House painting is a business that will keep you busy! The only things you'll need to get started are a truck or van, ladders, brushes and some drop cloths. You can get by with the bare minimum investment at first, then build slowly as your business increases -- adding sir compressors, electrical paint rollers, and other equipment as you need them.
The easiest way to keep busy is to do work for real estate and rental agencies. They have lots of work but do not necessarily pay the best -- but they do usually pay on time.
To start your painting career with commercial work, contact several real estate companies and rental agents. tell them what you do and how much you charge, and ask them to try your services. Always leave your business card. You can do these jobs fast and not worry so much about matching colors to rapidly-changing minds. If you want to learn the house painting business and need income right away, this is the way to start.
Most commercial customers are looking for economy: they want the inside walls painted "any color, so long as it is off-white" and don't care so much about long-lasting jobs because tenants damage the best quality paints almost as fast as the lower priced products.
You have a wide choice of arrangements - who supplies the paint, whether you charge by the hour, square footage, room or job. You can find a paint supplier who will sell you paint on credit; however these sources may only handle higher-priced paints that your customer will not pay for. You can do the same with ladders and brushes -- and, you can rent equipment that you will not need for most jobs.
Commercial accounts require careful management of your time. When they call you for a job, they are usually in a hurry. A tenant is complaining or they need the place painted to rent it. Always show up when you promise! Not showing up will lose you more accounts than sloppy work! If there is a problem and you cannot get there when promised, inform the customer immediately. They may gripe over the phone, but they will appreciate the fact that you didn't "stiff" them. If you have helpers, at least send a helper to start the job.
You will be tempted to accept smaller jobs by individuals who pay better. When specializing in large jobs, you can still do small jobs between the big ones. Decide what kind of work you want to specialize in and make that your first priority.
Commercial accounts have are ongoing. They will keep sending you on job after job as long as they are satisfied with your price and work.
Private jobs are typically a one-time job. Although references to friends and relatives and word-of-mouth advertising can be a tremendous help to a successful painting business, each rental agent or real estate account represents a continuing series of jobs itself.
Painting for private individuals is generally much more profitable than commercial work. But, it usually requires more time and effort because there are more individuals to please. You will have to estimate the job, submit a bid, wait for a response, then start the job and undoubtedly modify details as you go -- private home owners frequently change their mind about colors or just what does and does not get painted.
One contractor sizes up his prospective clients and adds 10% to his bid for those he suspects will want a lot of modifications. When the job is completed, you will hopefully be paid in full. Here is where you can get into trouble! You have already paid for the materials and your helpers (or owe them), and the owner wants to pay you "next week." One or two cases like this will teach you to get a clear understanding of payment BEFORE you start the job!
You can hire helpers to do much or most of the actual painting. Consider hiring high school and college kids during the summer.
Don't overlook retirees. One entrepreneur went to a senior citizen's club and found a group of retired men who went out and painted his houses without supervision. They did excellent work, kept their own time records, and did the jobs for less than half what a painting contractor would have charged!
Take a good look around your area and determine what kinds of painting jobs are needed (wood, stucco, one or two story, styles, etc.), and adjust your efforts accordingly. When you see a need, make sure people know you can provide the solution.
After a while, you will be able to "eyeball" a house and know just what it will take for the job. Until then, it is best to know what you are getting into before committing to a price.
Measure the square footage of the surfaces to be painted. For example, a wall 8' high, 50' long is 400 square feet. Subtract for large doors and windows for the exact amount of surface for that wall. Do the same for all other walls, ceilings and offsets and subtract for the openings for the overall surface to be painted. Look on the paint can to see how many square feet a gallon will cover to estimate the amount of paint. Next, figure the smaller surfaces (woodworks, window sills, trim) that will be painted with gloss latex or enamel.
Some painters base their estimates on the square footage alone --they just consider the "savings" of doors and windows against the paint and extra time needed for small surfaces.
If the job is about average, they balance out. If the job has more or less openings, they estimate a percentage. This technique is much faster than measuring all the surfaces.
Next, consider any expendables that might be involved, such as tubes of color, paint mixers, plastic drop cloths, and any special tools. Finally, it is time to estimate the labor.
If you have ever painted the inside of a 10 x 12 foot room you know about how long it took, perhaps 2-3 hours with a roller, plus another hour for set-up, trim, and clean-up. Then, do the same with the trim and "close work" and add the two.
Although you will soon develop your own gauge, you can use a temporary formula for now, based on rooms, square footage and the amount of trim.
For outside painting, the surface will have a lot to do with what it takes to paint it properly. Some surfaces are more porous and require much more paint, some will need scraping and/or sanding, and still others require primer, sealer, and/or extra coats to cover dark colors. Unless you already have some experience in this area, it would be a good idea to bid those first few jobs by the hour until you can more accurately estimate them.
Rates may vary drastically in different parts of the country and even neighborhoods. Check what the going rates are in your area.
Don't forget to consider the surface preparation, how many coats of paint the job will take, and whether primers or "color killers" are needed.
Many frame houses have peeling or blistered paint that must be sanded or removed; some have mildew that should be sprayed with a chlorine solution, washed, and let dry.
Inside walls may have cracks or holes that need to be repaired, and there may be places where part of the surface is missing or rotted. Every painter has a supply of putty and normal cleaning materials, but some jobs obviously need more than a normal paint job. When bidding on or accepting a job, look it over thoroughly and agree on what the client expects you to do about any special problems.
When submitting your bid, always figure it with good quality materials and let the customer know that you did. If he wants to scrimp for a better price, let it be the customer's decision to use cheaper materials.
This is not to say that should you choose the most expensive paints -- only good quality. Since you are now a business person, you can probably get a discount on all your painting supplies. This is extra profit.
To help sell your services, compile a photo album of before and after pictures. Take the before and after pictures from the same angles, and it won't hurt if the after-pictures are in a little better light. Show the best ones in your sample job book and post the addresses on each, so they are real to your prospective customers.
The main pitfalls in this business are over-extending -- taking on more work than you can handle, or jobs that are too complicated for your experience and/or equipment at the time.
You can avoid over-extension by looking over each job carefully before accepting it -- and keep your reputation by making good on all promises. Pay your bills, keep your word and do good work, and you will do fine.
Related Article: Decorative Wall Painting
by Leva Duell: