How to start a business

Want to start a painting company? Here’s how


If you’ve been wanting to start your own house-painting company and were waiting for the right time to launch your business, we’ve got some great news: the iron is hot.

It turns out, some businesses thrive in a pandemic. For instance, in 2020, home remodeling purchases have increased by almost 25% in the United States, and consumers credit recent stay-at-home orders for this boom in their buying. All the extra time around the house has homeowners itching to make progress on updates they’ve been putting off, which could make this the perfect time to get your painting business off the ground. 

Even before the pandemic, house painting was a $37 billion per year industry. It’s one of those businesses that can weather just about any storm, since there will always be houses in need of a facelift and people without the time, talent, or love of heights to do it themselves. 

This all bodes well if you’re trying to grab a piece of the painting service pie, and it gets even better. Thanks to little overhead, starting a house-painting business is incredibly affordable. In some cases, you could be up and running for as little as $500 upfront for supplies. 

So, where do you start? We’ve got you covered. In this chapter, we’ll break down exactly how to start your own painting company in X easy steps: 

  1. Learn the top business fundamentals 
  2. Pick your business structure
  3. Get insured and licensed 
  4. Determine your pricing and payment structures
  5. Create a simple business plan
  6. Develop a marketing plan
  7. Build your online storefront 
  8. Look professional with affordable tech tools
  9. Find your first customers
  10. Find great partners to work with

1. Find great partners in your area

Even if you’re a one-person operation right now as you start on your painting business journey, it’s always a good idea to brush up on best practices before you dive in as an entrepreneur. And in the wake of COVID-19, there are some additions to the old standard list of guidelines that should help you start out on the right foot in this new normal. 

Get started here: Read “10 Business Fundamentals for Starting a Small Business”

2. Pick your business structure

The structure you choose for your business will affect a few important factors: namely, how you’ll pay your taxes and whether your personal assets are separate and protected. As we see it, when it comes to starting a painting business, you have 4 options:

  • DBA (doing business as): Depending on where you live, you might not have to register as an official business when starting out in the painting game, but you’ll probably need to register a DBA name at the very least. Many painters start out this way, since it’s the easiest way to get started. But don’t forget to check into licensing and tax registration, since these will still be required!
  • Sole proprietorship: This is the most basic business structure to get off the ground, which makes it a top choice for new, small painting businesses. But beware: if you are the sole proprietor, that means your personal assets aren’t separate from your business assets, and they’ll be at risk should something happen to your business. 
  • Limited liability corporation (LLC): That “LLC” might sound familiar. That’s because this is a pretty popular structure for established businesses. With an LLC, your personal assets are protected, and you still don’t have to pay corporate taxes. You will, however, have to pay self-employment taxes. 
  • Partnership: Going into business with someone else? This might be the right structure for you. A limited liability partnership (LLP) means each of your personal assets will be protected should bad luck befall the company. 

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3. Get insured and licensed

As a small business owner working in other people’s homes, you’ll need liability insurance at the bare minimum. On top of that, if you run your painting company out of your own house—for instance, storing your materials and meeting with potential customers there—ask a licensed insurance agent about home-based business insurance, too. 

Some agencies even offer small business insurance packages to make sure you’re covered end to end for things you hadn’t even considered. Call around to get some quotes, and err on the side of more coverage. You’ll be thankful for paying the few extra dollars a month if something happens. 

When it comes to licensing needs, that varies state to state. In some places, you won’t need any official permits to get up and running, while others make things a little more complicated. Get in contact with your town and state officials to find out more. 

Finally, for such a physical job as painting, you might have to pay into workers’ compensation. Again, this depends on where you live. When you call about permits, ask about your requirements as a small business owner to pay into workers’ comp. 

4. Determine your pricing and payment structures 

In the house painting game, estimates will be your bread and butter. Accurate estimates are important to both you and your customers. Sticking to a too-cheap quote will hurt your business, while pricing things too high might lose you customers. And no customer likes a surprise bump in their bill at the end of a job.

The basics of building an estimate are: materials + labor + profit markup. As you can see, the materials figure is the only one that is set for you. You’ll have to determine what to charge for labor—are you working alone, or do you have to pay additional painters out of this amount? The same goes for your profit markup. 

So where do you start? Survey your local market. Try checking out other small house painters in your area to see what they’re charging based on the size of the job and number of painters on their team. Read their reviews; did people find them too expensive, ridiculously cheap? Find a sweet spot of pricing that will keep you competitive with others in the market but not put you underwater after a few jobs. 

Now, how will people pay for your services? Some home improvement companies ask for 50% down at the start of the job and 50% when it’s completed. Others get a lump sum once the job is completed, and still others might take smaller installments at certain points in completion. The 50/50 is arguably the most common choice and might be a good place to start. This decision is definitely one that needs nailing down before you start, so everyone is clear on what amount of payment is due when, every time.

5. Create a simple business plan

You might think a business plan is only necessary if you’re looking for investors or small business loans. But creating your plan is a great way to get a firm grasp on your new venture from all angles: your mission, your vision for the future, and especially what kind of competition is already out there.

Here are the sections of a traditional business plan that you should consider fleshing out for your painting business: 

  • Company description: Your business name, what you’re selling, where you’re selling, what makes you unique (i.e., “The only custom sponge-painting company in the tri-state area”).
  • Market research: Who are your customers, and what do they need most? How healthy is the house painting market in your area; is there room for new blood? Who’s your competition, and how do you beat them?
  • Structure and operations: What structure did you choose? Who’s responsible for what in your business? How many other painters or staff do you plan to have, if any? How will compensation work? What permits and licenses do you need? How will you build relationships in the community? 
  • Services and prices: How much are you charging to paint one average-sized living room? A two-story Cape? A sprawling Victorian? 
  • Operating expenses for the first few years: How much is it going to cost to buy paint, brushes, drop cloths, and other necessities upfront? How much will it cost to replace your materials over time, or purchase specialty items for clients? What about insurance costs and licensing (if needed)? Will you have other painters to pay?

6. Develop a marketing plan

Your plan doesn’t have to look like you went to school for marketing, but it should cover the basics: 

  • Logo and design. What’s the look and feel of your business? Usually, the simpler and cleaner the design, the easier it is to read (and remember!). Stick to one font and one to three of the same colors for the logo, website, and flyers for a consistent brand. If this isn’t your wheelhouse, get a graphic designer’s help so you look professional from the start. You can find affordable freelance creatives on sites like Fiverr and Upwork. 
  • Your portfolio. A picture is worth a thousand of your own words about what a great painter you are. Now’s the time to start gathering Before/After photos of your best work. These are great to share on your website and social media accounts, and you can also make a hard-copy binder to bring with you to estimates. This will not only show clients your quality of work; it might also help them decide on color schemes for their own homes. 
  • Presence and promotion. Where will your business live online? Will you have a website, or just a well-maintained Facebook page? What about Instagram, which is great for visuals (“Swipe for the before and after!”)? How will you promote your business: printed flyers, targeted social media ads, yard signs at the homes of your jobs? While painting is your #1 priority, finding new customers should be top of mind, and creating a promotion plan, with really dollar amounts, can help you stay on track. 
  • Testimonials. It can be awkward to ask for reviews from happy customers, but positive word of mouth is one of the top ways small businesses grow. Building this process of asking for reviews into your marketing plan will eventually make it feel like another part of the job. It can be as simple as following up on a job with an email thanking your customers, including a link to your Yelp profile so they can leave their feedback; whatever you decide, write it down and make it a consistent part of your process.

7. Build your online storefront

It’s time to open for business! Virtually, that is. If you’re just starting out and want to do it on the cheap, it’s easy to get your online presence up and running with a free Facebook page. Here’s an example of a well-maintained Facebook page:

A Facebook page is easy to set up and lets you share your painting photos as well as your contact information, hours, and even quotes from testimonials. Potential customers can contact you there, too, with questions. Once you’ve launched your page, reach out to family and friends. Ask them to follow and share your new business to get the ball rolling. Later on, you can graduate to a fully fledged website if you find the need, but that comes with a bigger price tag and can mean more time spent on updates and maintenance.

8. Look professional with affordable tech tools

You can turn your cell phone into a one-stop business shop, for less than the cost of a can of paint a month. With a cloud communications software like RingCentral, you’ll get your own professional business phone number, just for your customers. Plus, you can keep calls and texts from clients separate from your personal contacts, inside one easy-to-use app: 

As your business grows, RingCentral grows with you, offering the chance to add advanced customer engagement features that can help you manage your expanding client base without sacrificing on service.

9. Find your first customers

Word of mouth is so important for a job like house painting. Everyone wants someone they can trust; whether they’re having the inside or outside of their house painted, it can feel like a risk to have a stranger at your home when you aren’t there. 

That’s why a great way to find your first customers is to reach out to family members and friends to see if they need any work done. Maybe even offer them a little discount; they’ll be your first testimonials and will hopefully sing your praises to others, so it’s a good trade off. 

There are some “cold calling” approaches, too, if you find yourself needing a steadier stream of new clients. You can hang up flyers on bulletin boards at home improvement and grocery stores, and pound the pavement talking to your neighbors about your services. 

Does your neighborhood or town have its own Facebook group? This can be a great place to post about your services or respond to folks looking for painters.

10. Find great partners in your area

What other home improvement companies are having success in your neck of the woods and are looking to expand their networks? A great way to find out is to attend events put on by your local chamber of commerce. They might even offer a more formal networking community for small businesses like yours that you can attend for a membership fee. You never know who you’ll meet in your own community: maybe a general contractor in need of more journeyman painters, or an interior designer with whom you can share referrals. Whatever the case, seek out these opportunities and see where they can lead you and your new business. 

Starting your own painting company

If you’ve been waiting to make the leap into house painting, now might be a great time to take the plunge. The home remodeling industry is booming, and a painting business is one of the few that takes very little upfront cash to start and run. It’s a great way to get your entrepreneurial feet wet and see if being your own boss is the right career path for you. 

Don’t miss the rest of our series on how to start a small business! We’ve got chapters chock full of tips and tricks for making this journey successful, like: 

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