Considering your driving time - FAQ

We had a serviceman come out for repair a piece of equipment here at Ruby Red Paints. There was a hourly fee plus a $.66 per mile charge for them driving to our location. I know we all have some sort of systematic approach to billing our customers and part of that equation should be driving. Driving to an event certainly should be considered as you do your pricing because it is a real world cost. It is wear and tear on your auto, it obviously is using up gasoline (not getting any cheaper) and your time, or the time of your worker is certainly valuable. I think the price per mile is a very direct approach but I think a customer does not want to have to calculate the charge. For us we have a “standard area pricing” which allows 30 miles from a base location to the event and this is done on Google maps which everyone has access to. The customer can always verify mileage charges if they really want to. If the location is 31 to 40 miles we add an extra $10 per hour to the event. This continues to climb if the event is further away. It is billable in increments of ten miles and each time jumping up $10 per hour. It can get a little more complicated as we charge an extra $10 per hour if the event requires us to fight rush hour traffic in Dallas or Fort Worth. Time=money is the bottom line. If we are going to have to drive over one hour we also switch to a minimum of two hours AND we require a nonrefundable deposit of 50%. Our marketing hook is to post “Prices starting at $60 per hour” when most of our competitors are charging $90-$100 per hour. The reality is our average booking is really around $85 when mileage is taken into consideration. One thing we do that is a bit different is we allow our workers to keep 100% of the extra driving fees since it is their time being used up, it is their gasoline and wear and tear on their cars.

To further complicate “the formula” we can give additional discounts if the event goes three hours or more or if they want 6 total hours booked. For example, if it was a corporate gig and we had to drive for one hour the rate would normally be $60 + $30 extra for driving per hour. If they wanted four workers for four hours, we would drop the fee to a flat rate of $70 per hour. No doubt that is a $320 difference ($1440 versus $1120). The difference is most likely I personally would be a driver/worker and give all of my workers a ride to that event in my car. It is wear and tear on my car and my gas. The worker does get an extra $10 per hour for their time but the customer gets a decent volume discount and I secured a $1120 booking.

I would add that you need to consider drive time as you go to these events for other reasons. We really like to do corporate events, schools and churches that have high exposure as we can pass out hundreds of business cards which will reap more business in the months following. It does little good to pass out cards at a school gathering two hours away as most moms could not afford the extra $120 to have you come. We try to target events that are one hour or less away from our home base.

I have done bookings where I have had to drive five hours. I billed them $60 per hour going and coming to the event. That is an extra $600 just for me having to drive a total of ten hours. I charged them my normal fee for the hours I actually painted. The customer paid it. If they did not wish to pay it, I would not do the event. Rarely do I bargain. I know what I am worth and I tend to stick to that. Some want a special deal and while I can negotiate, I rarely do as I know our company charges less than most in the area.  I seem to know workers all over the place and for the longer drives I tend to instead refer them to a local face painter that I know and trust. Call it the “Karma approach”. I will generally point them to where they can pick their own worker as it has hundreds of face painters and it is sorted by country and postal code. If I know someone in the area that I trust, I refer them directly. This customer that wanted me to drive five hours just happened to be a State Senator that lived in Amarillo. That is five hours away. I told them I knew a very good painter in the area (Christina) and I would give them her direct number to get her rates. They specifically wanted me and was willing to pay the extra $600 so I went ahead and drove the distance. I would let your customer decide. If I was unfamiliar with someone in the area I would point them to the directory. That way they are the one booking the event and you are out of the loop AND LIABILITY. The last thing you want to do is to refer them to someone and they have a bad experience. Early in our business I used to refer people that wanted a Sunday worker to several local painters. After getting cussed out on two different occasions because the other painter did not show up I stopped referring. I figured if my good will was only going to get me cussed out I would stop and I did.

I do think the more systematic you can get with your customer (in regards to pricing) the happier they will be. Each of us have to come up with our own system as we each have our own issues. One huge issue is if you have a reliable car. If your car can be iffy (I’ve had those cars) then you do not want to be three hours away from home to have your car give out. I might add I will make the customer pay a real premium  if I am going to drive five hours and my event is going to end at 10pm. That means it would be 3am before I got home. The “irritation factor” should carry some weight. I stress that on all events where I have to drive one hour I want a nonrefundable deposit up front. I would be very irritated to show up to find out the event was cancelled. That has not happened to me for quite a long time but that does happen. I can assure you the last minute bookings tend to be the flakiest. If they are calling Friday night for a birthday party the next morning at 10am they either had their previous face painter flake out on them or you were a last minute add-on to the event. We add $10 per hour to all events booked within three days as we have to scramble to find a worker for the event. We have been doing this for about 20 years. In the first five years we would have about three events per year crash and burn. Some of those were communication issues, some were flakey people and sometimes it was a clerical error on our booking form. We have improved over time. We also have learned to listen for the flake. Overtime, I think one develops the ability to weed out the flakes in the world. You almost can sense it over the phone. If they sound flakey or are last minute, those we will get a deposit on. We use the square so it is easy to get a deposit on the phone. You can request a check or money order prior to the event but if the event is a last minute booking there is no way you will get your deposit on time.

One last point for me to mention… if the event is on a holiday, inconvenient or problematic then factor that into your cost. For example Our Thanksgiving period is a time for gathering in the Cole home. These days I face paint more now because I want to face paint and not because I am worried about paying the electric bill. I am going to make face painting worth my time on those days for myself or my workers who would also like to be with their families. We do have a few workers that keep their head above water by supplementing their income with our face painting. We know that it can mean the difference between getting the cell phone cut off or not. We do offer face painting but we will make it worth the effort of whatever worker we choose to send. If my income was solely from face painting and I was just starting out I would do what I had to do to pay the rent. Negotiate to meet your needs and make it worth your time. If you are struggling, you sometimes have to work for less than what you want. When we first started out we did some events simply for tips as we wanted the exposure. That is a hard way to pay the bills but we did it. As our business developed, we totally stopped that practice. Only you can decide what you think is the fair price for your time. It is okay for you to pick and choose. The last thing you want to do is accept a half price event on a Saturday for a one hour event if you are a solo painter. You very well could later have the option for a three hour event for full price that you now have to turn down because you accepted the earlier event. Most seasoned painters have enough work so they are not forced to accept events below the standard rate. That is good. The last thing any professional wants is to find face painters out there willing to work for half the standard rate in their area. One person painting at a low rate makes it a challenge for all others even when their quality and speed leaves a lot to be desired. As soon as you are able, stabilize your price.

Gary Cole


Google Groups Subscribe to facepainthq
Browse Archives at

If you want to join the world's largest e-mail discussion list for face painters  then enter your e-mail address in the box to the left. Get connected to beginner and professional face painters from all around the world. Ask literally any face painting question you want and get real answers to help you progress as a face painter. It is free and you will receive tips on how to paint a particular face, how to stop the line when its time to go home or how to build a successful face painting business. Share your photos with others or if you have a need ask for help and the painters will e-mail you a face painting idea for your upcoming event.

Home | Products | Order | Photos

Text and photographic images copyright © Ruby Red Paints