How To Bid on Commercial Painting Jobs

A lot of painting contractors are intimidated by the thought of estimating larger commercial painting projects, acting as if it’s just this completely different animal. However, this does not have to be the case. If you’re looking to break into commercial painting, I’m going to give you some tools and resources that will help guide you in the direction that you’re going towards commercial painting projects.

Production Rate Estimating

First things first, if you have an opportunity to go to Painters Academy and look up some of the training that I’ve done on production rate estimating, which is essentially how far does an hour of a painter’s time go on any given surface. And once you’ve figured that out, you can do the division or the multiplication of square foot, linear foot, individual items, just based upon field data. And I don’t want to get into that too much in this video, but understanding that allows you to then take a charge rate, which is what you charge the clients and then take a pay rate, which is what you pay your painters. And with those three things, production rates, charge rates, and pay rates, you can determine any surface for estimating. All right?

Now, the majority of what you will do in commercial is no different than residential. Class A office space, the outside of mini commercial, one and two-story buildings, very similar, same substrates. And applying that wholesale is pretty easy. Now you will get economies of scale when you’re painting thousands of linear feet of wall or trim versus a few hundred scattered around, lots of broken up bedrooms. In that case, you need to give yourself more accurate estimates based upon the fact that your guys are going to be able to move a little faster in those unrestricted large run environments.

Of course, you may be applying things in a different methodology than you normally would with a sprayer where you’re not having to turn a corner every five minutes or mask off some kind of ornate surface. Those are things you got to take into account. But when push comes to shove if you really have a good commercial opportunity, sometimes it makes sense if it’s the first time you’ve done it to actually do a section for free.

Here’s an example. If you’re putting in a large bid on an HOA condominium complex for painting handrails on their balconies, paint two of them paint, them for free. It’s kind of like a puppy dog sale. You’ll build a relationship, the client can see the quality of work, you get to be on the property and be seen and you can collect the data in the field to come up with your production rates that can then be applied to all kinds of different surfaces. That’s one way to do it. Pick a section, pick a square, pick a run, and just do it for free. If nothing else you will get in their good graces and there’s always the second job.

Bidding Commercial Work

Now, when it comes to bidding commercial work I would like to give you this piece of advice, and that is to stay away from commercial new construction, in particular bidding sites, blue book sites. They’re going to inundate you with complicated plans with not a lot of detail for painting and you’re always in a bad situation when someone is marketing to you to bid on a project instead of you marketing to the end-user and ultimately in new construction you have zero equity.

I’ll give you one last bonus tip, not so much about how to calculate the bids for a painting project but how to manage and run them, and here it is.

Break Sections of the Project up into Individual Labor Hours

So often when you get a large repaint project you’ll want to track those labor hours during the entire time and then hope that you’re on budget toward the end, that rarely works. Instead, when you’re painting a large commercial project, I found it helpful if you break individual sections of the project up into individual labor hours and only track the labor hours per section. So if you’ve got a 1000-hour job or 500-hour job, break it down into five 100-hour jobs so that you know if your crews are on budget or not.

Another configuration and I really like is the small two-man crew set up, one crew leader, one helper. And when you sit your entire company up like that when you primarily do commercial, residential repaint next, it allows you to break those two teams up. Then that way you can give them separate budgets for separate parts of the project. And I even recommend if you’ve got a save labor bonus program or something to the fact that you have competition. “This is your section, these are your labor hours. This is your section, these are your labor hours.” Not only is there a bonus if you beat the labor hour budget but I’m going to give an additional bonus to whoever ends up completing this job with the largest percentage of under budget hours.

Let’s Recap

Do a serious study of production rate estimating. You can search our website for that, I’ve addressed that in several videos. The second thing is to stay away from commercial new construction, stay away from blueprints, there’s no equity, it’s very dangerous. The yield is lower, there’s lots of administrative overhead. And also when in doubt do a small section for free, build that relationship with the repaint client because if they’re on your buy or die marketing list, who cares if you waste a few hundred dollars on labor and material advancing that relationship, it’s key. I hope that’s helpful. A little bit of commercial repaint bidding advice and a little project management thrown in there for free.



  1. Derek on October 2, 2020 at 6:38 pm

    Very helpful and a lot of great free Gems and content Bradon shares looking forward to being a member and learning how to embrace in my one man army company HeHe👌🏻 Happy Regards, Derekthe603PNTR

    • Brandon Lewis on October 3, 2020 at 9:42 am

      Glad to help you learn how to approach the commercial painting market. Getting leads for commercial painting is tough and avoiding the mistakes is the first step!

  2. Kenneth Michaud on December 18, 2020 at 9:26 pm

    Hey Bramdon
    I’m new to your site and your tips and experience is priceless. As a residential painting Contractor there are so many things to know as with commercial work.
    It also takes years to learn & experience all of the things you share on your website.
    I look forward to joining & learning more things and being a Commercial contractor.

    thanks – Ken M. Boston, Ma

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