Starting a business - The essentials

Starting up a new business is a better experience if you've got expert support. At Dulux we are proud to offer first class advice, as well as the products, to help make your new venture a success. Think of it as a mutually beneficial business relationship that we can both profit from.

It all starts with this guide, which we hope you'll find a useful introduction to what you need to think about before setting up your own decorating business. It's not intended as a complete guide, just a starting point - but it should help in understanding how to reduce the risk and maximise the chances of success.

It's worth bearing in mind that around 20% of businesses fail in the first year, and 50% within three years. The reasons of course are different in each case, but often the businesses were set up without understanding the marketplace and the challenges involved.

By following the right guidelines and understanding what's involved in starting a new venture, you can increase the odds of survival and look forward to running a thriving business.

Are you ready to be self employed?

If you are thinking of starting a decorating business the chances are that you have good practical skills and enjoy the work. Of course these are excellent characteristics to have, but being self employed does require other qualities too, particularly in the early months of setting up.

Surviving a start-up and avoiding being among the 50% failure statistics in the first three years of business is a question of being realistic and hard working right from day one. The first thing to understand is that you are going to have to make sacrifices - both personally and financially. If you are prepared for this now, then you are more likely to have a prosperous future.

Money matters

Running your own business isn't an automatic passport to wealth. Without a regular income there could be times of financial uncertainty. It's worth considering whether your family will be prepared to go without a holiday or a new car if necessary. If you've borrowed on the security of the family home, are they prepared for the big risk that entails? Will you be okay with losing company perks like paid holidays and sick pay?

The personal side

Setting up your own business is a life-changing experience, and as always there are both positives and negatives. For you there is the excitement and anticipation of the future, but this may be accompanied by a feeling of isolation as you shoulder the full responsibility for the business. Inevitably there is an emotional element that will impact on your family. For those close to you, there is likely to be an extra need to be supportive and understanding which ideally you should talk about beforehand.

Making the commitment

Long hours and hard work are the norm when starting a new business. Unless you are fully committed and can keep your business goals in mind when times get tough, you'll be lucky to succeed. Ask yourself if you've got the self motivation and the full backing from close ones, even when you are spending evenings doing paperwork. It also helps to have contact with people who run their own businesses so you can discuss shared experiences, talk over problems and work out solutions.

Get the Dulux name behind you

Your new decorating business now has an opportunity to take advantage of privileges and benefits which, until recently, were only available to established businesses. Our Dulux Select Decorators scheme, which has been running successfully since 1996, now offers the chance for start-up enterprises to enjoy associate membership. This can be a great way to raise the profile of your business and get useful tips and support. To find out if you could qualify please call Dulux Select Decorator's Membership Office on 0845 7626990

Doing it step by step

There are certain steps every new business should be aware of. Five of the most important are Planning, Financing, Marketing, Customer Service and Training. If you understand what each of these entails then you are well on the way to taking control of your business, rather than letting it control you.

Planning for success

It's hard to exaggerate how useful a business plan can be. Not only can it help you secure financing for your business from organisations like banks and grant providers, it also gives you a road-map of where your business is heading. With a good business plan you will be able to spot problems before they turn nasty, have a better financial structure, focus your efforts and measure your success.

So what is a business plan? Basically it is a written document that describes your business, its aims, strategies, marketplace and financial forecasts. Because it is such an important item there are many Business Support organizations that offer workshops to help you put together a Business Plan, many of them free of charge.

To find out more about these visit your local business link website or check out your local enterprise agency which can be found on the National Federation of Enterprise Agencies website.

Getting the finances right

You don't need to be a financial wizard to run your own business, but you do need to know the basics and you need to know when to appoint a professional to advise and take the complex paperwork off your hands.

To start a decorating business you are almost sure to need money for things such as equipment, a vehicle and advertising. The first thing is to make a realistic assessment of what you need to borrow, and to bear in mind the problems of cash flow - it makes sense to have sufficient capital to cover projected expenses for at least six months.

One of the essentials to getting work is charging the right price. Until you get an established customer base you will nearly always be competing for business, so make sure you know what other painters and decorators in your area cost. But remember the price can be too low - especially if it makes you appear amateurish or means you might not make a reasonable profit. Always put together a realistic price for materials and time, taking account of time spent making good, and any costs for storing, or protecting furniture and furnishings.

Finding help

A professional accountant will help you put together a financial plan and manage your finances when you start trading. Visit the Institute of Chartered Accountants website for more tips on choosing accountants in your area.

Don't mix business and pleasure. Open up a business account right from the start. That way you can get some free financial advice and things will be a lot easier when it comes to tracking expenditure, doing your tax return and business accounts. There is more information on finance for start ups here and you can find a guide to surviving financially in the early days here.

Don't forget insurance

You'll also want to think about insurance. Some insurance is compulsory such as employers' liability or motor insurance; some can be advisable such as equipment insurance and public liability. You might want to consider using an independent insurance broker who knows your business sector.

Growing through marketing

Before spending any money on advertising it's important to spend some time understanding your position in the marketplace.

This means knowing where to find your potential customers and knowing the competition. Ideally you'll be looking to give your business the edge - perhaps in price, perhaps in the breadth of service, perhaps in quality. Think about the work you want to do and how best to attract it. (You might want to think about choosing a name for the business which reflects your strategy.)

If you do a good job then you may well get more work through word of mouth, but sooner or later you are probably going to want to advertise. Directories like Yellow Pages can be effective, as can ads in local newspapers, shop windows, supermarkets etc.

You can actively seek out work by looking through the planning applications in your local newspaper and sending the building owners a letter and flyer. Direct marketing in general can be a good way to target specific areas you think might have the kind of work you are looking for.

To find out more about how to grow your business see our special Marketing section here.

Putting the customer first

Customer service is one of the most important elements of a thriving decorating business. The way you communicate with potential customers as well as existing ones will have a big effect in securing the job and getting more work in future.

Remember customers who are asking for quotes or estimates will be comparing you with other decorators, so you need to make a good impression right from the start. The best way to do this is with a thoroughly businesslike approach - that is what the customer is looking for.

Quote or estimate?

This all depends on what kind of job it is. Don't forget that if you give a quotation then it is a fixed price offer that can not be changed once it has been accepted by the customer. However, the acceptance point is an important one as once the quotation is accepted by the customer, it then becomes binding on the decorator (i.e. it is not binding on the decorator when the quotation is made, only when it is accepted by the customer). This holds true even if the decorator has to carry out much more work than they originally expected. Therefore, the quotation should either provide a reference to the Job Specification or detail precisely what the quotation covers stating that any variations outside of this will be subject to additional charges.

An estimate, on the other hand, is an educated guess at what a job may cost - but it is not binding. To take account of possible unforeseen developments, a decorator would provide several estimates based on various circumstances, including the worst-case scenario. An estimate does not constitute an offer and therefore cannot be accepted by the customer; therefore this is not binding on the decorator.

Obviously your quote or estimate will need to be competitive, so make sure your hourly rates are appropriate for the area you work in. Also, always keep up to date with the price of materials and the latest products. (Don't get caught out pricing for your usual paste only to discover the wall covering requires a special adhesive.)

It can make a big difference to getting the work if your potential customer understands how you will approach the job, so include details such as the length of time the project will take, materials that will be used, and a clear statement of what you have agreed (or not agreed) to do.

Next, make sure the customer gets the full quotation or estimate in writing as quickly as possible. If you're efficient with the paperwork, there's every chance the customer will think you'll be equally efficient with the decorating.

And finally, if you win the work, be sure everything you promised to do is done to the highest standard - quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten. It's the most certain route to repeat custom and good word of mouth.

Record-keeping made simple

No business survives long without a basic record-keeping system. At the very least you should always have up-to-date information on the following:

  • All amounts received
  • All receipts and expenditure
  • All goods purchased or sold

There's no reason you shouldn't keep your records on paper, but it can be more efficient to use a computerised system. That way you can easily add, delete, amend and share your data. Also the program will recalculate your running totals, saving you a lot of work.

You might find your bank offers free accountancy software or you could simply buy the best program for your needs. Some of the most popular ones include Microsoft Money, Intuit Quicken and Sage Instant Accounting.

You'll find examples of record-keeping spreadsheets at which can be adapted for your own needs. The Business Link website also offers help in choosing the right VAT scheme for your business, including the Flat Rate Scheme which makes VAT a lot less complex.

The importance of training

By keeping up to date with the latest product innovations, new decorating techniques and industry legislation you can stay one step ahead of the competition and make sure you don't make costly mistakes. Our courses are an easy way to keep up to speed at all times.

They are available throughout the UK and cover a wide range of topics from "Building your business" to "Legislation and you". All courses are free to Dulux Select Decorators, and also available to non-members at a reasonable rate. We are continually adding new courses, so for full details of what's on offer please call 01753 877192 or visit

What type of business?

There are several different legal structures for businesses, including the following:

  • Sole Trader
  • Partnership
  • Limited Company
  • Limited Partnership

Which one you choose will affect things like the tax you have to pay, records to keep, liability and decision making. So if you are not sure which best suits your business, get advice from an accountant or solicitor.

Business support for your new business

There are many organizations that can provide help and support whether you are just starting your business or already running a business. Many offer FREE services with others at competitive and highly subsidized rates. Some that you may find helpful are:

Business Link helps your business save time and money by giving you instant access to clear, simple, and trustworthy information.

It is developed in partnership with subject experts within government and relevant business-support organisations to help you comply with regulations and improve your performance. Whether you're starting up, already running a business, or looking to grow and develop, Business Link can help you:

  • manage your finances
  • employ people
  • find and keep customers
  • pay the correct tax
  • comply with environmental legislation
  • trade internationally
  • understand regulations in your sector
  • find events and support near you

National Federation of Enterprise Agencies (NFEA) Support for Start-Ups, Micro Businesses and the Self Employed from Enterprise Agencies

The National Federation of Enterprise Agencies (NFEA) is the membership body for Local Enterprise Agencies, and other like-minded organisations, in England. It forms a network of independent, not for profit local agencies committed to responding to the needs of small and growing businesses by providing a comprehensive range of quality services. In particular we target pre-start, start-up and micro businesses, helping to develop their ability to start and sustain themselves and to encourage growth and stability. To find out about the wide range of business support services available contact your local NFEA Member.

Business Gateway (Scotland) Practical help, advice and support for new and growing businesses in Scotland

Flexible Support for Business (Wales) Provides business support to small and medium-sized businesses in Wales

Invest Northern Ireland is an independent support agency that provides business support, advice and information to new and existing businesses in Northern Ireland. They also offer the Northern Ireland's online business advice service -

British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) is the national body for a Network of Accredited Chambers of Commerce across the UK. You can find your local area chamber on this website.

Federation of Small Businesses The Federation of Small Businesses is the UK's largest campaigning pressure group promoting and protecting the interests of the self-employed and owners of small firms.

The Painting and Decorating Association is a trade association for the painting and decorating industry. By becoming a member of the Association, you send out a clear message to clients about your commitment to the highest standards, and get help with legal matters, vehicle leasing and other business services.

  • Painting and Decorating Association
  • 32 Coton Road
  • Nuneatonv
  • CV11 5TW
  • Tel: (024) 7635 3776
  • Fax: (024) 7635 4513
  • E-mail:

The Scottish Decorators' Federation is a trade body for Scottish decorating businesses. It provides a code of conduct for members to conform to, along with details of the Construction Licensing Scheme which aims to ward off so-called cowboy trades people. There are also benefits related to legal advice, debt collection, insurance and much more.

The Northern Ireland Master Painters' Association is the trade association representing painters and decorators in Northern Ireland. They examine the quality of work before they allow a decorator to become a member and all members have to abide by a code of practice

  • 16 The Square
  • Ballygowan
  • Newtonards
  • BT23 6HU
  • Tel: (028) 9752 8384

Construction Skills provides training and professional development services across all aspects of construction.

The above information is correct at the time of writing (July 2009) but please check the details are up-to-date with the various organisations listed.

The contents of this guidance are for information only and no guarantee, representation or warranty of any kind is given (whether express or implied) in relation to any of the information, advice or opinions expressed in it. Whilst ICI Paints AkzoNobel have made all reasonable efforts to ensure that statements appearing in this guidance are accurate, ICI Paints AkzoNobel disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the information, advice and opinions contained in this guidance. ICI Paints AkzoNobel reserves the right to make any amendments or alterations to this guidance at any time, without notice."