Tag: advice

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A lot of tradesmen will tell you that it’s not looks that count – it’s about the things you don’t see, the stuff behind the scenes, all the little details that a homeowner doesn’t think about, but a tradesman needs to get right. But that’s not always the case.

“With a carpet”, Wayne Mockble tells us, “it’s all about how it looks.”

Wayne should know. He’s been fitting carpets around Birmingham for 30 years, taking on jobs big and small. In the three years his business, Fast Fit Flooring, has been on MyBuilder, he’s built up 278 pieces of positive feedback – and no negatives. In short, he’s a man who knows his way around an Axminster. But despite what he says about how much appearance matters, after a morning spent watching him at work, it’s easy to see how much effort goes into getting that perfect finish.

After a short stint in the army as a teenager, Wayne started out as a tradesman when he was only 18 years old.

“I needed to find some work,” Wayne explains. “When I was 18, I already had two kids to feed, so I had to come up with something. By chance I met a carpet fitter who wasn’t able to drive. He said, if I got a car, I could drive him around and learn the trade from him. It really was a matter of watching him do it. He wouldn’t tell you verbally, you just had to pay attention.”

 

Fast Fit Flooring, Wayne Mockble, Carpet Fitter, Flooring Fitter TOTM

 

Slowly, Wayne began to pick up the trade, learning as he went. “You come to realise, it’s a very technical job,” he said. “People might look at a room and think, a carpet for that, oh, it’s only a square, but it rarely is. Your preparation is very important. There’s a saying – measure twice, cut once – but you want to measure more than twice. Measure ten times if you can.”

When we catch up with Wayne, he’s halfway through a job fitting a new carpet and underlay for a staircase and landing. As we watch him work, it’s plain to see the attention to detail that goes into what is a relatively simple job.

“If it’s an old house, the stairs are all going to be a bit out,” he says as he measures up. “These two here are bigger than the one above. Then this one here is bigger again. It’s a nightmare sometimes. But some people without any experience will just measure once at the top of the stairs and just get on with it. You’re making problems for yourself then. You can carpet each stair individually if you have to, because the joints are all hidden, but it’s not ideal.”

Wayne works quickly, with simple tools, cutting with a razor-sharp carpet knife and knocking the edge of the carpet into place with a chisel. “My chisel is 20 years old and it’s still going strong,” Wayne says. “It cost me £5 back in the day. They probably cost a bit more than that now.” He cuts and pushes the carpet into place, casually swapping the tools between hands- as he says, “You have to be ambidextrous in this job, it can’t be done all with one hand. And you need to be accurate and confident. You can’t be cack-handed.”

 

Fast Fit Flooring, Wayne Mockble, Carpet Fitter, Flooring Fitter TOTM

 

The knife gets a new blade for every job – even between doing his cuts, Wayne swaps out the sharp blade before putting it away. “The first thing anyone asks me when they see what I do is ‘Have you ever cut your finger off?’ I haven’t but I’ve come close a few times. Half the time the biggest problem is nals and things sticking out of floorboards.”

When it comes to cutting neat, long lines in the carpet, Wayne doesn’t need any fancy tools: “A door bar is the best thing for getting a straight edge, and you need a straight edge with your carpet.”

Wayne is insistent on using good quality materials. “If your grippers are no good, it will make things very difficult. I also try and use glue where I can to make sure it all holds well – it costs a bit more money, bit it gets it done properly. Underlay is another thing, some old types had a black rubber back that will just perish into dust over time and leave flat patches under the carpet, you need to use a good one. It’s like any trade, there are plenty of cowboys in this game, I know which shops to avoid. There are also fitters out there who’ll tell you that underlay costs £150 a roll, when actually it was only £20. People don’t know.”

Wayne always encourages people to buy their own carpets, while he deals with the fitting. “I can give them advice, but it’s up to them to buy it. Supplying it can be a minefield – I could buy it all, bring it along, and then they change their mind; what do I do then? If I get my fitting fee, I’m happy. I’ve worked with carpet that was £85 a metre – you can’t go making mistakes with a £3,000 carpet.”

 

Fast Fit Flooring, Wayne Mockble, Carpet Fitter, Flooring Fitter TOTM

 

One thing he insists is on getting accurate measurements before starting any job. “If people give me measurements they’ve taken, that’s fine, but I want to go and measure up myself. They’ll have measured wall-to-wall but not take into account the leeway you need. If I fit it as they’ve told me, and there’s a gap or a join somewhere, they won’t thank you. I have to go and visualise the whole job first.”

After his initial run learning the ropes, Wayne has always worked by himself. “I like having the freedom, I pick and choose the jobs I want. Like any self-employed person, you have moments where it goes quiet. You’ve got to have some heart to soldier on when it gets like that. I’m not one of those people who has another job – this is my livelihood”. Thankfully, Wayne has been able to keep on going, even through the rough times, and his reviews on MyBuilder help him to keep winning work for some time yet. “I always ask people to leave feedback. I just ask, if they’re happy with the work that I’ve done, leave a bit of feedback, because it really helps me out.”

After finishing off the last stair, carefully following the curved line of the final riser, this looks like another job that will see positive feedback. We know how much work went into it, but the finished result if effortless. After all, as Wayne says, “it’s all about how it looks”.

 

Advice for Tradesmen:

 

  • Don’t cut corners: As Wayne showed us when he worked on the individual stairs, taking one quick measurement and assuming that’s good enough might leave you with a poor quality result. “At the end of the day, if there’s something wrong, you can’t go and blame your materials or the fact that the house is a bit wonky – it’s just poor workmanship.”
  • Explain everything up front: “People want to know what the finished job will end up like,” Wayne said. “Everything has to be explained, how it will work, what you’re going to do. You need to be open about what you’ll be doing and the materials you’ll use.”
  • Be careful when supplying materials: As Wayne says, supplying materials can be a minefield if you’re not careful – while it can be a profitable part of your business, it pays to be sensible about how you approach it. “You don’t want to be stuck with a piece of carpet you can’t use. You can’t drag money out of people.”

 

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When you meet Rob Joy today, you’ll find a confident, outgoing family man, leading a team of 15 painters and decorators as the head of his company, Finishing Touch Services. But this wasn’t always the case, 10 years ago you would have met a very different person indeed.

We met Rob not on a building site, but in a charity shop and community centre in the heart of Luton. SOAR is the base of Rob’s church and charity, Kingdom Cause Community, and the ambitious project has all been made possible through the achievements of Finishing Touch Services. Like many successful tradesmen, Rob started out on the tools as a youngster, but his career didn’t always go smoothly.

“My dad had a roofing company which was quite successful, so weekends and school holidays I’d go along and help out labouring for him,” Rob told us. “ I’d be on building sites and scaffolding when I was so young that my dad would have to tell me to duck if the police came past! But I’d get my five pounds for the day sweeping up broken tiles and what not, so I was happy.”

Sadly for Rob, the happiness didn’t last. Rob’s world was shattered when his beloved dad died, and the teenager soon found himself headed off the rails. “I hit rock bottom,” he admits. It went from flirting with drugs at the weekend to going in at the deep end. My dad left me a lot of money and I threw it all away on drugs, down the pub, at the football. From the age of 16 to 26 I was in it. The drugs destroyed me – I was 8 stone, my mental health had gone, I’d been in and out of prison. I literally lost everything.”

Rob’s journey back to sobriety was fueled by faith. “My mum had always prayed for me and I didn’t want to know, but I couldn’t deny the change I’d seen in her – whether it was real or not, it had an impact for her. I remember, one night, I just said, ‘God, is there any way you can change a man like me,’ and for the first time in years I went to bed with no fear, no paranoia. I woke up the next day completely and utterly transformed. No one could tell me it was just willpower – my mind had changed, my heart had changed.”

 

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The pleasure of painting

 

Despite this transformation, it took time for Rob to build himself back up, reconnecting with his family, and getting back into work. “I knew that roofing might not be for me – all the angles and the maths were too much to get my head round! But I’d done other jobs with my dad, painting here and there, and thought I could make a go of that. One of the first jobs I did when I got straight was painting those temporary buildings that go on building sites, just one after the other, and I enjoyed it. Painting is therapeutic.”

From those small beginnings, Rob began to build his experience. “I had this philosophy, short term loss for long term gain,” he explained. “For example, I did a job repainting a door, and I thought it would be simple, half a day’s work. But it wasn’t at all, it was falling apart, I had to take it back to bare wood, do loads to it, it took me much longer. I lost out on that job. But a few months later, I took on another door job, and I realised it was exactly the same situation, but now I knew exactly what to do.”

Rob joined MyBuilder two years ago, and soon realised that the feedback system would force him to up his game. “When you’re working for family, friends, friends of friends, they can say nice things but it’s not always the most honest. When you’re winning work on MyBuilder, that feedback is real. I realised maybe I wasn’t as good as I thought I was – you have to improve.” The feedback for the business still has a negative review from his early efforts, but with more than 100 pieces of positive feedback, he hasn’t let it stand in his way.

Like many setting up their own business, it was a case of long hours and low pay. “I’d do 17 hour days, out on site until it was dark, back to kiss my kids before bed, then out to quote, writing it up before bed, then waking up realising I’d missed something.”

Rob began to build the company, eventually bringing in other people to help. “The best thing I did was take on a guy called Alan, who’s now my business manager. He’d been in the trade for 35 years, and his skills, his ability, they’re brilliant. I used to be annoyed that he was slower than other guys I worked with, but I realised, his jobs never had any snags. It might be a day slower, but it was perfect – never any stress. So I went to him and said, look, I might be the one paying you, but I want you to teach me how to be a good painter and decorator. I was humble. And so for six months, he showed me what he knew. It helped me get better, helped me understand the materials and the techniques, helped me quote on jobs.”

As he says: “You can’t be a great decorator in a few years – you have to do it for years and years, always learning. You end up breathing it.”

 

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A matter of standards

 

The business is now up to 15 men, and Rob hopes to add more in the coming year. “I wouldn’t want it to get too big, because what I’m concerned about is quality,” he said. “I tell the boys, I don’t expect them to have the same faith as me, but I expect them to work to the standards I do.”

Profits from the business go into supporting the charity, helping both in the local community, and in Malawi. “I’m all about going out into the streets,” Rob said, “I never wanted to be preached at and I still don’t. It’s about helping someone who’s starving with some food, or giving a coat to someone freezing.” In Malawi, the charity is looking to buy land in order to start work on an orphanage, with some of Rob’s team ready to go out and work on the project themselves.

“We went there in April, took some guys from work and it’s changed their life. We took loads of toys and clothes, it was incredible. It broke my heart. I came back and said to my wife, the business isn’t for wealth, for big houses and fast cars, it’s for this.”

The lads will be hands on when it comes to the orphanage: “The standards of construction over there aren’t always great,” Rob laughed. “But we’ll be able to to really do some good there. We do as much as we can. We send out money for the women in the community to buy materials and make bags, which we sell here in the shop, with the profits going back to them. And we sell second-hand clothes in here, with those that don’t sell going directly to the kids there.”

Rob doesn’t make a point of telling homeowners where the money from their jobs will be going, but when it comes up, he says they’re always happy to hear more. “The customers are amazing, so many of them are now friend, they donate, they come and help out.” He always tries to lend a hand where he can where customers are in need – through a contact at Dulux, he has access to discount paints that can be used for worthy causes or sold on to raise money. He’s also happy to hear from any other tradesmen who are keen to help out on charitable projects for worthy causes.

Through Rob’s efforts, both the business and the charity have continued to grow, but he insists it’s still the quality, not the quantity, that matters most. “One thing I always say to my guys is that it’s not the past hundred jobs that matter – it’s the one we’re working on right now.”

 

Advice for tradesmen:

  • Always be willing to learn: “I still meet young guys who come from doing professional qualifications who think they know everything, but they don’t”, Rob said. “When you’re working with people with lots of experience, there’s always something you can take from them.”
  • Prepare accurate quotes: “The biggest source of issues on any job is if there was something in the quote that wasn’t clear,” Rob told us. “A tradesman should lay out everything, materials, hours, who pays for what, so that there can’t be any quibbles.”
  • Think long term: “No one can be great at something overnight,” Rob said. “You have to think about the long term, building your skills and growing the business. It can’t be rushed.”

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Recently, we went to meet a MyBuilder tradesman in Oxfordshire building a stunning home extension from straw bales. Natural materials and careful craftsmanship were being skilfully combined to build something useful, beautiful and eco-friendly.

While building out of straw may not be the most practical route for everyone, there are plenty of things you can start doing to help make your home more green. Here are some steps you can take to cut your carbon footprint.

 

Insulate Your Home

One of the biggest steps you can take to improve your home’s energy efficiency is to make sure it is properly insulated. Both loft insulation and cavity wall insulation can help reduce the amount of heat wasted, especially in older homes.
Find an insulation installer

 

Fit Double Glazing

Double glazing doesn’t have to mean typical white plastic frames – modern windows can be both stylish and efficient, keeping the heat in, cutting bills, and making your home greener.
Find a window fitter

 

Upgrade Your Boiler

Efficiency is the name of the game, so installing a modern condensing boiler is a great way to invest in improving your home’s energy usage.
Find a gas engineer

 

Install a Water Saving Shower

While lots of us are good at turning off the tap when we brush our teeth, we can all be guilty of spending too long in the shower. Modern showers can reduce the water used, without cutting the flow to a dribble.
Find a plumber

 

Use Eco-friendly Paint

Many traditional paints can cause environmental damage in their production. Eco-paints are often plant-based, using naturally occurring solvents, and are catching up with traditional paints in terms of price and effectiveness.
Find a painter and decorator

 

If you have any more ideas for kick starting a green transformation in your home, get in touch with a tradesman today.

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For tradesmen just starting out on MyBuilder, winning work and building up feedback can seem like a daunting challenge. We spoke to Sammy Nartey, who’s been on the site for just over six months, to find out how he navigated his early days on the site.

Unlike many tradesmen, Sammy was a relatively late starter when it came to picking up the tools. The Battersea-based kitchen fitter first became interested in being a tradesman when he started doing renovation work on his own house, nearly 20 years ago.

“I had bought my own property and decided to learn how to put it together myself, doing the tiling, the bathroom, the kitchen, that sort of thing,” he told us when we met him on a kitchen refit job in Camberwell. “I did most of it just from reading a DIY book – that’s where I started. I built up my skills, and then got a job with a company called Apollo, a company that does work for housing associations. They took me on as a multi-trader doing plumbing, carpentry and electrical.” The trade bug soon caught hold: “I’ve been doing it ever since.”

After spending a few years building up his professional experience, Sammy decided to go it alone, setting up his own company, Westridge Developments Ltd, focussed on kitchen and bathroom fitting, plumbing and tiling. In the early days, Sammy’s methods for finding work was as simple as it comes: “I was mainly doing it through word of mouth, just giving cards out to people,” he said. “I didn’t even have my company name on the van for a while. I was just working for people who knew what I did, and waiting for people I worked for to recommend me to other people.”

 

Taking the Plunge

 

Looking for a way to bring in more work, last October Sammy decided to take the plunge and join MyBuilder. He breezed through the application process testing his experience; as he put it, “If you have the knowledge, it’s easy to show – if you try and blag it, you won’t know the answers. But some people like to blag their way through life”. After being accepted onto the site, he was soon receiving leads for jobs in his area.

“I think I get around 50 or 60 jobs come my way every day on MyBuilder,” he said. “I have to sift through them and I don’t win all of them – I don’t expect to win all of them – but it’s enough to keep me going!”

Since he started out, Sammy has now spent £500 expressing interest, winning 24 jobs and counting, as well as getting feedback for most of them – all of it positive. When asked if he thought the site was value for money, he said: “Most definitely! What we pay, we get a lot in return. I think it’s more than reasonable – that’s why I recommend friends join as well.”

He admits it’s not always plain sailing: “There have been a couple of times when I’ve been shortlisted for a job and then tried to contact the person, but they don’t answer. I left messages, and they never got back to me. It would be an irritation, but if you compare what you lose and what you get back, it’s a massive difference – you get more out of it than you lose.”

What’s even better for Sammy is the follow-up work he’s won after doing jobs through the site. “Three or four people I’ve done work for have then had me back for other jobs. One guy calls me regularly. And when they see you doing good work, they’re more likely to refer you to their friends.”

When asked what key advice he’d give to other tradesmen just starting out, Sammy’s message is all about quality and honesty.

“Stay true to yourself,” he said. “Do your job properly, because MyBuilder works.”

 

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Lots of us love using bank holidays to try out some DIY, but it’s not always possible to reach for the toolbox. If your time is precious, or you simply lack the confidence, hiring a professional is the best way to ensure a job well done. With the May bank holiday looming, here are some ideas for DIY jobs you might want to leave to the experts.

 

Inspect your Roof Tiles
It goes without saying that care needs to be taken whenever ladders and heights are involved, but care also needs to be taken with fragile roof tiles – what can be a simple job for an experienced roofer can turn into a costly mess if mistakes are made.
Find a Roofer

 

Cut Back your Trees
Climbing trees with tools – whether a powerful chainsaw or an old-fashioned hand-saw – is always a risky proposition. Tree surgeons have specialised equipment and training to deal with unruly branches smartly and safely.
Find a Tree Surgeon

 

Grout the Bathroom
What can seem like a superficially easy job is often riddled with complications, needing just the right materials and a perfect finish. A tiler will be able to do the job quickly and neatly.
Find a Tiler

 

Paint your Living Room
The time-honoured way to update your interior design, painting is a starting point for many DIYers. However, without the right system of coats, it can also be a surefire way to end up with a rough job that never looks quite right. A painter and decorator will know how to get the best results and can save you money in the long run.
Find a Painter and Decorator

 

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Fit a New Carpet
Cutting a carpet to fit a room doesn’t seem like the biggest task, but one wrong cut could see you with a pricey, but useless carpet that no longer meets the wall. A practiced carpet fitter can refresh a room in a day.
Find a Carpet Fitter

 

Put up Some Shelves
Another old standby for tool-happy homeowners, putting up shelves is perhaps the quintessential DIY job. But if you’re worried about hitting a wire, ruining your dry wall, or just leaving it wonky, a handyman can help.
Find a Handyman

 

Lay New Paving
It’s not as easy as just putting down some slabs – have you considered sub-grades, sub-bases, drainage, and everything else that needs taking care of? If you’re in any doubt, a driveway paver or landscape gardener can step in.
Find a Driveway Paver | Find a Landscape Gardener

 

Stay Away from Gas and Electrics
While there are many jobs that you can tackle yourself, two areas should definitely be left to the experts: anything involving gas in the home should be dealt with by a gas engineer on the Gas Safety Register, while electrics should be handled by a competent electrician who can self-certify their work.
Find a Gas Engineer | Find an Electrician

 

Rob Birch - Roofer, Fascias, Soffits and Guttering Specialist, Conservatory Installer

For many tradesman, dealing with suppliers is just another part of the job. But for Rob Burch, a fascias, soffits and guttering specialist from Rainham in Essex, it was an opportunity.

As well as doing his own fitting and installation work, Rob realised that there was a business to be made in becoming a supplier himself, and set up Direct Cladding, operating a trade yard where other tradesman can come in to buy materials for a variety of projects. Now, as well as taking on jobs from MyBuilder, he also supplies materials to other tradesman who use MyBuilder. “I don’t see it as competition though,” Rob tells us. “Other people aren’t competition – I see them as someone to learn from. You can always learn, can’t you?”

 

Going it Alone

 

Rob’s background set him up perfectly for a twin career as tradesman and supplier. He started out doing sales for a supply company and saw that there was money to be made in the line of work, especially with guttering and similar products. After also spending time managing a branch of a national chain of builders merchants, Rob realised he could make a go of it on his own, and set up Direct Cladding 19 years ago. Rob said: “I came from that supply side and was working for other people, managing a whole team, but I ended up thinking ‘I need to get out of here’, so that was it.”

Taking the leap worked out well for Rob. The business – both aspects of it – has boomed, with up to 10 separate teams of fitters working for Direct Cladding during peak season in the summer, going out and taking on around 30 jobs a week. Rob said: “I think we’re the biggest domestic installer in the UK. We just stick to domestic though, we don’t take on commercial projects. We’re good at what we do and we stick to that.”

Meanwhile, the supply side has grown as well, with the business becoming a common port of call for plenty of other tradesman in the area. They even sell directly to customers online. “We were doing supply and fit initially with the trade business, but we ended up supplying so much material we thought it would be silly not to sell a bit. That developed into another beast,” Rob said. Because we have the trade counter, we know all the local tradesman,” Rob said. “You get to know people and you start to understand who does it properly and who doesn’t. With this trade in particular, replacing fascias and so on, it’s one where people are likely only going to have it done to their homes once, so some tradesman might be unscrupulous and take advantage of that – they can use a bad product and know that the homeowner won’t realise. But we make sure we do it properly.”

 

No Cover Ups

 

Rob added: “The most common thing people might do to cut costs and do it on the cheap is overcladding – just put new PVCu capping boards over the timber structure that’s already there. But if that structure is rotten, all you’re doing to covering up the problem and leaving it there to crop up again down the line. We will only do proper replacements.”

 

Rob Birch - Roofer, Fascias, Soffits and Guttering Specialist, Conservatory Installer

 

Despite presiding over a business empire, Rob still likes to make time to go out on jobs himself, visiting homeowners and giving quotes. He joined MyBuilder in November 2015, and quickly started using it to win even more work for the business. In a little over a year, Direct Cladding has picked up 114 pieces of positive feedback, and no negatives. Considering Rob’s initial scepticism, he’s very happy with the results. “I’ve always been looking for new ways to bring in different leads, but a lot of things we tried were just frustrating. So we dipped into MyBuilder – we’d see a lot of tradesman on MyBuilder coming through the yard. I didn’t expect it to be any good if I’m being honest. But as soon as I was on there I saw how many jobs were up for grabs, and I just thought ‘yes please’.”

 

Playing the Game

 

It’s been an addiction ever since: “I got hooked! I couldn’t help myself, I had to force myself to put it down,” Rob said. “It’s a bit like doing a fruit machine, you see the jobs and you think, yep, I’ll go for that, go for that, and you give it a shot.” Rob’s top trip for winning work is to craft a good opening message when getting in touch with homeowners. “I was once in a meeting for the football club I help out with, and when I came out I saw a job that looked perfect, but I was an hour or two late in going for it. But no one else had been shortlisted yet, so I thought ‘why not?’ and gave it go, with a nice personalised message. Sure enough, I got it.”

Rob’s knowledge and experience was even recognised by City & Guilds, when he was asked to help write questions for the body’s examinations, helping to test the newcomers to the industry to make sure they were up to scratch.

It all shows that from being a sole trader to a business mogul, being a good tradesman takes on many different forms. But whether he’s behind the till or up a ladder, Rob knows that good work will always be appreciated.

 

Advice for tradesmen:

 

  • Your opening message is your chance to make a good first impression: “The first message is really important, you don’t have to spend a long time on it, but if you can just show that you’ve read their job post and talk about it properly, it can help you stand out against all the other people being shortlisted”.
  • You have to look at the bigger picture: “Sometimes you get difficult customers who’ll mess around when it comes to paying – there will always be a few chancers. But keeping your feedback as good as possible is more important than one difficult customer – in the long run, it will work out.”
  • Be smart about going for leads: “There’s definitely a balance when it comes to leads. You can’t go for everything, but at the same time, if you’re really picky you might not end up with anything with zero return. You have to be smart about it, but you can’t be afraid to go for it.”

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