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Making the Move from Hands-on Manager to Growth-Minded CEO

Graham Audenart, founder of Painters Enterprise, shares how he shifted his entrepreneurial mindset and took his business from one location to five.

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12 Employees

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14 Years Old

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Alberta and BC

Many founders of small home service businesses dream of growing their organization. But making the transition from hands-on manager to a growth-minded CEO is difficult, and charting a sustainable course to profitable scale while navigating turbulent market economies can be daunting, to say the least.

Graham Audenart, founder of Painters Enterprise—today with locations in Calgary and Vancouver, in addition to the original Edmonton location—has weathered many storms to take his painting business to bigger and better places. But he didn’t get  there overnight, and he’d be quick to tell you he couldn’t have done it without seeking out, and heeding, some good advice.

Graham's aha moment

“My first painting job was in college,” Audenart begins. “It was good work but I can remember thinking, ‘You know, I’m making about $40 per hour but I’m working really hard. If I hired a couple guys and paid them pretty well, I could still be making $15 an hour for myself and working a lot less.’”  

That led Audenart to open his first painting business, which he grew diligently while learning the ins and outs of the business. “Commercial work is really where it’s at. It’s a demanding clientele, but once you’re in good with them, there’s always more work to be done.”

“You can get six or seven jobs out of them in a year, as compared to just one every few years through residential customers. Collecting payments and managing cash flow is more challenging, but once you’ve built a critical volume of business, that gets easier to manage.”

Quote

I’m not a great designer, but I love that part of the business. But I had to decide that, if it takes more than an hour, somebody else needs to do it, otherwise I’m getting distracted from something else I need to be doing.

Graham Audenart, Painters Enterprise Quote

Making the most of hard times

Alberta can be a fickle economy.

Simply put, when oil is up, Alberta is booming—thousands of jobs are created seemingly overnight and businesses of all types go all-out to compete, make money and grow as quickly as possible. But when oil is down, like around the financial recession of 2009, things get very quiet, and a lot of small businesses can quickly go under.

Audenart, however is not one to accept poor market conditions as an excuse for failing. “When times are hard, work hard. When things are good, work even harder,” he says. “There’s always work out there. You just need go out and find it and the vision to plan for the ups and downs of business.”

Audenart has steered Painter’s Enterprise through two separate ‘bust’ periods in the Alberta economy over the last decade. Each time, he has seized the opportunity to zig as others zagged, and found a way to actually grow his revenues during the downturns. That tenacity, which seems baked into Audenart and others like him, is the hallmark of a true entrepreneur.

But for someone accustomed to weathering storms by always keeping an eye on the horizon and a hand on the tiller, letting go of some control would prove to be the biggest challenge for Audenart in growing Painter’s Enterprise.

starting a painting business

The transition from manager to entrepreneur

For Audenart, like many small business founders, the transition from day-to-day manager to growth-focused entrepreneur was a painful one.

The tendency—perhaps stemming from a fear of losing what’s been built—is to remain vigorously involved in the minutiae of daily operations: scheduling, site supervision, client relations. After all, mastering these processes is a big part of building a sustainable business.

“I’m not a great designer, but I love that part of the business,” says Audenart. “But I had to decide that, if it takes more than an hour, somebody else needs to do it, otherwise I’m getting distracted from something else I need to be doing.”

Quote

I’ve known a lot of our customers for a decade or longer. So, when there’s a question or a problem, some of them just naturally want to come straight to me. It takes time to make them comfortable with the idea that someone else is empowered to take care of them.

Graham Audenart, Painters Enterprise Quote

In the same way Audenart needed to focus his own activities and rely more on his team to grow, he also needed to educate longterm customers on the changing dynamics of his role. “I’ve known a lot of our customers for a decade or longer. So, when there’s a question or a problem, some of them just naturally want to come straight to me,” he explains. “It takes time to make them comfortable with the idea that someone else is empowered to take care of them.”

Letting go of control of the business you have nurtured like a baby isn’t easy. When Audenart asked himself the hard questions all growth-minded founders must, he realized that he needed help to make Painter’s Enterprise everything it could be. So he went out and found a business coach to help make it happen.

Put me in coach, I'm ready to scale

A good business coach can do a lot of things for your business. They make you think differently, push you outside your comfort zone, stand up to you when you’re wrong about something, hold you accountable for your commitments and connect you to others who can help you grow.  

When Audenart decided he needed a coach, he turned to BNI, the business network he had long been a member of. “I spent some time researching and meeting with different people before forming a relationship with my coach,” he says.

“For the first six months, every time we got together, I was just complaining about something… a problem with an employee, or some challenge with a client or process we were putting in,” Audenart explains. “My coach held me accountable for the things we talked about and followed up on everything, closed every loop. Now, every time we meet, it’s all high-fives and celebrating victories. The difference in the business is incredible.”

Quote

My [business] coach held me accountable for the things we talked about and followed up on everything, closed every loop. Now, every time we meet, it’s all high-fives and celebrating victories. The difference in the business is incredible.

Graham Audenart, Painters Enterprise Quote

With active franchises now operating in both Alberta and British Columbia and another on the way, Audenart estimates Painter’s Enterprise will grow 50% by the end of 2018, perhaps even more.

“The franchise model we work, there are no upfront fees to get involved,” he says. “For us, it’s about finding people who have the passion and want to get on-board. If that’s in place, it’s ‘OK, let’s get to work,’ and we’ll take it from there.”

It’s a mindset Audenart understands well—the desire to do your own thing, and be master of your own destiny.

“I never wanted to work for anyone else and I wasn’t very good at it when I did,” he laughs. “That first experience painting was an opportunity, it opened my eyes and made me think about what I could create. That’s always been the fun part.”

Check out Graham’s case study to learn more about his move from paper to Jobber, and discover his favorite Jobber features.

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