A question every car painter asks himself at some point of his career.

It is my first blog post for Etalon Refinish Blog in 2016. I reckon that many of us use the winter holidays for making plans for the coming year, both for our personal and professional lives. As I already stated in the past, I am privileged to meet a lot of outstanding people, including many car body sprayers around the world. The vast majority of these people are hard working, highly skilled professionals in a very difficult, rather challenging physically and even unhealthy working environment. With many painters I have spent long hours chatting about technical issues, problems of the trade and life generally. What I have learnt from those discussions is that sooner or later every employed painter asks himself a question: Shall he stay as employee or set up his own business? The question may sound simple, but the answer is not obvious. I was asked for advice a number of times. The best thing I could do was …actually ask my colleagues more questions, which in turn would assist them in taking the right decision for themselves. This is how I came up with fifteen questions, which might be of assistance to anyone in doubt of whether he or she is ready to start up his own bodyshop.

All you need some free time and a pencil. Circle only one choice out of three. Based on your answers, sum up the score and read the recommendations at the bottom of the questionnaire. Are you ready?

1) Do you want to open your own auto body repair shop to make more money?
1. Certainly yes.
2. Not only.
3. Money is not the primary reason.

2) Do you have a business plan?
1. What does it mean?
2. I have put some numbers down.
3. I do, a well-thought, detailed and written one.

3) How important is financial security to you?
1. Very important.
2. Important, but I am willing to go through little uncertainty to achieve bigger goals.
3. I am willing to take risks.

4) Are you comfortable with multitasking?
1. No, I prefer to do one thing at a time.
2. When needed, I do occasionally.
3. I can handle different tasks without any difficulty.

5) What does the word “marketing” mean to you?
1. Not much. It is one of those fancy words managers are used to play with.
2. Marketing is advertising.
3. Marketing is an integral part of any business with many directions with primary goal to attract and retain customers.

6) Do you have an exit strategy?

1. Failure is not an option for me.
2. I try not to think about it.
3. I know clearly what I should do in case things go wrong.

7) Do you have a hobby you are passionate about?
1. Yes. I do. I am crazy about …
2. I have a hobby, whenever I have time.
3. Not really.

8) How old are you?
1. I am 45 +
2. I am 18-30
3. I am 30-45

9) How do you feel about working long hours?
1. Work is not all my life. Eight hours per day is enough.
2. I am not very happy to work overtime, but I will if money is good.
3. I don’t mind to work long hours.

10) Are your a lonely wolf or a team worker?
1. I prefer to rely only on myself.
2. Sometimes I get along well with people, but not always.
3. I am 100% team worker.

11) Do you have experience in negotiating?
1. No.
2. Only occasionally I have to negotiate with suppliers.
3. Yes, I’ve been negotiation regularly shop supplies and job rates with estimators.

12) Are you computer literate?

1. Computer is not my job.
2. I can do some basic staff.
3. I am a confident PC user.

13) Do you use social media accounts?
1. No, this staff is for teenagers.
2. I have a Facebook account.
3. I am very active social networks user, including Linkedin.

14) Do you have funds for your start-up available?
1. No, I rely on a bank loan.
2. I have put something aside, but a loan will be necessary.
3. I have the majority of the needed funds for investment.

15) What do your family and spouse think about your business venture?
1. They are not very happy.
2. Some of them are supportive, some are doubtful.
3. My wife and close family are full of support.

Now, add up the scores from the questionnaire and look up the below information.

Score Advice
15-23 Starting your own bodywork shop maybe is not such a great idea. Better, build your career as employed car painter.
24-37 Definitely, you have very good chances to succeed, however you may need to think twice and weigh all the pros and cons. Make sure that this is what you really want in life.
38-48 Go for it. You have an entrepreneurial spirit and necessary skills to establish your own collision repair garage.

EntrepreneurToEmployee (002)
Now let me elaborate a little bit on the logic behind this questionnaire. Below I bring to your attention my thoughts and reasoning about each question separately.
1) Do you want to open your own auto body repair shop to make more money?
Incredible as it may seem, but money alone is not strong enough incentive. A painter could make very decent money as an employee, but with less stress. You should only take the path of entrepreneurship if you have a strong urge to create something, to build a new business, which will last.
2) Do you have a business plan?
A lot of newly opened businesses, bodyshops including, are dimmed to fail right from the start. Detailed business plan includes a market survey, budget, break-even definition, return on investment and other vital data evaluations. Without business plan you gamble, and we are not in a casino business.
3) How important is financial security for you?
There are some people, who, by nature, cannot stand any kind of uncertainty, especially of a financial kind. These guys tremble with a mere thought of debt or losing their investment. If you are like this, better stick to employment.
4) Are you comfortable with multitasking?
You may have heard that multitasking is counterproductive, yet when you start your business, you will have to do your accounting, bookkeeping, purchasing, and marketing.
5) What does the word “marketing” mean to you?
Marketing is an integral part of any business. Bodyshop is not an exception. Some people feel that this fancy management word is just for the big firms and international corporations, and not for the humble collision repair place. Very wrong! By definition, marketing is a link by different means between a seller or service provider and customers. Without it you have no customers and no business. Too many car painters rely only on the word of mouth and reputation. It is not enough these days. You may be the best of the best in spraying paint, but if nobody knows you, your business won’t succeed.
6) Do you have an exit strategy?
Nobody starts business having in mind failure, but unfortunately it is a possible outcome. Failure is not a choice, but a probability. What will happen if you lock up your bodyshop? Will you be able to find a job? What about the equipment? Would you be able to liquidate it and recover a part of your investment? You should have answers to these questions.
7) Do you have a hobby you are passionate about?
You may wonder what on earth does this question have to do with a business start-up. I have met a lot of people in our industry, who were passionate about something. Be it football, travelling, collecting stamps or scuba diving, any hobby is great. However, when you start up your own business, you must be ready to sacrifice some or all of your hobbies. Entrepreneurship is not an 8 am to 5 pm job. Have this in mind.
8) How old are you?
Now this is the most controversial question. In history there are plenty of examples when a teenager or an older person succeeded. Nonetheless, majority of successful businesses, unless inherited, were established in their late twenties up to forties. If you are too young, there are still far too many things to learn about the trade of car refinishing. While if you are close to mid-forties, you are risk adverse (mortgage, kids in school, established habits, retirement payments). The rule of thumb is that if you plan to run your bodyshop for at least 20 years, than go for it.
9) How do you feel about working long hours?
A common misconception about being your own boss is that you work less and make more money. It might be the case at some point, if you will manage to organize smooth, flawless operations in your shop. Yet in the beginning, a new bodyshop owner, besides daily prep job and car spraying, will also clean up the place, meet suppliers, go to the bank and do the bookkeeping. Hiring people to delegate those jobs is costly and managing people is a task by itself. If you are not sure about your working stamina, then you better not start it at all.
10) Are your lonely wolf or team worker?
It is a tricky question too. At a first glance, if you are your own boss than no need to bear with annoying supervisor or boss. Partially right, but… Successful business depends on team, so you will need to hire people at some point. Also, you will need to team up with panel beaters, deal with suppliers, work together with an advertising agent. Therefore being a team player is an asset when you have to manage complex business relationships.
11) Do you have negotiations experience?
I am convinced that negotiations skills are among the key characteristics for success. Negotiations with insurance companies, suppliers, customers and estimators will be a part of the everyday routine. If in your previous, you were involved in negotiations on behalf of your employer, than you will succeed in your own business.
12) Are you computer literate?
In our days computer literacy is an essential skill regardless of what business you own. Unfortunately I met some bodyshop owners, who had no clue how to even switch-on the PC. They make their orders by handwriting, bookkeeping is done on a paper with calculator, offers sent to insurance companies by fax (yes this outdated machine in a dusty corner). Learn computer basics or don’t even think about starting your own business.
13) Do you use social media accounts?
Having account on Facebook or Twitter is a personal issue, yet if you want to attract local customers for your auto body and paint shop, than there is no better place than social media platforms to advertise, attract new customers and post referrals. For building professional network consider LinkedIn. You will be amazed what potential this social network has for professionals.
14) Do you have funds for your start-up available?
Fundraising is essential for any start-up, and a collision repair shop requires big initial investment in spray booth, compressor, equipment and consumables. Moreover cash flow in the beginning will be most probably negative. All the expenses, potential revenue must be carefully considered and put down in a business plan. Do not start up unless you can cover initial investment and fixed costs for the first six months. Ideally you should have the majority of the funds in cash, but getting a loan is also an option. I would say that you should have minimum 50% of initial costs from your own money. Seek for advice in your bank, negotiate for favorable terms.
15) What do your family and spouse think about your business venture?
Support of your family is hard to underestimate. Remember that you will have difficult times, ups and downs. If your family is not fond of your business venture, give it a careful thought. In the end of the day happiness of your loved ones is precious. Talk with your wife, parents, and even children if they are old enough to understand. Explain to them all the challenges and potential risks, and above all else, give them the reasons why do you want to start your own business. If it’s your dream, say it openly. Let them share your passion!

To round up, I want to say that this is my personal view. You should follow your heart and intuition. Being entrepreneur is a bumpy road, full of traps and sometimes disappointments. On the contrary, personal fulfilment, good ambitions and creativity push this world forward. Don’t be afraid of mistakes. Failure is not the end of life either. Your skills and experience will stay with you!

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