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Kelly Holmes

Kelly at work in her office.

 

Meet Kelly Holmes from KLH Design and Build, an architectural designer from Staffordshire. In what is one of the weirder stories we’ve heard about getting into the trade, she explained that an Adam Sandler film convinced her to choose her profession.

Click, the story of a time-travelling architect, convinced Kelly and three friends to go to university to study architecture. But the reality of studying for a difficult course must have had them wanting time travelling abilities too, “It was a really difficult course, all of my friends dropped out in the first year, it was only me that carried on!”

After four years of hard work, Kelly gained a Bachelor of Science in Interior Architecture and Property Development. This enabled her to start her career with a firm based in Bridgnorth. After gaining some vital experience, she took the decision to branch out on her own 16 months ago.

 

Understanding the difference

The Architecture Act 1997 protects the term “architect”, so Kelly makes it clear that she is an architectural designer on her business card. Despite the nuance, both architects and architectural designers are able to draw up plans for new builds and extensions.

However, Kelly does warn against people that have no qualifications. “I know of people who pretend to be architects, and lots of people call me an architect because they don’t understand the difference. It’s important to understand the differences when you are engaging someone and to make sure they have the correct qualifications”.

 

The Professional World

“When you are at university you can be creative, putting a lot of glass into your designs for example. But in the real world clients often can’t afford what you like to do”, Kelly explains. Despite this, she still tries to inject some creativity into her designs, “I draw my own vision alongside what the customer wants. If they like what I’ve done we try to mix the two”.

Kelly knows the importance of building trust with the builders who will be taking on the project. During her career she has forged friendships with builders which have been beneficial to both parties. “If I’m asked to draw plans, I will usually recommend a builder as I trust them”. It works the other way too, with a lot of builders sending work Kelly’s way.

 

MyBuilder

When she started out on her own, Kelly relied on MyBuilder to help build her client base, “when you’re starting up your business MyBuilder is great. I get around 90% of my work through there whether it’s directly from the site or recommendations”.

Kelly tried a few different methods of advertising to get her business off the ground. “I tried a directory service, but I paid a lot of money upfront and didn’t get any work from it. I’m still trying to get my money back!”.

Due to her excellent work, she now finds that she needs to use advertising less and less. “I get a lot of recommendations as a result of jobs won on MyBuilder, people see my feedback and want to hire me”.

 

The Future

“I’m really happy with work at the minute”, Kelly told us. “Last year I got too busy with work, I had to take on four other people just to get things done. Once drawings get through planning I then have to take care of the building regs, which can get on top of me”. Success is definitely a mixed blessing, but Kelly has learnt from her experience, “I’m trying to plan my work out better this year, by only taking on two jobs a week”.

The positive thing about having a trade is the freedom to move around as there will always be a need for it, and Kelly intends to take full advantage of that. “My next goal is to buy some derelict buildings in France and convert them into holiday lets!”

Congratulations to Kelly, and though MyBuilder would be sad to lose such a brilliant tradeswoman, we wish you luck in realising your dreams of moving abroad!

 

View Kelly’s Profile

 

Advice for other tradespeople

  • If you’re busy with work and receive an invite, use the message feature to let them know when you’re available. Then it’s up to the client to decide whether your timeframe fits around them
  • Listen to what the customer needs, but remember that you are the professional so they will appreciate your input “I try to listen to the customer and understand what they want, then I give my suggestions before we reach an agreement”
  • Build up your client database by offering quality work, “I get a lot of recommendations through MyBuilder. Often smaller jobs can lead to a lot more work”

 

Mick Scott: Tradesman of The Month

Nearly 30 years ago, a young Mick Scott was learning his trade on building sites in Middlesbrough, but work was sparse. “Word on the street was ‘move down south and you’ll make loads of money’”, he told us. He and three mates hatched a plan to take the skills they had learnt on site and make a bold move to find their fortune. “We got our final paychecks and were ready to go. But when it got to the day we were due to set off, only I turned up”.

Big move down South

Undeterred, Mick stuck to his plan. “I was in my Mini Metro and I thought, sod it, I’m going”. But finding work wasn’t as easy as the rumours had him believe. “I travelled around London and the South before finding myself driving into a big compound in Kent. It turned out to be the Channel Tunnel building site!” After a trial day driving the machines, Mick secured a job and spent the next 15 years travelling the country working on huge infrastructure projects.

But it was a solitary life, “I lived in a caravan on-site most of the time doing a lot of night shifts”, explained Mick. Fifteen years later, he took the decision revive the skills he learnt all those years ago.

Going it alone

After years of travelling and living a transient life, Mick wanted to start putting down roots and become a full time tradesman, “working on building sites, you’d learn a lot of different trades”. Settling in Milton Keynes, he chose to focus his efforts on the projects he enjoyed, bathroom and kitchen fitting.

From the beginning Mick wanted things done right. “I didn’t want just a column in a local newspaper”, he said, preferring to create a professional website using a designer. The professional approach paid off, “at first I was unsure about going back to being a tradesman, but somehow the first year of trading was phenomenal!”

Mick Scott's Bathroom Job

A bathroom job completed by Mick from Mick’s Property Maintenance

Mayoral approval

When we met with Mick, he was working in a retirement home for a client who was refurbishing a whole flat for his mother as a surprise. As she suffers from dementia, Mick had to make sure it was not only great quality, but accessible too. The bathroom was finished brilliantly, the son was beaming and couldn’t wait for his mum to see it.

We asked Mick about his favourite recent job. “I was asked by the council to refurbish the entire toilet block in a community centre”, he told us. “I had to rip out all the old toilets and change the configuration completely. I did it all myself”. Seals of approval don’t come much bigger than the mayor coming to reopen the community centre. “He was really happy to see the outcome, it was completely different to before”.

The downsides of physical labour

Despite his success, it’s not all been plain sailing as years of physical labour has taken it’s toll on Mick. “I get a lot of pain down my ribs and spine, I’ve had over 400 injections in the last few years”. Reluctantly, Mick has even had to take time off, but luckily he’s been saved by the love of a good woman. “I’ve come close to packing the tools in, but my wife really looks after me. I know it’s an old saying, but behind this man is a bloody good woman. You could say she is my new backbone”.

Whatever happened to the likely lads?

“I went back up to Middlesbrough a while after I found my feet’, said Mick. “By now I had a better car. I met up with the three lads that bailed on me. When they heard about my success they asked me to take them back down with them!” Mick politely declined. “I took the chance, I could have been unemployed, but you have to make the opportunities for yourself”.

These days, Mick wins a lot of work through word of mouth, and with his excellent customer service skills it’s easy to see why. Every Christmas, his customers receive a Christmas card from Mick himself. He’s also been spoilt by many of his happy customers, “I’ve had customers send me bottles of champagne, boxes of chocolates, all sorts!”

Taking chances seems to have worked well for Mick. He’s now settled with a thriving business and has just celebrated his 10 year anniversary with his wife Paula. Now he can add Tradesman of the Month to his list of achievements!

Check out Mick Scott’s profile

Mick’s top tips for other tradespeople

  • Always be the main point of contact on a job – “I never subcontract a job out”, says Mick. “I will always do it myself. Once you’ve surrounded yourself with people you trust it makes it easier to do bigger jobs. I’ve worked with my electrician for years, he’s never let me down”.
  • Stick to your trade – It’s much better to be a craftsman in your trade rather than doing a job you are comfortable with. Trying your hand at something will only end in tears. “I do all the work apart from plumbing and electrical work. Know your limits in life. I know I can’t cook!”
  • Be organised, don’t overbook yourself – “My attitude is that I’d prefer a day off at the end of a job rather than put the next customer off. It doesn’t look good if you cancel on short notice, your relationship gets off to a bad start. I am always generous with the time a job might take, and if I get a day off at the end that’s brilliant. I can sort out invoices and take the dogs for a long walk!”
  • Provide full written quotes and contracts – “Once we’ve been through the design process I send the customer a full written quote. I only do quotes, not estimates. If they want to go ahead they must sign and date the contract. It’s only once that is done we put a date in the diary”.
Glen Younger of Finished Homes

Glen Younger of Finished Homes

This month we’re celebrating a tradesman who has just hit 150 positive feedback comments after delivering incredible service to clients in both London and Brighton during his five years with MyBuilder.

Glen Younger from Finished Homes started plastering when he left school, working with an experienced plasterer for two years. But his career took a detour when he joined the Evening Standard, working for the London-based newspaper for 8 years. When he was offered voluntary redundancy, Glen took the opportunity to turn a hobby into a career. “I took most of the redundancy money to do a plastering course, that was five years ago”. We found out a bit more about his business…

Finished Walls to Finished Homes

As with a lot of trades, Glen found it difficult to establish his business at first. “I found it hard at the beginning”, he told us. “You haven’t got as many tools, a small van and I couldn’t pay labourers. I started doing small jobs and gradually built up from there. The feedback from those jobs made it easier to win more work”.

It has been Glen’s dream to move out of London, so after a couple of years he headed down to Brighton. Because of his feedback, Glen was able to adjust his profile to find work, which help as he didn’t need to build up a reputation from scratch. “At first it was it was strange. Brighton is different to London because there wasn’t as much work when I first moved. I would still drive to London because all my clients were there, but eventually I got enough work in Brighton from the site that I don’t need to do that anymore”.

After building his reputation through plastering, Glen was able to expand his business to incorporate bigger jobs. As a result, he changed his name from Finished Walls to Finished Homes. “Most of the jobs I do now is refurbs, so it’s normally strip, plaster, paint, flooring and skirting. Then I’ve got two or three guys for electrical and plumbing”.

Perks, pitfalls and perfection

Everybody has parts a job they don’t like, and it comes as no surprise that Artex is top of Glen’s hitlist. “It’s my enemy, the Artex. Even when I walk into a mates house, the first thing I do is tell them to get rid of it!”. Glen also explained the challenges with plastering hallways, “when you’ve got a massive hallway and stairs it can be tricky. You’ve got two or three ladders going up to the top, scaffold board across the top and then someone has to feed you plaster – it’s tricky!”

Artex

The Dreaded Artex

Glen finds that different things make him happy now. “The favourite part of my job now isn’t even the plastering! Because I’m doing full renovations, I find that doing other things make me happy, because I still think of plastering as graft”. But what really satisfies Glen is the end result. “It’s a great feeling to walk around with the client at the end of the job and they are completely happy, when they say ‘That’s perfect!’”

Using MyBuilder

“I found out about MyBuilder through I plumber I knew”, says Glen. “I joined along with a number of other trade sites. But after a while I decided to just stick with MyBuilder”. He is a big fan of using online services to market your business, “people trust these sites now more that putting an advert into your local paper”.

Glen also uses MyBuilder as a showcase for clients, even if they haven’t found him through the site. “I use it as my website now, if anyone gets in touch I make sure to send them to my profile to check out my feedback”

Advice for Other Tradespeople

  • Be the key contact throughout the job “I do the quote for every customer, tell them exactly who will be attending and am always contactable throughout. I also make sure I walk around with the client at the end so I know they are completely happy. I’ve had a couple of mates that I’ve had to let go over lack of quality, we fell out but it was the right thing to do”

  • Make contacts for the future Whether you win the job or not, treating all your clients politely leads to more jobs and recommendations. “I recently completed a £20k job in Brighton. My contact details were passed on after I won a smaller job on MyBuilder”

  • Offer reasonable payment plans “Some tradespeople take too much money upfront in my opinion. All I need is money to pay my labourers”. Glen believes a payment structure where there is a large final payment is beneficial for both parties, “It’s nice to get a lump sum at the end, the client feels reassured and I feel like I’ve earned it”

Check out Glen’s Profile

blognyeres

New Year’s Resolutions are always made with the greatest of intentions. Things always start so well; the gym gave you a ‘great discount’ in exchange for a 12 month iron-clad contract. You deleted the takeaway app, the fridge is full of fruit and vegetables and the drawer of ‘emergency’ fags and lighters has been disposed of.

Fast forward three weeks, and the wheels have fallen off your virtuous lifestyle. It began to unravel when you gave the gym a miss. Instead, you decided to pop down the pub last night. Now you’re slumped on the sofa gorging on pizza in the hope it will cure the 8 pints and pack of fags you swore you weren’t going to have.

Ok, maybe you’ve got slightly more willpower than me.

Nonetheless, the promise of a new year is a great time for reflection and planning. Rather than hackneyed resolutions, there are plenty of improvements you can make to your house that will have a lasting impact well beyond 2016. We asked some of our top tradespeople what home improvements they recommend this year.

loftextension

Increase your space with a loft conversion

Loft conversions are a great way to capitalise on the unused space in your home, according to Rae Mackay from RCM Carpentry. “Loft space can be converted in many ways, from a simple boarding out for storage through to a full bedroom and en-suite conversion.”

Loft work can happen all year round, so now is a good time to consider one. Start by consulting with a loft conversion specialist as planning permission is often unnecessary. “Dormer conversions are slightly different though, they often need planning.” says Rae, “They also expose your house, so you may need to get a tin roof to protect you from the rain if work starts in winter.”

Install an office in your back garden

Russell Tullis from RT Carpentry believes an outbuilding is a cost-effective way to increase space. “An external office is perfect for houses with bigger gardens and start from a couple of thousand, much cheaper than an extension”.

Spring is a very good time to start planning for this kind of project. “Moisture can be a problem if the outbuilding is made from wood. As the weather gets drier you can get installation and decoration done in a week or less”. Russell’s recent outbuilding projects have resulted in office space, additional storage and even a kids playroom.

nye

Extend your kitchen or family room

Extensions are a way to both create additional living space and add value to your home. “The current trend for growing families is to extend their kitchen or living area”, said Rae from RCM. “Bi-fold doors into the garden are very popular, on my last job I installed a 5 metre door, it took a look of effort but it looks great.”

Extensions are possible in all weather, though you might lose a few days here and there in the winter. “The perfect weather is dry and warm, but you don’t get much of that in the UK,” Rae joked. Opinions vary on whether to consult an architect or builder first, but Rae recommends getting him round initially. “A builder can tell you what is practically possible before the design stage begins. Some smaller extensions can even be done without plans if no planning permission is required, but we leave that up to the homeowner”.

slateroofer

Make a new kitchen the hub of your home

Kitchens and bathrooms are the focal point of a home, especially if you are looking to sell in future. “A kitchen update can add a lot of value to a house”, says Russell from RT Carpentry. “Costs vary, an IKEA kitchen might cost a couple of thousand while high-end kitchens can cost upwards of £70k”.

Russell explained the latest trends he has seen when installing kitchens. “High gloss cabinets offer a very modern finish and are in demand, while wooden finished kitchens have fallen out of favour. Gloss finishes come in a variety of colours, I even installed some orange gloss cabinets last week!”

Change the layout by knocking through an interior wall

Remodelling the downstairs can drastically change the look of your house. “It’s important to consult with a structural engineer before you consider changing the layout”, says Charles from Bates Carpentry and Building. “For trickier jobs you might even have to engage an architect”.

“It’s common for clients to knock down the wall between the front and back room to create a through lounge. We charge around £2500-£3000 for that, including the electrics, plastering and carpentry”, said Charles. He’s also busy with bi-fold doors, “Clients like bringing the garden inside with a large opening on the rear of the house. It can be expensive, around £6000, but the results are stunning.”

loft2

Just like everybody else, tradespeople like making new year’s resolutions too. January is a very active time for builders working from a clean slate, which means they have extra capacity to take on more work. This makes the New Year a great time to start your home improvement journey.

If you’d like to speak to knowledgeable tradespeople like the ones in this article, make sure to post a job on MyBuilder.

 

Lee had been working for years at a firm in Wandsworth before making the decision to join MyBuilder in 2012. At the end of each day he would look at the job sheet, noting the amount the company charged and the considerably smaller amount he took home. Fed up with making someone else lots of money for his hard work, he decided it was time to go out on his own.

totmlee


How it all began

Rewind 17 years, Lee and his brother were teenagers getting up to mischief in their street. “A neighbour asked me if I wanted to go work for him one Saturday and I said ‘Yeah why not?’” Lee told us. “I was 14 when I started working Saturdays. I used to work all my six week holidays and half term at school. Sometimes I would even bunk off school without my mum knowing to go to learn the flooring trade. That’s the way I did it!” Lee’s neighbour trained him up, to this day Lee says he’s the best floor layer he knows.

Business ON the ground

Once he’d decided to start his own business, Lee went straight out to get his van sign written. “I joined MyBuilder, and thought that I would start off doing three days on my own and three days for the shop. Then it got to a point where I was getting so much more work from MyBuilder but STILL doing the three days for them. I was letting clients down and thought, ‘I can’t do this’. So I knocked it on the head and it carried on from there”.

Lee loves the variety that comes with his job. From giving initial advice to a customer to the range of products he fits, from carpet to underfloor heating. He’s even won some huge jobs through MyBuilder. “I did 17 bathrooms in Brixton and it all went from there, the guy who I did the job for when I completed them said “Here you go, I’ve got two schools for you to work on!” Lee exclaimed.

tool

Brush with celebrity

The highlight of Lee’s career has to be the time he was working in Sloane Street, West London. “A lady let us in to begin, it was a lovely penthouse flat. Then fifteen minutes before the job finished, in walks Nicholas Lyndhurst!”. Barely able to conceal his excitement, Lee said what any of us would say in that situation; “Alright Dave?”.

“He looked at me and laughed”, said Lee. “I just had to smooth it out and say ‘You ain’t heard that before have you?’”.

Challenges as a flooring fitter

Historically, a lot of carpet fitters will own a shop and we asked Lee if he’d thought about it. “I’ve considered it a few times. To me it doesn’t make an awful lot of sense because of the overheads. A mate of mine is doing well, but because of all his costs I can undercut him. My van is like a mobile shop, I don’t need to own a physical shop”.

Lee also finds flooring a competitive business. “You’ve got to get your price right. I always say to my customers, and I’m sure the other floor layer who goes in there before or after me says it. “Let me know the price and if I can match it, I’ll match it. If not, I’ll beat it.””

henry

Tips for other tradesmen

- Lee says he will take jobs small as well as big. “I’ve even been to a job where someone’s dropped an iron on the carpet. It’s a minimum charge of £45 but i’ll just go out and do it. To me, it’s an easy job and from the small jobs you often get bigger ones down the line.”

- Reputation is everything. “Just make sure you keep your promises and do a good job and turn up when you turn up. There’s nothing else to it. It is your reputation and word of mouth that will make you successful.”

- Good customer service skills are key. “Helping people, making sure they feel comfortable and not pressuring them” Lee tells us these three things are important to him. “Let them keep samples if they want to take them, and just offer advice rather than telling someone what to do.”

- Having your face on your profile means customers will trust you more. “Vulnerable people want to know that the person they have contacted is the person at your front door. They can see your profile and say, ‘That’s the one.’”

A huge well done to Lee for his amazing feedback! Check out his MyBuilder profile here.

He will also receive a £50 voucher to say well done from our partner Scruffs work wear.

The days leading up to Christmas are always a scramble—between finding and getting your hands on the ideal presents and making sure you get everything in order at work before the holidays, it’s easy to forget about getting your house ready. But from your in-laws to Santa and his crew, the season is packed with visitors to your home. It’s crucial to make sure they’re all comfortable and well cared for. Here are five last-minute home improvements that will make a difference (but that are also hassle-free):

1. Clean your chimney so that it doesn’t poison Santa

chimney_thumbChimneys house dangerous gases, the buildup of which can lead to chimney fires. To prevent this buildup make sure you have your chimney cleaned at least annually, a service that will also ensure blockages like bird nests and cobwebs are removed. Still not convinced? In countries, like Germany, having your chimney cleared is a legal requirement and the percentage of carbon monoxide and chimney fires are much lower. Chimney sweepers undergo extensive training in order to get qualified—to make sure you hire a chimney sweeper who has been through a rigorous assessment process, hire someone who is Guild Registered. For a chimney sweeper to have a Guild membership, they have to be insured and equipped to deal with all the situations that could arise in a standard job.

You don’t have to prepare too much for a visit from the chimney sweeper—simply clearing a passage to your chimney and making sure that your mantlepiece is clear of ornaments is enough. The length of time taken to complete the job varies from chimney to chimney, but on average it shouldn’t take more than about half an hour. That’s perfect around this busy time of year!

2. Make sure the reindeers don’t slip while they’re waiting on the roof

house_thumb

You have probably never hung out up on your roof but Santa’s reindeer will be, so it’s important to have some routine roof maintenance done! You don’t want Rudolph’s hooves catching a broken tile! Though early autumn is the best time for roof maintenance, if you haven’t hired a roofer at all this year, it makes a lot of sense to do so now. A roofer will be able to clear away all the dead leaves and twigs that may have collected over the autumn months. Once that is done, they will be able to assess if your roof needs any repairs.

If you have a tiled roof, damp or leaks may have caused a tile to crack or slip out of place. When tiles fall off, it’s important to replace them as soon as possible to avoid the felt covering beneath getting wet after exposure to rain and melting snow. Wet felt is likely to lead to the rotting of timbers and and ceiling damp. If you have a flat roof, cracks or splits around the edges are common, as is sagging, which is what happens when water builds up.

It’s always a better idea to check for faults and have them repaired rather than wait for a disaster to occur!

3. Invest in a splash of paint to impress any guests coming to visit

paint_thumb

You’re going to have guests coursing through your home—from the dining room to the guest bedroom—and you definitely want to dress to impress. You don’t have to shell out for a refurbishment to make your home look brand new. A paint job in the rooms where you’ll be entertaining will lighten and neaten your home. If nothing else, clearing your living spaces before the painters come in will force you to declutter. And is there anything better to get you in the decorating mood than a freshly painted home?

A paint job is a fairly quick improvement too. Provided that your existing plaster is in reasonable condition, painting a large room will only take around three days (maximum)  from start to finish. Even if you paint all the rooms you’ll be entertaining in—the kitchen, the dining room, and the living room—you’ll only be investing a little over a week for all the paint work. If you hire someone at the very beginning of December, you’ll still have a good couple of weeks to recuperate and get ready for Christmas after the work is completed!

4. Install a bigger oven for that turkey

turkey_thumb

You don’t want to forgo a big turkey this year because of a lack of oven space! A bigger oven will give you enough space to slide in a massive golden turkey, but will also leave you with additional room to spread out all the required sides—parsnips, potatoes, and sprouts. If you’re installing an electric oven, it is possible to do so on your own, provided that an electrician has already wired your kitchen to allow for an electric oven. But if you’re installing a gas oven, you’re legally required to hire a gas engineer to complete the job.

To make sure you hire a gas engineer who knows what they’re doing, check that they’re on the Gas Safe Register. You can do this online, or can ask to see their Gas Safe Register ID card. The card will have a unique license number and will list the type of work they are qualified to do.

5. Avoid break-ins if you’re going away

A destination Christmas? We envy you already. Whether you’re going away for an extended period of time or even just a long weekend, it’s sensible to take steps to protect your home. After all, if Home Alone taught us anything, it’s that Christmas is prime time for crooks to strike.

While installing a DIY security system is cheaper, it’s easier and quicker (especially as you plan your trip and pack your bags) to have a professional security system installer do it for you. A professional installer will also be able to give you tailored advice for your home and will be able to double check that the system is working correctly.

Whether or not you give your home a boost this season, we hope you eat, laugh, and celebrate well! Happy Holidays!

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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