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Advice on starting up in business as painter and decorator.

Discussion in 'Trade Talk' started by tinasarah, 4 Jul 2007.

  1. tinasarah

    tinasarah

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    Hi. I am calling on all the professional painters and decorators for help and advice. I have been working in the corporate world for too long and I have had enough. A complete change is called for, so having been decorating my own homes for 27 years now, loving it and, I think, quite good at it, I am seriously thinking of setting up my own painting and decorating business. Ideally I would like to work in homes and small office environments. To get this going I am sitting here looking at an application form to do a painting and decorating course at the DIY and Building Skills Training Centre in Hurst, Reading. Does anyone have any advice on any of the above please?
    Tina.
     
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  3. FredFlintstone

    FredFlintstone

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    Hi Tina,

    Firstly, welcome to the forum.

    Well, as a female tradesperson you'll surely do well - there's not many around although I think there are a couple of female painters and decorators in these forums.

    There are many things you need to consider. The training course, is it an intensive one or a course spread over time? What's the cost? Does your local college run night classes as an alternative? Does the course you're looking at carry any qualifications at the end of it? How soon do you want to give up your current job?

    Once you're confident you can decorate for others you need to go about building up business. It might be wise to stick with your job while building business by working at weekends. As word strts to spread yo can then think about giving up yor regular job.

    You say you've been decorating your own homes for 27 years. Don't take this the wrong way, I'm not criticising (I don't know you and I've certainly never seen the quality of your work) but should just point out a few things. Working as a painter and decorator is a lot more involved than simply decorating your own home. Many people think "ahh, how hard can painting a wall be?" It ain't just painting walls. There will be situations you come across which you have never come across before and may not know the solution to.

    Anyone can throw paint on a wall, it's getting it right and looking good that takes the skill. There's knowing about the background and how to prepare it properly. There's knowing how to touch in minor damage properly prior to decorating etc. There's hanging paper properly, sometimes very expensive stuff which, if cut incorrectly, can be a costly mistake!

    Just some of the things to think about. I'm no decorator but hopefully one will be along soon to provide more info.

    Ultimately, good luck with it. If you really want to do it then grab the bull by the horns and do it. I worked in a corporate environment for years before getting into plastering. I had been wanting to leave for a couple of years and finally got the kick in the backside I needed when I was made redundant. Although the redndancy was useful to help me start up, I do still wish I'd done it two years ago - I'm much happier now than I have been in a long long time.

    Regards

    Fred
     
  4. n-hatton

    n-hatton

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    Hi Tina.


    LOL. I very much went through the same experience as you. I fell into painting and decorating 3 years ago when I jacked in my stressful IT job that involved commuting on a cattle truck to London every day - no IT employer would touch me afterwards - what, with being an old 43 years of age as well ;)

    I had a reputation among friends for being pretty good at decorating and get all my work via referrals :) Though, I must stress, I do low levels of work and turnover (through choice); though advertising should bring in much more if I needed it.

    One thing I was told, and rings true, is that you end up doing all sorts, and painting and decorating relatively little! Sure enough, I've been involved doing ceramic tiling, door hanging, basic joinery, kitchen worktop mitring and fitting, building a car port and always, always, get pulled towards basic plumbing!

    Customers like to make contact with decent traders and would rather deal with a single trader, with multiple skills, whereby you can do more of their entire projects for them. Otherwise, they have to coordinate and source many traders for single jobs (though you can strike up trade relationships to part cover this). For instance, if they want their bathroom or kitchen decorating, they normally want the basin swapped or the tiles changed. They wouldn't want to source three traders to do.

    You could focus, via advertising, on just the painting, but as previously stated, many customers do this for themselves and you miss out on a bigger market. Also, specialising in painting may mean you having to gain experience of all sorts of specialised wallpapers, paint effects varnishing staining etc? Even the plasterer\artexer I use as a trader originally was supposed to be a specialist in paper hanging etc.

    On a personal level, it took me a while to come to terms with doing a more labour\manual job compared to IT - don't know your background - and sometime I wonder when I come home with my nasal passages and eyes full of dust and my fingers sore from rubbing down!!! Though I keep looking on the bright side of being able to have the radio on all day, working when and where I like, and being my own boss :)

    Oh, as for Hurst courses, I live round the corner in Woodley\Winnersh. I've seen the same place advertise plastering courses. Not yet signed up for one, so no real experience. Bracknell Collage also does such evening classes, possibly better value, as well as interior design, which would be a skill well worth you obtaining if you wished to specialise in just painting and decorating.



    Hope it helps.


    Regards,
    Neil
     
  5. tinasarah

    tinasarah

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    Thank you. This is very useful, constructive feedback. It is so good to get positive responses. I realise any career change is risky but I have spent too long in a 'respectable' job that pays the bills but quite simply makes me miserable.

    In answer to the questions raised in the feedback about the course.

    The course in Reading is a week long course covering everything from preparing the walls/woodwork to covering it. It was explained to me as a course that people go on when they want to get into property development and keep costs down by doing alot of the work themselves.
    At £350 I think it is a fair price for 5 days learning. A good way, I think, to get started on the learning curve. I couldn't find any evening classes in the area (I live in East Anglia) and what I did find for adult learning in a college bset up is not starting until September/October. So an intensive course was decided on and Reading was the nearest.

    I wish I had the luxury of being able to build this up before jumping the corporate ship but I am forbidden from holding a second job without their approval and I don't want them to know.

    On the issue of Specialising - V - Multi skilling. If I were to obtain training in one other aspect to compliment the painting and decorating what would you suggest. IE. plastering - interior design - basic joinery - tiling.

    Tina.
     
  6. breezer

    breezer

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    my 2p worth.

    if you are as good as you say you think you are (your words) why do you need to go on a course?
     
  7. n-hatton

    n-hatton

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    Hi Tina.


    No worries. Good for you for deciding on changing something you don't like, or makes you miserable.

    £350 for the course sounds good value to me, equates to roughly what you'd charge to redecorate someone's fairly good conditioned and basic living room - quick payback in anyone's book. Afterwards I wouldn't worry too much about other intensive courses, it's all down to experience and practice than qualifications (except electrician or plumber\gas engineer), no customer is really worried what courses you've done - just your work.

    Also, it would give you chance to get some work experience, and trade experience, under your braces to see what direction you get led or get interested in.

    As for other skills to go for: personally I'd say forget plastering, apart from getting practice in doing small area repairs, which you'll need to do from time to time when it comes away with stripped wallpaper!!! One thing I've acquired in my 3 years - a huge admiration for plasterers and the respect of their years of experience! You can't learn plastering in a week, you have to constantly experience it to perfect it. I would say plastering would have to be a primary skill that you then branch out from, not in to!

    It then just leaves the other two, and this depends where you want to go and what interests you.

    I'd say interior design if you really do want to specialise in only painting and decorating - you could place yourself as an end-to-end decor specialist, from choosing coverings, colours and schemes to then actually applying them - an extra service you then charge for. Also, I think interior design covers actually doing and learning the higher market and arty painting effects like marbling and old fashioned rag rolling etc. This would all, of course, place you in a higher market and with more discerning customers - I'd of thought quality of your work would then be paramount and something you need to get sorted first through lower value work experience - it's something I keep thinking of.

    As for the third option of picking up other trade like skills instead: I'd say ceramic tiling is very useful as it still borders in the arena of decorating, and again, you frequently not only paint someone's bathroom or kitchen, but tile it as well. Basic joinery always useful. I often offer to box-in and hide pipe work for customers prior to painting\tiling and charge extra for it :) Leaves a nice neat finished job as well. Going in these sort of directions does involve increased investment in the likes of tools - which us blokes can never get enough of anyway - and involves carrying maybe extra stock on your van. If you ever considered property development yourself, I'd say going this route rather than interior design is advisable.


    There is one big piece of experience\advice I can offer, that's on working out what you're going to charge for your work and doing quotes. I hate it and find it difficult! Reading loads of threads on such sites many trades people are the same, and I know some friends the same. I'm used to 20 years of going into an office, doing what ever mountain of work was there, and at the end of the month, daaadaaaaa! Money appeared in my bank :) As I used to do all this sort of stuff myself on my own houses, and never used trades people, I believed there was no value attached to it. Now I do it as a living, I have to put a price on all I do and find it difficult making sure I'm fare to myself as much as to my customers! I found your thread when looking for just such advice! There's then materials cost to work out for quotes, and if you branch into other trade areas such as tiling, joinery etc, it's more stuff to get a handle on. Don't think many trades people really have a 100% grasp of it.




    Hope it helps,
    Neil
     
  8. tinasarah

    tinasarah

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    Thanks Neil. It's good to find people on a forum that have a cheerful and helpful disposition. I know my current experience is limited but that doesn't lessen my ability to learn more about the trade. We all have to start somewhere.
    Helpful, encouraging and supportive comments are all it takes.

    Thanks again, Neil.
     
  9. FredFlintstone

    FredFlintstone

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    Absolutely - and you'll never stop earning either.

    One thing I've been very careful about is ensuring I don't take on any jobs I can't handle. However, rather than informing the cliet that I don't think I can do the job, I inform them that it's a job that takes longer than days I have free in the next couple of months. I know that's untruthful but I don't want people to have no faith in me due to my own actions but at the same time I don't want to say I'll do a job that is far too big for me on my own. I turned down a huge room the other day purely because I wasn't confident about being able to skim the ceiling in one hit and didn't want to split it and end up with a join in the middle.

    Instances of me looking at jobs and thinking I can't handle them are becoming few and far between now though as I'm becoming more and more confident with each job I complete.

    I'm still learning and will do so for many many years to come. I too also struggle with pricing and have underpriced on a few occasions - something I keep kicking myself for but hey, you learn by making mistakes.

    Regards

    Fred
     
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  11. n-hatton

    n-hatton

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    Hi Tina.


    No worries, glad to be of help :)

    I follow a few forums for loads of different interests and hobbies I have, including some IT ones still for a laugh - there are more than enough big egos and unhelpful people out there already for there to be one more ;)

    Take a weeks annual leave to do your course and learn the basics, then pester friends and family to do their rooms for a bit of cash weekends (surely not considered as a second job?). If they like your work and would be happy paying proper money make the jump and go for it! It's my friends and family that have always given me my leads and referrals so far.



    Good luck
    Neil
     
  12. tinasarah

    tinasarah

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    Thanks Fred. All of this is helpful to me.
    I have taken the plunge and sent my cheque off for the P&D course. It's a starting point, but, as you guys say, it's nothing without...experience, experience, experience!

    I will see how it goes and maybe follow it up with a carpentry course. Of all the things I lack knowledge or confidence in, with my own home decorating, simple joinery jobs occurred most often.
    There have been times when I wanted to box in pipes and replace poor boxing but it's a lot about confidence. Always thought I might be able to hang a door but never tried. I go along with Neil's thoughts that a bit of joinery may be very helpful.

    Thanks again. Tina
     
  13. makitaman

    makitaman

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    Good luck for the future. One question I have, who are your target customers? I'll put this as delicately as possible, but are you hoping to corner a niche market of single female customers. Market research has shown that even in this day of so called equality people still tend to think of most trades as male orientated.

    The only reason I ask is that over our way there is what purports to be a ladies building company, with female tradespeople - but on two occassions I've worked on the same properties as this company and the only people I met were just like me - blokes.

    I hope you don't think I'm anti or negative - I'm not - but its maybe something worth thinking about?
     
  14. spice

    spice

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    I'm one :D

    Theres not much more I can add as fred has said it quite well, as well as the OP.
    But I have to say, as well and good as this course sounds,nothing beats actually getting out there and working with the experienced painters.
    You will learn soooooo much more from them than on a course, but its a good starting point, and I wish you all the best. :D
     
  15. tinasarah

    tinasarah

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    "are you hoping to corner a niche market of single female customers".

    Hi. Thanks for the thought. I cannot see that it would be an advantage to market myself to any single section of the market in particular and at this point I don't intend to. It may be that there is a small section of society that may prefer to have a woman around if they had a choice but it may be that in this trade they wouldn't take a woman as seriously as they would a man. Time will tell I guess. If I do a good job my reputation should work for me and my gender not be an issue.
    My philosophy is "work is work, money is money and in all that, keep safe and have fun!"

    KR Tina.
     
  16. tinasarah

    tinasarah

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    "nothing beats actually getting out there and working with the experienced painters."

    Hi Spice. Thanks for your input. I have had so much good feedback from this forum and now that I am talking to friends about it as well they are being really good too.

    I have two people who are happy to let me go along with them and get some on site experience. One is a painter/decorator the other a carpenter. I am also going to do a carpentry course, just the basics, enough to make a good job better. Others are keen to get a bit of 'networking' going. Sorry for the intrusion of corporate speak, had to happen eventually, been in the rat race for so long! I have a good feeling about this.
    Thanks again. Tina
     
  17. Thermo

    Thermo

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    for my two penneth worth, i would give the following advice that i've learnt the hard way! Its not just about painting its about marketing yourself and running the business side of things too. ANy fool can get out of bed and work for nothing so heres the things i would suggest you consider:-

    stick to what you are good at and what you want to do. have a clear plan.

    don't be frightened by a job. break it down into small tasks and get a clear plan in your head. don't bite off more than you can chew though. Its better to do smaller jobs and build your confidence and keep the cash flow going when you start, rather than a big one where you may feel overawed and could take a knock on the price.

    Be professional. Learn a script to tell customers when you talk to them for the quotes. eg offer references, only use decent materials, only do one job at a time. Sell yourself but don't make promises you cant keep. Have a portfolio you can take with you. business cards are good and be professional.

    Always do a written quote and get them to sign it no matter how small a job. Get a decent accountant who can tell you weather to go as a sole trader or limited company and who will tell you what to do and what records to keep. They WILL save you money.

    Watch your turnover. its very easy to go over the vat threshold without realising it. Also consider where your main work will be. If you do a lot of commercial work then you will appeal to commercial clients more if you are vat registered.

    be punctual, be tidy, clean up as you go and at the end of each day. Be organised, have the materials you need already. Time you waste rushing around to get a pot of paint you forgot is wasted earning time.

    get to know a couple of decent trade suppliers. explain you are new to the game. they know you will put business your way and they want your loyalty. they will help you. There is no point rushing from b&q across to wickes and back to homebase to save £2.00 on some paint. Get to know your materials. Decent materials don't cost much more and save you time.

    Your time is precious. Dont waste it. Buy decent tools that will do the job and make life easier. The same with materials.

    Dont over advertise. Everybody wants your advertising money. Most of them are a waste of time. One of our best advertising returns comes from the friday ad. you cant beat recommendations though, they are free and they give you a foot in the door.

    If you have a van/car etc get it sign written or get some magnetic signs. Its a moving advert board and people will also see it parked outside jobs. Customers like to see a name when you turn up for quotes. It looks like you are there to do business not a fly by night in a battered plain white van.

    keep records of everything. Dont **** off the taxman or the vat man. Its a personal choice but these days it is a big risk to do "cash in hand" and if you get found out it is painful!

    Talk to your bank and get a business account. Internet banking saves money. they will give you free banking and advice and help. also useful for any trade accounts you want to open. ALWAYS put the money for the tax man into a savings account and DONT touch it. Open a savings account and put some buy for rainy days.

    keep your customers informed as the work progresses. they like to know the game plan and whats being done next etc. get to know any after care they need to know, eg can they wipe down the paint etc. its reassuring and shows professionalism.

    If theres a problem and its down you, go back and sort it. customers accept little problems occur and are grateful if you put it right. what they don't like is people that don't come back.

    you will soon gain contacts eg another painter who can help on bigger jobs, electricians etc. Dont recommend people who you aren't sure of. customers don't like running around trying to find umpteen different people to do jobs. if you know a plasterer who can do a decent skim and you can put work his way and vice versa it can work well. it also means you get to know each others work and make life easy for each other.

    consider public liability insurance. what happens if you spill that paint over the carpet?

    Dont be scared to lose a job on a price. Theres no point doing a job for nothing. while you are doing that job you could be earning on another. Work out a reasonable day/hourly rate. with experience you will get to know how long a job will take etc. price up the materials then price up your time. work will come in. be patient as well. people will get quotes from several people and they may not come back to you for a month or two.

    Have some basic terms and conditions to put on the quotes, eg payment terms, all rooms to be clear of furniture, normal hours of working etc.

    There are many people out there who will help when they know you are a new business. have a look at www.startups.co.uk

    Be under no illusion working for yourself is hard work. it takes over your life because you no longer get up in the morning and go to the office, come home and pick up the pay cheque at the end of the month. You go to work, answer the phone while you are there, make appointments, organise other jobs, come home, go out to do quotes, come home, write out qoutes, do a bit of book keeping etc etc. It gets easier as you get systems in place and you gain experience.

    experience will come thick and fast and you will be on steep learning curve. Confidence will take longer to come however. don't worry when things go wrong and it takes a knock.

    There is no better feeling when you finish a job, the customer is happy and you get a cheque there and then. you've generated that money and boy does it feel nice.

    one last thing. the advice my father always gave me. Buy a decent broom and learn how to use it. If a job looks neat and tidy when the customer comes home, they will be happy!

    Good luck, i wouldn't change working for myself for the world.
     
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