Throwing More Wood on the Fire

Steve Maxwell
Steve Maxwell

When I was a boy, our family had a summer cottage up north, and one day a neighbour friend and I decided to build a bonfire. He lived in cottage country full time, and his dad gave us permission to build the fire in their backyard. We spent a couple of hours gathering brush and sticks from the forest, then used a small amount of it to start the fire in a ring of stones we’d laid out. We were surprised how much effort it took to gather the wood, so we didn’t want to waste it. An hour after lighting the match, the fire was still small, smouldering and disappointing. My friend asked his dad what was wrong.

“You need to lay on more wood!” dad said, and promptly picked up the entire pile we’d gathered and dropped it on our tiny fire. I wasn’t happy that he “wasted” all our wood, completely covering our little ring of stones. But the thing was, he was right. Fifteen minutes later and the flames were as high as we were. There’s nothing like a big bonfire to make boys happy.

Painting businesses can be like backyard bonfires, too. They can smoulder and struggle and disappoint for years, when all they really need to get going is a seemingly outrageous amount of wood thrown on.

So what does “laying on more wood” look like when you’re building a painting business? It’s usually about investing more effort in strategic ideas that don’t immediately contribute to the bottom line. More wood might mean actively recruiting good painters, for example. Or it could mean handing out leaflets door to door in 5- or 6-year-old neighbourhoods where you know a lot of houses are starting to show the limitations of a builders’ paint job. More wood might also mean going to the trouble of tracking the productivity of your paint jobs to find out where money is being made and lost so you can bid better in the future.

The fundamental law of bonfires and business is the same. You’ve got to put something in if you want to get something out. What would throwing more firewood on your particular painting business look like?

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