It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that in many parts of the country the economy has slowed way down. For several months now, I have gotten e-mails from many who have asked for tips on staying busy, especially around this time of the year. I like to talk about repair work and plastering but if there’s no work, it doesn’t really make much sense to talk about how to do it if the phone isn’t ringing


To set the stage, I wanted to start with a story: It’s about two boys who go down to the river to fish for the day. Suddenly out of nowhere a guy comes floating down the river, all beat up, struggling to hold on to a log. The boys dive in and drag him to the shore. An ambulance is brought in and he’s whisked away to the hospital. But a strange thing happens. The next day an injured woman comes floating down the river and the boys save her. The next day two more banged-up people, then three people the next day. The town council meets over this situation. They decide the best thing to do is build a hospital on the bank of the river.

Soon, the hospital is filled with hundreds of people. A reporter comes to visit and during the tour of the new hospital he asks one question: “Has anyone ever checked up river to see where these people are coming from?”

“No,” comes the reply from the hospital administrator, “we’ve been too busy treating the victims.”

Applying this to our world, the lesson is clear: If we’re experiencing slow times in our business, we need to look “upstream” for the causes. Sometimes, we’re so busy dealing with the problems that down time causes, we don’t have time to analyze why things slow down when they do. Or, it may be that we do recognize the factors; a downturn in the economy due to layoffs from a factory, more competitors moving into the territory, certain seasons and times of the year, etc.


We all know the problems. Let’s talk about solutions. Here are a few ideas that have been field tested by the best that I hope will prove helpful:

One thing people hate is a mess in their home. And I can understand their concern and worry. I was just on a project doing repairs to a living room ceiling and some drywall finishers were in the next room doing their thing. I doubt the conditions and mess they were creating are the norm, but there was dust flying and mud was everywhere. The place was a disaster. So, I put myself in a homeowner’s position: Do I want such a mess in my house during a holiday season?

No way. If I’m the average home-owner I’m busy with enough, without having a can of worms opened right in the middle of what I’m doing.

This is where business can be squelched or created. How are you handling the conversation stoppers-the fears and objections that they have? Understanding and showing feelings for them is a start. Many people call you in to look at a job around the holidays but in the back of their minds they are thinking in terms of weeks or months past that particular time. They want to get a price and that’s about it. Your job is to calm their fears, to let them know that you can get this project done neatly and in record time, without skimping on quality. A challenge? Of course. Will it work every time? No. But often, it’s you who can sway things one way or another.


I’ve mentioned coupons numerous times in this column because they work. But this time I want to mention a “time sensitive” coupon that can really be effective. If there’s a consistent slow time each year, say January to February, you make the coupon effective just for that time. Spell it out on the coupon. Give them an incentive to use it then. This can move people to action. Have it with you when you look at the project. When they start talking far into the future, you can guide them to the timeframe you want by handing them the coupon. It may offer $25, $50 or more off their project, with the expiration date clearly spelled out.


I cannot stress enough the handing out of business cards to related businesses: plumbers, electricians, window and siding companies, insurance and real estate agents. Instead of sitting at home pining away and getting on the nerves of the family, use the down time. It’s amazing how much business is created by passing out your cards. How about that great guy or gal who works at the huge hardware store like Lowe’s, Menards, Home Depot in the paint or window department? Make friends with them, give them your cards, and you will have a live ad going all day everyday for you. The point: Go upstream and assemble an army of people who will be your promotional team. Then the rewards will be coming down the stream to you for years to come.


Thank you notes are still a powerful business builder. Some of you know I draw greeting cards with my cartoons, Pete & Peaches, for the Successories Co. I know the card business. A simple note thanking people for calling you in to bid the job or to thank them for the business afterward will never be forgotten. It’s unusual for people to be thankful. Make it part of your success strategy. And make sure you mean it. Go that extra step and you will find business coming your way, big time.


Something that gets me at times are contractors who complain of having no work but who will not put out the dollar to make a hundred. What I’m talking about is home shows and the media.

Some time ago, I got a booth lined up at a women’s lifestyle show in Peoria, Ill. I paid $550 for the one-day show. That money paid me back a hundred-fold. I got business from it for a long time afterward. Now the thing that got me was this: Here’s a ton of siding, electrical, plumbing companies and the list goes on. I was the only plastering company there. No drywall people either. And to add insult, I had several guys in the trade ask if I’d pass out their cards-or mention them-just in case I got swamped with work and had too much to handle. Come on! What’s the deal?

It takes money to make money. And this is one area that I personally recommend you invest in. Wherever thousands of people come together, it saves you time and money and lets you tell your story. Rent a kiosk at the mall and stand there and pass out your cards for a month. Some area’s kiosks run about $600 for the month. Put your signs in them and show up live on the weekends.

One more thing: If you do a notable project, let the media know about it. I worked on a historic building and let three TV stations know about it. All three called me. You make their life easier by getting them a story, and they will give you time on television you could never afford to buy. Make the story interesting. Give them details on something their audience doesn’t know. This will give you tremendous exposure as the “expert” in your field and I can almost guarantee you will get business from it.

The winner of theWalls & Ceilings/Plaster Man T-shirt this month is Jeff Leahy of Cincinnati. Marshalltown is supplying a pair of its new Skywalker stilts for our next contest. Enter by sending your name, address and phone number to this magazine or e-mail it to me at . I thank you all for your letters. Keep them coming! Until next time, Plaster On!