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Winning the War on Mismanaged Expectations

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

As Sun Tzu once famously quoted in "The Art of War?", "Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat." Such wisdom can be applied to many realms, even those far removed from warfare – like the painting business. Let's delve into the strategic nuances of the painting world.

We've all been there: you pour your heart, soul, and countless hours into a client's project proposal only to be met with the dreaded, "You didn't meet our budget." It's like a swift kick to the stomach, and all that effort seems wasted.

But there's hope. Here, we outline some key tactics to ensure this disheartening feedback becomes a distant memory.

1. Be the Primary Educator:

First and foremost, ask yourself – how are potential clients setting their budgets? For homeowners, many of whom have little knowledge of the painting trade, it's often through television shows, internet research, conversations with friends, or social media interactions.

In this age of information, why aren't "you" the one educating them?

Imagine a world where they search for painting costs and your company’s educational content consistently pops up. There was a time when, by leveraging educational blogs, a company dominated search engine results pertaining to paint job costs.

You need to be that educator. This does two things:

  • It offers clients accurate cost expectations.

  • It filters out those who can't afford your services before they even contact you.

2. Pre-Qualification: The Art of the "Shin-Fu":

Sun Tzu also once noted, "Opportunities multiply as they are seized." Enter the world of 'Shin-Fu'. It's the art of pre-qualifying potential clients before you invest significant time with them. This involves discussing their motivation for the project, financial capabilities, gathering truths about their expectations, ensuring all decision-makers are on the same page, and a BS meter (or consultation fee) to weed out the serious from the non-serious.

Using this method, you'll only be spending time with genuine clients. Think of it as a strategy to identify the 'real' warriors among a crowd. And just like in battle, in the business of contracting, time is of the essence.

3. Mastering the Technique of Bracketing:

This is a sales technique designed to give potential clients a range (or bracket) for what they might expect to spend, based on their desires. After understanding their motive and what's essential for them, you provide a range, say between $10k and $15k, for a specific type of project.

By setting expectations early in the conversation, you are more likely to work with individuals who have a clear understanding of the potential costs.


Like any great strategist, the art lies not just in understanding the battlefield but also in understanding one’s adversary. In this case, it's the misconceptions, unrealistic expectations, and the vast sea of misinformation that your potential clients may have.

So, be the general of your business. Lay out your strategy, pick your tactics, and remember Sun Tzu's words: "In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity." Seize it.

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