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Ask a builder what their favourite project was, and they might point you to all kind of jobs. An extension that helped a growing family make the most of their property. A conversion job that meant a disabled homeowner could have more independence. But for some builders, their favourite jobs are even more personal. And it doesn’t get much more personal than building your own house.

For Yaz Meer, of MPM Builders, building his own home was a dream that came true – even if it wasn’t a job that he was ever able to prioritise. “When you’re a builder,” he says, “your own house is always the last to get done.”

But with the help of one labourer, and an experienced bricklayer who came in to sort some of the details, Yaz built his own home in 12 months, taking on everything from digging out the foundations to fitting the bathroom.

Start as you mean to go on

It’s an especially impressive achievement when you consider that, like many tradesmen, Yaz doesn’t have much in the way of formal qualifications or accreditations. His career in the building industry began young though, leaving school early in order to start going out on site with his dad. From there, it might seem like a straightforward path to setting up on his own with years of experience under his belt, but things didn’t quite go that way.

“I liked being out with my dad, but I didn’t stick at it. I ended up packing it in and getting a job in a warehouse. It’s odd to think now, but I actually wasted six years of my life there, just moving boxes around.”

Thankfully, like riding a bike, Yaz never quite forgot his trade skills, and when he finally picked up the courage to pack in his warehouse job, he was able to go back to his roots as a jobbing tradesman. As his house-building skills show, he has a wide range of abilities, and when we visited him at home in Nottingham, he struggles to pick a favourite when asked what he most enjoys. “I know people say you’ll just be a jack of all trades and a master of none, but I honestly do think I’m pretty good at most of the things I’ve tried. I’ll turn my hand to anything.” He points to the garden decking outside: “I built that after we moved here, not having done decking before. The neighbours liked it so much, they asked me to go over and do some for them as well.”

Despite having an omnivorous attitude to jobs, he’s settled into a few particular niches, particularly bathroom fitting. “I like fitting a bathroom, and I think my wider experience helps with it. If someone is just a bathroom fitter, sometimes they won’t think about the bigger picture, they’re just focused on putting in a new suite and that’s it. Because I’m a builder too, I can take a different approach, and think about things like taking out walls to really make use of the space.”

A night on the tiles

Sadly, bathroom fitting also brings him into close contact with his least favourite activity. “Tiling! I hate tiling. I wish I could just wave a magic wand and have it done. I know it means the job is nearly finished, but I just hate it.”

He still does it though, as he does most jobs. While he’ll bring in a Part P registered electrician for electrics, and a Gas Safe engineer for any gas work, he’s reluctant to bring in anyone else. “Sometimes I think about expanding the business, and having other people work for me, but I’m concerned about my reputation. I need people I can trust to do the job properly. At the end of the day, it’s my reputation on the line.” So far, it’s a reputation that has seen him gain 100% positive feedback on MyBuilder.

Working by himself means there’s always work to do, being hard at it for five days a week and visiting potential clients at weekends to give quotes. After building his own business and building his own home, does he think about hanging up his tools? “Sometimes I think I’d love it if I could retire at 50,” he muses. “But at the same time, I also know I’d get really bored.”

Thankfully, there might be someone to carry on the family trade, with his youngest son keen to follow in his footsteps. If he comes up to Yaz’s high standards, there’ll be plenty to do around the house, as he looks to swap his home’s kitchen and living room. If he gets round to it of course. “That’s the problem,” he sighs. “It’s always the last thing to get done.”

See his full profile here.

Advice for other tradesmen

  • “Make sure you take the time to listen to what the customer wants. I work five days a week and save my quoting for weekends. That means I can sit down with the customer and understand what they want without them feeling rushed.”
  • “Be careful about who you choose to work with. If you’re the project manager, it’s your reputation on the line. Make sure you trust anyone doing work with you to do it up to your standards.”
  • “Look after yourself. You have to look after your body a bit, especially if you’re doing things like tiling, down on your knees all day. It takes its toll. You have to understand your limits. You can’t keep going forever, you have to be sensible.”


Doctors will also tell you that when it comes to your health, prevention is usually better than cure.

Ask Stephen Mackinlay about home security, and he’ll tell you the very same thing. “A lot of jobs come from people who’ve had incidents,” he told MyBuilder. “People who’ve been burgled, or their neighbours have just been victims of it. Now, thankfully, people are more conscious of home security as a preventative step.”

Stephen’s business, London-based DRAM Fire & Security, has been helping homeowners and businesses look after their property since 2010, but has been increasingly busy over the past year as people grow ever-more conscious of security issues. “We’re really busy at the moment,” Stephen said. “I’ve seen a growing awareness. A lot of people are even installing DIY security systems. You can get a four-camera system on the high street for £200. The issue is, people don’t know what they’re buying. They don’t know if they’re going to get something worth having – I’ve taken out dozens of systems after people realised the quality of them just wasn’t good enough.”


Good image


“Buy cheap, buy twice” is a common saying, and one that Stephen heartily agrees with, and one he advises other tradesmen to abide by. “One thing I never do is use cheap equipment,” he says. “We only supply HD systems and upwards. They can connect with your phone, tablet or computer. If you want want to monitor people, you need a good image – the whole point is to to see people.”

In the six years Stephen has been running the business, which now employs two labourers and an engineer alongside Stephen, he’s built up a wealth of experience, which he’s been offering to MyBuilder users for the past year, gaining 100% positive feedback so far. Originally from Liverpool, Stephen travelled down to London 12 years ago and realised the potential opportunities for starting his own business in the city. “I’ve always been a hands-on person. I came straight out of school and wanted to work. It was certainly the right choice for me.”

All the hands-on experience means Stephen has a wealth of knowledge to pass on to homeowners when it comes to their security – though he often wishes he were involved in their plans sooner. “Security is one of the last things people tend to think about in a build. We’re the last ones to come in, after everything has been painted and decorated. Really, we want to be going in at the same time as the electrics. By the time people want us, they sometimes don’t have the budget left.”


No suprises


Stephen’s recommendations for homeowners looking to improve their security begin with security lights – in his words, “the most cost-effective thing you can do”, followed by an alarm system, and then CCTV. He likes to meet every potential client to assess their needs – as he puts it, “I don’t like surprises, when I’m giving quotes on something I haven’t seen.” He adds: “We take our portfolio and show them what we’ve done before. We’re not always the cheapest option but people feel comfortable with us and want to use us.” For experienced tradesmen, he says, being the cheapest option isn’t what wins you the work – it’s being able to show your experience and your quality.

One of the services offered is a full maintenance contract, something especially useful for commercial clients. “It makes sense for us to go back and ensure everything is running smoothly,” he said. “Sometimes it’s the simple things that can cause issues, like a spider making its web in a camera lens. You might not notice it until you really need the footage, and then it’s too late. It’s like servicing a car. It needs upkeep or it will fail.”

In Stephen’s line of work, you never stop learning or improving – a lesson all tradespeople can learn from. The business has expanded to cover fire protection, and is doing more work in the area. Meanwhile, changing technologies mean there is always more to know. “We’re looking now at home automation. Everything from lights, to music, to alarms, to cameras. The whole smart home.”

If you’re smart, it pays off to think about home security – after all, prevention is better than cure. Stephen’s experience means he can diagnose every problem, before it’s too late, whether it’s protecting a client’s property, or growing his business.

Check out Stephen’s MyBuilder profile here.


If practice makes perfect, then Paul Caton must be pretty good at his job.

25 years of installing boilers. 200 boilers a year. The numbers might not be exact, but after thousands of boiler installs, Paul obviously knows his way around a central heating system.

The success is reflected in Paul’s MyBuilder profile – since he joined the site in 2010, Paul has racked up 356 pieces of feedback, and every one of them is positive.

Ask him about his success though, and the Chesterfield-based engineer is keen to deflect any praise, being more likely to attribute his good reviews to a quirk of geography rather than his lengthy experience.

“I can get a lot of good feedback because I do a lot of jobs,” Paul says. “Where I live, I’m literally just off the M1. Five minutes to the junction with no traffic. With that, I can be up to Leeds, down to Nottingham, in to Sheffield – anywhere I need to go.”

Regardless of the size of his patch, Paul wouldn’t be picking up the jobs without his experience.


Diamond Geezer


As if his recommendations on MyBuilder weren’t enough, Paul is one of a handful of Worcester Bosch diamond accredited installers in the UK, as well as being an approved Valiant and Baxi boiler fitter. It means he can offer longer warranties on the products and his work, giving homeowners extra piece of mind.

Like many tradesman, Paul is a trade lifer – beginning his career when he was still just a teenager, going out on jobs with his dad.

Paul said: “I was probably only 14 when I started going out on jobs with my dad. He was a plumber, and I’d tag along on Saturday mornings and when I was on my school holidays. Now, sometimes when I’m busy, my dad will tag along with me – it’s come full circle if you like.” He added: “I’m trying to get my own son to come on jobs now. He’s 14, the same age as when I started. He’s not quite as interested as I was though – I think he prefers football, to be honest.”

From his days as a teenaged apprentice, Paul expanded his skills and joined up with a commercial firm, widening his knowledge of different trades, but soon coming to find that gas work was where his passion was. After a few years of working for other people, Paul decided to set out on his own, launching his own company, Paul Caton Gas Services, 15 years ago.


Seven days a week


It’s not a job for people who like lie-ins or weekends off. When we met up with Paul on the job in July, he was fitting yet another boiler, his 150th of the year, with many more in the pipeline, not to mention a list of quotations to give out on weekends. “It is busy, yeah,” Paul admits, “and I’m not always the best at keeping on top of the phone calls and organisation and stuff. But you have to do your best to keep up with it – you need to keep your business head on as well as doing the actual work itself.”

Something is going right for Paul though, with a small team working with him and plenty of work lined up. It’s got to the point where Paul can afford to be more choosy about the jobs he takes on – passing on inspection work to a friend, while he sticks to installation and replacement jobs. He’s also OFTEC qualified, meaning he can install oil-based heaters, another string to his bow.

“I’ve seen it all while doing the job,” Paul says. “You do sometimes see dangerous stuff – people have to get a qualified gas fitter, someone on the Gas Safe Register, to do their work. But sometimes you just see strange stuff, where someone’s cut a corner, and you just wonder why. The other day I got a free foot pump because another tradesmen must have used it when they installed the boiler, found it too awkward to get back from behind the boiler, so they just left it there.”

It’s not the only pearl of wisdom Paul has picked up over his time in the trade. He’s learned a number of things that help him win new work, and then win over clients when he’s in their home. When we visited him hard at work, he was easy to find, with high-quality flag-style signs out in front alongside his van, advertising his presence to the neighbourhood. “I always have something up outside the property when I’m working on it,” he said. It means that people know a little bit about what’s going on inside, and Mrs Jones up the road might take the details so that she knows who to call if she needs work doing.”


Clean and tidy


As well as dressing up the front of the house, he also makes sure the interior is looked after, putting down plastic sheeting throughout house to make sure the place stays clean and tidy. Paul said: “We always put this down – we buy a job lot of it so it costs us very little, but it means a lot to the homeowner.”

Looking after the homeowner also means going the extra mile for them, encouraging all his clients to buy quality boilers with long-standing guarantees. “If you do buy a quality boiler, it comes with a 10-year guarantee,” he says. “It might cost a bit more, but that peace of mind is priceless. The same with all the extra bits. I do a lot of digital thermostats now that connect with wi-fi, so you can control your heating from your phone or tablet. A quality thermostat like that might cost £200, but it comes with a two-year guarantee, and is massively useful.”

He’s also urges people not to buy cheaper boilers online – although they may look like bargains, the lack of protection can mean issues down the line. It’s a problem he’s had himself. Paul says: “Not long ago I actually managed to buy an AGA off Ebay. It was a lovely thing, in racing green, and a great price.” So what went wrong? “My wife wanted a red one.”

It shows that even the experts can get it wrong sometimes. Paul might have a bit of practice left to do yet.


See Paul’s full profile here.


Advice for other tradespeople


  • Stay on top of your admin: Paul is the first to admit that it can be a struggle to keep up to speed with all the phone calls coming in and appointments being made. “It is difficult to do. I’m used to actually doing the work and getting my hands dirty, not the whole organisation side of things.” But he also knows that being efficient with all the admin is the key to bringing in new work and keeping clients happy – both before the job starts, and after it’s finished.
  • Keep things neat and tidy: A bit of care can go a long way. Paul is big fan of taking steps to look after the home, using plastic sheeting throughout the house to keep the worse of the dust and dirt away. “It really does help. At the end, we just take it up and throw it out, and that’s it, everything is as good as new, and the homeowner really thanks you for it. It’s not a lot of effort on our part, but it shows we’re looking out for them.”
  • Be your own salesman: The best person to champion your work and your business is you – and if there is an easy opportunity to promote yourself, you should take it. Paul says: “It’s such a simple thing to do and it brings in business. I’m getting a new van with nice sign writing, and I always have signs up out the front of any job I’m doing. If you put it out there, people come to you.”

Alix James Decorators

For Alix St. Claire, the decision to become a full time painter and decorator was not necessarily an obvious one. We joined the man behind Alix James Decorators on a sunny day in Brighton to find out what made him choose a career path so different from his degree in primary education, and to learn about the work he’s currently doing on the Brighton Dome.

Getting Into the Trade

From a young age Alix helped his father with painting and decorating jobs, and by 12 years old he was taking a wage for his work. “It snowballed from there”, he told us. “Whatever needed doing, I’d be doing it on my own from then on”. Alix continued taking jobs throughout school, and in between embarking on a chalet season in Meribel and moving around the country, Alix continued painting and decorating as his main source of income. However, after a few years Alix faced feelings of uncertainty. “I was getting to that point in life where I was worrying a bit”,  Alix said. “I kept thinking I needed something official, like a prescribed career path that wasn’t a trade”.

At the age of 24, Alix undertook a degree in primary school education which brought him down to Brighton. Despite realising half way through the course that he wanted to return to his trade, Alix was determined to finish, telling us; “I’m a completionist – I don’t like quitting things”. Finishing a degree he wasn’t passionate about followed by taking a year out to travel the world culminated in a revelation for Alix. “We have the luxury to be able to choose our own lives. I came back with the ethos that I’m actually bloody lucky, and it doesn’t really matter what you do in life as long as you’re happy. That’s the most important thing. I should be grateful for the position I have in life, so I thought I’d get on with it and enjoy myself. So that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.”

Alix James Decorators

When we met Alix he was preparing to start work replacing a curtain wall on a beautiful seaview flat, and Alix James Decorators has had more than a few exciting local projects. The most notable of these is on the Brighton Dome, Brighton’s historical multi-arts venue. Proudly donning his ‘Access All Areas’ pass, Alix told us; “they’re doing a refurb in the bowels of the building, and it’s a massive rebuild”. He’s not exaggerating – his work has covered meeting rooms, offices and the Founders Room just to name a few, so it’s no surprise when he tells us; “I’m constantly getting lost – it’s like a rabbit warren in there!”

Alix’s Inside Tip on Quoting

Alix’s advice for impressing clients is to promptly put together a professional, detailed quote. He tries to give quotes within three hours, and to ensure his clients know where they stand he avoids estimates as he feels they are “too open ended, whereas a quote is more set in stone”.

His gratitude for the opportunity to quote for big restoration and refurbishment jobs is reflected in his formal approach. “When you’re talking about big money, the quote deserves respect – not a text with bad spelling”.

Alix also emphasised the importance of a comprehensive quote, telling us; “I’m really explicit in my quotes. I’m not going to list every tiny detail (like petrol or tooling costs) or the client will think you’re taking the mick, but I break it down so it’s fairly obvious to them – it’s all there in the quote.”

So far, Alix has had only positive experiences with MyBuilder, and we have no doubt this will continue – we wish him the best of luck in his future jobs!

Check out Alix’s profile on MyBuilder

Lee Picknell

‘Nothing worth doing comes easy’, the old saying goes. But Lee Picknell from LP Fascias is certainly challenging that idea, winning 49 jobs on MyBuilder in his first two months! We caught up with Lee this week to find out the secret to his early success on MyBuilder.

Starting off with his Dad at the age of sixteen, Lee followed in the family business of supplying and fitting soffits fascias and guttering. Once he turned 21, Lee decided to go it alone, finding himself dividing his time between contract and private work. He found MyBuilder just a couple of months ago.

“I was sitting there one evening thinking, ‘How can I increase business?’” Lee said. “I was already a member of a lead generation site, but it was so expensive and felt like a waste of money.” After coming across MyBuilder, Lee decided to give it a go. Over the past year the introduction of assessments for trades has made MyBuilder’s application process more stringent, which Lee was pleased with, “it is great as it means fewer cowboys on the site.”

MyBuilder isn’t an overnight success, it takes a lot of effort and commitment to pay off. In Lee’s case it took ten expressions of interest before he won a job. “It’s difficult to get started”, Lee admits, but credits his determination to succeed as the reason for his speedy success. “I don’t even set a budget for advertising, if I see a job that is worthwhile I go for it, I know 100% that I will get a return on my monthly investment.”

Lee’s optimistic attitude extends beyond his approach to finding work, as he also likes to give great customer service. “I’m honest with customers,” he says. “For example, yesterday I quoted a job for £290 initially then once the guy had explained the job in more detail I told him he’d only have to pay £90 because now you’ve explained what the problem is. I could have gone there and earned £290 and he wouldn’t have known the difference. But because I was honest he trusted me.”

We asked whether he has a special knack for requesting feedback, “I generally don’t ask for feedback as I feel rude”, he concedes. But his approach to customer service pays off again when he is asked for little extras. “Some people say to me, ‘while you’re here can you check this? I’ll give you extra’. I refuse the money and say, ‘I tell you what instead of giving me extra money just give me a little review, that means more to me than a few quid.”

An example of Lee's handywork

We asked Lee for any other tips he might give a tradesman who wants to win more work on MyBuilder. He told us how initial estimates have helped him to cut down on wasted time quoting, “I give customers a rough price bracket in the introductory message, before I drive 30 miles to a job that I might not win.” He is also keen on providing reliable aftercare, “If there is ever any problem I’ll come back to fix it free of charge, no questions asked.”

The skills that Lee has put to use has made him one of the best performing new tradesmen on MyBuilder. Now, the future’s looking very bright, “I’ve had to close my books because I’m so busy – and that’s from just two months! I’m fully booked until the end of October, I don’t have a minute to spare!”

Check out Lee’s profile

Stephen on-site at another extension job.

Stephen on-site at another extension job.


In the 1980s, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, became one of the biggest shows on television. Showing the antics of a group of British builders who leave the UK to find work in Germany, the comedy-drama attracted millions of viewers, with episodes following the mismatched gang still being made in 2004.

July’s Tradesman of the Month, Stephen Clarke of Chingford’s STAC Landscaping, got to live the role for real, spending an early part of his own career looking for profitable work on the continent. “I’m a bricklayer by trade,” he told MyBuilder. “I first went to Germany when I was 19. I went over as a hod carrier, looking after 10 other bricklayers, but I ended up having a row with them.”

However, the falling out ended up working to his advantage, as he set out on his own in the unfamiliar country. “I got jobs off my own bat and it turned out pretty well. I was earning £1,200 a week – Auf wiedersehen! Then, after a year over there, it turned out I spoke German well enough, and I ended up meeting a guy and troubleshooting jobs for him. I’d travel all over to where I was needed to help get jobs started, just putting the first three courses in the ground.”


Back to the land


Stephen came back to the UK a few years later, to carry on what would become a career spanning more than that a quarter of a century. With his German adventures under his tool belt, and a four-year apprenticeship and other qualifications proving his credentials, he ultimately decided to set up his own business, STAC Landscaping, taking on a variety of jobs including brickwork, landscaping, paving and driveways, as well as fencing and even extensions. After founding the company 15 years ago, the business has gone from strength to strength, building a loyal customer base and strong reputation, as proven through his 137 jobs and 99% positive rating on MyBuilder.

“I like having the different kind of jobs,” Stephen said. “We really can take on lots of different jobs, working on everything from extensions to landscaping a garden. A lot of the time, we do different jobs for the same people, who are so happy with what we do, they ask us to come back.” As if to prove it, when we met Stephen, he was building an extension for a home where he’s already renovated a fireplace and installed some decking. “It’s a pleasure to keep coming back – it shows how much they liked your work,” Stephen said.

As a result of his firm’s success, STAC Landscaping is regularly booked up for 10 to 12 weeks in advance, but the experienced tradesman is always on the hunt for new jobs and bringing in new leads. Since joining MyBuilder four years ago, Stephen has regularly used it to pick up new jobs and help boost his company’s standing. “When I started off on the site, I was going for loads of jobs, giving lots of quotes, going out to meet as many people as possible. It’s the best way to get your reputation up and get you started. And I still use it today. You find that even if you’re busy, if you make contact with people and explain, they might still want you to do the job. People are usually willing to wait a bit for good work.”


Glowing reviews


The feedback that STAC Landscaping has received on MyBuilder speaks for itself:

Right from the first phone call I was impressed. Steve and his team are punctual, hard working, trustworthy and are all really nice guys who take pride in their work and seem to enjoy doing it.

Steve and his team did a great job. Extremely hard working and very punctual, arrived on time every day regardless of the weather.

I was amazed by how hard and efficiently they worked to get the job done. A well oiled machine!

For Stephen and his crew, it’s all in a day’s work. During his career he’s encountered all of the usual issues from entrance ways too narrow to take the machinery needed for a job, to structural engineers throwing out architectural plans just before work is about to begin. Stephen shrugs it all off: “You’re always going to have jobs like that, where the plans have been through 10 different versions from the architect, but at the last minute the structural engineer has to change something. You just get on with it.”

Whatever issues have come up, Stephen has managed to overcome them. And while business is booming, he won’t be saying “auf wiedersehen” to the trade just yet.


See Stephen’s full profile here.


Advice for other tradespeople


  • A picture speaks a thousand words: “I always take a lot of photos of the jobs I’m doing,” Stephen told MyBuilder, showing off his iPad, well-stocked with pictures from recent projects. Building up a portfolio of images showcasing the firm’s best work means he has an easy way of showing prospective customers just what his team can do.
  • Stay in touch: Stephen makes a point of getting in touch with leads on MyBuilder, laying out his availability and explaining his experience and fit for each job. As he says, with many jobs, including large projects like extensions and landscaping, people don’t necessarily need the work to begin tomorrow, they’re just looking for the best tradesperson who can guarantee a job well done.
  • Build your network: Stephen has gained lots of extra work from previous clients calling him up and asking him back to do the next stage in their home improvement plan. It pays to maintain good relationships with clients throughout the build and afterwards – if homeowners are happy with the service the first time around, chances are they’ll be keen on having you back for the next round.
MyBuilder is an online marketplace for homeowners and landlords to find quality tradesmen. The blog features advice for home improvement projects and builders.
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