Struggling as a Self-Employed Decorator

Updated May 10, 2024 | Posted May 28, 2021 | Professional insight, Life of a Decorator | 10 comments

Being a self-employed decorator is a bit of a strange job. The boundaries between homelife and work life are blurred, and you often find one effects the other. It’s a complete rollercoaster.

When you’re flying and feeling good, everything just seems to slip into place. You knock work out as fast as anyone, you have a run of good jobs, cashflow isn’t an issue and you find it easy to stay motivated.


The Struggles of Being a Self Employed Decorator


It can soon change. You can have a bad run of jobs, you might make a mistake when pricing, have a nonpayer, a nightmare customer, or it could be one of a hundred other things that could start you on a downward spiral.

Often, it’s simply your mindset. If you’re not happy at home, or not enjoying your work, you can often lose motivation. This is the worst thing for any self-employed decorator because it means you won’t actively stay on top of things, which just makes the situation worse. The van isn’t organised, tools aren’t clean or you’re missing bits of kit. You don’t get all the materials sorted for upcoming jobs.

The worst thing; If jobs are running over or going wrong, you get sick of making excuses to clients and stop answering your phone all together. You start feeling like you’re drowning!! I think every self-employed decorator has felt like this at some point.


It takes a mentally strong person to thrive as a self-employed decorator. To be able to recognise an issue like this, reset and start again. You need to face up to what’s going on.

Take a housekeeping day: Phone round all your existing clients and be honest with them about when you’re likely to start. Cancel any jobs you don’t want to do! Put yourself before any deadlines!! It doesn’t matter if you break the odd promise, you’ll get through the work faster once you relieve the pressure anyway.

Clean your van, wash your tools and make sure you’re only carrying what you need for the current / next job. Get your jobs list or diary handy and make sure it’s up to date. Submit all your outstanding quotes, go and see anyone who’s waiting for an appointment. Get through all your donkey work so it’s out of the way.

If you have issues at home, sort them out too. Do it all at the same time! If you’re drinking too much, or not getting enough exercise. Maybe it’s a bad diet? Drugs? Whatever it is, sort it out. It’s all connected, you may need a full reset.

Once you’ve sorted all that, have a day or two to yourself. Spend some time with your family, go fishing, knit a jumper. Do whatever it is that relaxes you, safe in the knowledge that everything at work is already sorted. There’s no more pressure, you’ve already dealt with all of it. Get your home/work life balance on point. Always work hard, but always make time for your family.

When you do get back to work, come back harder and stronger. Get some new whites on, symbolic more than anything. Stay on top of upcoming work, don’t over-stretch and don’t get bogged down. You’ve got this! You’re organised now, it’s easier. Always keep an eye on your next job and get organised for it while you’re working on the job you’re on now. That way you’ll stay organised and you won’t feel the pressure as much.

Finally, and I can’t emphasise this enough, remember it’s only a job. It’s a means to an end. You and your family come first and that will never change, so don’t take the stress of work home with you.

Struggling as a self-employed decorator is normal from time to time. The trick is to make it temporary, rather than a long-term problem. You do this by taking control, and alleviating the pressure however you can, then taking some time to get organised. Once you’re organised, you need to stay on top of your business and not get bogged down with the physical work aspect of the job.


My Partner is a Self-Employed Decorator


If you’ve ever winced after a trade handed you a quote or invoice, you’re not alone. Admittedly I have done the same in the past, wondering why I’m being charged so much for such a short or straightforward job. Since marrying Sam and seeing what goes on in the background, I now fully appreciate how much work takes place that the customer doesn’t see. This is the life of a decorator, or being married to a self employed man.

If you have a routine nine to five office job, the chances are your day is over when you close the lid on your laptop. As the wife of an electrician, I know Sam’s working day is far from over when mine is and furthermore, you may not realise what an impact this has on me as well. Making plans for the evening is difficult when you don’t know what time your spouse is going to be home, or how much work they need to do on return.

So, just what are you paying for that you don’t see? First up, think about when you contacted your trade. If you‘re at work all day, it’s likely you rang them in your leisure time. Did you ever think that when you ring a plumber in the evening or the weekend, it’s their time off too? It’s easy to focus on our home projects to get that super new shower or chandelier fitted, without considering the knock-on effect. Living with Sam is living with someone who is constantly on call and, unless he switches his mobile off, peace is never guaranteed.

His phone beeps endlessly with text messages, phone calls, emails, and job alerts. If I ask Sam to silence his phone so we can get some escape time, I feel bad because I know he wants to respond to job requests as fast as he can to bring in the work and be of service to his clients. We did a two week staycation in June, but Sam dedicated a large chunk of the second week ringing clients and booking in jobs and visitations for his return to work. This is what it’s like for a self-employed person.

Your project may require multiple trades. Have you asked an electrician to do some work, only to be informed they’ll also need a plasterer, plumber, tiler, or decorator? Unless you can project manage this with your own connections, your trade will need to reach out to their network to find the skills needed, and arrange the order of the work. This time may be factored into the final invoice you receive, although you don’t know how many calls have been made to get the right people with the right skills. And if the trade is worth their salt, they only want supporting trades that work to their standard.

“When you employ a great tradesperson, they will be guaranteeing or warrantying the parts and their labour, and will look after you going forwards, all of which has to be taken into account, “says Karen, an electrician from Billericay, Essex. “We have a saying which is ‘You touch it, you own it’. Sometimes we do work and then a fault occurs shortly afterwards which was nothing to do with the work we carried out, however, the client is now under our care, and so we have to respond and attempt to rectify. I think that tradespeople really are the 4th emergency service!!”

The invoice you receive when the job’s completed also reflects the skills, qualifications, and experience of the trade. Qualifications for gas and electrical safety are there to protect you. Exams can be expensive, time is needed to study for these, and it’s usually time not working, and is therefore unpaid. As well a certification, you’re paying for the experience of the trade to know what to do.

If you ever wonder why a small job costs so much, consider how much your trade can earn in a day by doing small jobs versus one big job. Driving from small job to small job includes time spent not earning. If it’s a 30-minute drive and back to get to your house, that’s an hour your trade has spent not earning. The longer and bigger the job, the more attractive it is, because it’s more efficient to drive to a job and work there all day.

When your trade arrives, you’re unaware that they may have spent time the previous evening or that morning loading up with the specialist tools and machinery needed for your project, or strapping ladders or other access equipment to their roof. And all that cabling, pipes, sockets, washers, or other parts you asked for? Your trade had to source and order them, and maybe drive to their wholesaler to purchase them for you. Sometimes something unusual is called for, and your trade will spend an evening researching to find a part. I’ve known Sam spend several hours doing this. And if he’s pricing up for an estimate, he may not even recuperate the cost of this time if he doesn’t get the job.

It’s the same if you ask a trade to visit your home to give you an estimate or quote. They drive over, listen to your requirements, and return home to produce a written cost. It can take hours to cost out all the parts, materials, and labour. When you change your mind and decide not to get the job done, you have cost the trade their time and energy.

I wrote this for the Decorators Forum UK after seeing so many similar views.

 Life of a Decorator – My Partner is Self Employed


Professional Decorator

Giving up on a Decorating Business


Evening ladies and gents. I’m thinking of giving up on my decorating business and taking an easier position. I’ve had an offer that I think I’m going accept (salary dependant, but the initial offer is good).

There is a care home I do a lot of decorating for, which consists of the main home, plus 12 bungalows. They also own 2 more facilities down south.

Their “handyman” got the boot. I’ve offered to combine the handyman position with the decorating aspect and go on their books. It’ll be a more varied day and only 10 mins from home. I’ll still be decorating; it just means I’ll be entitled to holiday and sick pay. I’ll have set hours every day. The handyman aspect is a non-issue, I pretty much built my extension, laid decking, built summerhouse etc.

I know some turn their noses up at handymen, but I fancy it.

I’m just wondering if any if you guys would accept?

The diary is full until September so, its not because I’m quiet. I’m just ready for an easier life!

Its scary when you’ve invested 17 years into a business, but 8-4pm every day sounds good without all the hassle in the evenings sounds great!

I should add, while work has never suffered this last year, my mental health has. Nowt to do with covid, just life.

Anyway, its more for the change of pace and with 5 kids to think of. Routine and fresh start might do the world of good. Working around people, instead of empty houses on your todd has to be a bonus too. My head gets too noisy when I’m on my own.

It’ll be a positive change, or a kick up the ar*e to motivate me again with the business, but work is a f**kin chore. I haven’t got back into at all since new year.

I’ll keep the van and all my gear either way, so wouldn’t be difficult to go self-employed again if this doesn’t work out.

Giving up on a decorating business is something I never thought I’d be contemplating. It feels like madness in a way, because this business has been my life since I started it all those years ago. I suppose that’s why I’m nervous about it, even through I know it’s the right decision for my family, as well as myself.

Craige fletcher

Professional Decorator


Want to know what life is like as a self-employed tradesman?

We get phone calls all hours.

We nip out and quote jobs all hours (most nights) We get the job, we go to work.

We make lists, we drive to merchants we pick up materials. We prepare jobs we are about to start, while in the same day finish jobs.

We finish jobs so that we can get paid.

Sometimes we chase that payment. If a job runs over, we don’t finish until late, we stay until that job is complete, 10:00pm? Then so be it.

Somebody rings, I’ve a job needs doing asap, nobody likes to say no. So, as well as all the above we are now trying to squeeze a small job into a tight schedule that then takes twice as long as it should putting you under more pressure.

Van breaks or you’re ill, you’re now a day behind and have twice the work load.

Sounds busy right? Now we’ll chuck in a few more issues every self-employed tradesman has to face.




Clearing back of the van

Sorting our units/yards

Spending time with girlfriend/wife’s/kids

Cleaning house

Food shopping

Paying bills

Seeing relatives

That decorating at home that’s been waiting months.

this is the standard week of a tradesman.

So before anyone writes on Facebook about tradesmen this tradesman that, he didn’t come quote, he didn’t answer my calls, just cut us tradesmen some slack and remember we are only human, we can’t be in more than one place at a time, we do forget things but most importantly we do try our bloody best!

Life of a Self-Employed Tradesman 🔧🔨

Life of a Self-Employed Tradesman – For more stuff like this, follow the Decorators Forum UK on Facebook right here

John Morris

Professional Decorator


It’s Never Easy Being a Decorator


Sometimes you’re painting on an outside job and it rains. Sometimes a builder will p*ss you about, or you lose a good contact to someone you considered a friend. Some jobs will run over and sometimes you’ll spill a bucket of paint. You might even knock someone’s TV off the wall or scratch a car.

There are all kinds of problems that every professional decorator will come up against regularly. Being a self-employed decorator is like being on a roller-coaster. Sometimes you’re flying, and other times you can really struggle.

For me, it’s how you distance yourself from the “stress” of the profession that leads to a better quality of life all round.

It’s easy to forget, but stressing out doesn’t help put food on the table. Sh*t happens; take a step back, have a think and then deal with it the best you can.

There are a lot of things you can control and plenty you can’t, so what’s the point in worrying about the latter? Are you the type of decorator who is kept awake at night because of the stress at work? Do you work long, hard hours but seem to spend more time chasing your tail instead of focusing on one thing at a time? Being organised is often much more efficient than working yourself into the ground. You’ll make more money too!

Don’t be afraid to put yourself first, or of being hard faced. If that means making an awkward phone call, then crack on and get it out of the way. It’s much better than starting a new project before finishing the one you’re on, just because you want to keep someone happy. Try having a waiting list and only giving people a definite date a week or so before you can start.

Never forget what’s important. The boundaries between home and work life are often blurred for the self-employed individual. Your job is your job, it doesn’t have to be your way of life.

have at least one day a week away from the tools.

wash your brushes out before you leave a job.

take that extra ten minutes organising the van as you’re packing away.

look after your tools.

look after yourself and your family. you’re the ones that matter. Mrs Jones can wait for her lounge back.

Mike Cupit

Professional Decorator and owner of Decorators Forum UK


Ever just feel like pulling the stickers off your van packing it up? I have to say I have had a tough few months trying to grind a decent living. It’s tough out on your own when you’re a decorator! I’m going into my 3rd year as self-employed in 2020. I have been lucky starting out though, with local decorators willing to give me plenty of advice and even throw work my way.

Coming from a small town that’s a rare and decent thing. Seen as a lot of lads some forums who seem to pounce and tear one another apart. I’d hate to live near those type of know it alls. Anyway, just said I’d go on a little rant get it off my chest. I’ll keep on pushing on. Happy Christmas to you all and I hope 2020 brings one and all of us plenty of work and luck 💪💪🎄🎄👌

Sean Cahill

Professional Decorator

Updated May 10, 2024 | Posted May 28, 2021 | 10 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.
How to Paint Coving – A Complete Guide

How to Paint Coving – A Complete Guide

In this blog, I’m going to explain everything you need to know about how to paint coving, including a few product recommendations. Coving is one of those decorative features which never really goes out of fashion.  I’ve completely lost count of how many rooms with...


  1. Robert menzies

    Could do with some more tips I’m gonna take the leap thanks

  2. Richard

    The personal life of all of us suffers when too busy, or too quiet…
    I always maintain if you daft enough to work 7days a week ALL the time and Wifes moaning and could easily start a set of events that will end in your marriage ended..
    She might get used to you not being around so that when you ARE around it annoys her.
    Say NO to customers. Others will always follow if your good.

    No weekend job is worth divorce with 50 % of your house, business and pension and the terrible thought of starting again in a crappy rental mid life…

    The emotional damage to kids etc.

    Work to live.

    Dont live to work.

    Customers generally couldnt give a toss about you, if you broke a leg and couldn’t do job they just get on googling painters ASAP.

    Rant over.

  3. Paul The Handyman

    Great points Richard.

    Also worth noting is the temptation to cut prices to get more work. A fools move and one that increases the race to the bottom or the increase of poor workmanship.

    • Robert Wilson

      45 years and counting in the early days I took anything and everything then met a old gentleman who had a plumbing company he gave me great advice one get in with people that spend other people’s money ie local H/A s heathboards ets also there no such thing a a bad decorator. Just bad customers. That may not be true but is a great mind set to have . Ata time when there may Be a shortage of staff if you’re good enough make sure you charge a good rate to many. Brothers and sisters of the brush under charge

  4. Al Parish

    Another great article Mike, knowing ones worth can often be a game changer – that & managing the client & their expectations from the get go. 👍😉

  5. Mark Cassidy

    Mike, thank you for this.

  6. Paul

    If a customer is booked in a Sun room livingroom new kitchen and hall and you reschedule due to kitchen fitter not finished and hall sunroom etc is full of units or tools . Eventually after shuffling jobs your ready to start following week only she calls and says she just want kitchen and Sun room done what do you do ?

    • richard

      The fact that decent trades are always busy and customer now knows that you be glad to get away anyway is a problem..
      You could try to explain no job ready as moved all about because of you etc and now hit her with a cancellation charge , plenty would try this, but bit difficult to get in my view however it is possible would pay.

  7. Bryan Clover

    I’m the CEO at The Rainy Day Trust and we can offer free telephone counselling if the mental struggle gets too much – give us a call on 0800 915 4627. There’s also other support available if you are off work for a while and can’t earn a living. The trick is to remember that there is always help out, and that finding it can be the tricky part. Ask us to do the digging for you. We may not be able to help with everything, but we can find the help that you may need. Everything is totally confidential too.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *