Staining decks is a business you can bootstrap for almost no money.
Buy a web domain and get hosting for $1.99 per month. Put together a WordPress website using a free template. Make a logo and some marketing material for free on Canva. Send a Google My Business postcard to your apartment and build out your profile. Get some business cards made at your local print shop or order them online for $30 for 1,000 of them. If you can scrape up $500 thats all you need to hire out perfectly good freelancers to do this stuff for you but I suggest learning it.
First lets think about who can refer you business? Who do people ask when they need to get their decks stained? How about carpenters that build decks… They aren’t interested in coming back and staining them. They just want to build them.
Go on Google and search “deck building + your town”. Make a list of the names, numbers and addresses of the top 100 results on Google.
Call them all. Tell them you are a local contractor who specializes in staining decks. Ask them about their business. Make conversation. Ask them if they would refer business your way to treat and maintain the decks they build.
The thing about deck building is you have to wait until the deck weathers for a few weeks/months and the lumber dries out before you stain it. Tell them you’re their guy. Send them an email. Maybe even offer to stain their home deck for free to show them what you can do. Do this for friends as well and push them to leave you Google Reviews.
Go see the ones that have offices. Walk into their businesses and give them your card and take theirs. Follow up with them relentlessly reminding them to send you business and that you’re happy to stain the decks they build.
Go on Zillow and Realtor and look at homes for sale. Track the ones with decks and look at the photos to see if they need stained or not. If they do wait till closing and then send a hand written letter to the house offering to stain their deck for a reasonable price. There are certain neighborhoods where all the homes were built around the same time and they all have decks. When they’re 5 years old or so go around and knock on every door. Introduce yourself and tell them you’d be happy to give them a quote. Give them your card. If they don’t answer the door put a door hanger on it and move on to the next house.
Go see the top 20 realtors in town. They could be big referrals of business for you as well. Walk into their offices and introduce yourself. Tell them you do affordable deck staining and can turn them around quickly. Realtors know a nice stained deck looks a lot better and shows better than an old ratty one. They’ll start recommending you to people listing their homes as part of the “sale prep”. They’ll also recommend you to people who just bought houses with decks that need stained. If they really like you and you form a connection they’ll even tell clients during home walk throughs “Oh don’t worry about that deck it will look brand new if you stain it and I know a guy/gal who can do it for you at a great price!”. Offer to stain the deck’s of the realtors for a really low price in exchange for some referrals and maybe a Google Review with a photo of your work!
Get out and start staining decks. Do it with only the basics at first and upgrade equipment as you go. You’ll need to wash and prep the decks before you stain them, usually a few days before. There are lots of resources online about preparing your surface. You can spray deck cleaner on it and then scrub or hose it off. Be careful not to ruin a deck with a power washer so do your research first. Cover areas in the splash zone with cheap painters plastic.
You can up-charge things like algae treatments and speciality stains, decorative light installs, painting, board replacement, nail/screw replacement.
Take before and after photos of every deck you stain. Make little video clips of your work and upload them to Youtube. GeoTag them and put them in a gallery on your website and upload them to your Google My Business page. Get customers to include these photos in their Google Reviews. Ignore social media and yelp – not in your 80/20 for getting new customers.
Customers will start to come. Contractors that build hundreds of decks every year may start using you to stain the decks or recommending you to the customers. Realtors will start sending you business. Make sure to THANK the people who refer you business and send them notes and maybe even gifts. If they feel valued they’ll keep recommending you.
You’ll start to gain some momentum. Start to get some equipment and maybe even a work van to haul your stain and washing equipment.
If you answer the phone every time with a smile and turn quotes around quickly you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of your competition and you’ll be able to charge a higher price. If you send clean cut employees who are friendly and do your invoicing online you’ll be in a league of your own and customers will start to recommend you to all of their friends. Use Google Maps to calculate deck square footage (right click > measure distance > click 4 corners of deck to get area and then quote them right on the phone. Zillow also has photos of a TON of houses so check to see if there is a listing and you’ll often get photos.
Get before and after photos on your website like this in slider format. That will be awesome for you to showcase your work.
You’re on your way. Its time to hire some employees. Summer is the busy time so consider hiring students. Put a process in place to cover everything in harms way from potential stain splashing. Speed wins in this game. Give your employees the tools they need to go quickly and see if you can give them bonuses for working quickly. Use a phone app to track their hours AND their location so you can not only keep them honest but analyze labor expenses on a job by job basis as well as lost time (on no job at all) to traveling, lunch, etc. The data will help you get better at quoting.
Don’t feel like you need to get every single job and don’t get emotional about losing bids. Converting less leads at a higher price is often better than converting more leads at a lower price. There are certain customers you don’t want. The ones that want to beat you up on price. The ones that aren’t willing to pay extra for fast turnaround and a quality trustworthy employee on their property. Avoid being a subcontractor for this reason. They only care about price. Your value add is quality and speed. Deal with the customer directly wherever possible.
Grow from there. Maybe expand to other services like sealcoating pavement, gutter cleaning or power washing!
Don’t like staining decks? Take a look at this list and take your pick.