In part 2 of our series on how to keep your painting business operational during disasters, Michael and Chris discuss best practices during pandemics. They’ll cover:

  • The leadership mindset necessary to sustain your business during a crisis
  • Practical steps for disaster preparedness
  • How to balance realism and safety with a positive outlook

For more information on tools, techniques, and resources discussed in this episode, please visit:

Episode Transcript

Chris Raines: All right. Welcome to episode 40 of Grow Your Painting Business, the podcast from My name is Chris Raines and I’m joined, as always, by Michael Utley. How are you doing, man?

Michael Utley: Good. Doing great. Happy Friday again.

Chris Raines: Happy Friday again.

Chris Raines: Michael, this episode is recorded on March 13th, and we both understand that this is not going to be posted until probably two to three, four weeks and so things might change a lot. But we’re going to talk about Coronavirus and specifically how something like Coronavirus and a viral or a pathogen-related outbreak affects a business and how to respond to it. In some ways, how to prepare for it, but mostly how to respond to things. These things have happened throughout history, different outbreaks and flu has always been with us. But how do we help that to do as minimal damage as possible and even thrive inside of it?

Michael Utley: That’s right. Yes. So this is part two of our how to respond to a disaster, pandemics, episode. And it’s been a crazy week here. You might have seen the previous episode on natural disasters. We’re headquartered here in East Nashville on Main Street, in Nashville, Tennessee, and just went through a tornado, and then left a tornado to return to the office, after power and safety were restored, to find out we’ve got a pandemic. So kind of a crazy week. But yeah, we’re not going to talk about washing hands, we’re not going to talk about that stuff. What we’re going to talk about is how to prepare for and communicate and respond to a crisis that can change the rules of the game on how you function. And yeah, I would just say it’s been an interesting week.

Michael Utley: So number one here, preparation operations. I would refer anyone back to the natural disasters episode, but let’s just recap it.

Michael Utley: Cash, proper insurance, we think have 90 days cash-

Chris Raines: At least.

Michael Utley: For all expenses is really kind of a baseline. And then being properly insured is really important. Having anything that depends on being present together in a pandemic, Coronavirus or future pandemics, same deal. Think about being one click more virtual and still able to function. And we’re not saying go remote, everybody should be remote. But if you’ve got a roll-call where everybody shows up together in the mornings and you have to start there or you’ve got a job board that’s a physical thing that everyone depends on. It’s time, if you’re an entrepreneur or a business functioning in this new global environment, it’s time to start thinking more dynamically about what your business is and not so much about a home base or a particular set of trucks.

Michael Utley: Imagine your trucks get hit and you’re getting U-Hauls and picking up right where you left off and saying, “Nope, everybody still knows what to do. Calm down.” A pandemic, same deal. If you’ve got inability to gather but you can continue to function operationally, you should do it because any business that can keep going should keep going.

Chris Raines: Yeah.

Michael Utley: But it requires thinking differently about communications. It requires thinking differently about hardware space function. And it really comes down to setting expectations, having everybody on the same page before an event happens. So I think my big takeaway from both the tornado and Coronavirus is have everyone set up before the disaster happens to know here’s how we’re going to decide during an event, here’s how we’re going to function, and then to execute the play.

Chris Raines: Yep. Okay. Let’s talk about specifically pandemics, virus outbreaks.

Michael Utley: Yep.

Chris Raines: And things like that. It’s hard to prepare for them. I mean in a lot of cases they’re just, if it reaches that level, it’s coming and it’s going to happen. That’s where we are right now in the US at this date, on the 13th. So what should we think about as business owners, as business owners that… I mean, if you run a painting company you’re on a lot of other people’s property. And so what should we think about preparing ourselves for germs?

Michael Utley: Yeah. I think number one in a pandemic is Hippocratic oath. Do no harm. First, do no harm. So yeah, train your people. Train your people on how to go into a job site. And they’re probably thinking this way already in ways that are more visible.

Michael Utley: But let me tell you the Yelp review you don’t want. “We were kinda nervous during the pandemic to get this done. We decided to go ahead and do it. And the guy came in sick.”

Michael Utley: That would be terrible. That would be a terrible Yelp review to receive. Or Angie’s List or Home Advisor or LinkedIn or any kind of platform where people are trading information about a company. So, yeah, first off, do no harm. Don’t be part of the problem and do things that make your clients, your team members sick. The same thing goes with staff members. If somebody’s sick and you’re pressuring them to work when they’re sick-

Chris Raines: Or even not.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: I would even go a step further and say, you don’t have to pressure them.

Chris Raines: A lot of people are motivated and go-getter types and they’ll push through a lot of stuff. But it’s applying the opposite-

Michael Utley: Oh yeah, that’s right, that’s a good point.

Chris Raines: Applying the opposite pressure.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: And saying, I need you to stay home.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: I appreciate your initiative, but I need you to stay home.
Michael Utley: Yeah. Think of social media and the internet as the great equalizer of information and whether it’s team members posting to Glassdoor what it’s like to work for you or at your company or at the company that you’re a part of. Or if it’s consumers. Whether that’s B2C or B2B. A lot of our clients are big industrial commercial painters, but that doesn’t change a bad review on Google my Business. A one star is still a one star. So yeah, first off, make sure you’re not part of the problem. Follow basic procedures.

Michael Utley: And I think, also, have all of your teams sort of keyed to a standard, whatever it is. For us it’s if the Nashville government shuts down operations, GoEpps is going to go fully remote. So having everyone trained on a baseline that’s clear to everyone and independent of personal fears is probably good. And so yeah, I think communicating ahead of time is absolutely key and doing no harm.
Chris Raines: Let’s talk about responding to a event like this. Pandemics are unique to disasters because a lot of it’s not about what is happening but about a fear of what might happen.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: Later. I know you’ve experienced this and I’ve experienced this too with the Coronavirus, but people are starting to worry, Is a recession coming, is the economy… You see the stock market being very volatile.

Michael Utley: Yeah. Down 2000 points yesterday on the day that we’re recording this, Friday 13th.

Chris Raines: Right and then rallied back some today.

Michael Utley: Yeah coming back a little bit so far today.

Chris Raines: But people see that and they start to get afraid and they start to wonder should they complete the project that they have planned and the news media doesn’t help us at all. Their entire business model is selling advertising by promoting fear to get people to tune in and so-

Michael Utley: Yeah war and disease have a self-fulfilling energy source with the media. Yeah.

Chris Raines: Right. And we’ve talked about this before about how a lot of the economy isn’t actually real at all. It’s just what we believe about what’s going to happen.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: So that’s all big. Bigger picture stuff that we can’t control. Let’s talk about what we control with our clients, specifically with our clients.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: You have clients, I have clients and people that are listening to this have lots of clients too that are wondering what might happen. What can we do Michael to inject good things into the world and not fear into the world.

Michael Utley: So I think I want to take a moment just to make a personal statement. I feel really passionately about this. I think if you’re an owner of a business or you’re an executive, and maybe you’re listening to this because you’re responsible for sales and marketing, maybe you’re one of our existing clients checking in. Here’s what I think you need to have as a frame of reference. You’re a leader and you need to act like it-

Chris Raines: And you’re not just leading your team. You’re leading your client.

Michael Utley: You’re impacting the world.

Chris Raines: Yeah.

Michael Utley: Because when we’re creating economic activity… I’m a CEO of a $1 million plus digital marketing agency. Well, that’s great. That’s a great little credential on my resume, whatever. Guess what? Nobody cares. Here’s what matters. People have jobs, people have somewhere to work where they can fulfill their needs for providing for themselves and others. Our clients receive important services that help grow their businesses. All of these things, whether it’s the internal audience or the external audience, they’re also stakeholders. And the job of a leader is to say, “We’re not giving up. We’re going to continue. We’re going to push through.”

Michael Utley: So I think number one is to say, “Hey, this is a pandemic or whatever disaster it is. It’s not the first, it’s not the last and the S&P 500 is not the economy. It’s a good gauge of mood, but it is not the economy.” And so until aliens come and take over North America, we need to be all about, we will get through this and we will survive.

Michael Utley: And I think it’s important to just go ahead and communicate that. And I think sometimes you don’t want to throw fuel on the fire and start to attract attention to the disaster. But especially in terms of an internal team or if any customers have any hesitation, if you’re up and running and you’re operational during a situation. And again, listen to our previous episode on the Nashville tornadoes. If you’re up and running, you need to let people know and you need to have some gumption and you need to show some leadership and you need to be ready to win no matter how strong the headwinds are.
Chris Raines: Yeah. And even the communication like that, “We’re up and running, we’re ready to get to work,” communicates. That’s just, that’s input that someone else gets that says, Okay, this is an area of the world that’s normal.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: Because-

Michael Utley: That’s right.

Chris Raines: Because they’re not getting that on or the news or anything. What they’re getting is, Oh my gosh, everyone’s going to die and we’re going to be in a recession forever.

Chris Raines: So even just communicating positively there, and I would even say talking about the future as if it’s going to happen. So if you’ve got a project scheduled for the fall.

Michael Utley: Yep.

Chris Raines: Check in and say, “Hey, I was thinking about the fall.” Find a way to check in and talk about the fall as if this is going to happen. Because this thing’s going to go away, and we’re going to be right back on our feet again.

Michael Utley: Yeah. Yeah and it’s funny we had this conversation with a client this week in Virginia. I said, “Hey, I wonder everybody’s thinking about coronavirus should we message that on the website? Should we say our team is trained in best practices in safety?”

Michael Utley: And they said, “Yeah, we don’t want to draw attention to it.” And I think that was a good decision. I think not drawing attention to things when it’s not merited but then I had an experience of someone saying, a client texted and said, “Hey, I know you guys just went through,” this just related to the tornado last week. “I know you guys just went through a tornado. Do we need to slow down on kicking things off?”

Michael Utley: And I responded, “No, we are fully operational. Our team is in remote work mode and we are completely up and running to run your campaign.” And he responded with a hearty “Hell yes.” And it was the right conversation.

Chris Raines: Yeah.

Michael Utley: It was the right conversation. And it’s the right conversation when the S&P 500 or the Dow drops thousands. Whatever indicators are tanking, it’s still the right answer.

Chris Raines: Yeah I mean it’s weird to say, but even just that small, anything positive that you can add. Forward-looking and positive-looking affects everything. Because, like we said, the economy, a big part of the economy, isn’t real. Especially with the stock market.

Michael Utley: That’s right. I mean, it’s what we decide it’s going to be.

Chris Raines: Yeah I was talking right now about, yeah, this is a serious situation.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: We shouldn’t panic. Don’t hoard toilet paper at Costco.

Michael Utley: Right.

Chris Raines: But it’s serious. We should take precautions and we should do things that we can do.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: But even just talking about it in a positive way, like, “Yeah, this is going to be a thing that hits us and then we’re going to get past it,” is a positive. And then when people hear this, hopefully that alters their decision on things that they’re going to do, things, purchases that they had planned on making. Because it’s all in terms of both positive and negative in terms of the economy.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: It’s all based on how we feel about what’s going to happen in the future.

Michael Utley: Yeah. We don’t all work for airlines. We don’t all work in tourism. And there’s crazy stuff going on with the oil industry, oil and gas because of Russia and Middle East having a little bit of a trade war. Or not a trade war, but a trying to find the bottom of the market and under-price each other. But yeah, we don’t all work for those particular industries. And so for everyone who wants to live in the real reality and not just the media, you have to actually do a lot of work to get into that, to stay moving forward in that headwind and growing your business despite everything that’s coming out of the news.

Chris Raines: Yeah.

Michael Utley: And I’m not saying it’s not true. I’m not a conspiracy theorist or anything.

Michael Utley: I’m saying, I hear you. I don’t care.

Chris Raines: Right. Yeah, it’s serious. But we’re not going to panic, we’re going to-
Michael Utley: And we’re not going to stop building our businesses. We’re not going to stop building our businesses.

Chris Raines: And we’re going to find ways, we’re going to find opportunities.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: We’re going to find… So let’s say there’s a recession. Let’s say there’s a downturn. There’s going to be opportunities at the bottom of that downturn that were never available at any other time. And the people that find them and take advantage of them will be even more successful coming out of it than they were going in.

Michael Utley: Yeah. And I’ve given an interview on Entrepreneur on Fire on this topic, but GoEpps, the parent company of SearchPrimer was built, built and launched during the great recession. And I think part of my mindset and why I feel so passionately about this is because that was so hard.

Michael Utley: It was such a hard thing to move uphill and do that. But from the point of view of a successful business owner on main street, Nashville, Tennessee, serving clients coast to coast with a tornado and a pandemic all hitting during a week’s period of time here essentially in terms of our experience of it on the ground here in Nashville. My response to all of this is the economic recovery starts now. The economic recovery starts here.

Chris Raines: Yeah. That’s great. Yeah. And to close, talking about the future and things that happen, bad things have happened in the past, bad things will happen in the future.

Michael Utley: It’s not our last pandemic, no.

Chris Raines: Not our last pandemic. The US has the strongest, most grittiest people, I think, in the world. We came through a great depression, various recessions. After that, we stormed the beaches of Normandy to win World War II. There’s nothing that we can’t get through as a country.

Michael Utley: Yep. Yep.

Chris Raines: And that’s just me speaking, I know there’s probably people listening to this that aren’t United States citizens. So this is me speaking as a US citizen.

Michael Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: But that’s where I place my bet on the US and the US worker and the US entrepreneur.

Michael Utley: I love it. Absolutely agree. Love it. Thank you.

Chris Raines: All right.