Harnessing the power of color

by Amy Woolf
Using the color-selection process to streamline projects and improve customer satisfaction

What sets you apart as a painting contractor is your skilled application, excellent customer service, and business acumen. But at the end of the day, if your customer is not happy with the color they have chosen, it reflects poorly on the job as a whole and may inhibit them from moving forward with the next painting project. We all know that keeping an existing customer takes significantly less work than landing a new one, so it’s always in our best interest to make sure that every facet of the job goes smoothly—including the color-selection process.


Perhaps the most important pathway to successful color selection is not rushing the process. Giving your customer the opportunity to consider a handful of colors in various lighting conditions and at different times throughout the day will allow them to become comfortable with new colors, especially if they have been living with Linen White and are shifting to more colorful walls. Last-minute decisions can sometimes be successful, but they may leave them with a sense of self-doubt, wondering whether they should have dedicated more time and energy to the process.

When my clients are evaluating colors, I suggest they look at color swatches against something that stays rather than taped against the existing wall color. This might mean leaning samples up against a sofa to see how the color relates to the fabric. For an exterior, I will often ask them to tape sample chips to a window rather than against the surface to be painted. Looking at a new color against the current paint color sets up a color relationship that will never happen, so it’s better to look at new colors apart from the current ones.

Most of the major paint manufacturers provide large sample chips to professionals and I order them for every client after every consult even if they say they’re happy with my suggestions and feel ready to move forward. I also suggest that they do as much sampling as they feel is necessary to ensure their own comfort. In other words, I ask them to engage in the process and take responsibility for their selection. Most of my clients go from paper samples right to paint, however for those who tend to be more anxious, I suggest they buy actual paint and test a color to be sure. You may want to add this service (painting up samples for clients) but be sure to build the extra time and expense in to your quotes.


Another in-home assessment that is critical to the success of a job, both for color selection and mechanics of application, is determining how particular a customer is. You have probably developed a sense over the years about which want your finest work and which prefer a less-exacting job in exchange for a better price or faster turnaround. Learning to determine which customers are color-challenged can be equally important.

Sometimes the signs are obvious—think of the customer who has 15 color chips in hand when you come to quote painting one room. Other times, it’s less obvious. Those are the ones that can be costly, as you may potentially end up wasting valuable time or delaying a project while they sort out color choices. One approach is to ask at the time of the quote if they have decided on color and, if not, what their previous color-selection experiences were like. Based on their response, you can either build in additional time to offer your own color advice or, for the most difficult-appearing customers, refer them to a full-time professional color consultant.

A growing number of painting contractors now offer color consulting as part of their bids, either having someone on staff who is trained in color, or adding in a few hours for an independent color consultant to their quote. These painters tell me that this value-added service helps set them apart from their competition and helps them more reliably close sales. Their customers also report greater satisfaction, having had help with the decision-making process, which is daunting for most.

If you do decide to offer color consulting services, it makes sense to get some training, or at least read up on color, so that you have some useful vocabulary for discussing the subject with your customers. As a professional painter having worked with color for years, you likely have an innate sense of how color functions. But, communicating those ideas to a homeowner who just doesn’t think about color all that often and doesn’t have the vocabulary to discuss color is quite a different skill set. Good color advice is partly knowing how colors play together and partly knowing how to convey that information in a way a customer can understand and, ultimately, feel empowered in their choices.

Another approach to reining in the color-selection process is using a limited palette of colors. Examples include The Williamsburg Paint Color Collection from Benjamin Moore, the Sherwin-Williams Concepts in Color collection, and the tightly edited collection of 132 colors from Farrow & Ball. Especially for beginners in color, having a narrower range of colors to work with can streamline the process. Some color consultants develop their own set of favorite colors and draw on them for all of their consults. Obviously, it is better to have the full range of thousands of colors to choose from, but only after developing some deeper expertise.


Color is commonly considered the very best return on investment for the decorating budget. Paint can transform a room for hundreds of dollars, whereas furniture costs thousands. There is an opportunity to help your customer make the most of their investment in your services by ensuring they are happy with their selections. They will live with your work, surrounded by the colors they chose, for years to come. They will either remember the experience positively and feel happy about their surroundings or feel regret that they could have done better and, ultimately, wonder whether they want to go through the process again any time soon. Any lingering negative feelings have the potential to lower your chance for repeat business.

So, the choice is yours … you can side-step the power of color and its ability to transform your business. Or, set yourself apart and close more sales by growing your color skills and providing professional color assistance—and leave a trail of raving customers who love their color choices as well as your work.



In the past five years, we have seen more changes to the world of lighting and light bulbs than we have for the past five decades! With so many options and so much confusion, it is helpful to discuss lighting with your customers because, as we all know, color is reflected light. Sometimes, a simple change of a light bulb can save a color, before or after a job. I had a client who hated her mint-green stairway walls, and we simply replaced the CFL bulb with one with a warmer color temperature. We moved on to select colors for the rest of the house, but she was relieved not to have to include the cost of the stairway walls in the project, and my advice built trust that I wasn’t just changing colors for the sake of it. Most homeowners are not familiar with the new labeling guidelines for light bulbs—including Lumens, Color Temperature and Color Rendering Index—so it pays to be familiar with this terminology and ready to educate them for the best color outcome


Amy Woolf consults with residential clients on both interiors and exteriors, and on commercial projects including restaurants, retail and corporate workplaces, helping clients through the complexity of the color-selection process. She works on-site in New England, as well as virtually with clients across the U.S. and in the UK. She is a five-year winner of the Best of Houzz Service Award.

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