Women in Business: Q&A with Pam Estabrooke, franchise owner of ProTect Painters

Pam Estabrooke is the franchise owner of ProTect Painters of Central Gwinnett located outside of Atlanta in Suwanee, Ga. ProTect Painters is a professional painting contractor franchise specializing in interior and exterior house painting, as well as commercial and residential painting projects.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

For several years, I was a single parent of two young children. I worked full time but financially it was hard - catastrophically hard. Those difficult years made me want so much more for my family. But, during that time, I couldn't see a way through it all. I only knew that if it was going to get better, I was going to have to do it myself.

That time period also made me more independent and controlling. As I manage and lead my teams today, I'm mindful about letting the staff perform their jobs their own way. After all, they are professionals of their trade. Because of my hardships, I can also emphasize with my staff. I know they often struggle financially as I did, so I pay fairly, quickly and give bonuses whenever I can.

How has your previous employment experience aided ProTect Painters?

I began working during high school in office and secretarial jobs. I progressed into administration at the executive level and then into corporate training roles. I was eventually hired by a small startup IT-sales company and moved from network administration to project management.

All of these jobs and skills come into play every day as a franchise owner in the home-services industry. I actually started my journey into starting my own franchise after being let go from my last IT project management job.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

Some days I think I do it better than others. My business is seasonal, so in busy seasons I typically do not get home until after 8 at night. That means I'm away at dinner time.

To work around that hectic schedule, my family tries to cook and freeze meals ahead of time so we can make healthy choices and avoid too much fast food. I block out time on my calendar for my weekly running group and I train for several half marathons a year. My husband and I play mixed doubles tennis and make sure to schedule date nights so we can have some alone time.

Being a franchise owner has its benefits in terms of work-life balances. When my now-15-year-old daughter was very young, franchising provided me with free blocks of time during the day to be there for her and volunteer and attend school and sports events. My family and friends know that my schedule is unpredictable and I do what I can. Letting go of the guilt that sometimes comes with missing life experiences can be tough.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure as a franchisee?

The highlight has definitely been the sales. Throughout the last few years, people either couldn't afford or were unwilling to spend money on their homes. But now that the housing market is improving and credit is easier to come by, we are way above sales expectations and projections.

Marketing can be challenging. It's hard to know sometimes where I should spend those precious dollars. What should my level of Internet presence be? How are my customers making buying decisions? And of course, what will Google do next? But that's one of the benefits of partnering with a supportive franchisor. The home office helps by answering these types of questions and offering continuous education.

What advice can you offer individuals who are seeking to become a franchise owner?

Do your due diligence. Talk to as many other current franchisees as you can. Have faith in yourself. Don't pay attention to friends and family who do not view you in a realistic light, either pumping you up too high or not seeing your potential. Trust the systems and knowledge of the franchisor and don't be afraid to ask them for help. Ultimately you're partnering with the franchisor that should help you along your journey to success. Make sure they have a track record and a culture you're comfortable with. I'm fortunate that ProTect Painters is the perfect fit with the home office support and franchise community spirit I was looking for.

Remember, this not an eight-hour a day job. Network, network, network.

And I promise, every day you will love saying "Hello. I'm _____ and I am the owner of _______".

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

I haven't been in a traditional work setting for many years. And, fortunately, franchising has given me freedom during the day and other flexibilities to take care of many responsibilities.

But I remember trying to juggle all the things I needed to do, including running my home as a parent and trying to be a good employee, all the while knowing, in the end, I wasn't giving either my family or employer 100 percent.

That's and age-old struggle that seems unfairly weighted towards women. A sense that we have to give up something in our career or personally in order to "have it all" is still very prevalent.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?

It's the same argument in a different package. Women have and will continue to struggle with this issue. I like how she's clear that education, spousal support and income will not make it any easier.

Women have been sitting around living rooms talking about this very subject for years. I find it a shame that we feel like we need permission to succeed. Maybe, as women, we should consider being less critical of ourselves and each other. The freedom to give ourselves a break and make the best decision we can for our careers and our family is ours alone.

After all, men make choices that are best for them and their families, so why shouldn't women? When my husband began his career with a large company, he started in the warehouse. He quickly progressed into management and it became clear that if he wanted to "really succeed" we would have to be prepared to move and move frequently. That was 20 years ago and at the time I had two children in elementary and middle school. We made the decision as a family that we would NOT take that corporate track and he would be as successful as he could be in our hometown of Atlanta. He has been criticized for it by family and others. He's been with the company for 21 years and we are still here in Atlanta and he's doing well. It was the best decision for our family at the time and it allowed us to achieve the balance we were seeking.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

I am very fortunate that Wayne Scherger, the founder of ProTect Painters, lives in the same city as me. When I started in this industry eight years ago, working for a previous franchise owner, Wayne was my trainer. We have stayed in contact over the years.

He was actually the person who approached me about ownership. It has been critical to my business that I am able to have him as my mentor. I frequently run ideas past him. We bounce marketing ideas off of each other. He has a true entrepreneur's spirit and pushes me to be more than I can be.

I think it's important to "pay it forward" so to speak. There are two fairly new franchisees near me, and we frequently meet for lunch and talk about things that are new to them. I enjoy helping them, as my mentor helped me, whether it's offering advice, helping with training or pooling our resources together for marketing and merchandising.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

Cynthia Kaye, the founder and owner of Logical Choice Technologies. Cynthia hired me for an IT position when I was pregnant with my daughter and allowed me to work flexible schedules as long as I needed to. I gained a lot of experience during the four years I worked for her.

She's also the one who let me go from her company about 11 years ago, setting me on an entrepreneurial path. It was on that day that I decided I would never work in an office for anyone else ever again. I started my own interior painting business and eventually worked for a previous ProTect Painters franchise owner.

I also admire Cynthia because she is a pioneer in an industry dominated by men, similar to me in the painting industry. Cynthia was a daring, courageous and transparent leader. As her employees, we shared in the good times and Cynthia didn't hide the bad times. She was also very much the family woman, raising two daughters, adopting two brothers from Russia, working in church leadership - all while growing the company. I watched her surround herself with great managers, mentors and support staff when she decided to take the company to the next level. All of these lessons stay with me until this day.

A more public woman I admire is Condoleezza Rice. As the first black female secretary of state, Condoleezza broke down several barriers for both women and black people. I look up to her as a woman because she's been wildly successful in a male-dominated culture and has done so without apologizing for not having a family and making her career a priority in her life.

What are your hopes for the future as a franchise owner?

On a personal level, I would like to continue encouraging women to step into ownership. Small-business ownership is a male-dominated sector of our population but women do very well. On the ProTect Painters blog, there is a nice post about all the successful women in our system alone, which proves women are great owners.

On the business side, the future is bright for ProTect Painters as a brand and I intend help grow it and enjoy being a franchise partner for as long as possible. Franchise ownership is allowing me to fund a lifestyle for my family that I did not think was possible. Funding college for my daughter, which is coming up in three years, is my top priority. One day, I would like to own more territory for my franchise when the time is right. In the immediate future, I'm focusing on bettering the brand by providing my customers the best home improvement experience possible.