Five steps to starting a successful painting business: Planning

The first step to starting a successful painting business is to plan for success. Business success does not occur by accident. It requires both intellectual and physical action. It requires that you identify what you want from your business, and how you will achieve it.

Many painting contractors think that planning is a waste of time. They view planning as nothing more than idle dreaming. They want to get out there and put paint on the wall. After all, that is what brings in the money. But before you put paint on the wall, you must generate leads, estimate accurately, sell at a profitable price, and much more. You must identify how many leads you need, what price is profitable, and much more. Addressing these issues is what the planning process is all about.

Let us say that you have modest goals–you want to make $40,000 a year. How many jobs will you need in order to make this? How many man hours will this require? How many leads will you need to generate in order to sell those jobs? How will you generate those leads? At what price do you need to sell in order to make your desired income? These are the types of questions that must be answered. (And to answer most of these questions, there are many other questions that must be answered.)

The refusal to answer these questions–or as is more common, the refusal to even ask them–is an invitation for stress, frustration, and failure. If you don’t know the answers, how can you possibly take the actions that will create the results that you want? In short, you can’t.

Even the best of plans will not go perfectly. There are many variables and unknowns in owning a painting business. But the lack of planning makes almost every aspect of the business an unknown, and therefore, uncontrollable.

To illustrate, let us take one of the issues listed above–the number of leads you must generate. If you know this number then you can develop a plan to accomplish it. You can establish a marketing budget. You have a benchmark by which to measure your success as you move forward.

If, for example, you need to generate 10 leads per month, you have a specific number to shoot for. You can determine how many door hangers to distribute, how many postcards to mail, etc. You can determine what this will cost.

Planning is not a magic pill. Plans seldom work out exactly as we intend. However, they provide you with a road map to where you are going. And that will get you far closer to your intended destination than if you choose to drive blindly.

Five steps to starting a successful painting business: Introduction

It is said that hindsight is 20-20, that if we knew then what we know now our decisions would be better. This is generally true–experience and new information can certainly impact our decisions. And it would certainly be true if I were to start my painting business today.

Nearly 25 years in this business has taught me that there are 5 key steps to starting a successful painting company. Today I will introduce those steps, and over the next 5 days I will address each in more detail. The steps are:

  1. Planning– Know where you are going and have a road map for getting there.
  2. Systems– Develop and implement procedures in key areas of the business.
  3. Know your numbers– Understand your true cost of doing business.
  4. Estimating– Know how to estimate consistently, accurately, and profitably.
  5. Sales– Know how to sell at the price you need to be profitable.

It is certainly possible to start a painting business with following these 5 steps. Indeed, most of us who have started a painting business did so. But starting a painting business is different from starting a successful painting business. In addition, following these 5 steps will reduce stress and frustrations.

When I started my painting business I did not have the benefit of the many resources available today. The Internet did not exist for the average person. I, like many of my peers, had to learn by trial and error–an expensive, time consuming, and stressful process. So, in addition to the 5 steps, I would also advise you to take advantage of the resources that are available.

Don’t think that you need to re-invent the wheel. Learn from the mistakes, and more importantly, the successes of others. Then, when you have built a successful business, you can begin to invent a better wheel.

Defining your painting business

Contractor forums often turn to the issue of subcontracting as a way to handle labor issues. Many argue that if a sub was any good, he’d have no problem finding work on his own.

I disagree with that thinking. Keeping busy as a painter requires much, much more than being a good painter. It requires marketing, sales, and administration. I have subs who are very good painters– they aren’t good at marketing, sales, or administration.

A successful business requires a division of labor– one person can’t do it all. If he tries to, he finds himself stretched thin, stressed, and not having enough time. What often oftens is tasks are not completed, or are perfomed less than satisfactorily.

A business owner must pull together all the pieces of the puzzle– marketing, sales, administration, production, etc. He doesn’t necessarily need to be the best at any of them, but he does need to be a good manager. He needs to hire/ train/ manage others to do the various tasks within the business.

Many, many years ago I read a book– MegaTrends. One of the points of the book was that how a company defines the business it is in will have a huge impact on how it operates and its eventual success.

I could define my business in a number of ways. For example, I could say that my business is paint contracting. Or I could say that it is coatings applications. Or I could say that my business is sales and marketing. Each carries different implications. Each creates a different view of my business. Each would lead me to take different types of actions. In other words, while all are true, each is essentially a much different type of business.

The beauty is that we get to decide what kind of business we want to own. We get to choose what business we are in, and what that business will do for us.

Advice on starting a painting business

As a frequent contributor on numerous discussion boards for painting contractors, I regularly see questions about how to start a paint contracting business. While there is no single, or simple, answer, there are some general rules that one should follow.

1. Identify why you want to own a business and what you want it to provide you. If you don’t know where you are going, it is impossible to know how to get there.

2. Develop a plan. If you don’t have a plan you are simply floating in the wind. You will find yourself going in a dozen different directions and doing things that are inconsistent.

3. Learn from others. You can do this by joining organizations like the National Alliance of Professional Painters, participating in discussion boards like, or purchasing training materials from Out of the

There are a lot of challenges in starting a business, no matter what type. Marketing, sales, production, administration– all of these take time and effort.

It is a fact that 90% of the businesses starting this year will fail within 5 years. There are many reasons for this. But if you spend the time to plan, to identify where you want to go and how you will get there, you will greatly increase your chances for success.

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