How to start a painting business in 14 steps
Wondering how to start a painting business? We’ve got you. This article walks you through how to start and build your own painting company step by step. After reading this, you'll be ready to take on that first job in no time.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Your business plan
- Your business structure
- Your direction: Residential or commercial?
- Your unique value proposition
- Your potential customers
- Your business name
- Your services
- Your finances
- Your painting equipment
- Your insurance
- Your paperwork and business infrastructure
- Your employees
- Your marketing
- Your continued education
However, before we go any further, let’s tackle a major question that might be on your mind.
Can I start a painting business with no experience?
Short answer: Anything’s possible. Longer answer: It’s better to have painting experience before you start your business.
There are 5 essential entrepreneurial questions every potential business owner should consider before starting a venture. Painters should add “what’s my experience level” to their list.
You may have the drive, passion, business knowledge, and accounting or marketing skills, but without actual hands-on painting experience behind you, it will be difficult to execute projects.
If you don’t have experience in the painting industry yet, but you know starting a painting business is what you want to do, look for apprentice opportunities with other companies first. Once you have 2 to 3 years of on-the-job experience behind you, you’ll be ready to start your own business.
However, if you’re already a professional painter and you’re ready to head out on your own, read on. We’ve laid out what you need to know to get started.
1) Write your business plan
You might be tempted to skip this step, but don’t. A bank will require you to have a business plan to acquire a loan. Other investors will also likely want to look at a business plan to see if your company stands to make a profit.
A business plan isn’t just for others, however. Most new business owners benefit from a strong, clear business plan as well. The most successful businesses start with a written plan. This is because you can see clearly what you intend to do and how you intend to do it. It’s not just in your head.
In addition, the process of actually writing the plan will do a lot for you. You’ll get clear on why you’re going into business and how you intend to create revenue. You will also be able to map out a plan for growth—very helpful for long-term success.
Your initial written business plan should cover these essential areas:
Describe the business, its purpose, and your main goals for the company. What sort of business entity do you strive to be?
Why are you starting this business? How will it be structured? Are there any key features of the business? What is the unique value that your new painting business brings to the market?
What market research have you done? What does it show about the likelihood of success for a painting company in your area? What are the trends? What is the level of opportunity?
Who is your competition? What strengths do they have, and what weaknesses? How are you different?
How will you reach your target customers, generate leads, define your brand in the market, and close deals? What marketing channels will you use to do this?
Any investors or banks will want to know they can trust you. This is where you lay out your experience both in the industry and in leadership. Who are you, and what makes you a strong painting business owner?
How are you going to get the job done day-to-day? What systems do you plan to put in place to make sure your company runs smoothly?
How will your business make money? Lay out your estimated expenses, revenues, and projected profit margin for each of your first five years in business.
Don’t worry about drafting a 20-page document. Your business plan can be as brief as a single page. You also don’t need to worry about writing a perfect plan. Business plans are meant to evolve as you continue to grow.
2) Decide on your business structure
There are 4 main types of business ownership for small business owners. These are: Sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and limited liability company (LLC). However, there are various options underneath those 4 main categories.
To find the best fit, you’ll need to consider each option in relation to your business goals. You will also need to factor in the different rules, regulations, liability, and types of taxation for each structure before you decide. Review the options and choose the one that suits your needs.
3) Choose your direction: Residential or commercial?
There are many ways to position yourself in your industry. However, for painting businesses, a focus on either residential house painting or commercial painting is one of the main ways to define who you are in the market.
Before you decide which way to go, let’s take a look at some pros and cons for each.
Residential painting clients
These are homeowners who seek painting jobs done for interior and exterior residential spaces. These potential clients often offer better payment upfront, but recurring painting jobs can be hard to come by.
- Cash flow is consistent
- Simple, straightforward relationships
- Great word-of-mouth marketing opportunities
- Difficult to get recurring contracts
- Might have to hustle to maintain enough work each month
If you go for a residential house painting business, you’ll want to include referrals as part of your marketing strategy. Referrals provide an incentive for current customers to pass your info along to others, which both spreads the word about your business and encourages repeat customers.
Commercial painting clients
Unlike residential, commercial work focuses on businesses. These can include managed properties like apartment buildings or condos, or corporate offices.
- Contracts are often recurring and lucrative
- Projects are often larger than residential
- Can scale quickly
- Cash flow is far slower than residential. Invoices may not be paid for up to 90 days after completing a job
- You may have to regularly chase down companies to pay you on time
- High expenses
It might take time to build up a steady cash flow with commercial work. However, once you’re in a groove and have enough gigs to keep the cash coming in (even with some late-paying invoices), this stands to be a very profitable option.
4) Uncover your unique value proposition
Your unique value proposition (UVP) is what sets you apart in your market. It can be a painting service you offer that no competitor does. It can also be the way you run your business and work with your customers.
Answer the following questions when considering your UVP:
- Do you have exceptional customer service?
- Do you stake your reputation on efficiency or affordability?
- Do you promise to meet your job completion date every single time without fail?
- What is the one thing that, if your clients all said it about you, would separate you from all your competition?
Once you define your UVP, use it consistently in all your marketing efforts. This will help to build both your brand and industry authority over time.
5) Find your potential customers
Securing the right customers is the key to any successful painting business. While your market research may show that there’s a great need for painters in your area, you still need to determine:
- Who your ideal customer is
- Where they spend their time in the world and online
- What their painting needs are
- How you can market to them effectively
It’s easy to slide into an “I serve everyone” marketing strategy, but that is counterproductive. Marketing works best when it’s specific.
Your business plan can help you determine your target market. Look at the following in your plan:
- Are you focused on residential or commercial?
- Are you primarily an interior or exterior painting company?
- Are you equipped to handle very tall buildings, or smaller 1-2 story properties?
- Do you have the ability to offer specialty services that may only appeal to high-paying clientele?
Based on those answers and your buyer/market research, you should have a pretty good idea of who your painting business should serve. It’s okay if your ideal client only makes up a small portion of the market. If you focus your marketing efforts directly on them, you will likely earn more high-quality business than if you execute a broad marketing strategy in an attempt to catch a large, unspecific audience.
6) Pick your business name
Your business name should be:
- Easy to remember
- Indicative of what type of service you offer
Here’s a great business name generator to help you come up with some ideas.
You’ll use your business name as the domain for your website, on your logo, for your business email address, and for all your social media handles. You may want to cross-reference your chosen name with a domain finder to ensure that it’s available.
7) Design your services
Build your list of services based on your desired position in the market, your revenue goals, and your target customer. You also want to make sure that the types of painting jobs you offer are what you’re good at and like to do. You can always expand your services later.
Also, remember that you can always hire a subcontractor if you encounter a client who wants you to perform a job outside of your core offerings.
8) Figure out finances
Of course, you must be wondering, “How much does it cost to start a painting business?” Let’s take a look.
Startup costs for a painting business range from $2,000 to $35,000, depending on how you do it. If you already own transport, your costs will be on the lower end of that range. If you need transport, you can assume that most of your startup costs will be spent there.
Beyond equipment and vehicle costs, there are several other costs to consider. These include:
- An accounting system
- Marketing materials
- Working capital to cover your first few months
If you’re wondering how to fund your initial months in business, you can finance your painting business through multiple sources. Consider the following options:
- Friends and family
- Bank loans
- Outside investors
- Line of credit
- Invest your savings
You may choose to employ one or all of these means of financing. Look to your business plan to see which options make the most sense for your specific business.
9) Figure out your painting equipment needs
You will need several key pieces of equipment to start your painting business. These include, but are not limited to:
- Brushes and rollers
- Ladders in multiple sizes
- A truck (or other equipment-bearing transport)
- Drop cloths
- Painter’s tape
- Paint trays
- Paint Sprayers
- Wire brush
- Caulking gun
- Protective clothing
- Breathing masks
If you intend to offer services for very tall buildings, you will also need to factor in costs for a boom lift or scissors lift. Keep in mind that you may have limited insurance options if you plan to work on buildings over 15 feet tall.
10) Get small business insurance
Comprehensive small business insurance is essential to run a business effectively. However, each type of business requires a specific set of insurance policies. A quality set of painter insurance policies ensures your painting business is covered so that you can confidently take on clients.
Some of the necessary insurance policies for painting business are:
- General Liability Insurance: This type of insurance is built to cover you against legal claims for property damage or injury.
- Workers’ Compensation Insurance: If you plan to have even 1 employee, odds are you need (and want) this coverage. Get a workers’ comp quote fast with this calculator.
- Business Owner’s Policy: A Business Owner’s Policy covers various policies, including general liability, business property, and commercial auto insurance.
Insurance costs vary based on your location, how many employees you have or plan to have, and what services you offer.
Important to note: Services that require scissor lifts or bucket trucks (like painting buildings over 15 feet) may make it harder or more expensive for you to get quality insurance. The same holds true for companies that plan to make exterior painting work more than 25% of their business.
If you don’t fall into either of those categories, however, you can get your small business insurance in as little as 5 minutes online.
Just looking for a quote? Get one in 60 seconds from Huckleberry.
11) Sort through paperwork and business infrastructure
Whew. By this point, you’ve done a lot—and there’s still a little more left to go. Entrepreneurship can be crazy-making, but there are ways to stay sane and move forward at the same time. You’ve got this. Let’s finish strong.
There are a few important pieces of paperwork to get in order and some essential business infrastructure to set up when starting your painting business.
Register your business name
The type of business model you choose and your location determine how you will need to register your business.
Apply for an EIN
Your EIN is your Employee Identification Number. Think of it as a Social Security Number, but for your business. Your EIN gives you several benefits and is an essential component of starting a painting business.
Obtain needed permits and licenses
You’ll need to obtain your business license, but the process is different for each of the 50 states. You may also need to register for a general contractor’s license depending on where you live. Check your state's specific painting licensing requirements and complete the necessary steps.
Open a business bank account
The IRS doesn't like it when you blend personal and professional finances. If anything goes wrong, your personal assets could be on the line. Instead, Open up a business checking account. Many banks allow you to at least begin the process online.
Get a business credit card
Like a business bank account, a business credit card allows you to keep your personal and professional spending separate. It also helps to build your business credit and opens up additional financing.
Get necessary employee hire forms
You can easily print out W-4 and W-9 forms for any employees you hire in the future. Other forms for employees can be found through the U.S. Department of Labor website.
12) Hire employees
Hiring employees comes with its share of costs. Workmens’ compensation, payroll tax, and additional benefits like medical and paid time off will place a bigger financial burden on your company. On the other hand, without the additional help, you may find you cannot scale your business.
Think about the following questions as you determine whether or not to hire employees:
- What are your financial goals? Will this new hire help you reach them, even with the additional costs?
- Do you need an employee, or can you grow your business with outsourced subcontractors?
- Where is your biggest need likely to be? Do you need another painter, or could it be that hiring a bookkeeper or office assistant frees you up to handle more of the actual painting work?
Remember that growth requires continued investment. Your human capital stands to be one of the best forms of business investment you can make—if you’re ready for it. Plan to hire long before you have to, and your new employee will become an asset rather than a burdensome necessity to your business.
13. Master your marketing
“If you paint it, they will come” isn’t going to work for you on multiple levels. First of all, no one wants their building or home painted without their consent. Second, you’re not trying to attract dead baseball players. You’re trying to attract your ideal customer (which we hope is not dead baseball players).
To market effectively, you need to know three things:
- Who is your ideal customer?
- What is your UVP?
- Through what channels can you get the message of your UVP to your ideal customer?
We’ve already talked about your ideal customer and your UVP. Now let’s look at some marketing channels you can use to promote your business.
You need an online presence to run a business successfully. You can build one on your own or hire a professional. Include a blog and post regularly to improve your chances of popping up on Google search. To reach people effectively with your site, you’ll likely need to learn some basic Search Engine Optimization (SEO) best practices or hire someone to help you out.
Email marketing is one of the most effective ways to gain new and recurring business, and that is not likely to change anytime soon. Grow your email list through your website and other channels and create an email marketing strategy. A basic newsletter is a great way to start, but you will likely want to invest in more sophisticated email marketing campaigns as time goes on.
A painting business is one of the types of businesses that should still consider direct marketing. Direct marketing is snail mail marketing - meaning your brochure or flyer ends up in someone’s actual mailbox rather than their email inbox. You can use a product like Canva to design an attractive flyer and send it out to members of your community. Remember to include your website, email address, and phone number.
Social Media Marketing (SMM) can get overwhelming fast—but it doesn’t have to. Once you learn where your target audience spends their time online (your initial research should help you with this), you can build your marketing around just those channels and forget about the rest. The main SMM channels are:
Start with one and stick with it for several months. As you learn about the platforms, you’ll get savvier about using them to drive business to your website.
Google My Business
Google My Business helps get you found on—yep, you guessed it—Google. Register your business name and create a profile. It’s free and simple to set up. It’s an essential for any small business owner—especially painting businesses who want to gain local customers.
Word-of-mouth still reigns supreme as the best way to get new clients. Use your personal network, your professional network, and—when you start to get them—client referrals to boost your business and gain more brand-name authority in your community. Business cards are a great way to help circulate your company name in your community.
14. Keep learning
Congratulations! You made it! Now you’re ready and equipped to start an exciting journey toward building your own painting business.
However, that journey keeps going long after you take these initial steps. Here are some resources to help you achieve mastery in your field, grow your business, and develop your network:
Let’s cross “get painter’s insurance” off your list
Huckleberry helps you get the insurance you need to start your painting company fast and entirely online. You can get a quote with us in 60 seconds and be fully insured in minutes with our simple, stress-free service.