Getting started at Painting and Property Maintenance. Part One

In 1980, following a 2 year period as a moonlight, painter-decorator (weekends and evenings) for a firm run by my brother-in law, I decided to strike out on my own.

Well, my young wife placed the add in the local paper and said that I should strike out on my own.

My first job was a flat in Kensington Square, London W2, for £300.00 including materials.

The client chose Sanderson’s paints (4 colours to each room) and the paint bill was £165.00 which was four times the materials budget and my first lesson in quoting.

Next, I went door knocking in Belgravia, seeking window-cleaning work.  I found no window cleaning but did find a woman wanting her basement painted and so I set off to Pimlico on my bicycle to buy paint and do the job which was smaller but more financially successful than the first job.

Bigger jobs soon came along and I began employing others, often choosing choosing the wrong person, as most applicants weren’t painters. I was saved by stumbling upon an Australian who had learnt his skills painting yachts and knew his stuff.

Many consider painting to be semi-skilled at best and often the work is only that. But then there is what to do with a window badly battered by the sun and rain over fifteen years.

I have heard it said that if you can piss you can paint but after visiting building site toilets I saw there are many painters without either of those skills.

But more on personnel later.


And speaking of building sites, these were the scenes of my biggest early mistakes.

Badly organised building projects most severely affect the painter as he is the last contractor (or should be) on the site.

When the light switch, and sockets are moved on the freshly painted wall on the whim of the inexperienced project-manager, paying a painter for a redo is not in anyone’s budget.

In this scenario it’s impossible for a decorator to have sole access to an area, yet as the last trade this is exactly what he does need. Being the last trade the decorator is affected by any and all bad organisation.

Neither can you wait until the other trades are finished as they won’t be ever finished before the painters are expected to arrive and coat the walls thereby allowing the main contractor to claim the second fix done and so a further payment for him. It took me some time to learn this.

Don’t do it unless you are clever enough to negotiate an hourly rate.

And get yourself the Penguin Dictionary of Building. The cost was £1.95 in 1982 and it explains a lot. Many in the construction industry use the wrong terms and this dictionary will sort out confusions. Terminology is important in communication. You cannot understand a specification or instruction without knowing what the words mean. Misunderstood words make you feel dull and this leads to mistakes. Mistakes lead to disputes.


Use of Time and The Numbers Game

I remember reading  about a famous industrialist who was in despair because he could not teach his staff priorities.

In business there is always something to do, but knowing the priorities is the difference between success and failure.

When there are no sales for the week it is not the time to be looking at accounts or anything other than selling.

Successful self-employed know about priorities but some staff do not know whether they should next empty the garbage or do follow up calls.

Each day one should have a plan of things to do numbered into priorities. You might be willing to work sixteen hours a day but you will have the option of going home after eight hours if the important things are not left till last.

One can also prioritise quotes. Some are only worth doing if you are in that area.

It might be said that quoting is a numbers game; “The more quotes done the greater the sales.”- maybe true, but beware also of time-wasters. The householder who has already lined up the unemployed brother-in-law, but wants to see how much money they are saving.

Don’t be afraid to vet the caller especially if the lead means a dedicated trip to the outer suburbs. Try to gauge a potential client’s budget. Are they likely to want to pay VAT or would it be against their mores to do so?


If you show interest, you will sell.

Be interested at the time of survey, ask questions, make notes of the client’s answers and show those answers in your specification. When the client receives the quote and can see you have mentioned specifically what was asked for they will feel understood and acknowledged. This builds the communication you will need for your follow up call. Your follow up call, a few days after the quote has arrived, will not then be a brush off by either yourself or your potential client.

There are many books on selling. Get a good one, read it and apply it.

More in Part Two