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Mission: Vacation Meet Ai Painting

13 May, 2021

Lacie and Austin Ilsley, owners of Ai Painting Plus, are on a mission to work less and make more. With the help of Nolan Consulting, they will put processes and people in place that allow the core functions of his business to run without them present at every step. They can spend that time growing, building or vacationing. If they succeed? They win money for a vacation this year. Looking to build a strong, profitable, sustainable business of your own??? Listen, Read and Watch this series for key tips on how to do it and do it right! Follow along at paintmag.com/mission-vacation.

Austin Ilsley started painting when he was only 16 years old, and he had to prove his work ethic to the business owner before he was let in. He’s been painting ever since. In 2013, he graduated to painting contractor when he began Ai Painting Plus in Columbia, Missouri. Lacie Ilsley has spent her career in business management, focused on office management, team development and leadership training. Austin and Lacie have been married for 11 years, and it was love at first sight. “I played in aband with my friends when I was 19, and we lived in a house together," Austin recounted. "She moved in next door, and I was like, ‘Oh man, this girl is the hottest girl on the planet. I gotta figure out a way to talk to her.’ Then her roommate came over and told me, ‘She thinks that you’re so cute.’” Now they have two children and two dogs and love camping, food, exercise and fitness, golf, and spending time together as a family. But running Ai Painting is taking over their home life.

Business Details

Ai Painting is a full-service residential and light commercial repaint company. They employ eight full-time painters. “We have eight field employees, two of them field supervisors.” said Austin. “One has been with us since the very beginning, and the other has been with us for about five years. Then
we have three painters and three apprentices.” Austin and Lacie run sales, marketing, customer service, scheduling, billing and all admin duties. In addition, Austin works in the field when needed. Bookkeeping and payroll are outsourced.

Current Challenges

A few big challenges that Austin and Lacie want to overcome are stagnancy, increasing and improving leadership roles and empowering employees, and not spending every minute of every day talking about work. Their goal is to create an organized business where employees can pursue promising careers and they have time to raise their children and pursue a fulfilling life outside the business.

“We just work all the time,” said Lacie. “I mean, we work from the time we wake up until the time we basically go to bed, and we work every weekend. Our kids even say, ‘Will you stop talking about work? We’re eating dinner.’”

This is not the start of their journey toward business ownership freedom. This time last year, Lacie was working at her own job and Austin was seeking
assistance in organizing and scaling Ai Painting. He was the runner up in Mission Vacation 2020. Though he was not in the series, he decided to get a
little help from Nolan Consulting anyway. This led him to assess the strengths and weaknesses of his business and himself. 

While Austin was learning to identify the things that he was not good at, Lacie was feeling less satisfaction with her own career. Her more official involvement in Ai Painting started by helping Austin with marketing; then she dug into previous client lists and was working to get things organized.
“I quickly realized I enjoyed this,” she said. “It drove me, and I wanted to be a part of this business and help grow it. I also saw that he had 50,000 emails in his inbox and he hadn’t reached out to previous clients, so I wanted to jump in and help. After all, the company had been our livelihood for a couple of years, so why not both of us just dive right in and really build it up?”

This prompted the decision to make Lacie the new CEO. "Long story short, it's because I'm not good at everything thing, and she is good at all the stuff that I’m not. And over the past six years, Lacie was always in the background giving me mentorship, helping me problem-solve and letting me bounce ideas off her,” Austin said.

“He built this company, the vision, thenmission — the core values are ones that he implemented. My job as the CEO is more to connect. Get our message out to the community, build the brand, plan for months and years from now, and hold everyone accountable,” said Lacie. 

Though they didn't struggle to identify the roles of each in the new structure, the path has not been all easy.

“At first, I got really excited every time a bid request came in or somebody called,” said Lacie. “I wanted to say, ‘Yes, we’ll come bid that. Yes, we’ll come bid that. Yes, yes, yes.’ And then Austin was drowning, and I think he wanted to kill me.”

"Any more front doors we can possibly go estimate?" Austin interjected.

I didn't have that background, but I learned that I have to filder through and ask more questions," Lacie added.

Mission: Vacation Goals

So now that they have their management house in order, they are ready to scale in a reasonable, profitable way. This is where their Mission Vacation
journey will begin. Over the next four months, working with Colin Nolan, they will devise a plan and implement it. First on the hiring list are experienced painters who can take on leadership roles, then more painters they can train in the craft. After that, they hope to focus on the office and hire an estimator, a production manager and an administrator. In addition, they want to put systems in place to organize and speed processes along. 

All this scaling does not come without a lot of hard work, difficult conversations and potentially some losses. After listening to Mission Vacation last
year, Austin has some insight into what could be coming. “I’m nervous about the things Colin will ask us to do. We’re going to feel incredibly uncomfortable. I think we’ll have some people buy in and then others who might not. I don’t want to lose anybody — that’s the fear. I remember listening to Eric [Craine] last year, and he had some long-term employees that didn’t buy in, and they made their exit. I can only imagine how much stress that was, but when the dust all settled, it was a blessing in disguise. But I’m nervous to go through those moments and stay composed.

In true partner form, Lacie remains optimistic, calling on their years of experience working together to overcome whatever life throws at them. “We’re used to challenges,” she said. “Austin and I have been through more together than most couples can even imagine. Now being in a business together, going into this journey together, we’ve got this. This is not our first storm.” 

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