Key business takeaways
- Get involved in professional associations and networks to gain inspiration, build your community, and learn about your industry
- Maintain your initial set of values, but be sure to also balance them with the growth of your business and an evolving market
- Clear communication around values-based business practices draws people into your mission, even beyond the business
Nichole Lovett has been painting since she could hold a brush. Learning about home improvement and developing her handiness alongside her mother, Nichole pursued art academically but ended up in the hospitality industry for the first decade of her career. After building up her courage and gaining inspiration from another local small business owner in the Chicagoland area, Nichole started Harmony Haus, an Evanston-based house painting company.
As she created and developed her brand and operational plan, she knew she wanted her fledgling business to reflect her personal values: reducing waste, avoiding toxic materials, and reusing anything and everything during her projects. A staunch believer in the “practice what you preach” mindset, Nichole had already given up her car for ten years before starting Harmony Haus. “People can see that I truly live my values,” Nichole said. “I think that’s part of the reason they like having me around.”
Leaning on your community to reach the next level
After five years of working in the interior house painting industry, Nichole decided to branch out and join a few professional trade associations. And that’s what took Harmony Haus to the next level, she said.It was one of the first moments where she felt part of a bigger community and became a true “paint geek.”
“I started to really be able to learn and become friends with some of the very best people in my field from all across the country,” Nichole said. “That was eye opening to me because before that, I didn’t know any other painters. I had just been doing my own thing. So I was able to learn the fundamentals and learn about industry standards I need to uphold.”
The move was a turning point that changed her perspective on how to grow and innovate with Harmony Haus, but it also provided a platform to share her own principles with peers. “Being taken under the wings of fellow professionals, and being able to learn and grow from them, and share my ideas about being environmentally-conscious has been a special opportunity,” Nichole said. “Having a focus on sustainability in the construction trades is not popular, so these professional networks allowed me to introduce new ways of thinking to my peers.”
Business associations exist for a diverse range of industries. Many associations host nationwide events, like conferences, that serve as information-sharing hubs for their members. Not only can such events help your business get noticed, but they also provide special opportunities to make connections with fellow business owners who can empathize with and, hopefully, help you in one way or another. Such professional networks help link experts that come from the same industries, but they can also connect people who have an identity in common, whether geographic, ethnic, or otherwise.
Having experienced sexism on job sites, Nichole’s trade associations have served as an uplifting space where she is celebrated for being a woman in the painting industry. “It’s amazing to me to be in a ballroom with [industry professionals] and everyone is so welcoming to me as a woman,” Nichole said.
Maintaining your values through growth and evolution
As businesses grow, they inevitably expand beyond what their owners had initially imagined. For Nichole, it started off slowly as she worked out of a borrowed van, and now she has a waitlist and is able to take her pick of projects.
Resources like time, energy, and supplies must be reworked and reconceptualized to match the business’s growth and evolution. As her client list grew over time, Nichole made the intentional decision to keep her team small, which has helped prioritize quality work and her commitment to keeping waste minimal. “My team consists of just me and one other painter,” Nichole said. “We work on a project-by-project basis.”
As the number of calls Nichole was getting every day grew, her priorities had to be re-evaluated. Originally only using the limited color palette from just one non-toxic, planet-friendly paint company called Colorhouse, Nichole has since expanded not just her palette, but her entire suite of sustainability practices. “As I’ve grown in the number of years I’ve been doing this, I’ve kind of grown in my specialization as well,” Nichole said.
Why be green? How to communicate the mission
To uphold her initial values and the mission that sparked Harmony Haus in the first place, Nichole established a working system that makes the planet her number one priority. Beyond committing to environmentally friendly paints and other materials, Nichole utilizes TerraCycle bins to create an all-in-one, zero-waste box. “I’m always cognizant of how much garbage I’m creating at each job site and how much is getting thrown away,” she said. “I approach projects with a restoration-and-preservation mindset instead of just ripping everything out and starting over.”
Rather than coming into a new project with the mindset that she is simply there to complete the necessary work to fulfill the customer’s vision, Nichole integrates herself in the process. Driven by her commitment to reusing materials and reducing waste, her projects often become highly consultative.
“I think my customers appreciate that. They know I’m going to push them to restore the plaster walls they have instead of just knocking it all out and putting drywall up,” Nichole said. “I push for things like restoring existing windows they have in their house instead of just ripping those out and throwing them in a landfill. If they’re getting rid of a light fixture or something that can be used, I take it over to the Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse to donate so that it can have a second life.”
Harmony Haus has cultivated a strong social media presence to assist in communicating its mission. Nichole takes care to explain the sustainability strategies she uses in her business and speak out on topics that matter to her. A recent post called out specific materials she planned to recycle and touched on the TerraCycle apparatus. “Being an environmentally-conscious painting company is about a whole lot more than just slapping up some low or no VOC paint,” she wrote. “It’s time for the construction trades to stop being so incredibly wasteful and appreciate that we only have this one planet.”
Photos from Harmony Haus
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