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Anyone who is considering making the move to freelancing in this sector might be attracted by the option to charge whatever they want, choose their own working hours and select the projects that they spend their time on.

It is worth checking that there is a demand for your service in your area, unless you are happy to travel for work, and to find out what rates other people are charging. You don’t want to price yourself out of the market, but it is also important not to undervalue your skills or charge so little that you aren’t making enough to live on.


Whilst there are no requirements for specific qualifications to call yourself a painter or decorator, it is likely that you will attract more clients and be offered better paying work if you can demonstrate some level of skill in your field. Many people’s enthusiasm for painting and decorating is sparked by DIY projects or helping friends and family, so adding qualifications to that experience can help you to ensure you will be confident tackling a variety of projects.

There are a number of options for qualifications in all areas of painting and decorating, many of which offer courses that cater to everyone from absolute beginners to those who already have some experience in their field. From the basics such as equipment and preparation to more advanced techniques and information on how to take your career to the next level.

There are a number of providers of classes for painting and decorating, many of which are nationally and even internationally recognised, which makes them ideal for anyone who wants to explore the option of working abroad. Bodies include City and Guilds, Specialist Trade Courses and paint manufacturers Dulux offer some courses to those who have experience in the field and want to learn new skills or brush up on new techniques.

The National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) awarding body offers certification courses for those who already have skills and experience and just want to be assessed to prove it. There are a couple of routes to certification, including On Site Assessment and Training where an assessor will ascertain a candidate’s skill level while they work, so it’s ideal for anyone who doesn’t want to have to take time off to attend classes or exams. There is also the Experienced Worker Practical Assessment for which the candidate will have to complete a specific task in front of an assessor and have a discussion during which they will be expected to demonstrate a certain level of professional knowledge and understanding to confirm their skill level.

Setting up in business

If you have been working in an employed role before deciding to become a freelancer then you will probably need to register as self employed with HM Revenue and Customs. You can do this online or call them up to register by phone and you will be sent information on how to register to use the online self assessment system and access other resources to help you to get your business off to a good start.

Unless you are working on contracts where everything is provided, most freelance painters and decorators have their own equipment to enable them to perform their role. The initial outlay will include some of the more obvious items such as paint brushes, wallpaper strippers, a basic tool kit and dust sheets, but could also include items such as business cards, headed paper, a website and advertising.

One of the most important things is to keep records of everything you spend, whether it’s on equipment, insurance, travel or accountancy fees. You may be able to write some or all of your costs off against tax, but you will need to be able to prove your outgoings if HMRC ask you to, and everything will need to be recorded on your annual tax return.


As a freelancer, you will be responsible for completing and submitting a tax return every year and paying any tax owed. You will have to provide details of your income and expenses in order to calculate your total profits, and you can do this all online. Online tax returns must be completed by the 31st of January and any tax due must be paid by this date as well, and fines are imposed for late filing or late payment so it is important to ensure that you complete the process in good time.

An accountant will remind you of impending deadlines and help you with the preparation of your tax return and ensure that you are able to take advantage of any tax savings available to you. They will also help you to claim any relevant expenses against your profits to ensure that you aren’t paying more tax than you need to be.

Finding an accountant

For many people, becoming a freelancer and working for themselves prompts them to find an accountant to help manage the financial side of their business. Even if you are good with figures, the intricacies of the tax laws can easily catch you out unless you are very familiar with them, which could result in failing to pay the correct level of tax. Miscalculating your tax and underpaying could result in fines and penalties being applied to your account, and overpaying could mean that you are giving away your profits needlessly.

An accountant who is experienced in representing people in your position could be a real asset to your company as they will be able to help you to make financially sound decisions, advise you on any aspects of growing and developing your company in an efficient and effective manner and help you to save money as well.

Running your business

As well as completing the painting and decorating jobs that you are contracted for, you will also need to undertake some degree of administration in order to make your business a success. You should keep all your business receipts and make a note of the time and costs of travelling to jobs and completing each project. You will probably want to open a separate bank account for your business in order to split your finances between personal funds and your business income and outgoings.

Your accountant will be able to help you to put processes in place to help you to collect all the information you need as you go to avoid a panic when it comes to completing your tax return. You will also be able to benefit from as many tax savings as possible as it will allow your accountant to see details of your expenditure and possibly identify expenses that you might not otherwise have claimed or costs which you could reduce.

Finding work

Many painters and decorators find that word of mouth is a powerful marketing tool when it comes to finding new clients. People prefer to hire someone that they can trust in their homes or businesses, so many professionals find that previous clients are a great source of new business. If you are just starting out, then building a website is a good idea as it will allow you to portray yourself in a positive light, include details of all your relevant qualifications and give contact details to anyone who wants a quote.

There are a number of websites where you can register to advertise your services, and there are plenty of national and local sites which advertise jobs as well. If you have a local magazine or newspaper, it can be worth advertising in them as finding local projects will reduce your travelling time and costs and will help you to build up a reputation in your local community which could save you money on advertising in the long-term.

Growing and expanding

As a freelance painter and decorator, you may enjoy the simplicity that self employment offers, but if your business starts to take off and you decide that you want to expand, hire staff or invest in more expensive equipment, then registering as a Limited company could be a good financial decision. There is a little more administration involved as you have to provide Companies House with copies of all your accounts and submit an annual tax return and pay corporation tax.

Most people decide that they want to start trading as a Limited company in order to take advantage of the tax planning opportunities and the ability to limit their liabilities when it comes to protecting their personal assets. As a self employed individual, your finances are intrinsically linked with those of your business, but as a Limited company your personal assets are protected. A painting and decorating business which operates as a Limited company could make savings which will make any extra time spent on admin worthwhile.

For businesses with annual profits of £25,000 or more, becoming a Limited company could save you money on your tax bill. It can be particularly beneficial to those who expect their earnings to fluctuate from one year to the next, which can often be the case with painting and decorating, particularly if you have a big one-off project in one year and want to take a bit of time off in the next.

An accountant will help you to look at all the implications of any decisions that you take about your business, including deciding whether or not to register as a Limited company. Their experience could prove invaluable as you navigate the early days of becoming a freelancer as well as helping you to build up your business as you become established. It is always worth consulting a professional about any major decision that you make with regard to your freelance career to help ascertain the best short- and long-term options to increase your chances of success and help maximise your potential profits.

If you wish to find out more about freelancing as a sole trader, then you may also be interested in the following pages:

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