Posts by Author: 15 posts by ben

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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.

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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”.

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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.

 

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

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


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