Tag: trade advice

bathroom-58

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.”

 

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.”

stephen-m

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

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

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

 

Good image

 

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

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

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

 

No suprises

 

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

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

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

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

Check out Stephen’s MyBuilder profile here.

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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