Can You Trust a Cheap Decorator?

Updated May 23, 2024 | Posted Feb 22, 2022 | Professional insight, Business, Life of a Decorator | 12 comments

I’m not sure whether this question gets asked, but it should do. I see posts all the time on local Facebook pages from people asking for recommendations regarding decorators.

You always get “tradesmen” chirping up saying they’re cheaper than everyone else. You see people asking for “cheap decorators” to carry out x,y and z. This always worries me for a few reasons.

If a decorator is running a legitimate business, they can not be “cheap”. I’ll explain why…

Let’s say you find a cheap decorator who is charging £100 per day.

A decorating business is like any other, in that it has running costs. Liability insurance, tool insurance, income protection insurance, marketing, tool maintenance, keeping a van on the road. The list goes on. As a decorator, my running costs are just north of £30 per day.

The decorator charging £100 per day is now on £70.

10% of a decorators’ earnings should go back into the business before he or she takes an income.

The decorator charging £100 is now on £63.

A self-employed decorators’ day does not start and end while they’re on a paid job. They generally spend their evenings viewing jobs, contacting clients to talk through colour and dates, completing admin and washing or organising their tools. An 8-hour day becomes 10 hours.


The decorator charging £100 is now on £6.30 per hour.

But that isn’t the same as earning £6.30 as an employed person. A self-employed decorator needs to account for sick pay and holiday pay.

The decorator charging £100 is earning roughly £5 per hour. Which is about half minimum wage, and that’s before breakages and unexpected costs!! What a decorator charges needs to cover every expense associated with running a business.

Then we have materials to think about. Everyone knows trade paints are more expensive than retail because they perform better. A good decorator might go further and offer specialist ceiling paints or premium water-based trim products. Could they do that if they’re trying to be cheap?

So, can you trust a cheap decorator? If a tradesman offers to carry out any work for as little as £100 a day, would you feel comfortable hiring them? Would you assume they know their craft well and have years’ of experience?

Not for me! Red flags straight away as soon as a tradesman tries to convince me they’re “cheap”. Hire a professional, not a cowboy. Especially if you’re going to have them in your own home.

I have 20 years’ experience as a decorator. I’m fully insured, I have the latest dust-free sanding equipment and airless sprayers. I only use trade quality products on my jobs, including the modern brands such as Teknos and Tikkurila. I even offer a guarantee on my work. Should I compete on price with decorators who are happy earning £5 per hour?


The Decorating Industry Should be More Regulated


I think the decorating industry should be more regulated. I’ve been thinking this for a while. At the moment, anyone can buy a paintbrush and throw a few leaflets out, calling themselves decorators. We’ve got gardeners and window cleaners offering decorating on the side. This for me, shows no respect for the trade and I think it should stop. It isn’t fair on the homeowner, and it certainly isn’t fair on proper decorators.

So, what’s the answer? What about some sort of license? Hear me out…


My Proposal


Every self-employed decorator should be required to hold a valid decorating licence before being allowed to work in domestic homes. To qualify for a licence, a decorator must have hold an NVQ level 2 as a minimum qualification. They must also have a minimum of x amount of years’ experience and all the relevant insurance they could possibly need. They should also be inspected once a year by some sort of government body.

I know a lot of good decorators have been in the trade all their working life and don’t hold any formal qualifications, but it’s easy enough nowadays to get an onsite assessment. Someone visits you at work a few times, asks you a series of questions, looks at your work and checks your paperwork. Providing you can do the job, you will be awarded your qualification.

I know the other argument people are going to come out with is, a more regulated industry would mean more complications and more money, and I get that. But I think it would be worth it.

Once regulated, a homeowner can have absolute faith they’re hiring a professional. Once regulated, we eliminate every single chancer from the trade. Once regulated, we can raise our prices. Maybe even some sort of union? I think we’d be viewed as a lot more professional.

We would no longer have office workers quitting their job and flaunting themselves as proper decorators. No more gardeners trying to hang wallpaper during the colder months. The homeowners would also be protected.

I’d be interested in other peoples’ thoughts on the idea. Comment below and let me know what you think.

My customer Went With a Cheap Decorator


Maybe I’m being a chair, but 3 years ago I went and priced a massive decorating job up. Only to be told I was way too expensive and they were going with a cheaper decorator! The job was miles away as well.

I got a call from the bloke yesterday saying he was really impressed with the way I went about it, and thought me worthy of a second chance🤔!! I politely told him to jog on and get the other guy to do it! He replied that he wasn’t happy with what the other guy had done! So, I just told him to jog on!!!😉

I know it’s cutting my nose off to spite my face but what would you have done???🤔

I’m sick of people automatically undervaluing our trade! It is constant. We all have running costs, just like every other business. We all spent years training. We’re all perfectionists. We all went through the torment of starting a decorating business. I take pride in what I’ve achieved, so sod them!


Professional Decorator

Updated May 23, 2024 | Posted Feb 22, 2022 | 12 comments

About the Author

About the Author

Mike Cupit has been in the decorating industry since 2002 and has mostly worked as a Trade Decorator in the domestic sector (peoples’ homes). Self-proclaimed “product geek”, Mike has a passion for paint and decorating tools. Mike now spends most of his time testing paint products and tools, comparing them to similar products on the market, and blogging about the industry in general.
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  1. R. Karinsky.

    A room painted buy an expensive decorator isn’t going to last any longer than a cheap one. Those walls/wood will fade, scuff, scratch and get dirty regardless. So many customers know it’ll only need re-doing in a few years.

    Also depends on why they’re cheaper. someone may have less expenses (although you should be claiming these back anyway) Maybe they’re just starting out, or semi-retired or just don’t have an expensive lifestyle (no family means they can do the job cheaper, doesn’t mean they’re shit)

    Seen plenty if ‘expensive’ decorators who are worse jobs than the ‘cheaper’ ones. You can’t always judge someone on price. £100 a day is still the average around my location..

    • Mike Cupit

      You can’t claim your expenses back. They come off your bottom line and you only pay tax on profit. As outlined above, £100 is roughly half minimum wage.

      • Ionel Niculaie


    • Phil

      Good to hear from someone with a different opinion. I’d be interested to know why someone may have less expenses, as far as I can see, the only expense they might cut out is advertising. Any decorating “business” should have roughly the same operating costs. In my experience (following £50 a day toshers and putting mistakes right) it seems that time and materials is what they’re compromising on. The care hasn’t been taken and gear they use not correct for the application.
      I do however agree that when setting up a new business you may keep pricing down to attract new clients, I’d always try and discourage anyone from doing this as those clients and their friends and family will expect those low costs until the end of time. Always better to set a precedence early on, but I totally understand why they do it.
      In regards to Retired Ronnie, I actually worked on a block of flats with the developers grandfather who was a time served brother of the brush. I was amazed how slowly he could move and how many holidays, tramlines and brush marks were in his work when he’d finished. I know they aren’t all like this but surely retired for a reason?! This old duffer couldn’t see his hand in front of his face!
      From what I can tell in my area, it seems that these people setting up as “decorators” are just DIY guys whom once made a half decent job of their hall, stairs and landing and thought they were now fully qualified. Alot of these people’s lower running costs are mainly because they don’t insure themselves, they don’t pay tax or NI and probably supply Leyland Contract Matt from B&Q and throw it on the wall with Harris brushes and rollers.
      I went to quote a standard-ish sized living room a few weeks ago. She was supplying the gear (Dulux dog vinyl matt on walls, Wilkinson white matt for ceiling and Good Home W/b satin for woodwork) a fair bit of prep (i.e sanding out old roller stipple, brush marks, filling, caulking etc) and of course other overheads on top, I came in at £320 which I thought was reasonable. She turned round, shouted “‘ow much?? Kerry can do it for 30 quid!” To which I replied “why the F**k did you ring me then?!!” I wonder if Kerry, whoever he is, is paying tax, NI, insurance etc etc and I wonder if the job Kerry did was any good? Go figure!!

      • R. Karinsky.

        @Phil £320 sounds really cheap too me, are you one of these cheaper decorators?

        But at the end of the day a cheaper painter might be cheap because he knows he’s not the best and there’s many customers who he will be good enough for. Not every customer can afford a premium decorator, just like i can’t afford a bran new van, or a top of the range kitchen. He wont be taking away clients from you because you wont be targeting that customer base. Know what i mean?

        • Phil

          R. Karinsky. Sorry for the late reply. As I say in my comment, I thought £320 was reasonable. I try not to be one of these cheap decorators if I can help it. I’m not sure what area you’re from but I’m in South Wales which is one of the low labour rate areas.
          As for me not targeting that customer base, I see what you’re saying but the mega cheap toshers are targeting my customer base and undercutting me. I’m finding I’m losing work to them. Know what I mean?!

    • Richard

      Price is the number 1 in my opinion,
      people are cheap for a reason..
      My old Dad said people will pay for a good decorator just like they pay 100 for a good meal in a restaurant rather than going to a cheap cafe ..
      Quality costs, a friendly walk away rather than drop the price if you can… Explain what’s what You decide what charge not the customer, if they can’t afford you well they have to get someone that they can
      .It makes you look better than rest and reputation is all in this game.

  2. Phil

    Have to agree with you on this one. Far too many of these cheap, Facebook, DIY painters now. They once got complimented on a job they did at home and now think they’re pro’s. Around my area I’m seeing these people setting up everywhere and feeling the burn on the unbelievable low quotes they’re giving.

  3. David hughes

    Brilliant well said couldn’t of put it better myself, some of the jobs I’ve been to and they said we got a decorator in he was cheap my god wouldn’t let them paint by numbers

  4. Robert Wilson

    Feel sorry for the decorators who don’t charge their worth my minimum charge out rate is way above £100 per shift

    We work 8/hour day 4day week now and I have guys on a grand a week do the math Quality costs . Quality decorators at at a premium please guys don’t undersell our trade

  5. Simon woodall

    Thanks mike I’ve been trying to put this into words for a while (do you mind if I steal it?)

    • Mike Cupit

      nar, help yourself. Thanks Simon


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