From the August 2010 issue of Entrepreneur
Emily and Matt Shoulp of M&E Painting.
Emily and Matt Shoulp of M&E Painting.
Photo © Jamie Kripke

Like most community-minded business owners, Matt Shoup had sponsored Little League teams and supported local charities. But in 2007, Shoup--the owner of M&E Painting , a $2 million residential and commercial painting company in Loveland, Colo.--received disturbing news that sparked an idea of how else M&E could contribute.

When a client canceled a pending job because her husband had just died of a heart attack, Shoup told her he would return her deposit, with his condolences. But a few days later, Shoup and his wife, Emily, decided their business would paint the woman's house for free.

"We just wanted to do good for somebody--that was really what prompted us," Shoup says. That job led to a plan to publicize the effort and search for people who needed help with home renovation.

The company used social media to get the word out, posting a video on YouTube and contacting local television stations and newspapers. Shoup added the free paint makeover offer to his business cards so that he could drop them off at homes that looked to be in need of significant painting.

M&E received seven responses last year, two of which stood out: One family had a child with cancer, and another family's main breadwinner had broken his back. Shoup couldn't decide between them and chose to absorb the cost of both paint jobs.

Paint By The Numbers
Contribution to 2009 jobs: 20 gallons of primer, 45 gallons of paint
Total employees participating: 13
Hours donated: 120
Total cost of jobs, if billed: $8,000
Investment in promotion: $500
Publicity: Two TV stories, more than 350 YouTube views, lots of word-of-mouth

But the cost was less than he anticipated because Shoup's crews volunteered their time. "They could have been out there making money, but this way, they were able to really make a difference for a family," he says.

M&E's 48 employees were enthusiastic about the results. Shoup kept the program going and plans to give away six paint jobs by the end of 2010.

"As we grow, we'll give away more--if we grow 30 percent this year, we'll do 30 percent more jobs," Shoup says. "We'd really like to continue to make this a bigger thing and help more people."