What Are the Most Effective Ways to Build Referrals for Painting Contractors

How are you currently building referrals and repeat business for your painting company? Often, I’ll hear painting contractors tell me that word of mouth is their best form of advertising, but when I press them on specifically what they do, the answer is usually absolutely nothing. Meaning, word of mouth is something that happens, even though the contractor doesn’t do anything to push it or create it. I’ve got a few huge tips that can make a big difference in the percentage of repeat and referral business that you get.

Here’s a sad fact. After about year three, most painting contractors, flat line in sales and profitability and never really grow. And the reason is they lose as many clients as they get every year and only retain a small number that can remember them. When I travel around the nation, talking to painting contractors about past clients, I’ll often ask the audience members who were there, “Who has a young child, age two to three years old?” And ladies that are in there, often spouses of owners will say, “I’ve got a two year old.” And I’ll say, “Well, is there anything more important to you than that two year old? How long were you in labor?” “24 to 48 hours.” “On a scale of one to 10, how important was the service that was provided to you to make sure that that child came into the world healthy?” And they’ll always say 10.

And I say, “Compare that to getting your house painted or your yard mowed.” And they always say two or three. So not nearly as important. Then I’ll ask them, “What was the name of the nurse that delivered their child two years ago?” And virtually none of them know the answer to that question. So painting contractors get forgotten quickly. Cards go in the garbage, emailed estimates are deleted and they just can’t remember who you are. And that’s a big problem because referrals are most often generated in two categories. The first is business to consumer, or in this case, I guess you could call it consumer to business meaning, your past clients refer you. You see, a new customer can’t refer you because they’ve never done business with you and the problem is if you don’t stay in touch with your past clients, then they can’t refer you.

There’s a huge fallacy in our industry that if you just do good work, but never remind your clients or reach out to them or build a personal relationship with them through personal communication, they’ll remember you always and refer you and continue to use you. Never seen any evidence to support it. In fact, I’ve seen exactly the opposite. So, if you want to generate a ton of referrals for your painting business and drop those cold internet leads that just don’t close at a high percentage as a referred client does, here’s what you do.

Three Steps to Start Generating More Referrals

Number one, you have to buy into the fact that your job is to find a client and keep them for life through consistent communication. If you don’t buy into that, if you don’t believe that, then you’ll never succeed. When you go to a good restaurant, when you go buy anything online, when you attend a professional event, when you go to a retailer that is somewhat sophisticated, they’re always trying to gather your contact information so they can build a relationship with you and get you to purchase again and again, and even refer their services. So, step number one is you’ve got to buy into the fact that you’re list building in the communication business. You just happen to monetize that relationship by the act of painting, but that’s not your primary function. So number one is believing that that’s essentially important.

Number two, you got to get your database all put together. Past clients, unconverted leads, you name it. They need to be in a centralized place with discrete information, name, email, address, phone number, mailing address, all the information that allows you to communicate directly with them by phone, email, text, Facebook custom audience, and old fashioned phone calls.

Customer Reactivation

Number two, customer reactivation is when you reintroduce yourself to an often ignored customer list. Maybe you just send a Christmas card. Maybe you just do an email newsletter. What you need is a compressed period of communication, by email, mail, phone, text that takes place over a 30 day period in really about three different phases where you reach out with up to 12 points of contact.

It seems like a lot, but today’s consumers are dumb, deaf, and blind, and they just don’t remember anything they see or hear or watch. So you have to really get in front of them a lot for them to respond to your offer for services. When you do this, I’ve watched people generate hundreds of thousands of dollars out of a list of a few hundred people. If you’ve got more, your results could be a lot better. Number two, once you reactivate them, you can’t continue to treat them like a human ATM machine, but instead, you need to send out a monthly newsletter by mail, email, and even text, which will become increasingly important as a medium, as time goes on, an email becomes less and less effective. You should do them all, but sometimes you need to augment that.

Build a Personal Connection

This is not a time to push your painting service. It’s a time to build a personal connection, to remind them about your referral program, to recognize and reward people who have given you referrals and to showcase the humanity of you, your company, your employees, that you care about them and to build this environment where you really do occupy a place in their mind as their painter of choice.

Just like you have a place in your mind for your insurance agent, the person that cuts your hair and your auto mechanic. Most people don’t have a place in their mind for their plumber or their irrigation specialist or their roofer because once that job is done, they just forget about them. Now we have a higher rate of incidence for painting than a lot of those other things, but people still forget us if we’re not in front of them.

Consistent Communication

When you communicate consistently with your clients, that’s the number one thing that causes them to refer. When you build that personal relationship with them, they feel comfortable referring to you. Things like providing them with $50 gift cards, a hundred dollars gift cards, things like that, that’s not a referral program. That’s what happens after the referral is made. The more important elements for generating referrals are the newsletter marketing, customer appreciation events, the things that you do with your clients, so that you build that personal connection over time.

Referrals, spiffs, gift cards, that’s kind of just icing on the cake. Most people would prefer a thank you note, recognition in a newsletter, or a pat on the back than the money, although you should do both. So, if you want to get more tips on how to grow your painting business, follow us, Painters Academy, Painters Weekly dot com, share these resources with other contractors if you think it can help them. I look forward to helping you grow your painting business even more in the next edition of this wonderful resource that we put together for the painting industry, so that we can lift our standards and make this a truly professional business to be in.


  1. Derek on August 25, 2020 at 7:26 pm

    Anything in the right detection would be very appreciative. Derek

    • Brandon Lewis on September 14, 2020 at 10:21 am

      Derek, thanks for reaching out. We recommend all of our owners get FAR AWAY from subcontracting. Doing direct commercial and residential repaint work is where the greatest profits and stability can be found in our industry. Good luck in all you do!

  2. Sujathavinod on September 14, 2020 at 10:16 am

    Thanks! , Great article good information

    • Brandon Lewis on September 14, 2020 at 10:19 am

      Hope you find it helpful to grow your painting business!

  3. Dot Richard on September 21, 2020 at 7:14 am

    Thanks, Great Article. An eye opener there.

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