How to start a painting business (from home, with no money)

I interviewed 3 people who own successful painting businesses. They explain how you can start a painting company, and what you'll need.

Updated October 19, 2021

Written by

Benjamin Davis


Experts interviewed:

James Fraley - Owner, Capital City Painting in Columbia SC

Anthony Meggs – Owner, Anthony Meggs Painting in Monroe NC

David Jorde – Owner, New Life Painters in Idaho Falls ID

NOTICE: This article is long. You can skip directly to the guide if you prefer.

Running a painting business is appealing for three reasons that I'll cover in this article. Those three reasons briefly are – the startup costs are extremely low, the value of a customer can be quite high (which means you don't need to spend crazy money on marketing to keep busy), and you can make your painting business into a large operation if that's what you want.

I interviewed three people who have been in the painting business for a long time, and asked them what you should know about how to get started with a painting business, and how to run and grow your business.

First, I wanted to know what background they came from – do people usually work in the industry first – maybe as a painter – before starting a business? Or can you just start a painting business with no industry experience?

I asked my three experts – how did you get started in the painting business?

How did you get started in the painting business?

did you work with someone in the industry first? or did you just get started on your own?

James: I was in car sales after my military time, and I just started looking around and seeing all these plain white vans everywhere. And I can obviously tell they're painters, because of all the paint on the back of the vans. I knew nothing about the business. So I started researching it and I was like “Okay. Well, what if I can create a company where I can sell a job – exterior, interior residential painting – and then get these guys to work for me?” So that's what I did.

Anthony: Honestly, after high school, going to a local community college, I needed a way to pay bills, pay rent, pay my car payment – and just picked up painting apartments and stuck with it.

David: Well, 40 years ago my friend and I were talking about what could we do to make money – and something that we could shut down when we want because we were both going to college at the time. So, we decided what can we do that with painting – we can turn on the work and turn off the work, and do what we need to, so we both settled on painting and that's where we're still at.

Tip: You don't need to have years of experience – the best way to learn this business is to do it. As long as you or your crew have the ability to get the job done well, just focus on getting your first client and doing a great job. I cover that in depth later in this article.

Can you start a painting business with no experience?

is industry experience really needed? or can you hire an experienced crew, and learn as you go?

James: To be honest with you, you don't need any experience in the painting business. What you need experience is in sales. So, for example, you set up a company and create a website, and people call you. When you start, you won't have much of an online presence. So you rely on a lot of pay-per-lead, like Angie’s List, Home Advisor, all those things. So, once you get those, you go to their residence to do a quote and it's basically selling yourself.

You have to have some sales ability. Why are they going to hire you over somebody else? They put their faith in you even though you're not established online – everyone goes online nowadays to check reviews, check your website. My model is a bit different to a normal painting business – mine is more just sales. So, you go and get a 10,000-dollar residential exterior contract? So, now you bring in the subcontractors – the guys driving around in the plain white vans. These guys are absolutely great at painting, great at what they do – but they don't have the salesmanship, they don't have the online presence. They charge you a subcontracting price, and you charge the homeowner full retail price. The guys that I have working for me for me established contractors that I picked up, I tried out, I tested out because it's my name, it's my company.

Anthony: You could either get experience yourself, or you could start out by hiring an experienced crew. I think if you came in with no painting experience, you'd better be a very good marketer and someone that's good at sourcing employees – but having that basis of experience behind you is definitely going to help, I guess, in the initial startup.

David: In my situation, I have a lot of confidence and I’ve worked for myself all my life. And even when I was a kid, I worked selling golf balls and selling all sorts of things on the side. So, I’ve always worked for myself, selling things to people and I just started up the painting business on my own and I learned as I went. That's how I did it. So, I think it can be done. I think anybody that wants to do it can do it. And just do a little research – and especially with what's on YouTube now, everything you need is online.

How much money do you need to start a painting business? What equipment do you need?

is it an expensive business to start? what equipment do you need as a minimum, to start a painting business?

James: I took probably the more expensive route. Now, if you were looking to get into the business as a painter where you're going to do everything yourself like “Hey, I’m a painter. I want to open a painting company,” it's probably an initial investment of $500 to $1,000. Anybody can easily do it but if you're painting a house, you're not out there selling, you're not out there bringing in new business.

I mean, you can make a living but you're not going to become financially secured.

So, understand that all the customers go online first. Everyone looks up your company, looks up your website. So, my first investment was in my website because everyone's going to check the website – it's not phone book days anymore. My initial painting business startup cost was a few thousand dollars for the website, and, total investment was probably less than five grand, but that's for the way I run my business as sales-focused rather than work focused.

Anthony: On the low-end side, I think someone could easily get started with an owner-operator for around $15,000 to $25,000. I think if they were looking to explore the commercial jobs, stuff like that, they're going to need a much larger nest egg to sit on, I would say $50,000 to $100,000. You would need basic hand tools, a truck, some kind of a van type of vehicle, ladders.

David: I mean, absolute minimum – if I was to start today with absolutely nothing, I would go get a job. And as soon as I got the job, I would use that money to get some minimal materials. And we're talking like $200 to $400 easily. I could do it with $200 easily. You always need a ladder, a roller, a roller stick, and a couple brushes, a bucket and that's it.

It's not that expensive to get into. I mean, when I first started, just as a little side note, I actually used to go to car lots. So, I was painting exterior houses and I had big ladders and I always go to car lots and ask them “Hey, can I take your truck for a test drive?” and then go move my equipment from one job to another. Just keep your word, be professional and do your best job and it'll take you a long way.

Tip: Don't buy any gear until you have your first client. You just don't need it, and you could end up wasting money on equipment you won't even use. Get the first client, then make a list of the equipment you'll need. I have a sample list included in my guide, >here<.

Once you get your first painting job, you're all set to start getting some work done and generating some money. The income can be good, especially once you start to get a steady flow of incoming enquiries.

I asked the three successful painting business owners how much you could expect to earn as you get started in this business, and as you get more established.

How much does a painting business earn?

is it a profitable business to run? can you expect to earn a good income right away?

James: If you're doing the painting yourself, once you pay for expenses and other costs you're probably only looking at $5,000 to $6,000 a month. The way I operate, where I'm quoting the jobs and hiring subcontractors, it's between $15k and $20k a month.

Anthony: I would say $10,000 to $15,000 a month is a fair range, and that would be working hard. You could do that with one guy, with a helper.

David: You can easily make $5,000 a month. Easily.

Tip: In my step-by-step guide on How to Start a Painting Business, I explain how you can get industry experts to teach you everything you need to know, 1-on-1, completely free of charge. You can check it out >here<.

A painting business is however profitable you want it to be – there is a huge demand for the service, so you can scale to the moon or you can work as an owner-operator and make a very solid income. You can do as much or as little as you like.

But – getting clients is where it all starts.

I asked my three successful painting business operators:

How does a new painting business get their first clients?

what works to get started in the business, and get your first client or contract?

Anthony: My first clients would definitely have been from the first website that I ever paid to have hosted. And then of course building off of that and progressing and making better sites. I mean, while I was in college, I really didn't do any advertising. So, there were several years that went by where I paid taxes and just kept it to family and friends, word of mouth. It wasn't until out of college until the early 2000s before my first website went live.

David: The way I used to do it was so different that I don't even remotely come close to doing it the same way now. So, the way I used to do it was put an ad in the paper and wait for a call. Now, what I do is use Google My Business local listings, and a website. And kicking the pavement never hurt. You see a house being built. Go knock on their door. I used to go to courthouses and find out who's building and all that kind of stuff but mostly now, I just sit back and wait for them to contact me. Last month, I think I had like 3700 people hit my website. That's nothing. I mean, it's not that hard to do.

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have used the worlds easiest guide on How to Start a Painting Business. It has literally everything you need to build a thriving painting business. You can get it for free, or you can buy it

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Customers will often get bids or estimates from a few painters, and consider at least two or three painting businesses before they decide which one they'll hire to do their painting.

I asked my three industry experts – how do customers choose which painter they're going to hire?

How to make sure a client chooses YOUR painting business?

what do clients really care about? what are they looking for from a painting business?

James: It really comes down to reviews. I can tell you that. Every single customer out there is going to – no matter what the industry – they're going to look you up online. They're going to check your reviews. So, once they see the reviews, then they make the decision to like give you a call. So, I think that's the most important thing is SEO. For example, if you're going to start a painting company you want to be more concentrated on SEO, and online advertising. Advertising gets your name out there because competition is pretty stiff. I can tell you here in Columbia, South Carolina, in three years I might be the number one painting company but that didn't happen overnight. It happened over three years.

Anthony: Well, I think it's kind of a multi-series thing. First, it's – do you even answer the phone. To me, that's number one. Do you have office staff? What is your presentation? How do you sell yourself? What's your follow-up? What is your online presence? What are your reviews? Do you have a reputation? All that comes into play now a lot more than 10 years ago, even 15 years ago where it was more word-of-mouth referral. So, I think online presence, reviews are huge, and they may get you in the door but once you're there, do you have a presentation pamphlet, how do you present yourself, how do you sell yourself, how quick are you to respond to a question or an email or a phone call. I think every one of those touch points makes the biggest difference in who they decide to go with.

David: So, first of all, do they like you. I went through a class on this one time and they told us people hire people they like, and that's so true. That's issue number one. Secondly, they hire people that they have confidence in. So, they hire you based on how well they like you and their confidence in your ability to make it happen, to do whatever you say you're going to do. The other thing is honoring your word. So, being honest and having integrity is huge and honoring your word. That's it in a nutshell. Being able to do it and honoring your word – because you ARE going to make mistakes – but if you honor your word, that'll go a long way.

Tip: The worst thing you can do is bid low just to win the job. If you win the job but you're not making money, it's all going to end badly. I've dedicated a whole chapter in my guide (available for sale, or for free >here<) to the topic of making sure you're charging enough to cover costs and make a good profit.

As soon as you get a website online or your Google Local Business listing up, you're going to start getting marketing calls and emails from people wanting to sell you all sorts of advertising services.

Some are great, and some are not.

I asked my three successful founders what their experiences were with methods of generating new business. I wanted to know what had worked well for them, and what had been a waste of money.

What are the best & worst ways to build your painting business?

regular advertising? cold calling? sales letters? online advertising? what works, and what doesn't?

James: Google organic makes the phone ring. At one time – when you're new – you have to pay-per-click for Google ads, or you have to pay for those $50 to $90 dollar leads from Home Advisor, Angie’s List because you don't have an online presence. Now, once you establish your presence online, then it's all organic from that.

Some things to stay away from, to be honest, is things like normal types of advertising – because you get those daily advertising people that call you say “Hey, advertise with us.”

And Yelp is horrible. Nobody likes Yelp. Yelp is just a place where you go to put a negative comment on something. It's mostly restaurants. Stay away from Yelp. Stay away from printed advertising.

I can tell you, if anyone wants to start a painting company, they should put all their money and investment into Google SEO and that is it. Stay away from these little guys that sell you on their golf course ads like “Hey, we got a page on our golf course scorecard.” I did all that. I tried all of it and it got no return but it's a learning process because I didn't know.

Anthony: To me, the worst way of advertising is basically the pay-per-click, depending on your budget – but for my area, it’s quite flooded with painting companies all bidding up the cost per click. And also, something like Home Advisor, Angie's List where you pay-per-lead, I don't think it's worth a penny. I think it's all junk, it has been for me anyway. And the best money spent for me would be hiring a very small well-established SEO company to manage websites, to manage landing pages, to manage mobile devices. That was the best money spent, a company small enough you can form a relationship with, they know what you need, they're a very, very quick phone call away but they also know what they're doing. So, that was a huge find for me and the best money spent monthly.

David: Actually, you can always get leads from Houzz or companies like that. You can get leads off Facebook. Basically, we're living in a social world now and the more social advertising you do, the better off you're going to be. Those things are something that cost money, but bottom line gets down to word of mouth and somebody said something good about you, or your reviews are good and all that kind of stuff. That's what it really amounts to. I mean, you can have all the good advertising but if you're not delivering, it wont matter. One of my friends used to say “You're starting to believe your own advertising.” And, basically, what he was saying is advertising is you can paint a picture that's not real when you advertise but what it really amounts to is “Well, I heard what you did on this job” and that speaks volumes about who you are.

Tip: If you avoid hiring bad employees, you'll make your life so much easier. There are three questions you can ask that have a 9 in 10 success rate in avoiding bad employees. I have dedicated an entire section in my guide to the topic of hiring good employees – you can check it out >here<.

The experts agree that having a website is a big deal, and good SEO is the most important thing you can do in the long term – and it's never too early to start that. The sooner you start, the sooner you'll start generating and incoming flow of calls and enquiries from your website.

What is the biggest waste of money when you're starting a painting business?

is there something that sounds like a good idea, but is actually a bad purchase or waste of money?

James: I’ll tell you straight up – number one is Yelp. Number two is any kind of magazine like community magazine or a flyer or all that local advertising. Do not waste your money on that because that does not get a return on investment at all – 100% wasted. Do not waste your money on that.

And you're going to get calls with people selling you things. If someone starts a business and you're on the net, the web, phone list, you're going to get calls from these people “Hey, this is so-and-so with so-and-so golf course. We have a premier spot open for.” Do not fall into that trap.

Anthony: I would say avoid your massive media groups. I spent I think $30,000 dollars with one. The presentation was beautiful. The promises were there. But zero execution. And you're locked in. You're not going to get out of that contract. So, I blew $30,000 or close to it, in a year with a company like that, that could care less about me. It's all about the revenue for them. They can make a promise and don't have to stand behind it because they know you're stuck in their contract and they're not going to let you out. So, worst mistake I ever made on a large scale.

David: I get calls every single day to this day selling me advertising, saying “We want you to advertise with us. We want you to spend money here. We want you to do that.” And I never take them up on any of it. I actually get all my work exclusively off my website. At the beginning, obviously, you can't do that so I would go with Houzz or Angies List or something like that initially – but those things are something I don't need now and, hopefully, I won't need ever again.

So advertising unnecessarily would be a waste of money. Like I said, it paints a false picture of who you really are a lot of times. I mean, obviously, you can just say everything you want but it's really never actually that way. So, that's pretty much it. Too much advertising. I’m not against advertising. I’m just not getting into it too much. You can spend every dime you make on advertising and still not get you anywhere if you don't have integrity, if you don't honor your word and you don't do a good job or if people don't like you.

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What is a typical workday for the owner of a successful painting business ?

is it a good lifestyle? are the hours super long? can you take time off when you need to?

James: One year into business, I was probably doing three or four estimates a day all over a 50-mile radius, a job start, getting paint for a crew, playing customer relations, being there halfway through the job. It was a grind day in and day out five days a week for a few years. If you can't sell two out of three estimates, then you are not going to be able to do what I do the way I do it. My business model is different to just being a normal painter. You have to be great at sales. And when you finally hire that salesperson or operation manager that takes over sales, they have to be able to sell.

Anthony: A typical day for me now is just in the office getting guys out the door, trying to put out any fires or any concerns in the morning maybe with customers or jobs we have going on. And I do normally run at least one or two – sometimes more – estimates a day. And that's pretty much it. Show up where I’m needed and pop in on crews from time to time, and then handle paperwork at the office if needed. I don't get the pleasure of pushing a brush much anymore.

David: Sometimes – about a third of the time, I’m actually on the job working. But more so than anything, I probably go do bids and make sure everybody else is doing their jobs. So, I don't do a lot of the painting work now. Right now, I have four jobs going and I haven't been on either one of them for like a week.

Tip: It doesn't matter who is doing the painting – your customers expect excellent results. I've dedicated an entire chapter in >my guide< on how to make sure you hire the best staff or contracts, and avoid huge problems and potential lawsuits.

Some industries – especially when there's a low barrier to entry – seem to be a magnet for low-quality operators who just turn up and maybe do substandard work, which can lead to bad experiences for the customer.

I asked my three painting business experts:

What sort of CRAZY things happen in the painting industry?

are there shady operators doing things the wrong way? or is the industry mostly full of professionals?

James: the crazy thing is those owners that put their time and energy into painting themselves. They say "I can paint, I’m a licensed painter", but the way I see it – if I’m putting my hours and energy into doing that, I’m losing hours from growing or promoting the company. So, that's the biggest thing I would say to those people that want to make it big and start a massive painting company, not just a mom and pop like “Hey, we've been around for 20 years and we make $XYZ month", is to understand what brings in the money. And when I started the company, I started by doing small jobs like a deck painting. A deck painting is small job – a $500 deck painting job would take me half a day. I would say “You know what, I’m going to do that myself” but what I found out is, it's a waste of time.

Anthony: What drives me insane, especially with colleagues that I speak to, whether it be at a paint store or a local convention or something like that, is people don't take the time to do their own numbers. If they have employees, they don't know – what are those guys’ production rate, what should you be accomplishing within an hour of every day. They don't track their numbers. They don't keep an idea of exactly what that piece of sandpaper or that sanding block costs them. Those things, to me, are everything because if you don't know the numbers, how do you know what kind of money you're really making and/or is that person a productive person, do they deserve a raise or should they stay where they're at. Those are things that just drives me crazy when I hear someone say “Oh, well, I didn't make much.” – “Well, how much did you make?” – “Well, I don't know.” It's like “Well, how do you run a business that way?”

David: The biggest thing I see that is crazy is some guys just don't honor their word. And that's where I get most of my jobs from. They watch me and they say “Well, this guy does what he says he’s going to do” – where most others don't. Maybe they get upfront money for the job, which I usually try and do, too. And then they go party for a few days or a week or something like that. And then when they run out of money, they come crawling back and they want more money and still haven't performed enough work. So, it just opens the door for a loss of trust and loss of confidence. It happens all the time.

In the painting business – like most other industries – it can often be easier to get extra revenue from your existing clients, instead of trying to win more clients or jobs each month.

I asked my three painting business experts what additional services a painting business can offer, to increase revenue?

What additional services can a painting business offer to it's customers?

are there extras and add-ons? what do customers often request?

James: we do residential interior, exterior – that's including decks, fences, and other painting. When it comes to interior painting, there's a lot of drywall repairs. So, we do a lot of dry drywall repairs. And on the exterior, there's a lot of rotten wood from weathering and all that. So, we do that too. And prep work is what makes a great painting job. It's the preparation for the painting. Anyone can put paint on a house. It's what you do prior to it. So, we do all those extras as far as residential, deck painting, of course, fence painting. And, next year we are jumping into the commercial market.

Anthony: we do offer a couple services as a benefit or a perk as we're doing the painting project but I’m sure there are several companies that have a crew doing nothing but pressure washing because you have to teach your employees how to do it properly for your own repaint. So, why not utilize that out outside. We choose not to. Also, carpentry as a whole. I’m sure you could easily hire out or employ or subcontract a carpentry crew and use them and you could sell that service separately – something we choose not to do – but, yeah, I think those two would be something that would be easily done for a painting company that has employees and equipment in place.

David: I know how to do very, very high-end stuff but 90% of my work is probably at the average house on the side of the road – but I know how to do it all. So, I basically know how to do wallpapering. I know how to do pretty much all, textured painting, wood graining, all of it. And those are extras and add-ons, and when they have a bid that you want and they have all those things on those bids, those are something that they look at – “Well, Dave can do texturing, drywall repair, and install wallpaper at the same time. So, I’ll just get one guy.”

Tip: Knowing exactly when and how to offer an extra, an add-on, or an up-sell can mean the difference between almost nobody saying yes, and almost EVERYBODY saying yes. I have dedicated an entire section in my guide to the topic of selling the easy way – you can check it out >here<.

Advice for starting a painting business, from people who've done it

the three successful founders share their keys to success in this industry, based on their own experiences

James: Get a website and get an online presence happening as your number one priority because it's the most important thing. Second thing would probably be – you've got to be great in sales and customer relations because if you can't get past them, they're not even going to go to your website if they don't trust you in person.

Number three would probably be production. You've got to find those crews that are willing to do what you sell to the customer and do it to the standard – either that or you're going to have to do it yourself.

Anthony: I guess, the first point would be to learn your game, know how to market yourself and how to sell yourself. I guess, to me, that's huge. Secondly – if you're going to hire, make sure that you surround yourself with a team that has the same goals, the same ambitions, they want to grow, they want to grow with you. And thirdly, over-track your numbers. I mean, to me, that's everything. You have to know what even that rag cost you. You have to know what that roll of tape cost. And keep track of it, especially as you grow and you have multiple crews and multiple employees. It doesn't take much to lose a couple hundred bucks in material and sundries just from overuse or not being properly cared for and, to me, those numbers add up and it's just a way to kind of control that. Those would be three huge things that, I think, for any business. They have to take the time to know that.

David: It's very simple. Be like-able, honor your word, and be trustworthy and have integrity. That's it right there. If I was to do any business, I don't care what business it is, that's what I would do.

The painting business is easy to start – the demand for painting services is at an all-time high, the costs to get started are low, and there's plenty of opportunity to make some serious cash.

I have spent over 100 hours learning everything there is to know about the painting business, by talking to industry experts and painting business operators. I have compiled it into the worlds most useful guide, How to Start a Painting Business. You can check it out below.

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