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Tips from a 4th Generation Builder & Social Media Star

How Matt Panella uses transparency and technology to scale his business and reputation.

Houzz Pro

JUNE 16, 2023

Matt Panella was a teenager when he became a fourth generation carpenter. “It was one of those things where you grew up in a family and it is what your parents did. It’s like farming, but carpentry,” he says. With a young family to support, Panella had no time to waste. He began learning the building trade on the job with the support of the builders who came before him. “Everything that I know was done with an onsite apprenticeship,” he says.

A decade later, he is a rarity: a social media darling of the construction industry with 310,000 YouTube subscribers, and 124,000 Instagram followers. Here @mattbangswood shares what he’s learned scaling his family’s California business, tips for growing and marketing a construction company, and the importance of giving back to your community.

An Unexpected Breakthrough

Panella first honed his skills on smaller projects which often evolved into bigger ones. He might build a fence for a client, for example, and then be hired to do a siding job for them. His first big break came when he contracted with a builder to construct a new house. It quickly became a disaster that nearly broke him. The contractor had major financial issues that blew up in the midst of construction, and Panella was not allowed to finish the project. “It nearly wiped us out. We had a ton of legal fees,” he says.

But there was a silver lining. One day, Panella was outside framing the first floor walls of that house and his everyday attention to marketing paid off. “We had our sign up, everything was good. The trucks looked good,” he recalls. Someone stopped by, and told Panella he was building a house down the street. “We ended up building his house,” he says. The three-story custom home build proved to be a turning point. 

Market Yourself, Bumps & All

Panella did not set out to go viral on social media. He started documenting his projects on YouTube through long-format videos to market his work and share knowledge with others. “I started the whole social media thing as a way to showcase what I was doing,” he says. “We never did it because we wanted a ton of followers,” he says. But that is exactly what happened as the videos he posted from job sites took off. 

“The goal was to educate other people, but also to educate ourselves. If there is a method of framing that I use that somebody else can find helpful, they can take that and learn with it,” he says. Sometimes that means showing others what not to do. “I've messed up so badly on projects and it all gets posted, which I think is awesome,” he says. “It keeps people transparent.” One of those moments came when he was building a massive-sized custom home. “The whole kitchen was supposed to be at 11-foot tall and I framed the whole thing at 9- foot tall,” he says. “In the video, I literally tear out the whole center of the house and rebuild it.”

For those seeking to make the best use of social media to market their construction work, he offers these tips: 

  • Be Different: “Most people out there on the internet and on social media are content participants using the same approaches, using the same filters, following other leads. If you really want to be a content creator, you need to stop being a content participant and really do your own thing.”

  • Photography Matters: “When I was younger, I shot professional photography. I did a lot of automotive stuff. I always knew that there was a place for it. I knew that a lot of people in construction lacked that whole social side where the marketing wasn't good, and the photos weren't high quality.”  

Adopt Technology From the Start

Panella regrets being slow to find technology to run his business more efficiently. “I did that a lot later than I care to admit,” he says. “I was doing word docs for all of my contracts, and all of my proposals, and formatting would change. It's terrible,” he says.

Today he uses Houzz Pro business and client management software. “I think of Houzz as a host. It hosts everything that our business does, all of our estimates, proposals, invoicing, the whole shebang, and we just work underneath it,” he says. “I think of Houzz as the boss, the big company, and we do everything through it.” Houzz Pro is what allowed him the flexibility to work from anywhere, on any device.  “Working on the go only became possible due to Houzz Pro,” he says.

For construction professionals who think they can live without management software, he suggests this litmus test:  “If you can't go a week without having some sort of misplaced document, you forget the price on A, B, or C, or you don't know where something is put, I think that you really can't afford to not have it,” he says.

Master the Art of Proposals

Learning how to do proposals accurately and quickly was a big learning curve for Panella, especially as the projects got bigger. He is a firm believer in honesty in pricing to build a reputation of trust and that means getting every detail right in the estimate. “The wording has to be perfect because when we step foot on site I want the client to know exactly what they're getting,” he says. “If there's any questions at all, they need to be answered prior to signing,” he says. 

The transparency has cost him jobs, but for the right reasons. “I've lost out on a couple of projects to people that have a tendency to put in a lower price and they don't include everything. Then, as soon as they lock the project in, they change order and they're right above us,” he says. “I think that the best way is just lay everything out and explain it all.”

With Houzz Pro, he streamlined and sped up his entire estimating process. Gone are the word documents of the past, and multiple back and forth through emails. “Now the way that we are set up, everyone can just log into Houzz, click on the estimate, see exactly how it's broken down. There's no more looking for files, looking for how much that proposal was, things like that,”

Find a Mentor 

Since Panella never attended school for construction, he was educated by peers, and still learns from a network of mentors. “I have a lot of people around me today that are scattered all over the place, Northern California, Southern California, and they've helped me a lot, whether it be with legal action in construction such as mechanics, liens, and things like that,” he says. “I have a couple of guys where I can call them up and ask them pretty much anything and they'll help me out.”

Give Back

Becoming a father while a teenager, Panella knew what it was like to scramble to make money and quickly establish a career. He is skeptical of ever achieving complete work-life balance, but technology allows him to be successful in both arenas because he can work wherever he is. “I have attended every single school event. I'm wherever I need to be, whenever, so that's a joy,” he says. 

Still, he has not forgotten that there are young people out there who lack support. To help, he founded a non-profit organization called Support The Youth Inc. “We are giving back. My goal for next year is to give back $200,000 in scholarships and donations,” he says.

“My grandfather was in this, my dad was in this, my whole family's been around this industry. I want to be that helping hand for kids that don't have that,” he says. “I've worked my ass off to be where I'm at. My biggest reward with all of it is being able to give back.”

Learn more about how Houzz Pro helps construction professionals like Panella grow and market their business, try Houzz Pro for free.

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