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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.

deanjpg

If you’re going away for the summer, there are plenty of things you need to think about before you set off. Have you got your travel insurance? Have you packed your toothbrush? Did you remember to cancel the milk?

But something lots of people don’t think about is how safe their house will be in their absence. Aside from a quick once over to make sure the doors and windows are locked, many people forget to think about how secure their property really is. Even if you’re not going away, the summer season, when people are in and out of the garden and leaving windows open to catch a breeze, leaves lots of opportunity for opportunistic thieves to strike.

Update your locks

To find out how you can help ensure your house is safe, we chatted to some of MyBuilder’s security experts to get their top tips.

Dean Knowles of Union Security (pictured above) encourages everyone to make sure their locks are up to date – all locks should be British Standard, and “anti-drill, anti-snap and anti-bump”. Dean says: “I’ve seen people buy locks from pound shops. People have TVs that cost thousands of pounds, tablets, phones everything – to protect them with a cheap lock doesn’t make any sense.”

Install security lights

For Stephen Mackinlay of DRAM Fire & Security, the most cost-effective way to protect your property is with security lights. “You don’t want dark areas around your home, especially around access points like doors and windows,” Stephen says. “It’s the first thing I recommend to people.”

The next step is installing an intruder alarm. Both Stephen and Dean agree that having a well-maintained alarm can help deter any would-be burglars. “If someone is coming down the street looking for a target, and they see one house with an alarm, and one without, I guarantee they’ll go for the one without,” Dean warns.

Consider cameras

For someone serious about protecting their home, there are several next steps that you can take. Stephen says: “More people are looking at camera systems now. You can buy a simple four camera system on the high street for £200, but people should be careful – they don’t know what they’re getting. I’ve taken out a lot of cheap systems. I only use high-quality equipment, like HD cameras. If you’re going to have it, you need to have something that works.”

Both experts urge people to think about taking these precautions before it’s too late. Dean says: “Many people only think about security after they’ve been burgled. It’s far better to try and ensure you’re not a victim to begin with.”

If you have a security job you want to get underway, you can find the perfect tradesperson to help you here.

 

Jameswoodham

Everyone who sets out as a tradesman has a different vision of what success means. For some, it’s the simple pleasure of not being stuck behind a desk, working with your hands. For others, it’s the thrill of being your own boss, choosing the jobs you want. For a few, it’s the idea of being their own boss, and the boss of other people, that really appeals.

When James Woodham began his career as a tiler 13 years ago, his first aim was, in his own words, “to be the best tiler out there”. However, his ambition quickly grew, and he soon realised he had broader goals in mind: “My ultimate vision became to get off the tiles and start building a team, and developing a whole business.”

It’s a vision that’s become reality. More than a decade after James was getting his overalls covered in grout, he’s now in charge of a business, Kennington-based St James Design Interiors Ltd, that covers all kitchen and bathroom fitting jobs. It employs 15 contractors, five office staff, a designer and an office manager.

The driving force behind his business was one that aligns with MyBuilder: “My vision was to show that a lot of people who didn’t have confidence in tradesmen, or expected that things would be bad, could find out that things could be so much better. People who are having jobs done are worried that tradesmen will put the costs up, but I wanted to show that didn’t have to be the case. I know it can be daunting to have tradesmen in your house, sometimes for a long time, and you want it to go as smoothly as possible.”

Getting in touch

As the business has developed, James has gained valuable experience in how to deliver on this mission. His key aims include responding to all job leads and inquiries as quickly as possible. “It’s always best to do it in within 24 hours at the latest, even if it’s just to say you’re busy that day but will get in touch soon. People appreciate you reaching out and being honest.”

He also goes out of his way to make suggestions to clients that he thinks could improve the finish of the job. “We like to share Pinterest boards with clients – it’s a relatively new way of doing things, but people like to see lots of options. When they seen things they like, we order them in, and people can come and see them in person. You know what they like, but almost more importantly, what they don’t like, which can save a lot of headaches.”

And his ultimate tip? “Write everything down. If you’re making a quote, make sure everything is in writing.”

James says part of the job is providing the clients with information. “Everytime we leave a project, I like to think we leave them with knowledge as well. You can never provide a client with too much information. The more you ask them, the more they feel involved in the process, and the more confident they can feel in you.”

Although he might have had ambitions beyond being his own boss, James has combined that ambition with simple values. He might not be wearing overalls any more, but he’s proud to be a tradesman at heart.

 

If you want to hire a tradesman like James, post your job on MyBuilder today.

 

Trade tales is a weekly MyBuilder blog where we chat to one of the site’s tradesmen and find out their stories and experience of using the site. If you have a story to tell about your profession or how you use MyBuilder, contact press@mybuilder.com

 

Robbie-Axford1

There aren’t many things guaranteed to shake up your life as much as having a child.

For Robbie Axford, a self-employed tiler from Sevenoaks in Kent, the birth of his daughter a few years ago changed everything, as he took a hands-on role at home, swapping his trowel for a teddy bear. When it was time to get back to work though, Robbie found the time off meant work coming in was thin on the ground – so he decided to find another way to get back to the graft.

“I was twiddling my thumbs at home, thinking of how I could really get started up again, when I thought I could start looking up some of the websites that were out there,” Robbie said. “MyBuilder was one of the ones that came up and I signed up to see how it all went.”

Robbie, trading as Rob1Tile, began expressing interest in local jobs, focusing on specific tiling jobs rather than generic bathroom or kitchen projects. He recommends this approach to other tradesmen, saying: “If you go in for everything, you can spend half your days looking through leads for jobs you’re not comfortable with.” With this targeted approach, shortlists began turning into jobs, and Robbie found himself back in demand.

“You have to use your loaf,” Robbie advises. “People think it’s going to get off to a flying start in the first week, but the beginning is a bit of a waiting game. It does take a bit of patience – you have to build up your reputation.”

Positive energy

Robbie has focussed on trying to make that reputation as good as possible, with a 95% positive rating on the site. Robbie said: “Getting negative feedback is hard, because you always take it personally, even when what’s gone wrong has been out of your control. You want to please people and do good work – it’s the nature of the job, so when something goes wrong, it’s a disappointment.”

He encourages tradesmen to leave considered responses to bad feedback, and help balance any negatives out by asking for the positive feedback that comes from most customers: “When they’re pleased, I just politely ask if they’d mind leaving feedback. You can’t be pushy, but most people are happy to do it.”

One of the ways Robbie has found of making that process go smoothly is establishing every aspect of the job up front. “With clients, I try to find out as much as possible as soon as I can. With tiling, it’s easier than some trades, because I can give accurate costs for materials based on size straight away. If they’ve bought materials themselves, you can work off that. Everything is easier.”

After a few years on MyBuilder, Robbie is pleased with the way the site has help him find work. “It’s pretty amazing how things come along over time. At the moment, I’m doing a job that involves tiling work for a whole load of flats – and I got the job because I met the owner when they hired me through MyBuilder. You really do build a reputation.”

And is he still a hands-on dad when he gets away from the grouting? “I’ve got two daughters now,” Robbie said. “So even when I’m not working, I’m still very, very busy.”

If you want to hire a tradesman like Robbie, post your job on MyBuilder today.

Trade tales is a weekly MyBuilder blog where we chat to one of the site’s tradesmen and find out their stories and experience of using the site. If you have a story to tell about your profession or how you use MyBuilder, contact press@mybuilder.com

 

IMG_0752 (1)

With more than 450 positive reviews on MyBuilder, you’d expect Jason Briscoe at Electrical Safety Services to know his way around a fusebox.

But for Jason, his experience goes back for more than a quarter of a century, and he’s picked up plenty across his years as an east London sparky.

 

Board of London

The Woodford Green-based electrician was working with electrics as a teenager, kicking off his career as a 16-year-old at the publicly-owned utilities company, the London Electricity Board (now part of EDF). The LEB boasted future prime ministers John Major and Tony Blair among its employees at one time or another, and while Jason never rubbed shoulders with them, he did once do some work for one of Margaret Thatcher’s bodyguards.

“It was like spaghetti junction”, the electrician laughs, remembering the experience. The previous workers hadn’t done the best job, leaving the burly bodyguard with some faulty lights and a suspect storage heater: just one more clean-up job for Jason to deal with.

As someone who does plenty of inspection jobs, Jason is used to seeing the worst of electrical issues. But despite his exposure to the things some people leave behind, Jason has an optimistic view of the trade and the level of quality people can expect when they they invest in an electrician. It’s a view instilled by his own training, where any shortcut or mistake would be picked up by his seniors: “If we did, you would get pulled up on it. I just think I’ve been taught the right thing.”

 

Taking the Long View

Pair that early diligence with years of on-the-job learning, and it adds up to a tradesman who can speak confidently on the merits of a job done right. “When we started,” Jason said, “we didn’t have a cordless screwdriver – it hadn’t been invented yet!” The traditional ways of doing things taught Jason the merits of working methodically and properly, and ending up with perfect results.

He admits, fixing the electrics in a property might not be the most glamorous part of any renovation job. With the majority of any electrical system hidden from view, it can feel like an afterthought for many clients. “Most people don’t want to spend a thousand pounds and not see the benefit,” as Jason explains. But of course, in the long run, clients do see the benefit: “If you spend money on paint and wallpaper – all the polishing – you might keep it like that for 10 years. But if you spend money on the infrastructure, it will be good for 40 years. There’s a whole life in the house that will be there for a long time.”

He compares buying a new property and checking its electrics to buying a new car and its MOT. “It’s the same thing – you wouldn’t buy a car without an MOT. And with a property, there’s a lot more noughts on it.”

 

Walkabout

Over the years, there are a number of things that Jason has picked up as he’s learned the trade and how to meet clients’ needs. He recommends always getting written quotes to help explain the work involved, and equally, always makes sure he walks with clients around the finished job, to show them what he’s done and how it meets their brief.

He’s also passionate about specialised tradesmen being best equipped to deal with their own areas. “I’m an electrician and after 25 years I’m still learning.” His devotion to the trade ensures a job done right.

 

Moving with the Times

Jason also encourages clients to plan projects through, and make sure they begin at the beginning – which typically means installing the electrics before you decorate. He remembers one particular case. “I went round for a job and they wanted a light switch moved, easy enough. When I came back to do it, they had nice Laura Ashley wallpaper up and a new carpet laid. When I explained, like I had before, that I’d have to rip through the plaster and everything, they said they’d forgotten – so they left the switch in the wrong place.”

Despite being old school, Jason has kept up with all the trends, noting a massive change in our living rooms in particular. “I remember when we would just put a single dual socket where a TV was expected to go – it was a telly and that was it, a video if you were posh. Now I like to do two double sockets, or even three. And the newest thing is USB sockets.”

It’s proof that no matter how times change, if you get it right in the beginning, you can handle everything.

Check out Jason’s profile here

 

Advice for other Tradespeople

 

Promote your specialism

Jason’s experience in his field means he knows the subject inside out. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to take on too much outside of your field of expertise. I’ve spent years learning the trade and know my work inside out, and do the best possible job for the client. If there are other jobs that need doing as part of the build, they should be left to the experts.”

Set expectations with homeowners

“I’ve done jobs before where they’ve outlined what they wanted, and I’ve made suggestions like adding in extra light fittings or sockets, which clients have said no to. Then, halfway through the project, they decide they do want them – but don’t want to pay for them.” Jason recommends getting the full scope of the work established at the very beginning, with everything in writing, so you can properly account for any changes along the way.

Walk and talk

“At the end of every job, I make sure I walk through the whole project with the client, and talk them through everything that I’ve done and how it meets their brief. It means I can answer any questions they might have and deal with any concerns.” As Jason points out, even a simple practice such as this can help head off issues and save potential headaches down the line.

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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