How I started my face painting business?

                                                                                       by Sherry Summers, Sher and Gary

First of all you might also read the frequently asked question "How do I start a face painting business" at  

This particular FAQ is going to be more specific on individuals from the discussion list. These are their stories on what THEY did and how they started their business. Different people, have different styles and each of us have factors which include everything from  geographical area to population to financial status of the target area to work with. Here are three stories...

First story is from Sherry Summers aka Dotsy's Entertainment Company in Ontario, Canada
Second story is from Sher in Colorado
Third story is from Gary in Dallas, TX

Sherry aka Dotsy's Entertainment Company  who face paints in South Western Ontario, Canada from Winsor to London, Ontario

I started out by paying for booth space in all the different little fairs and festivals around the area. We didn't charge a set fee, just for tips.
It was just my friend and I at the time, in clown costumes, we also handed out lots of promotional items like business cards, colouring sheets,
stickers etc. We at least broke even every weekend and then the phone calls just started to come in. I was still in university at the time, so I wasn't trying to make a living doing it.

2 years later I switched my phone to a business line and had a yellow pages ad for the first time -- wow, what a difference! The phone started ringing constantly. I didn't have any big and fancy ad, just a couple of lines, but I was lucky in that there aren't many clowns in the Windsor area.

I've put a few ads in children's magazines here and there and even a short TV commercial but I finally decided that we are our own best advertisement. Everywhere I go in costume, I get asked for business cards. The only advertisement money I will ever spend again will be in the yellow pages.

This is a snow-ball type of business, the more you do, the more you get seen and the more work you generate. I don't think I've ever worked for free (any event will at least agree to pay for your supplies) but I have worked for very little in the past.

I guess that my other benefit is that I worked for another entertainment company for 4 years before I started my own company. I already knew what to do and what not to do.


Sher in Colorado - she does painting in the ??????? area.

 I started out five years ago by word of mouth. I was just face  painting, no clown costume or anything else. Didn't get much work - about a dozen bookings the whole year the first year - but I attribute that to the fact that starting off by word of mouth goes veeeerrrrry slowly for building a business. The second year, I bought a little pony - did face painting the first 45 minutes, then pony rides the last 45 minutes (birthday parties were the only gigs I was getting still at this time.) Then three years ago, I paid $50 a month for a 1" text ad in a local large children's magazine -- did 80 parties that year -- only a couple were large events, and those were company picnics. By this time, I was doing face painting, had a pony for rides, had a petting zoo, and set out a couple of self running carnival games, played Disney music on the boom box. I had hired older teens for my helping hands (affordable employees - just takes a bit of screening.) Also this year, I got liability insurance coverage for the live animals, my teen helpers, even covering face painting & balloon twisting. I'd found that just face painting (to keep *really* busy, here in central Colorado) did not cut it --- there's hundreds of face painters & balloon twisters, hundreds of clowns and not clowns, out here, all doing the same things. I had to offer something that stood out, something more and keep it affordable, if I was to
get a self supporting amount of income. Here, no face painters or balloon twisters were offering the ponies/zoo -- likewise, no pony/zoo companies offered face painting or balloon twisting. So, I worked on being the only company to combine the two "markets". In my fourth year, got two small text ads in the metro phone yellow pages -- $2200 broken down in monthly payments -- the cost gave me a heart attack! *BUT* that year, I did over 300 events, a large chunk of that became big events (street festivals, now too) and ..... I received twice as many calls as I could service, almost 700 calls came in! (Yes, at the end of each year, I tally how many calls came in, how many were bookings, how many were parties & how many were larger events. This helps me tell what direction the business is leaning in.) I did the phone ad only one
year - the next year, last year, I decided to cut back on advertising costs as well as the number of days I was working (2 events a day weekends - 1 a day weekdays - Mondays off.) My family missed me and wanted me to work a little less --- so no paid phone ads that year, back to just word of mouth, no active advertising at all. Now I'd been "in the field" for a few years.

I kept a mailing list of everyone who's ever called and asked about us over the last five years (seldom used it last year, really). Did just under
250 parties in 2000 with that - a lot of it was repeats (birthdays to street festivals) who'd hired us in the past 4 years. This year will again be no paid advertising - but more of utilizing this mailing list I've built. I'll keep it down to around 250 events again this year (it's a comfortable number for me.) I deliberately have one one vehicle on the road -- even though there is room for more business. I'm fussy on quality of our service and how the live animals are handled -- have not had good luck for how other folks handle my animals when I'm not there, so I *like* to keep this size.

But you can see how, if you can trust your workers' work ethics, coming these two "markets" is *really* successful and can be taken a long ways. Even just getting one pony and doing face painting & balloon twisting, throw in a couple of self run games & music (no petting zoo) and you have a business that does not require special licensing (but I wouldn't dream of not having liability coverage!) and you can really fly with that! Of course, keep in mind - I'm an animal "nut" - so I'm all for working in live animals. (big grin)

"...It doesn't seem to be knocking on my front door? done a few paying jobs and some freebie's. Do I need to keep doing more free jobs so people will notice me and ask me to work for the future, or is that not true?..." Ack! NO! A few freebies when you are just starting out - maybe. But, in my five years of doing this seriously - I find that people who get freebies (the crowd) expect freebies later on. They expect to get you for near nothing for their birthday parties, too - just like what they saw you doing at first contact. No, don't waste your time doing freebies thinking you'll get bookings later on out of it -- do it if it's a charity you really like and want to, but not for hoped for later income. Just doesn't work!

I can only strongly advocate the expensive phone book ad if you've got something you do that's popular and sets yourself out from the many other folks doing the same thing. If you're "blending in with the crowd" -- well, in those shoes, I would not invest in the phone book ad.

".... most of you on the list Clowns, are there any who just paint? Could I get more business if I had more to offer? ...." I started out as a face painter in regular clothes - no clown costume, no jazzy vest - zip. It wasn't until the last two years that I dressed in clown costume - and the kids love that, the parents like it, but I can't say the costume itself gets me any more jobs. It's the variety of activities I offer - at a good price - that keep me busy. For example - the going rate here for 1 pony & a petting zoo at a birthday party is $150 to $200 for an hour, plus
trip fee. I offer 1 pony, petting zoo, cowgirl costumed hostess (not a really a clown!), FACE PAINTING (also balloon twisting - but most of the
time, parent selects the face painting over balloons), 4 carnival games all self run w/ no prizes, and Disney music - all that for $165 for 1 hour, plus trip fee. So the key here, I offer a bit more for a better price. I charge for the face painting, but not myself in costume or the games or the music -- these simple "free extras" cost me SO little and the parents at birthdays love that they are getting them free. 


Gary from the Dallas, Texas area

If I wrote the entire story, I think I'd have to write a book but I'll try to tell you as briefly as possible how I got into face painting and how I built the business. Pull up a comfortable chair as this could take a while...

At the time I got started I was just working for SNAZAROO (since then I bought the full rights for manufacturing and distribution for the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean). We kept getting stores that were our customers wanting us to come and demonstrate the products to help build their business. Well I got tired of spending my weekends face painting so I trained two college kids how to face paint. While they were out they kept getting requests for private parties. It started to grow so I felt it important to separate the product side of the business (SNAZAROO USA Inc.) from the service side of the business, so I incorporated Party Faces Inc. I didn't want to use any SNAZAROO resources so I broke the two into totally separate businesses.

At first we signed up for a couple of large volume festivals and saw quite quickly the potential. I invested some money and had some business cards made up and we did a number of face painting events in trade for advertising space. We were so surprised at how many calls we were receiving. I had a marketing background so I figured I should get a little more serious about this new found opportunity. At first we did a lot of free, high exposure events so we could pass out business cards. We also did quite a few events where we worked for tips only. Then the calls really started to come in. I decided that it was important to have a dedicated phone number and have it go to a cellular phone. My wife at the time handled all of the calls and all the booking of the events. It is so important that someone is there to answer the phone. This makes you look like a business rather than a single individual out painting faces. I'll note that now we do no free events and we don't work for tips. If we can't get our hourly rate we usually turn down the job. The exception is charity events where I want to support that particular charity.

For the first year almost 100% of the income went back into the business. I was willing to do this to make it work. We would take the extra earnings and invest it in different advertising space. In the Dallas / Fort Worth area there is about six or seven million people. We certainly had a good crowds to target. There also are a number of good magazines for families that are given our for free. These are great exposure.

One of the most important things I could tell a beginner is you need to be consistent, you need to provide exposure and you need to work in multiples. Let me go through this more in depth. 1) Your company needs to be consistent. In other words always be available. You need to teach all of your workers they same technique and you need to set standards in terms of quality and speed. Accept all bookings and then figure out how you are going to fill the slots. If you advertise you can paint 20 different faces and you can paint them all in three to five minutes you better be able to prove it day in and day out. 2) You need to provide constant exposure. Look for every opportunity to put your business card in the hands of potential customers. Don't scrimp on your business card. For this business I have a business card that folds in half to be about the size of a normal business card. This gives me four times the space for my marketing. The top is like a normal business card, the full inside is what we do and general pricing information and the back is basically "look at all these top companies we already have worked for". We pass out these cards by the thousands. 3) You never are going to make any really good money by yourself because if you try by yourself you will burn yourself out and you can only be in one place at a time, thus you have to turn away jobs. My policy is accept the jobs and then figure out how you are going to fill the booking. Build a team. I'm telling you now that this can be difficult. You need to be fair, accept SOME risk and be assertive. Don't hire anyone you feel you later can not fire (family, friends, people at your church or social clubs). If you are going to have a business, you need to run it like one.

The first couple of years we did about 80% private parties and 20% corporate work. When I say corporate work I mean everything from painting at a McDonald's grand opening to painting by the hour at a local mall. Years later (4) the mix has changed to about 70% corporate work and 30% private parties. We charge less than most people in the area and we offer the best. We also offer a $10 per hour discount  for corporate accounts that do MULTIPLE  bookings. The Party Planners love us because we can send 15 painters to one event if needed, we are very consistent and we always show up. We actually target Party Planners because they offer lots of opportunity for both business as well as exposure.

One of the negatives about working in multiples is you always seem to be training. You will turn your staff quite often. You grab a high school student that can drive and you teach them the ropes. It takes about six months before they are up to speed. Then they have this awful habit of wanting to leave and go off to college so you have to start all over. But I'm telling you that you will earn substantially more money in building a staff of painters. Yes, some of them will end up being the competition but that does not happen too often because most people just don't have the tenacity. Also they are NOT WILLING to put profits back into the business, they have a real fear of training others and despite the fact they are good painters, they generally are poor business people.

From the discussion list I got the idea to do a yellow page ad and I tried it. One thing that is very important is to track HOW YOU GOT THE BOOKING. Always ask as you book the party, how did you find our company? This way you can see if your advertising dollars are working. Continue with those that work. I suggest you try a couple of different changes too. Make the ad larger, smaller, colorful or a different shape. You need to do something different than the others. Here in Dallas you might find literally 50 face painters in the entertainment section. You want them to make the call to you first. Also, if you are not picking up the phone, you are probably going to loose the event. People simply do not want to talk to an answering machine.

I got tired of hearing "what else do you do" so we added a number of other activities to our skills. A couple easy ones is ballooning and temporary tattoos. We also offer spin-art machines. 80% of our bookings have face painting as the primary activity but it doesn't hurt to have other options. Also keep in mind you get add-ons. In other words they want 1.5 hours of face painting followed by 1 hour of ballooning. Money is money.

As your business builds make sure you learn from your mistakes. If you are going to get bumped at least make sure you catch the lesson from that sore bump on the head (or the wallet). Bottom line... at the first you are probably going to have to work free or pay out some money for exposure. As you build the business, and you do a good job, you will get lots of repeat business and lots of referrals. As time progresses continue to try new things. Check out all of your competition. See what the going rate is and be sure you either charge slightly less or you give them a little more for the same price. Do this and you'll have a growing business. I KNOW FOR A FACT YOU CAN EARN A DECENT LIVING FROM A FACE PAINTING BUSINESS. Never let the competition see you sweat and be just a bit better than the pack. If you are not the lead dog the view is always the same. 


Be sure to also check out these helpful web pages...

SNAZAROO products available  
Volume kits available from SNAZAROO  
Join the e-mail list for face painters  
The 10 commandments of face painting
Tips for face painters (well over 100)  

Check out the many FAQs (frequently asked questions) on the web for face painters. You might check out the drop down menu at on FAQ's. 


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