Tag: Trade Tales


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.”



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.


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

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

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

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

Getting in touch

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

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

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

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

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


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


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



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

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

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

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

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

Positive energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


MyBuilder is an online marketplace for homeowners to find quality tradesmen. The blog features competitions, advice and opinion pieces about home improvement.
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