How to Start a Painting Business: The Complete Guide
For some people, painting a house is a drag, but for you, it’s a dream. If you love working with your hands, and genuinely enjoy cutting and rolling, then starting your own painting business only makes sense.
Regardless if you’re new to painting or have been doing it for years, you can start your own business. We’re going to walk you through how to start a business in the painting industry so you can roll your way to success.
Meet our industry expert: Graham Audenart
Graham Ardenaut owns two businesses in residential and commercial markets, and three Painters Enterprise business locations across the country. He’s going to walk you through starting a painting business in this article.
Graham has seen a lot after being in residential and commercial markets for nearly 20 years.
Is painting a good career?
Some people start off painting as a summer job, others are introduced by friends and family.
If you’re starting out with little to no experience, you can rest assured that getting into the painting industry as a career path is a great idea.
“I started off painting because I needed a summer job. I enjoyed it, and I found I could make $40 – $50 an hour as a subcontractor,” Graham explains.
Although Graham was working for another business, he quickly learned that he could go out on his own and make a business out of it.
“I figured if I hired a couple guys to do the work for me, I can take on these jobs when I got to school, pay them, and make $15 – $20 an hour to manage them and the business.”
If you’re interested in this career path you have a few options. You can become:
- a subcontractor (there is high demand for subcontractors)
- an employee
- a business owner
If you’re interested in making a lot of money and working really hard, then working in the painting industry is great for you.
8 Steps to starting a painting business
- Learn the ropes from another pro first
- Choose your clientele and service offerings to the residential or commercial market
- Get your business in order with a business name, location, incorporation, accountant and bank account
- Buy your materials, which should cost you a couple hundred dollars
- Start pricing your labor and materials by deciding how much money you want to make on top of expenses
- Think about expansion with subcontractors, employees, or a partner
- Start marketing and networking for your first clients
- Plan for expansion with painting business tech
I started off painting because I needed a summer job. I enjoyed it, and I found I could make $40 – $50 an hour as a subcontractor.
1. Learn the ropes
Graham advises that anyone who wants to start their own painting business should learn the ropes before diving in. Without experience, you could make critical mistakes that can cost you a lot of money (and clients).
Is it okay to start a painting business with no experience?
It’s best to get into the painting industry and learn the ropes before you start your own business. Although painting is low barrier to entry, you still have to have great technique to provide good service, and you need to understand how to operate a business. You can learn this by working for someone for two to three years.
“You have to know at least the basics. Just go work for someone for two or three years. Learn everything you possibly can. You can also learn tons of stuff off the internet… but I still think you need to get hands-on experience before starting,” Graham explains.
Graham worked as a painter in college for a few years before he started his own small business. He learned what clientele he wanted to go after, how to make money in the industry, and how to be cautious when doing business with strangers.
2. Choose a clientele and service offerings
Familiarize yourself with the market and decide who you want your clients to be.
This will help you with your branding down the line. It will also help you focus your business model, and understand your cash flow.
Graham explains that residential and commercial jobs are completely different and have different impacts on your business plan and bottom line.
They both have advantages and disadvantages. You need to decide what works best for you.
Residential painting clients:
The main benefit is that cash flow is always coming in constantly from new clients. The challenge is that it’s hard to get recurring work.
“Residential is great. You get in, you do a job, meet the client, build a relationship, and you get paid right away … even the same week.
However, the hard thing is that residential clients don’t constantly need painting. They might need you every five or six years. They might call you back for their deck or fence, but the span between job recurrence is wide.”
You have hustle a lot to build up client volume. Referrals are very important in this vertical. This can be challenging because clients aren’t always willing or compelled to share with friends and family.
So, the smart thing to do would be to include referrals in your business plan strategy from the start.
Commercial painting clients:
Commercial work is the complete opposite. The main benefit is that it’s much easier to get recurring work throughout the year (and for bigger projects, too). The challenge is that cash flow is much slower. Receivables can be every 30 days, sometimes longer at 60 to 90 days.
“You can do 10-12 projects with one client, and that amount of work is equal to tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, your receivables can be really high, and you need to pay out people, expenses, and materials. You might get paid every 30 days, 60 days, or even 90 days.
So… you’re waiting. But, once you get into groove doing commercial work, you’re on a steady flow where every 30 days you get paid and it’s constantly coming in.”
Choosing your service offerings
At the end of the day, there are so many services you can offer as a painter. However, you don’t have to offer all of them in order to run a successful business.
Your service offerings should depend on your clientele, as well as what you’re good at and want to do.
Figure out what your clients want and focus on those service offerings. If you have a client who asks for specific services that you don’t offer, you can always subcontract that out. “I have a friend who will call us if she needs to do any spraying done. She doesn’t do spraying, she just paints walls.”
Graham advises that you have to know what your client and service limit is.
Residential is completely different from commercial: different people, different services, and different environments. Offer each clientele what they want. You don’t have to do it all.
3. Get your business in order
Business name, incorporation, and location
These three things are critical first steps for success. They add to your professionalism, and they really help you land more jobs.
To start off, you need a business name. Make sure that you choose something professional and long lasting that you can use for your LLC, business registration, website, logos, vehicle decals, uniforms, and invoices.
You’ll also use your business name for your website and email domain. A name such as Pretty Painting Inc. and email like [email protected] will come off as unprofessional and difficult to type out. Pick something short, sweet, and simple, with a professional domain host, like Gmail.
Register your business with your local government by establishing as an LLC. Do some research and figure out what steps you need to take to register your business. It could take six weeks (or longer) to complete your business registration.
Finally, it’s best to get a business address. Purchasing or renting a P.O. box will help you maintain some privacy and make you look like a larger, more professional business.
“I was sending a contractor tons of quotes, but he hadn’t landed any of them,” Graham explains. It turned out that he didn’t have a website or a business location, which was hurting his chances in winning jobs.
“The first thing people look at is your website to see if you have a decent website, or one at all. Second is if their address is residential or commercial. That shows the size of your company. Even if I didn’t have an office, I’d recommend setting your business address as a P.O. box, not your house. It adds professionalism,” Graham explains.
Get an accountant and a business bank account
Folks who rush into starting a business often miss this crucial step. A commercial bank account will help keep your business’s finances separate from your personal finances and assets. It’s required if you decide to incorporate, and it helps keep your bookkeeping clean and tidy.
A separate account is especially important for monitoring business cash flow so you can pay overhead costs, yourself, and your employees or subcontractors.
It will also help you understand how much money to allocate to business growth decisions, such as hiring staff, advertising spend, marketing, and new equipment purchases.
Finally, you might think that you can do all of your bookkeeping on your own, but having an accountant do it for you will be worthwhile. It will save you time and trouble, not to mention auditing and hair-pulling.
4. Buy your materials
You don’t need a lot of equipment to run a painting business. If you’re just getting started, you need a truck, a few rollers, brushes, trays, and drop sheets. Get a pole, a kit, and a ladder.
Do you need a lot of money to start a painting business?
No. You don’t need a lot of money to start a painting business! This industry has a fairly low barrier for entry. The most expensive piece of essential equipment you’d need is a truck, followed by a sprayer (which isn’t mandatory to start a painting business).
“You don’t need a lot of money,” Graham explains. “If you’ve got skill, you can go to a paint store, get a line of credit from them, set up an account, and set yourself up with the very basics. It’ll cost you a few hundred dollars, and that’s it.”
You don’t need to start out with all the fancy equipment to get basic jobs done.
In fact, Graham recommends only getting basic tools to start, until you have a job that calls for something more, like a sprayer. Even then, you might not have to buy expensive equipment.
“If you land a job where you need to spray some ceilings you can always rent a sprayer from Home Depot or a paint store. You can also look on Kijiji and find a used sprayer for $400 – $500.”
Even when you’re starting off, you never want to be ‘that guy,’ Graham explains.
You should always have to have your tools with you, and not borrow things from your clients, or the painters you’re working with.
“As soon as you find yourself in a situation where you needed a specific tool, go out and get the tool. You need proper tools to get the job done properly!”
You don’t need a lot of money. If you’ve got skill, you can go to a paint store, get a line of credit from them, set up an account, and set yourself up with the very basics. It’ll cost you a few hundred dollars, and that’s it.
5. Start pricing your labor and materials
Pricing your services and labor is one of the most challenging and important parts of starting a business.
If you undercharge, you won’t make money. Overcharge, and you’ll be giving your competitors your jobs.
If you have no experience in the industry, pricing might be a challenging task. A little experience can go a long way in terms of determining labour hours, job costing, and effort.
If you’re just starting out, think about how much money you’d like to make per hour, and how long you think a job will take.
“Look at what you have to do, and estimate the time for it–a bedroom and living room might take you eight hours, so ask yourself how much money you want to make.”
For example, you might want to make $30 an hour. If you think a job will take you eight hours, then cost the whole job at $130 for the day, plus the cost of your materials, which will involve calculating the paint volume for the job.
As you grow and you have to pay overhead, you should tack on 15-20% to that price to help improve your profit.
Pro tip: Keep track of your pricing over time and the changes you make. Finding the right pricing that supports your business is a process!
Want to learn more about pricing?
Here is everything you need to make a solid pricing strategyLearn more
6. Think about expansion with subcontractors, employees, or a partner
If you’re interested at all in growing your business, you’re going to have to think about how to do it sustainably.
Growth can come in the form of finding a business partner, employees, or subcontractors to help you take on more work, and get more done in a day.
Graham has grown with the help of business partners and subcontractors.
With partners, he can open more locations. With subcontractors, he can complete more work. “We need to get jobs done fast and well. Our regular subcontractors are able to finish some jobs in five hours for about 500$ for the day.”
The beauty of hiring subcontractors is that you can rely on them to supply all their own materials, which is one less expense and responsibility to worry about.
If you want to hire employees, you can. It might cost you a bit more money to cover their benefits and training. You will also have to supply all the tools for them for each job.
However, you’d be able to rely on them to work on every job you assign to them (subcontractors can choose to turn down a job), and can count on them for being responsible and consistent workers.
Pro tip: If you decide to go with a subcontractor, make sure you’re aware of local subcontracting laws.
7. Start marketing and networking for your first clients
Marketing is one of the last steps in getting started once you’ve figured out your pricing structure, clientele, and business logistics.
First things first, you absolutely need a good website, an online presence, and business cards. Without these essentials, you won’t be able to rely on networking to build up your client base.
Getting a website
A website helps you look professional, get found online, and improve client trust. It’s common for painting professionals to skip out on this critical step, but that can cost you jobs and clients.
Get started by buying a domain from a host like GoDaddy or Squarespace. These options are particularly helpful because they offer easy templates to help you build a beautiful website.
You’re going to want to choose a professional website name. For example, if your company name is Paint Positive Inc., then consider a domain like paintpositive.com.
Next up, focus on making your website search-engine friendly.
Complete your website with your location, about us section, mission statement, work request form, client testimonials, and license information (if you have a license).
Forming an online presence
A website is just one way prospective clients can find you, but it’s often note enough.. If you really want to be seen, get on a few other channels, like a like Angie’s list, Yelp, or HomeAdvisor. Another great (and free) option is Google My Business.
Finally, try getting your feet wet in one social media network at least.
Social media might not be your thing, but you should start using it to promote your business. Your clients use it, and they are looking for businesses on these networks as a vote of confidence to seal the deal.
You can also use social media to build business connections.
Getting business cards
Part of running a professional painting business is having a professional, clean business card. It helps you network, keeps you top of mind, and makes it easy for prospects to get in touch if they need you.
Printing business cards is extremely easy to do. Most online graphic services offer free business card templates, and some business card printers offer templates too.
All you have to do is provide them with relevant information and purchase them.
Despite how easy it seems, painters fall victim to some simple mistakes.
First things first, avoid using your business card as a quote and estimate replacement.
You should never use the back of your card for notes or a quote. It makes you look sloppy and unprofessional. Doing this fails to provide your clients with enough important information to make a smart hiring decision.
Second, avoid printing business cards before you are happy with them, and they are 100% accurate.
If you change your phone number, misspelled your website name, or suddenly starting using social media, don’t write that information in by hand. Get your business cards reprinted.
The most important information to include on your painting business card is the following:
- Your first and last name
- Your position
- Company name
- License number
- Phone number
- Social media handle
For Graham, networking is what helped him grow his business the most because he mainly does commercial jobs.
It worked better than most advertising strategies he tried, like Google Ads, and door hangers. Graham still uses digital ads on Facebook and Instagram because it’s where his clients are.
However, joining a networking group, like BNI, is what worked for Graham’s business model and client base.
“I try to get my guys to do a lot of one to one networking in the field. We review our invoices and quotes reviews for each month, and we track where they come from. A lot of clients come from BNI. So that’s why we focus our advertising and marketing there.”
At the end of the day, you need to focus on what works for you by keeping track of where you’re getting the most leads.
You can use a painting business CRM for example to track your accounts, work history, client property details, subcontractor or employee notes, and materials used on each and every job.
When you find out what works, keep at it until you perfect your process.
8. Plan for expansion
Starting a business is no easy task, so why not start with the intention to make the whole thing pay off?
When starting a business and investing your own capital, it’s always a good idea to plan for the future.
You should know how to answer the big questions like how big you want to grow, how long you foresee your business in operation for, if you want to have business partners, and how you’ll make your business last sustainably.
Graham’s intention was to build a sustainable business that he could grow over time. He recommends making sure that you start off on the right foot with solid business organization.
“If you have any intention of growing your business, or maintaining clients, then yes, this is something you need to think of right form the start.”
If you have any intention of growing your business, or maintaining clients, then yes, this [software] is something you need to think of right form the start.
For Graham, using Jobber as his reliable painting business software was paramount.
“How I’m going to look professional, how I’m going to convince people that they should hire me were all top of mind,” he explains. “Jobber or any other business apps do that. They make you look professional. You need to look professional. If you have an intention of keeping in touch with your clients, at least create an excel sheet to manage that.”
If you are ready to start off on the right foot, check out painting business software like Jobber to get you started, keep you organized, help you look professional, keep in touch with your clients, and keep track of your quotes and invoices.