How to become a painter and decorator
If you like working with your hands, and can provide a reliable and consistent service, a painting and decorating business could be right for you
To become a painter or decorator, you will need to consider:
What is a painting and decorating business and who is it suited to?
If you’re the sort of person that likes working with your hands, has a good head for heights and enjoys the satisfaction of a day’s hard graft and a job well done, then a painting and decorating business could be for you.
Unfortunately the misconception that it’s easy, low skilled work leads some to believe that it’ll also be easy money. These are the rogue traders or cowboy builders who tarnish the industry’s reputation with shoddy workmanship and a lackadaisical and unreliable approach. The truth is that it’s easy to do this job badly, but takes much more skill and effort to do it well and succeed, so while you technically don’t need any qualifications – skilled and hardworking decorators will always be more in demand.
It is a broad industry, and depending on what type of services you wish to offer, may require you to learn a number of skills and have the ability to work with a range of different materials. From tiling to plastering, painting to wallpaper pasting – the more you’re able to offer, the more work may come your way. Alternatively, you could hire individuals that specialise in one particular area to avoid a jack-of al-trades, master of none situation.
Reliability, consistency and thoroughness will get you far, while the opposite will very quickly lose you customers and respect. In fact many decorators find they get most of their work through recommendations and word of mouth.
Adam Burton from Burton & Flowers Ltd highlights “Experience” above everything else. Preferably “in many different trades.” The work can be varied and call for a comprehensive set of skills. You don’t want to start a job and find that there’s something you can’t do.
He says it’s essential to be competent in “your brush work and wallpaper hanging” – generally the cornerstones of any decorating job. Of course these skills can be learned but customers will favour years of experience and qualifications. It is also essential that you or a partner have some basic business acumen. Burton says that his business works well because he and his partner have complementary skills. Whilst his partner has over 20 years of experience in the building game, he “wasn’t so good at managing cashflow and the business side of it,” which is where Burton’s strengths lie.
Whilst it can be difficult to get started and build your reputation in a somewhat saturated sector, there will always be demand for painting and decorating services. With the right attitude and workmanship, you should find yourself in steady employment.
Creating a painting and decorating business plan
Commercial or Residential?
When thinking about becoming a self-employed painter or decorator, you’ll need to work out how you’re going to position yourself in the market – and what type of customer you’re going to target.
The “first thing you need to consider is whether you’re going to go into just residential… just commercial, or both,” explains Burton who does both – “You need to make sure you can get enough work, how you’re going to get it, and what sort of services you’re going to be offering.”
Commercial and residential decorating are different beasts. There’s obviously more money in doing large scale commercial projects for supermarkets or office buildings, but it will also require a bigger team to be paid, possibly more advanced equipment and insurance for the higher risk factor.
In contrast, residential is a more personal endeavor between the decorator and client. Jobs can be completed quickly with little of the red tape found in commercial work, but will probably pay a lot less. Nevertheless, decorating someone’s home should not be undertaken lightly – they are trusting you to rejuvenate a space that they have a deeply personal connection with. Make sure there is lots of communication beforehand so that you fully understand what is required.
What you decide to do will influence the kind of people you need to hire, the skills needed and equipment. You could aim to work for bigger projects and take on smaller ones in the intervening time and while you build your reputation.
Unless you’re a franchise, you are probably going to be servicing a relatively specific catchment area – depending on your resources and capabilities that could be a village, a town, or a city. Be realistic about where you can reasonably reach, and focus your advertising.
Traditional methods such as local papers, flyering or leafleting in public establishments are still valid methods of gaining exposure, but remember to make the most of social media and the internet. Having an internet presence in the form of a Facebook page, Twitter or website will allow you to reach a much wider audience. On Facebook you’ll be able to post before and after photos of the work you’ve done, and clients will be able to post reviews and ratings of your services. Post a link to your website if people require more detailed information.
One of the ways Burton and Flowers finds work is by offering its services to landlords and estate agents who manage hundreds of properties that will often need repairs or re-decorating when there’s a changeover of tenants or owners: “They’re looking for someone who’s consistent and reliable… if you are, they’re more likely to put work your way.”
You’re also going to have to do some research into how much you should be charging for a job. There are a number of resources online that could help give you an idea. It’s also a good idea to look at other painters and decorators in your area to see how much they charge, so that you can come up with competitive pricing. Unless you’re offering something truly exceptional, be reasonable so as not to price yourself out of the market.
Painting and decorating rules and regulations
As with a number of trade professions, there aren’t necessarily rules or regulations but there are trade bodies and qualifications, which are helpful. You don’t need either to set yourself up as a decorator, but they will help you no end when trying to secure work, and show that you are serious and responsible.
The main trade association is the Painting and Decorating Association (PDA). To qualify for membership you must adhere to a range of criteria focusing on your capability and experience. Members enjoy the benefits of listing in the PDA directory, support and advice on growing their business, access to industry specific training programmes and PDA certification for stationary adverts and vans.
The London Association of Master Decorators (LAMD) is an extension of the PDA for decorators working in the capital. The organisation is over 100 years old and will allow you to use its prestigious logo.
Scotland also has its own trade body in the form of the Scottish Decorators’ Federation (SDA). The association represents approximately 75% of decorators in Scotland and acts as a lobby and training body.
The Dulux Contract Trade Partnership is an exclusive membership scheme that regularly assesses its members to ensure they are delivering a quality service.
There are several broader trade bodies including The Fair Trades Association, which represents and recommends vetted traders from across the spectrum – and The Guild of Master Craftsmen, which assesses and supports quality workmanship across 400 different trades.
You don’t have to join all of these trade associations, but there are a host of advantages for those that do. As well as proving your credentials to clients, you can find better insurance rates, reduced rates on tool and equipment hire and access knowledge and support through a network of experienced professionals.
Insuring your business
Of course with all these dangerous tools and equipment lying around, a painting and decorating business does have its inherent risks, to personal safety and personal property. Whilst you can’t guarantee accidents won’t happen you can guarantee adequate protection by getting the right kind of insurance.
Public liability is absolutely essential for a painting and decorating business as it protects your business against customers claiming in the event of injury or damage to personal property. Policies are tailored to your particular business, assessed on turnover and the size of your workforce, so you’ll need to keep your insurer up to date with any changes as you scale your business.
As your business grows you’ll have to get employer’s liability insurance, which is required by law once you have employees or subcontractors carrying out work on behalf of your business. This will protect you against injury to your workforce that they claim is your fault. To make a valid claim you will have to maintain safety records and undertake regular risk assessments.
It’s wise to remember that a single bad accident, without the proper insurance, could completely put you out of business.
How much does it cost to start your own painting and decorating business?
It doesn’t take a huge amount of capital to set up a painting and decorating business. Depending on the size of the job you’re undertaking you can get yourself up and running with the purchase of a few tools and some well distributed flyers. Obviously if you’re going to be working on larger residential properties or commercial buildings, you’re going to need hire a team and invest in better tools.
Financing your tools and equipment
There are a number of finance options available for the purchasing of equipment: asset finance spreads the cost over the period of an asset’s life. There are two types – lease finance and hire purchase – both are good options for start-ups with limited funds.
Lease finance is where the asset company buys the equipment for you and you agree to lease it for a certain amount of time and money; it is then your responsibility to keep it in good condition. This also has the advantage of VAT being reclaimable, and you can deduct the lease rental fee from taxable income.
With hire purchase, the finance company buys the equipment for you and retains ownership until you can afford to buy it off them. All you have to do is put down a deposit and pay off the balance and interest through regular instalments. Once you’ve paid the final installment you own the asset and are entitled to the tax benefit of claiming capital allowances.
If you are going to buy the tools outright it’s worth buying from a specialist painting and decorating merchant so you know they will be of the best quality, and made specifically for the job.
Companies such as Dulux Decorators Centres and Brewers are a good place to start, offering high quality equipment for professional painters and decorators, with branches up and down the country. You can also create a trade account to access discounted prices and credit for regular customers. Alternatively, online stores can offer tools and equipment at much lower prices as they don’t have to pay for gigantic retail outlets.
Burton says one of their major expenditures is “vehicles, but the main expense is going to be labour, so have a viable cashflow to make sure that labour is going to be paid, especially on shorter jobs, have enough so that you’re not going to run short.”
It’s worth investing in a reliable van with plenty of storage space in the back for all your equipment. There are many options, and which one you choose will depend on your business needs – just make sure you get full insurance.
You may also find it helpful to take a get a phone specifically to use for your business – you can look at our rundown of your options for business mobile phone plans.
How much can you earn running your own painting and decorating business?
As with any service business, your earnings will depend largely on the amount of customers you manage to secure. However it’s also dependent on the type of work you’re doing – residential or commercial. Burton says, “It could be anything from £500 a month to £10,000… it really depends on the scale of your company.”
Burton also warns that you need to be aware of the irregular nature of the work, “sometimes you’re working for other companies, you’re not going to get paid straight away. You might work for seven days, you might work for 14 days, I work 30 days sometimes, 60 days. You need to make sure that you get paid for the work you do.”
Burton also advises signing up to the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) as early as possible so you can work out how and when you are going to get taxed. The scheme helps contractors deduct money from a subcontractor’s payments, which is passed to HM Revenue and Customs as an advance towards the subcontractor’s tax and National Insurance.
If you are a contractor you have to register for the scheme; subcontractors don’t have to, but will be subjected to higher payment deductions if they do not. You count as a contractor if you pay subcontractors for work, or you spend an average of more than £1m a year on construction in any three-year period. A subcontractor is anyone who does any work for a contractor.
Painting and decorating tips and useful contacts
- Be reliable and consistent – word of mouth recommendations are crucial
- Ensure you have a viable cashflow, especially on shorter jobs
- Contact estate agents and landlords – they look after multiple properties that will need regular maintenance work
- Make sure you have the right insurance to ensure you’re protected in the event of an accident to a person or property
- Become a member of a trade association to set yourself apart from cowboy traders
- PDA: Represents professional painters and decorators who adhere to its high standards
- London Association of Master Decorators (LAMD): An extension of the PDA for decorators working in the capital
- Scottish Decorators’ Federation (SDA): Scotland’s trade body for decorating professionals
- Dulux Contract Trade Partnership: Membership scheme for independently assessed, quality, assured painting contractors
- Dulux Decorator Centre: Nationwide stores for quality tools and equipment
- Brewers: Independent supplier of quality decorators materials