How to Subcontract Work

Subcontracting is just a way to hire a professional painter to work for you. Why do that? Consider the alternative – hiring painters.

You can post an ad to find a painter – someone who is looking for employment, for a job. Sometimes they are looking for something long-term, sometimes they are looking for some quick cash. Sometimes they have experience, sometimes they don’t. You have to provide all of the equipment, and you have to provide necessary training. You also need to pay an employee as a W2 employee – which means payroll, dealing with taxes, etc. So many things are difficult about employees.

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What Is Subcontracting? (And Why It’s So Great)

Subcontracting is when you are hiring another company and you are contracting the job to that company. Anyone can be a subcontractor. Here is what defines a subcontractor. They have a registered business, they have the required license, they have insurance, and they have all of their own equipment.

The nice thing about working with subcontractors is that you don’t have to worry about payroll, or taxes. You just write them one check. You agree on a price at the beginning of the job so you aren’t paying an hourly employee to smoke cigarettes the second you leave. You don’t have to provide equipment. They don’t require full-time work – since they aren’t an employee. They have the right to go do other jobs, but they also don’t need full-time work. A sub can do a job for you every 3 weeks if that’s all the work you have.

Basically – it’s a no brainer. It is way easier to subcontract. Learn more about how to do it in the  .

The Basics of Subcontracting

Recently, we had a huge influx of work. There was a hailstorm and it’s a feeding frenzy for all of the work that is available. So I desperately needed more painters to handle all the jobs we were getting.

I posted an ad on Craigslist that said something like “We’re looking for subcontractors to help us with work. We have more jobs than we know what to do with. Must have your own equipment, insurance. Contact Eric”

I made it a little sexier than that – but that’s about as simple as it is. Then I start getting calls. I tell them how much we are willing to pay on jobs, and we set up a time to meet at a house. We meet a house we are about to paint. I say “For this job, we are doing the whole house, 2 coats, including all of the necessary prep work. We’re using Sherwin Williams Super Paint on the entire job. We can pay $1750. What do you think?” (By the way – we pay 50% for materials and labor. The sub provides the paint up front. If they can’t afford it, I’ll provide paint and take that out of the 50%.)

Then they say yes or no. If they say yes, I set up the job for them to start. Once they start, they finish the job, they collect the final check. They bring me the final check, and I give them their check. Then we start the next house.

This is the process to finding a good sub-contractor. Simpler than you thought?

Just for perspective, if you use employees, you will need equipment. Here is a great article about all the painting equipment you’ll need to purchase if you don’t use subs.

For a detailed guide on hiring reliable contractors who want to work for you, check out my course.

Is this blowing your mind? Tell me in the comments.


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  1. Araceli mendoza | July 28, 2015 at 8:50 am

    I am looking for for work as a subcontractor on painting

  2. Loi Nguyen | August 26, 2015 at 10:24 pm

    Im a good painter and i have a team abt 4 peoples . Now im looking for job as a sub contractor on painting . I can do the test for who’s give the job to me and lets them see what im doing

    • Eric | September 12, 2015 at 2:41 pm

      Look on craigslist for painting companies looking for a contractor. You could also call builders, general contractors, or roofers to find a sub-contracting partnership.

  3. Hsiu Reinsch | September 4, 2015 at 10:24 pm

    Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive read anything like this before. So nice to find somebody with some original thoughts on this subject. realy thank you for starting this up. this website is something that is needed on the web, someone with a little originality. useful job for bringing something new to the internet!

  4. Victor Diaz | September 12, 2015 at 6:06 am

    i’ts really great for me to to know the ways you take this business.

  5. Nilson da silva | September 12, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    I have 17 years experience in the painting job,inside and outside and also decoration painting
    I ve work with my wife,and looking for some subcontract jobs,please contact us at the fhone 646-2624125

    • Eric | December 3, 2015 at 6:34 pm

      Sorry I don’t have any jobs in that area!

  6. Rob | October 5, 2015 at 3:24 pm

    Do you have trouble with subs trying to steal business fron you or undercut you ever? How do you ensure that this doesn’t happen?

    • Eric | December 3, 2015 at 6:24 pm

      You can’t really ensure it. Be a great boss. If they steal a job, don’t give them more jobs. Good subs won’t steal your jobs.

  7. Porter Taylor | October 25, 2015 at 6:32 am

    Thanks for this article, Eric. I’ve been wanting to begin sub-contracting out some of my work but am concerned that the standard of quality may not match. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way as if I’m be the best painter around, but I do want consistency. How do you recommend a business owner find quality sub-contractors? Thanks!

    • Eric | October 27, 2015 at 9:10 am

      They key is being selective. That’s really it. You WILL have people who don’t deliver quality work, and you’ll make them fix it or you’ll use another sub to fix it. It’s impossible to completely avoid that. But it’s necessary to go thru those bad subs to find the great ones.

      The other aspect to this is: You need to be 100% responsible for the work you deliver, whether you use subs, employees, or you do it yourself. There is always something you can do differently if you aren’t getting the results you want.

  8. LeagueBuilders | November 9, 2015 at 8:33 am

    I am looking for work as a sub-contractor in paint and carpentry, I am located in Massachusetts.

    • Eric | December 3, 2015 at 5:54 pm

      I’d recommend checking craigslist postings. Companies who need subs should be actively posting there. Look in skilled trades and in general labor.

  9. Harry | November 21, 2015 at 3:54 am

    Thanks for the info. I’m in San Francisco bay area, and would like to start a painting business. I have been looking at a Franchise called Five Star Painting and while validating with current owners, I realized that my biggest challenge would be finding subcontractors. I saw an owner who was forced to hire employees while being two years in business because he simply could not find subs who were willing to work with such low pay. In a Northern California market, he was paying $26 plus workers comp (total of more than $50/he). I also stopped at the Sherwin Williams store in Berkeley, and I was told that everybody is looking for painters, and that contractors are willing to pay $44/hr min for painters (i do not know meant as subs or employees). Regardless huge difference with your $20 numbers.

    Do you think the sub model works here? Also, how do I convince a sub, who can be working for CertaPro or other established companies to work for me?

    Your comments are appreciated.

    • Eric | December 3, 2015 at 5:51 pm

      The sub-model works everywhere. The largest national franchises that have operations all over the country sub-contract. There are subs everywhere you go. And the market price is going to be pretty consistent. To run a successful and profitable business, you need to keep your production cost around 50% – whether that is with employees or subs.

      I hear people all over the country complain that they can’t find subs to work for 50%, yet their competitors are in business with subs working for those prices or close to those prices. They are out there. You may need to adjust your prices, or be more persistent, or phrase it better… but I’ve never had any trouble in any market finding subs to work for 50%.

      And subs work for you because you pay them fair, you pay them on time, you treat them well, and you get them consistent work. It’s easy to be a better boss than other people … There are a lot of very bad bosses and managers out there.

  10. Matt Tunnacliffe | December 3, 2015 at 8:56 am

    I am starting up an exterior painting company this summer with my friend. We are co owning the LLC together and were planning on painting for the majority of the summer because 1) We know how hard it is to find good workers and 2) we can make morning money that way. After watching your videos I am even more convinced than I was before about using sub contractors. The only issue I can think of is when it comes to marketing, and putting my companies name out there (since I am a first year company), does having sub contractors I don’t know affect how I should market door to door? What I mean more specifically is me and my friend have been painting for a total of 4 summers now and were production managers for all four years for Student Painters. I feel like I can market that and use that to our advantage. What do you think? Do you view that as a hindrance?

    • Eric | December 3, 2015 at 1:08 pm

      Nothing is a hindrance. I would not tell people you are going to do the painting if you aren’t going to be doing the painting. But aside from that, I would use all of your past experience to your advantage as much as you can.

      Tell people your background. Be passionate and confident about what you are doing. There are people who will book with you just because you are starting out and they like you and want to help you.

  11. Shareen | December 28, 2015 at 8:35 pm

    Amazing information. I’ve learned so much. I can’t wait to buy the package!

  12. chris mutter | January 29, 2016 at 9:37 am

    this information is invaluable to me. going to try my hand at paint contracting. i have been a worker bee in this industry since i was 18 for the same guy. he is a master of the trade with 20 plus years of experience. he trained me in this field so he can try something else. its good to hear that this thing is possible to those who want it bad enough. Eric, thanks for wanting to help and share and keep up the standard of excellence in all that you do!

    • Eric | February 9, 2016 at 6:53 pm

      You got it Chris! Good luck. Entrepreneurship is the way to go. You just gotta make it through the hard part. Learn from mistakes and make it happen. Lots of resources available to you.

  13. Austin | February 1, 2016 at 10:43 pm

    When you are talking about the 50%for materials and labor, is that included in the $1750 or is that additional?

    • Eric | February 9, 2016 at 6:51 pm

      When we charge $3,000 to the customer. We try to pay $1,500 out for materials + Labor total. We need around a 50% gross margin on production to be very profitable.

      The 50% we keep goes to marketing, sales people, production people, color consultant, office, workers comp, insurance, etc… It adds up to be a lot. Whether you sub-contract or use employees, you should be aiming for 50% after materials AND labor… 55% after insurance/workers comp is added in. At least.

  14. Sureshkotian | February 8, 2016 at 3:39 am

    Home painting

  15. cris | March 9, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    So what exactly does having insurance mean for my business? For instance, if i hire a sub-contractor that doesn’t have insurance, can they be covered by my insurance? Thanks for your time to answer this question for me.

    • Eric | March 14, 2016 at 11:42 am

      Yes they can be covered by your insurance as well (I would double check with your insurance agent). I just like to work with people who are already legit. I think they are more trustworthy.

  16. Russ | November 15, 2016 at 9:56 am

    If a sub contractor has a business licence for a particular city where you have booked a job is that sufficient for legal purposes as they will be doing the work ? Or would I have to licence my business in every town even though i`m using sub contractors ?

    • Eric | March 21, 2017 at 9:08 pm

      Get a license for everywhere you are going to operate, but your sub having a license is an ok temporary situation. You should check with the local laws and regulations and be responsible for any potential consequences.

  17. Mario | November 15, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    Hi Eric ! i m Mario ! and i want to start a business painting ! i have 7 years experience as a painter and another 5 painters in my team , the problem is how to find a good subcontractors ? thank you !

    • Eric | March 21, 2017 at 9:07 pm

      You start by posting ads and going through the same selection process you would for employees. It’s not much different, there are just a lot of benefits to subs over employees. But follow the same principles. Post ads, be selective, hire people you trust, oversee first jobs closely, etc..

  18. steve | January 4, 2017 at 7:41 pm

    just curious, you said in the above reply that part of your 50% goes to workers comp; why would you be paying comp if you’re subcontracting?
    BTW, I’ve been painting 25 years, owned my business for 10 and have found a lot of good info from your Youtube videos, thanks.

    • Eric | March 21, 2017 at 8:54 pm

      We cover workers comp in case the subcontractors don’t carry their own. They seem to value that a lot more than we actually pay for it. So I carry workers comp as insurance, and as a benefit to subs who don’t want to “deal with that business stuff” and just want to show up and paint.

  19. Bob Kay | January 16, 2017 at 5:37 am

    Hi Eric, i am in Capetown, Houtbay and i’ve got the best
    painting team but cant get jobs, any advice?

    • Eric | March 21, 2017 at 8:49 pm

      If you aren’t getting enough estimates set up, you gotta test more marketing channels. If you have a low sales rate, you need to improve your sales process. Check out my articles relating to both. Hope that helps.

  20. Christian | January 16, 2017 at 10:47 pm

    When a client needs a service, who prices the job do I ? Or the subcontractor? Wouldn’t the subcontractor have to look at the project to see how much he’ll do it for ?

    • Eric | March 21, 2017 at 8:49 pm

      You price the job. And you should have very specific estimating formulas to ensure you always price the job correctly. Of course the sub needs to agree on the price, but if you are good with your estimating, your prices should always be where they need to be. My course covers all of these details.

  21. Tom busby | January 22, 2017 at 8:39 am

    Hi we looking to expand our decorating business, so are looking to sub contract extra work if anything is available, As a property maintenance company we have over 20 years experience in trades. With lads with 15 plus years under their belts.
    We are in Essex but we do cover a large areas of the south of England including London

    • Eric | March 21, 2017 at 8:43 pm

      So I don’t do any business overseas, just in the US. But good luck!

  22. Joey | January 27, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    Thanks for all of the content you put out. I’m currently working to start a painting company with a buddy of mine who is a PhD student looking to make some extra money on nights, weekends, and breaks. He obviously cant supply labor during the day so I need to sub out for that.

    My biggest concern or question is: when I use a sub-contractor are they operating at the client’s house under my company name or his? If he has his own gig that he has a name for, is it understood that he will be working for me under my company name when he shows up at the job site? Because what is the client perceiving if they signed a deal with “ABC Painting” but “Bubba’s Painting” shows up to do the job?

    • Eric | March 21, 2017 at 8:39 pm

      They show up representing your company. Representing any company other than yours is an instant deal breaker. That’s a pretty clear understanding in the world of subcontracting and you shouldn’t have any issues as long as you set good expectations. We even provide them shirts with our company logo, or they can wear Sherwin Williams whites.

  23. Erick Raps | January 30, 2017 at 12:22 am

    I love painting jobs and am planning to join it full time I would like to work with other painters of the world so that I would grow ..I love challanging jobs and its my hope to work with established painters …good information I got from this ..much thnks… Am in Kenya

  24. Tony | February 25, 2017 at 8:31 am

    Ive had a painting company for 10 years now with insurance and liability snd everything. Do you have work in michigan?

    • Eric | March 21, 2017 at 8:32 pm

      We do have work in Michigan. What part? I’ll email you too.

  25. Gregory Clark | March 5, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    If I hire a sub-contractor with insurance do I need insurance as well? And if I do what kind of insurance would be best?

    • Eric | March 21, 2017 at 8:17 pm

      Yes you need to carry your own general liability insurance. Get $1,000,000 in coverage. Should run you $150/month or less when you are starting out. Also get a workers comp policy. Go through a local insurance company that specializes in contractors insurance.

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I’m Eric Barstow, creator of Painting Business Pro, founder of National Painting Group & Foothills Painting, Co-Owner of Painter Choice. I’m disrupting the painting industry, and helping thousands of painters start or improve their businesses. I love what I do!

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