Tag: tradesman of the month

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For Lewis Sage, it’s the little things that count.

“Everything is run precisely, military style,” he tells us as we stand on top of the scaffolding of his latest renovation project. “A lot of people wouldn’t like it, but I think I’m doing something right. My team does everything the right way, right down to the details, like keeping the skip covered all the time so rubbish doesn’t blow down the street. You have to think about the other people who live here.”

Lewis, the boss of UPS Home Improvements, which takes on major project work around Essex and London, takes his responsibilities seriously. When Storm Doris hit, it blew debris from the roof his team were working on down the next door neighbour’s chimney, covering their living room in soot. “It was an act of God,” Lewis said, “nothing we could really do about it, but out of courtesy to the lady, I said ‘send me a cleaning bill’, and I got one of my team to go in and repaint the ceiling. You’ve got to be good to people, you’ve got to keep people on side. I didn’t have to do it, but I wanted to.”

 

Lewis Sage - Restoration & Refurb Specialist, Extension Builder, Loft Conversion Specialist

 

Communication, Communication, Communication

 

Dealing with people is key to Lewis’ success as a tradesman. Despite the fact his firm takes on large projects – mainly renovations, extensions, and loft conversions – he has managed to rack up 170 pieces of feedback during eight years on MyBuilder, and all of them positive. “The secret is communication with clients. I always make sure I return an email or a phone call in two hours. It’s the least I can do to keep them informed and not leave them guessing.”

Lewis realised early on his career that he wanted to be overseeing a site and running projects. “I was made to be management!” he laughs. “I went to college and did all the City & Guilds qualifications, and went out working on the tools. My dad was in the building trade and we worked together for a bit, before I went to work with someone else. After a while I became a working supervisor, then a non-productive supervisor, so I wasn’t actually on the tools myself.” After stopping being hands on, he worked for five years as a contracts manager for a refurbishment company, before he started thinking about going it alone. “I finally did it about 10 years ago, just me and a couple of other guys. I had to go back on the tools in the early days when we were starting out – the money wasn’t there to hire anyone else.”

Starting his own business meant long hours. “When I first started on my own, I was working during the day, going home for a bit of dinner, then going back out again until late at night to meet people and do quotes. People want to do it then, because they’re at work all day, so you have to do it. But it meant 16, 17-hour days. It’s a bit easier now because I’ve built up my reputation through MyBuilder, but it’s still spinning plates.”

As for whether or not he misses getting his hands dirty regularly, he says: “I had fantastic times on site. I loved the banter. But I think I’m better at what I do now.”

 

Lewis Sage - Restoration & Refurb Specialist, Extension Builder, Loft Conversion Specialist

 

Strictly Business

 

Lewis relies on a personally selected crew to make his projects go smoothly, and admits he’s a strict boss. “I want staff that work well, I don’t allow any smoking, any swearing, they’re all kitted out properly, they’re all punctual, here for 8am and no messing around. But it means these boys can stay in work every day of the week, that’s the bottom line. All of my tradesman have been handpicked. Down the line, a few of the experienced ones might recommend some other people, but bottom line is, they’re handpicked by me. I’ve got to guide the ship, so I need the best.”

He has the capacity to take on two or three projects at a time, with the ability to be choosy about the jobs he takes on, preferring to go for jobs where the plans are already in place: “I’d say through MyBuilder I probably get something like eight shortlists a week. I don’t win every job I go and price, but if I like the job, I’ll really go for it. I want to get into the meat of it, because I love it. I love it. In my reviews, some people have said I’ve given them their dream home – how nice is that? People are spending their life savings on these jobs, so to know you’ve made a difference, you’ve given them their dream home, that’s brilliant. It makes you feel special.”

He acknowledges that feedback is crucial for winning work on the site, but says it’s the best way to hold tradesmen to account. “With MyBuilder, if you’re no good, you won’t last. You just won’t. You’ve got to keep the feedback up, once you build up bad reviews you’re sunk. It means sometimes you have to be a bit of a yes man to clients, be very approachable. If you can have those qualities, you can be flying. Of course you get the odd client who’s a pain, we all know that. But I can get on with anyone. You manage the customers just like you do your team.”

He added: “I always tell people to leave feedback. When someone leaves a review, it helps the next person – that’s what I tell them.” Once he’s actually meeting potential clients and quoting for work, that’s when he opens his contact book: “When I win jobs or I’m looking at them, I say I’m not scared about showing off my job. This current guy, he came and saw two of my previous jobs. When you leave people on good terms, they don’t mind when you phone up and say ‘can I pop round?’ It’s a different level from just showing someone a picture. And they can talk to the old client, and hear about how you work.”

 

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A Lifetime of Service

 

He insists on keeping customers on side, just as he does the neighbours: “The way I see it, just because you’ve paid that final payment, doesn’t mean you’re not a client any more. You’re a client of mine for the rest of your life. I won’t turn my back on you just because you’d paid up. It wouldn’t make sense for me – you’re cutting off all those people, all their recommendations.”

However, he’s wary of taking on too many jobs, or jumping in too quickly. “Just because you’re doing alright you can’t be greedy, when you’re greedy you stretch yourself, and when you stretch yourself mistakes happen. We know what we need to do, we know what our margins are. I like to take on the jobs where everything is ready to go. When someone says to me something like ‘we’re in the process of purchasing a property and thinking about renovating it’, I’m not as interested. In my view, if you have the drawings, if you’ve spoken to the council, if you’re ready to go, let’s go for it. I want to get stuck in.”

Thanks to his attitude, Lewis will be busy for the rest of the year, before taking some well-deserved time off after Christmas. Then he and his team will be straight back to work; nice and punctual, of course.

 

Advice for tradesmen:

 

  • Don’t get greedy: While Lewis admits it’s tempting to go for every job that comes through or follow up with every personal recommendation, he knows he has to limit the number of projects he takes on. “Like I said, when you’re greedy, you get stretched, and when you’re stretched, mistakes happen. Deep down, you know if you’re pushing your luck.”
  • Communication is crucial: As well as trying to answer all calls and emails within a couple of hours, Lewis likes to ensure things go smoothly face to face as well. “When I’m quoting, I’ll take along John (his regular foreman) so they can meet him as well, and everyone knows from the get go who’ll be there and how it works, you don’t need to explain anything twice.”
  • Consider the neighbours: According to Lewis, one of the best things you can do to keep up your reputation is think about not just the home you’re working on, but the whole street. “If you’re considerate, that helps you. You never know who’s going to want to get their house done next.”

 

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.”

Daniel Morgan

If you decide to go and see Danny Morgan hard at work, there’s one thing you need to take up the scaffolding with you – a good head for heights. When we met Danny replacing a slate roof in Hampton, it felt like being twenty floors up – even if it was only two. “I’m actually not a big fan of heights myself,” Danny admits. “But you do get used to it.”

 

Climbing the Ladder

 

Danny’s had some time to get used to life above the roofline. As he tells us: “My uncle is a roofer, and I started helping him when I was 10 or 11, just fetching things, making the teas, all for a bit of pocket money in the school holidays. I got to like it, and it grew from there. I started to realise as I got older that it was a good trade to be in – my cousin got into it as well – and I thought it would be a nice career to have. I was working in it full time when I was 16 or so. I always wanted to be my own boss as well, and by the time I started my own business when I was about 19, I already had a lot of experience – it gave me a very good head start.” Danny has worked alongside his family before, but is now focussed on his own business – Morgan Roofing – which employs two other workers. He also brings in extra help as needed on bigger projects.

When we meet up with him, he’s working on replacing a slate roof for a home undergoing an extensive loft conversion, adding front and rear dormers. Using a lead-dresser – a specialised tool for shaping lead flashing, that looks like a lopsided police truncheon – he works a thin piece into shape to fit onto a chimney breast. “They’re very old tools, lead dressers,” he tells us. “They used to be made out of oak, and I have some of them, but they’re more likely to be plastic now. This all used to be a plumber’s job back in the day.” Shaping the piece to fit involves careful measurement and precise handiwork, to crimp the edges and fold them to fit exactly around the chimney. It takes a lot of practice and hand-eye coordination. “Luckily, it also means I’m very good at wrapping presents. Danny says.”

 

Daniel Morgan - Roofer

 

From the Gutter to the Stars

 

Over the years of growing his business, Danny has gained an impressive local reputation, with more than 200 pieces of positive feedback on MyBuilder. “It’s not been easy,” Danny says. “In the early days, I was driving miles just to find myself elbow-deep clearing pigeon droppings out of gutters, trying to build up that feedback. It wasn’t glamorous, but you went and did it. You always want to be in work, and don’t want to turn work down. Now, thankfully, I get to be a little bit pickier, and do better jobs. It can be really special sometimes, when you’re on a roof, up somewhere like Richmond Hill, and you have that view over London. It’s a nice moment.”

Danny started on MyBuilder in 2011, after six months of a friend suggesting he join the site. “One of my friends was telling me for ages, go on, give it a shot, and I always thought, yeah yeah, maybe I’ll give it a go when I get a second. When I did, I was overwhelmed. It kept bringing me steady work. Before the recession, I’d been getting loads from other places, but when the recession hit, they stopped overnight. MyBuilder happened at just the right time for me. It was the best decision I made, for me and my business, and for my family.”

He added: “What I know is that with 200 references on MyBuilder, I’ve maybe had 600 customers, just through that word of mouth. If they’re all positive they’re going to recommend you. Every day someone rings me to ask about doing work because I’ve been recommended. MyBuilder has changed the way I work, quite frankly. Now I’m aiming for 500 bits of feedback.”

 

Daniel Morgan - Roofer

 

Building Trust

 

Roofing is a trade that has had a bad reputation in the past, and Danny is aware of the pressure on him to show his profession in a positive light. “I think the problem has always been one of information,” he says. “In the past, it’s been easy for a cowboy with a ladder to knock on your door and say, ‘there’s a loose tile up there, but I can sort it for you really quickly’, then they go up and discover more that he says is wrong. I’m aware now that a lot of people have been burned before, and I have to build that trust with people. I take pictures of everything, before and after, so I can show people exactly what is happening and how I’m going to approach it.”

He adds: “You can be the best tradesman in the world, but it doesn’t mean anything if you can’t work with people. I love meeting people and working with them, I can get on with anyone. A lot of my job is about building that trust. People come home from a weekend away and find a damp patch on their child’s bedroom wall from a roof leak. That’s important to them – it’s their home.”

What homeowners are looking for is someone who takes the problem off their hands. “You have to be confident,” Danny said. “I like to get to a job and know I’m taking a problem away from them, especially if they’re already on the back foot after a bad experience in the past. You have to work to gain their trust, especially before money is involved. But I know I’m priced very fairly, providing a good service, and customers understand that.”

 

Daniel Morgan - Roofer

 

Advice for Tradesmen

 

  • Don’t pretend to be something you’re not: “I know that part of the reason I do well is that I’m ‘just’ a roofer. I won’t pretend to be a general builder, or a postman, or anything else. It’s easier to build that trust when people know you’re focussed on that one thing you do day in, day out.”
  • Stay accessible: “It can be hard, especially in my line of work when 99% of the time I’m up on a roof somewhere, and I’m not going to be answering my phone. But you need to stay available, and get back to people as soon as you can. People want that communication.”
  • Go the extra mile: “Any job where you’re working with people is going to be difficult sometimes – not everyone is easy to get on with, and especially if people have had bad experiences before, they’re almost waiting for something to go wrong. It means you have to work really hard and go above and beyond to build that trust, and get the good feedback.”

Jeff Mac

It takes a lot of imagination to look at a building site and visualise the final result, especially on a job as big as the one Jeff Macfarlane is working on. Both the front and back gardens of the Hertfordshire home have been levelled to nothing but mud, ahead of a total transformation involving intricate porcelain tiling, artificial lawns, a monolith wall and a hot tub. It’s a massive project, but for Jeff, it’s just another day at the office.

 

Hearing a Pin Drop

 

Jeff (actually Geoffrey, but as he puts it “Jeff looks better painted on the van”), didn’t start out as a tradesman. Leaving school at 16, he found himself in a dead end job trying to earn a bit of cash: “I came out of school as soon as I could, and I ended up doing six months in a factory, feeding pins on to a little wheel. They’d go up and round the wheel, and then a blade at the top would cut them to length. I’d sit there, all day, and just feed in pin after pin after pin. It was mind-numbing. I quit, and my mum thought I was mad – she still wanted me to pay rent. So I thought, what else can I do. I looked at my dad and uncle who’d been in the building trade, and thought, there’ll always be builders, so I got started as a labourer.”

 

Jeff Mac-20

 

Building a Business

 

Jeff’s first stint as a tradesman was a gig working for local authorities, renovating social housing. “We’d go in and completely gut the place, taking everything out of the ground floor, while the family lived upstairs. Then they’d move downstairs, and we’d rip out the upstairs.” But the indoor life wasn’t for Jeff, who soon moved on to working on roofs, before changing again, to try his hand at bricklaying, working mainly as a hod carrier. “I realised that being outdoors was what I liked – it’s the best thing in the world, being out in the fresh air and having that freedom.”

While working for other people paid the bills, Jeff had a bigger ambition – to run his own business. “I always wanted to make a go of it, but there’s always that risk – I had young kids, I didn’t know if I’d find enough work. Subbing for someone else meant I didn’t really have to worry about where the work was coming from, but if I went solo, it would be up to me. Luckily I got on to MyBuilder at the right time, and it all worked out. I wish I could have done it 20 years ago.”

 

Geoffrey Macfarlane - Bricklayer, Landscape Gardener, Driveway Paver

 

Challenge Accepted

 

Over the past few years, Jeff has built his reputation, focussing on landscaping projects and driveways. As his reputation has grown so has his team, with a couple of labourers, including “Cut Master Mike”, who can shape anything with an angle grinder. “When porcelain tiling is £55 a metre, you have to make sure you get it right,” Jeff says. As well as building a small team, Jeff also has an informal partnership with another local tradesman, giving each other the nod when big jobs come up so they can lend each other a hand.

Jeff is the first to admit it hasn’t been easy though: “It’s hard when you set out on your own, you have to be so dedicated. Being on MyBuilder really helped me, because I could see the work out there, and focus on going for it. I was a bit obsessed in the first year, going for jobs, but it paid off. Getting the feedback in really helps to build your reputation. I remember when I got to 20, I wondered if I’d make 50. Then when I did, I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to 100. But I enjoyed the challenge – it gets quite addictive! For a long time I could see another tradesman in my area was winning more jobs than me, so I spent ages working out what he was doing and how I could do better – the competition makes you better.”

He’s now up to 110 pieces of positive feedback, but he’ll keep chasing the next milestone – all while enjoying the job. “I really do love it. At the end of the day, all anyone wants to do is an honest day’s work, and that’s what it’s all about. I love this business. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

 

Geoffrey Macfarlane - Bricklayer, Landscape Gardener, Driveway Paver

 

Advice for Tradesmen

 

  • A good opening message is crucial: “When you get in touch with someone on MyBuilder, that first message is key, it’s their first impression, it’s how the homeowner will think about you. I have a prepared message that I can change for different jobs. Going to that effort can be a big help winning jobs.”
  • Timing is everything: “Most of the jobs I do are very seasonal, you get busy at different times of the year. If you’re just starting on MyBuilder, you need to remember that in the summer when a lot of established tradesmen are busy and a lot of homeowners are posting jobs, that’s a chance for you to take on work. You have to persevere with it.”
  • Stick to what you know: “I always think it’s best that tradesmen do what they’re good at and don’t overstretch themselves. The job I’m doing now, the plans have a roofed area being built, but I’m not going to try and take that on – I’ll leave it to someone who knows that work. It’s the same when it comes to booking in jobs – there’s no point cramming them in and doing them badly. Don’t overstretch yourself.”

James Murray - TOTM

 

Ask a tradesman what their dream project might be, and they might have any number of grand ideas. Some might want to work on their own house, like MyBuilder’s own Yaz Meer. Some might want to work on a famous location, a place where they can always point out where they left their mark. Jamie Murray had a smaller ambition, but one he was able to bring to life in his very own back garden.

From the outside of Jamie’s Reading home, you wouldn’t assume there was anything particularly special about it. It’s only when you step out back through his patio doors, and see the solidly built shed, that you start to appreciate what the secret might be. Open it up and step inside, and you find this isn’t any old shed, with a couple of rusty old bikes and an old barbecue. There’s a tiled bar. Fridges. Optics on the wall. A widescreen TV and armchair. A wood-burning stove. Even a fully-functioning fruit machine. Jamie has built his very own pub.

 

Inn it to Win it

 

PUB

 

“I didn’t really plan for it to end up like this,” Jamie, who runs JJM Flooring, tells us when we pay him a visit. “When we moved into the house we had a lot of work to do in fixing it up. The people who’d lived here before had trashed the place – they’d actually kept owls in one of the bedrooms – and they’d ripped up some of the floorboards to burn in the fireplace. It was a mess. But we did it, and when it came to the garden, we thought about making a nice patio area with a bar. The more I thought about it though, the more it came together.”

The result is a true labour of love, with nearly every inch of it built by Jamie himself – with the help of a few other MyBuilder tradesman for a hand with the stove and the electrics. “It’s quite a good place to come and escape to when I have a spare moment,” he says, “and a great place to have a party in. I couldn’t leave it behind now. This place is me.”

Like many tradesman, Jamie doesn’t necessarily have a lot of downtime though. “I’m better than I used to be, but I’d definitely say I was a workaholic,” he told us. “It’s one of those jobs that’s never been a nine to five. If someone asks you to do a job, you want to fit it in, even if it means doing it on a Sunday evening – you never want to turn down work. Even now, I’d rather be up at 5am to beat the traffic and get to a job than stay in bed a bit longer.”

 

Keeping Busy

 

James Murray - wood floor

 

Jamie’s hectic schedule has meant plenty of jobs through MyBuilder, and nearly 200 positive pieces of feedback on the site. The experienced tradesman tackles all kinds of flooring, from carpets to solid wood, building up his knowledge from his early days helping out a carpet fitter.

“I guess I’ve been laying floors for 36 years,” he said. “I was in a dead-end job when I came out of school, and ended up helping out a carpet fitter instead. My original plan was to try and become a mechanic, but I didn’t get an apprenticeship I wanted, so I ended up staying on with the carpet fitter instead. After a couple of years I’d learnt a lot of the trade, so I set out on my own. I bought my own van, the cheapest thing I could – it barely moved – and then started out subcontracting with Allied Carpets. I was with them for about 25 years. Over time, I started getting a reputation locally and doing more for myself, until I ended up running my own business and doing it all.”

 

Sticking to Floors

 

James Murray - wood floor

 

His experience means he knows all there is to know about flooring, supplying many customers with materials as well as fitting it. When it comes to other trades, he’s happy to have a go in his own home, but he also knows his limitations. “I’m not going to go into someone else’s house and do something other than flooring – I do what I do. I’ve tried to do plastering and things at home, but it hasn’t gone so well. I did behind the fridge, and it was awful, it took ages trying to get it smooth. I actually ended up getting a guy from MyBuilder to do the rest of it and it was perfect – the Queen would have been happy with it.”

Using MyBuilder as both a tradesman and a homeowner has helped to shape Jamie’s view of the site. “I’ve been a member for four years now, and it’s been brilliant to find work. I get the emails coming in all day and just go for them right on my phone. I wish it had been around 15 years ago – if I’d had the work I get now back then, I’d have a whole team of people working for me.” He’s also a fan of the feedback system: “I know it works, because I’ve found good people by reading their feedback. I know it’s not easy to keep it 100%, you have to bend over backwards for some customers, but that’s the nature of the business. People’s homes are very personal. You have to treat them very carefully.”

It’s true that all homes are personal – as Jamie’s home-made pub proves.

 

Advice for Tradesmen:

 

  • Tidiness counts: “One of the easiest ways to help leave a positive impression and help yourself get good feedback is to make sure you leave every job as tidy as possible. I treat every house like my own home, and don’t leave it until it until it’s spotless.”
  • Be wary of travelling: “There’s nothing wrong with travelling for a job if the price is right and it makes sense for you, but it’s easy to go for work that is more trouble than it’s worth. If you’re spending hours in traffic, you’re not getting paid for that. Even the small things can make a difference – I have a tall van, and once went on a job where I was expected to park in an underground car park I couldn’t fit in – it made everything that much more difficult.”
  • Provide aftercare: “It can be difficult, but the best way to help your reputation is be helpful when it comes to aftercare. I had one job where they called a few weeks later to say there was a problem with the floor – when I went, it was something that someone else had done when they’d messed with the skirting board. But I fixed it for nothing, even though it was a way to go for a few minute’s work. That’s what it takes.”

 

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When we meet Colin Clark in his home just outside Leeds, he’s fitting out his pristine new van ready for action. The sign writing hasn’t been done yet, but when it is, there are lots of things he can proudly display on its side.

 

The Power of Feedback

With more than 200 pieces of positive feedback on MyBuilder, Colin is spoilt for choice when it comes to picking out his best recommendations. “Carlsberg don’t do gasfitting,” says one review, “but if they did, they wouldn’t be as good as Skeltonwood Gas”. Other reviews praise his time-keeping, his tidiness, his politeness and his pricing – as one says, “I’ve recommended him to my grandma too, that says it all!”

“It’s always nice to hear reviews like that,” says Colin, “I work hard to make sure people are happy with their jobs, so knowing that people are leaving you good feedback is a real boost.” Making sure the reviews come in is a vital part of his admin, politely asking for feedback from his happy clients. “People are usually very happy to give feedback if the job’s done well. Little things, like clearing up at the end of every day, go a long way to making people happy. I always ask if they’d leave a comment, and they nearly always do.” The more feedback he gets, the stronger his profile looks, and the more work comes his way. “I’ve been on MyBuilder for a long time now, and it’s a great way to get regular work. Then for every person you meet through it, they can recommend you to other people, and it keeps going.”

Family Business

Colin has built up his reputation thanks to years of experience in the trade, starting out at the Gas Board (later British Gas) in his native Yorkshire, before setting up Skeltonwood Gas alongside his brother, Chris. Nowadays, Chris’ son Nick is also getting involved, building up his own experience by working alongside his uncle with thoughts of expanding the business. “It’s nice to work alongside family,” Colin explained, “especially bringing another generation into it. I have years of experience I can pass on, because I’ve seen everything before, I’ve had to deal with every problem going. That doesn’t mean he always wants to listen to me, but it’s working out so far,” he says with a laugh.

When it comes to the business, it’s the more the merrier as far as Colin is concerned, as there’s plenty of work to be done. Colin told us: “It can be a busy trade, working with gas and boilers. There’s always work to be done, as every boiler and central heating system needs regular checking and servicing to make sure they’re in good nick. I keep a diary so I know when I’ve installed every boiler, and can make a note to give them a call and come and check on it in a year’s time. There’s lots to do.”

Tried and Tested

With a list of qualifications as long as his experience, including being a gold star accredited Worcester Bosch installer, Colin thinks he’s seen it all in his time in the business. “I’ve seen some death traps in my time for sure,” he said. “A lot of the time, people want the simplest solution – just a quick check. If they’re thinking of moving out soon, they might want to leave any bigger issues for the next person to deal with. A full service, changing the filters and everything, is better than a basic check up, and it’s worth doing. You find sometimes that some landlords don’t want to pay for the full service, but I’d always recommend it. It’s the same when it comes to buying new boilers – some are cheap in the grand scheme of things, only about £400, but the chances are they’ll only last you a few years at best. A good boiler might cost a little bit more up front, but it can last you for 20 years, so it makes good sense to buy the best you can afford. The only thing a cheap boiler is good for is someone looking to move house in the near future, and they know the problem will be dealt with by the next owner somewhere down the line.”

As with many tradesmen – and doctors – he also advocates for prevention rather than cure. “I always advice people to have their boilers looked at in the summer, when you can maybe afford to be without it, rather than in the winter when you’ll be relying on it.”

Advice for tradesmen

  • Plan your diary: While admin and paperwork is often the aspect of work that many tradesman would rather ignore, the value it can have on your business is crucial. Colin said: “I always make sure I follow up with all my customers to get services booked in down the line. It’s a bit of extra work and preparation to get it all down and be organised, but it pays off for you.”
  • Cultivate your feedback: As with other admin, chasing feedback can feel like a chore, but one good piece can really stick with you and boost your profile. “It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of effort,” Colin said, “you just have to think to do it. When you’re finishing the job, just remember to ask them to leave some feedback, and get into the habit of doing it.”
  • Go above and beyond: Colin is proud of the qualifications he has acquired over the years, and of course cannot work on domestic gas without his registration with Gas Safe. But on top of the qualifications, he is always keen to keep learning and adding to his knowledge: “There’s no substitute for real experience,” said. “Getting your Gas Safe and other qualifications is essential, but it’s just a starting point.”

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