales guys still have to nurture. They can’t be just order-takers.

Michael Utley: Right.

David Chism: There’s still a nurturing process and a … Connect, you know? Nurture.

Michael Utley: Yeah, that’s good. Well, good. Well, we’ll wrap up there. And if anybody is interested in growing their business, I would invite them to check out and to connect there with David Chism. And to begin not fearing every bit of news about the internet and how it’s working, but move toward being proactive and making it central to your strategy for growth. And, yeah, that’s it. Chris, why don’t you get us out of here, man?

Chris Raines: All right. That’s all. That’s all, folks. We’ll do it Looney Tunes style. Yeah. And if you stick around for the next episode, is what will probably be the next one in sequence, we’re going to talk to David Chism again. But it’s always great to talk to somebody with such deep experience, so …

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: With that, we’ll see you next time.

Michael Utley: Excellent. Thanks everybody.

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