How to Start a Painting Business in 8 Steps 

Men painting a building

Would you believe a painting business could earn $6,000 profit in its first month? Mine did! Soon after starting a painting business as a side hustle alongside my construction company, it out-profited my primary business in the first month. 

Sure, I had a little help such as an old truck and positive word-of-mouth marketing from past clients. Soon, I had 3 guys employed full-time and more work than we could handle.

What amazed me most was the ease of scaling my painting business and the lack of outgoings compared to my construction operation.

Want to learn how to start your painting business and get the profits rolling in? Stick with me and I’ll tell you how.

Common Questions Regarding a Painting Business

I’ve got a bunch of valid reasons you should consider starting a painting business. First, you don’t need a qualification or much experience to begin, and the set-up costs and overheads are low. Plus, you can scale your painting business with demand, get deposits upfront, and work year-round. 

These are all great reasons, right? But there are others, one of the best being profitability. So, let’s begin with that: 

Is a painting business profitable? 

Turns out that it’s not unusual for a painting business to earn $6,000 profit per month and more. 

A report showed that the average U.S. painting contractor earns $94,000 annually. The average lowest and highest rates are even more interesting, coming in at $52,350 to $155,200.

Let’s break those numbers down:

Not too shabby! Of course, you won’t work all 52 weeks of the year and you’ll have expenses to subtract. But you can see how $6,000 per month is a realistic figure. 

How much does it cost to get started? 

Few trade jobs have as low an entry point as a painting business.

For comparison’s sake, the average 2022 cost to start a landscaping business ranges from $15,000 to $50,000 (depending on size). The average annual salary ranges from $25,302 to $147,577. 

On the other hand, statistics show you can start a painting business for under $2,000 and earn more per month! Why?

The answer comes down to equipment and materials—you need far less of both to start a painting business compared to most other trade services. And you can add equipment as your business grows, increasing your fees as you expand your services while getting deposits to fund materials up-front.

But you will need transport, essential painting equipment, insurance, and marketing materials that could increase your starting costs. We’ll look at those a little later in the post.

Is starting a painting business hard?

Starting any business requires taking specific steps, like choosing a business entity, registering your business name, and getting a business license. You’ll also have to learn how to market your new painting business, talk with clients, set rates, and pay taxes.

But all of that aside, it’s relatively easy to start a painting business because you don’t need a certification or training requirements and the lower entry costs. 

Is it business for you? 

I love many things about the painting business and perhaps you’ll relate to the reasons why, too. For example:

Residential painters are often the last tradespeople homeowners meet, helping them choose color schemes and styles that define their homes, so it’s a personal service and that’s pretty special. 

Decide if You'll Offer Residential or Commercial Services

Residential and commercial painting are 2 very different services that require different levels of experience, skill-sets, and tools. 

Which you choose can also affect your set-up/running costs, business structure, and licenses and permit requirements.

Let’s look closer at both so you can choose a painting service for your business. 

Residential vs. commercial painting

A residential painting business prepares and paints the interior and exterior of private residential properties, including walls, ceilings, window trims, furniture, and decks. Residential painters work with property owners, advising and recommending color palettes, paint types, and styles.

Commercial painting businesses prepare and paint the interior and exterior of commercial buildings, such as office buildings, apartment blocks, industrial units, schools, hospitals, shops, etc. Commercial painting contracts often require specialized equipment and a large crew who must follow pre-set colors and designs to meet tight deadlines.  

Here are 6 points to consider before you choose your painting service:

Project size

Crew size

Materials and equipment

Services provided

Project management

The risks

Put Your Business Foundations in Place

Successful businesses are built on solid foundations that support them throughout their journey. Your new painting business foundation depends on where and how you’ll do business. 

For example, will you have employees? Does your state require you to have a business license or permit? Will you trade using your name? And what level of insurance coverage will you need?

To keep track of your business needs, you need a plan.

Create a basic business plan

When you start a painting job, you have to follow a plan that ensures you do it right. It’s the same as measuring and buying materials, stripping old paint, filling, sanding, and cleaning, followed by primer, undercoat (or 1st coat), and a topcoat.

A business plan helps you do the same thing as it contains the necessary steps to start your business, ensuring you don’t skip any steps, remain organized, and get the job done.

There are 2 types of business plans. There’s a traditional plan that’s essential if you require financial funding and there’s a one-page business plan that acts more like a personal guide, which is ideal for small to medium businesses. 

Choose a business entity 

When starting a painting business, you have a choice of business entities to choose from. A business entity is a legal structure your business operates to and determines how you’ll run your business, your level of liability, and pay your taxes.  

There are 12 or more available, but the following 3 are popular for start-up painting businesses:

  1. Sole proprietorship: Simple and cheap way to start a business but doesn’t provide limited liability protection.
  2. General partnership: Same as a sole proprietorship but for 2 or more people.
  3. Limited liability company: The most common choice for small businesses because of the many benefits.

When you choose to use an LLC, you must register your business entity with your Secretary of State’s office and follow the registration steps. 

Sole-proprietors and general partnerships aren’t entities, so you don’t have to register with the Secretary of State’s office. Still, you may have to register a Doing Business As. I’ll explain why next:

Register your business name 

A sole proprietor can start a painting business using their name, but they must register a Doing Business As (DBA) if they want to use a catchy business name. The same applies to those starting a general partnership.

A DBA enables you to choose a professional name that suits your business and helps engage your target market. You register for one either with your state’s county clerk’s office or local state government; costs vary between states ranging from $10 and $100.

LLC owners don’t have to apply for a DBA, but they might need to get an EIN!

Get an EIN

An Employer Identification Number (EIN) is your business’s Social Security Number (SSN).

Multi-member LLCs and any business with employees need an EIN so the IRS can identify them and track their tax payments. Single-member LLCs, sole proprietors, and general partnerships without employees don’t need an EIN and instead use their SSNs for paying taxes.

You can get an EIN via the IRS website or mail using the IRS Form SS-4 and your SSN.

Apply for your painter's license

Almost every business with an income requires a business license to operate within their state. Painting business licenses vary by state and even more on a local level. 

For example, some U.S. states like California require painters to apply for a California Contractors State Board License when earning $500 on a job. Other states like Colorado have no painting license requirements, however, you might need one at a county or city level. 

You can learn about license requirements on the Small Business Administration (SBA) or by contacting your local Chamber of Commerce.

Buy insurance 

Insurance is a must for most businesses, especially limited liability insurance as it covers damage to your client’s property or any accidents caused by your service. 

A limited liability insurance policy costs around $100 per month for a $1,000,000 cover.

However, your insurance needs can change as you scale your business and employ people. You could need the following policies: 

Get the Necessary Equipment

Painting equipment needs differ depending on whether it’s a commercial or residential service, but either way, the equipment can be expensive when starting your business. 

To reduce costs, let’s look at the basic equipment and ways to pay for the more advanced gear as your business grows. 

A residential painting business

Your residential painting business can start work with the following equipment:

You can rent tools for more advanced jobs to lower your start-up costs, such as paint sprayers, scaffolding towers, and pressure washers. Be sure to include the rental price in your estimate. 

A commercial painting business

A commercial painting company needs the same equipment as a residential painting business, plus extras like:

And, of course, the means of transporting the equipment and employees, such as a truck, trailer, and ladder racks. 

When starting your painting business, the key is to invest in the essentials and rent others on a job-by-job basis. And as your painting business grows, reinvest your profits to build up your inventory. 

Different Ways to Get Equipment

You can get the equipment your painting business needs by leasing, renting, and buying. Your choice depends on your start-up budget. For most new painting businesses, buying the essential equipment and renting the more expensive tools is the best option.

But what if you have zero funds? In that case, you’ve got 3 funding options:

1. Get a small business short-term loan

Short-term small business loans are often the first option for obtaining funding for business owners with a strong credit rating and positive repayment history with their local bank.

This type of loan requires the borrower to repay on specific dates, including interest. Small business term loans are challenging for many new business owners, but that’s where the following option can help you.

2. Get an equipment financing loan

Equipment financing loans differ from your standard bank loans. A standard bank loan often requires you to put up collateral to secure a loan, whereas an equipment loan doesn’t.

An equipment loan works by the lender, loaning you the cost price of a specific piece of equipment. You repay the loan with interest, and your purchase acts as collateral.

3.Get a 0% intro business credit card

Another option for business owners who can’t get a business or equipment loan is a 0% business credit card.

A business credit card provides cash access with zero interest if you repay what you borrow within the 0% APR period. Not paying before the end of the calendar month results in high-interest repayments. 

Understand How to Price Jobs

You first need to know which pricing structure best suits your location, client, and business to price a job. Your goal is to make a profit, but you must also price to attract your target audience and compete with local competitors to get work. 

There are 3 different pricing methods available; you can use one or all 3 depending on your location, job type, and customers. 

Price per hour

Charging by the hour is a simple way to price your service. You choose a rate compatible with your competitors and location, add material costs, and a percentage markup (15% works well) for profit. 

When pricing at an hourly rate, you must account for the following things: Is the site access easy or difficult? Does the property require pre-cleaning? Will you be working at height?

Next, estimate the number of hours it’ll take to complete the job. Then multiply those hours by your price per hour. Add materials and your 15% mark up.

Per size

Pricing per size works by measuring a job on a room-by-room (or external wall) basis and charging a set price per foot. 

Pricing per foot works by multiplying the length by the width, which gives you the square foot. Average prices per square foot range from $1.50 to $3.50 for interior walls, increasing to $4 per square foot, including ceilings and trims. 

Check out your local competitors to establish the going rates in your area.

Per job

Price per job or “a fixed price” is how most experienced painters price projects. They’ve learned how long a project will take, including material and labor costs. 

A fixed price includes your labor, material, business costs, and 15% profit margin. 

Here’s an example of how it works:

Hire the Right People

As your business grows, you might need to hire employees to keep up with demand, and that’s a good thing as long as you do it right!

You have 2 options when hiring painters:

  1. Subcontractors: Subcontractors are independent professional painters you can employ on a project basis. Hiring freelancers removes some of the legal requirements of employing full-time staff and you won’t have to provide materials. Still, you might not make as much profit.
  2. Employees: Hiring employees full or part-time means you’ll take on full legal responsibility, including payroll tax and insurance. You’ll also have to provide all materials and equipment.

Hiring employees is a big step for a new painting business and could cost you if it goes wrong. Before you hire, ensure the work is there and that you adhere to all legal requirements. 

Verify your candidates' eligibility to work

Before hiring an employee, you must verify their identity using the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ I-9 form. 

Apply for an EIN

Before you pay an employee, you must get an Employee Identification Number (EIN) for your business by applying on the IRS website

Report new employees to your state’s registry

Your state requires you to report any new employee’s information to the state registry, such as social security number and name. 

Collect and submit payroll tax

Employers must withhold and match a percentage of their employee’s wage to contribute towards payroll tax, including Medicare and Social Security. 

The current payroll tax rate is 6.2% for Social Security and 1.45% for Medicare per employee and employer. 

Get workers' compensation insurance

Almost all U.S. states require employers to have workers’ compensation insurance to cover their employees’ losses if injured at work, such as wages and medical costs. 

As an employer, you must research your state’s requirements and get the right amount of insurance coverage.

You can find all the rules for employing staff on the Small Business Administration website.

Advertise Your Painting Business

The success or failure of many new start-up businesses depends on how well an owner advertises their business.

The good news is you don’t need a degree in advertising to promote your new painting business both on and offline. You need 5 proven strategies, all of which you can do straight away for a minor investment. 

Build a website 

Don’t put off building your website for months out of fear of spending a crazy amount of money using a designer. Instead use one of the many website platforms offering free trials with pre-made templates, such as Wix and Weebly.

All you do is choose a relevant business theme and build your home page. You’ll also create your business name, logo, high-quality images, engaging content, past customer testimonials, contact info, and press go.

You aim to get online so people can find your business, and you can add more pages and improve the layout as your business grows. 

Create a Google business profile 

Let’s say you’re not ready to build a website—I get that. You can begin without one for most local painting businesses if you have a Google business profile.

A Google business profile is a free online listing where you can advertise your business to those who need your service. 

The profile allows you to advertise your business name, service, location, and customer testimonials. As Google business listings are where over 80% of people look to find a local service, it’s essential to your business success.

If you’d like more info on how to create your Google business profile, check out this great article written by Natasha, one of my fellow writers. 

Do a flyer run 

I love handing out flyers because they’re how I got my first clients and grew my local business. Flyers are single-sheet advertisements that tell your target audience what your business does. People love well-designed local business flyers often putting them on the refrigerator, unlike junk mail that goes in the trash. 

You can print flyers locally or online, costing as little as $50 per thousand, even less if you buy more.

Keep your flyer design simple, use attractive colors, and include your business name, services, testimonials, and contact details. 

Invest in truck signage 

When I started my first construction/painting business, I immediately put signage on my truck—it paid off. A supplier selling natural stone products pulled up behind me at a junction, got my cell number (I didn’t yet have a website), and called me.

That one contact led to years of work and thousands of dollars of income laying stone pavers and fitting water features for his buyers.

Encourage word-of-mouth marketing

As your business grows, so will your client list, and you can use that to your advantage. Ask past clients to help promote your business by posting testimonials on your website and social media pages and recommending you to family and friends.

Over to You

The trick to starting a painting business is approaching it as you would actual painting: Don’t rush it or skip any steps. My advice is to take your time, keep a steady hand, and have a positive attitude.

Always do excellent work, leave your job site spotless, and appreciate your clients. Get those right, and you’ll be painting a bright future.

This portion of our website is for informational purposes only. Tailor Brands is not a law firm, and none of the information on this website constitutes or is intended to convey legal advice. All statements, opinions, recommendations, and conclusions are solely the expression of the author and provided on an as-is basis. Accordingly, Tailor Brands is not responsible for the information and/or its accuracy or completeness.

Terry is a serial entrepreneur with over 25 years of experience building businesses across multiple industries – construction, real estate, e-commerce, hotelier, and now digital media. When not working, Terry likes to kick back and relax with family, explore Taoism’s mysteries, or savor the taste of fine Italian red wine.