Tag: tradesmen

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If you’re a self-employed tradesman, the newspaper headlines this morning wouldn’t have made for happy reading.

“Rob the Builder”. “Spite Van Man”. “No Laughing Matter” – the government has been criticised by all sides for its budget plans.

Some of the biggest news to come out of chancellor Philip Hammond’s budget announcement yesterday concerned the self-employed. If the plans go ahead, the Class 4 National Insurance contributions paid by self-employed workers, such as plumbers, electricians and decorators, will rise from nine per cent to 11 per cent in April 2019. According to the Sun newspaper, the move will hit 2.84 million people, costing them each £240 a year.

At the same time, sole traders who have become incorporated and pay themselves with dividends instead of an annual salary will also be hit, with the tax-free amount they can hand themselves cut from £5,000 to £2,000 a year, which the Sun estimates will be an average hike of £320 a year for 2.2m workers.

In a case study, the paper looks at self-employed painter and decorator Sandie Webster, who’ll be out by £60 a year when the changes come in. The Lincolnshire tradeswoman will benefit from Class 2 National Insurance being axed, only to be hit by the rise in Class 4. “With no holiday or sick pay, I’m thinking twice about whether I should give up being self-employed,” she told the paper.

The government, which has previously pledged to freeze or cut taxes, is facing a backlash from its own MPs over the proposals, with former Tory minister Andrew Murrison expressing concern for the people running their own businesses: “This party on this side has always been, I hope always will be, the party that supports white van man.”

Pressure is growing on the chancellor to backtrack on the National Insurance changes – but at the moment, he’s insisted they will go ahead.

 

All over the country, tradespeople are waking up every day and going to work. Whether digging out foundations or clambering around the chimney pots, they’re all united by their hard graft and commitment to a job well done.

At MyBuilder, we want to help homeowners find the very best tradespeople, and that means showing off all the great work that tradesmen on the site are doing every day. We love writing about the lengths tradesmen go to to make the jobs happen, but as the old saying goes, a picture speaks a thousands words, so as well as writing, we’re travelling the country to capture tradesmen hard at work.

If you have a job that you think shows off your skills, or a project that you know will make onlookers say “wow”, let us know, and we’ll do our best to try and document it – and you. We’ll even let you have a set of the professional shots for you to use, at no cost. Get in touch with our photographer Andrew at andrew@mybuilder.com, and you could join our other photo stars:

heating

Adam Prentice of White Knight Central Heating and Plumbing Services hard at work replacing a radiator

 

insulation

Martin Johnson of Evergreen Power adds a layer of insulation to a roof in Croydon

 

Daniel Morgan - Roofer

Danny Morgan (r) and his crew at Morgan Roofing finish off a complete roof replacement in Hampton

 

Ben Robinson - Tree Surgery

Ben Robinson of Clear Cut Trees takes down a tree in North London

 

Carl Lamon - Chimney & Fireplace Specialist

Carl Lamon of Oxon Stoves adds a new flue to this chinmey in Didcot

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.”

Press release 2

We know the tradesmen on MyBuilder do good work.

Every day, we see satisfied homeowners leaving feedback telling us about the great jobs tradesmen have done for them. Turning up early, staying late, going the extra mile – from painters to plumbers and tilers to tree surgeons, we know that you can find the best in the business when you post a job on the site.

So when we launched our Job of the Year competition back in January, we knew it would take something really special to stand out. We wanted the cream of the crop, the stories that would make us sit up and take notice of the efforts the tradesman had gone to. We were ready to be impressed – and yet we still found ourselves overwhelmed by the quality of work being done and the dedication of the tradesmen carrying it out. From Michael Robertson in Manchester who helped build a community food bank for free, to Bob Vass in Buckinghamshire who went above and beyond to build a winter shelter for rescue donkeys, we were inundated with positive tales.

 

Job of the year_-19

 

More than 1,600 people felt strongly enough about the work they had done to submit it to the Job of the Year competition, and nearly 34,000 more voted on what they thought was the most inspiring story. After the public vote, we made a shortlist of the 12 most popular entries, before sitting down to choose the overall winner.

In the end, we picked a winner that exemplified all of the best qualities we were looking for: Martin Robinson of MJO Limited in Sleaford, Lincolnshire. When Ellouise Hempstead posted her job – “Two story 34sqm extension” – she knew she needed help. At the end of 2015, Ellouise and her fiance bought a dilapidated barn, and moved into a caravan in the garden while they set about renovating and expanding it. She posted the job on MyBuilder looking for someone with energy, passion and commitment. In Martin, she found all of that, and more. As she put it:

“Our renovation dream went from something average, to something exceptional. Because of his advice, support and enthusiasm, our project has made more progress than we’d thought possible within the first year of works… Not only did Martin give us advice, but he also gave us spare building materials he was going to skip from other jobs, as he knew that we could use them and that it would help us financially. He didn’t ask a penny for them, he even delivered them for us and he had to travel a 40 mile round trip just to drop them off. This would be a wonderful gesture from anyone, but when it’s from your builder, it’s just so humbling.”

 

Press release 3

 

The project is still ongoing, and the couple are still working with Martin to realise their vision. They share £5,000 in prize money.

Asked how it felt to win, Ellouise said: “We’re absolutely thrilled and cannot believe we’ve been picked. Thank you so much. Martin is so deserving of this award and the prize. We just keep pinching ourselves! It shows that helping others really does make a difference and hopefully it will inspire other tradesmen to follow suit and grow public confidence in the building trade.”

Martin, who’s been a member of MyBuilder since 2013, and has 100% positive feedback, said: “It was such a nice surprise to have been put forward for the award. It makes you take even more pride in your work. My half of the prize money is probably going back into my own house. I did want it for a Harley-Davidson, but my other half has told me that’s not allowed!”

Ryan Notz, the founder and CEO of MyBuilder, said: “Huge congratulations to Martin for winning our first ever Job of the Year award. He and Ellouise faced some extremely tough competition, but Martin’s dedication, expertise and energy really stood out and we are delighted to present them with the prize. Celebrating our excellent tradesmen is a big part of what MyBuilder is about, and we hope this competition has helped shine a light on their outstanding achievements.”

There could only be one winner of the Job of the Year prize. But with feedback for jobs being posted on MyBuilder every day, we know the next job of the year is already underway.

 

 

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.”

IMG_0853

Ask a builder what their favourite project was, and they might point you to all kind of jobs. An extension that helped a growing family make the most of their property. A conversion job that meant a disabled homeowner could have more independence. But for some builders, their favourite jobs are even more personal. And it doesn’t get much more personal than building your own house.

For Yaz Meer, of MPM Builders, building his own home was a dream that came true – even if it wasn’t a job that he was ever able to prioritise. “When you’re a builder,” he says, “your own house is always the last to get done.”

But with the help of one labourer, and an experienced bricklayer who came in to sort some of the details, Yaz built his own home in 12 months, taking on everything from digging out the foundations to fitting the bathroom.

Start as you mean to go on

It’s an especially impressive achievement when you consider that, like many tradesmen, Yaz doesn’t have much in the way of formal qualifications or accreditations. His career in the building industry began young though, leaving school early in order to start going out on site with his dad. From there, it might seem like a straightforward path to setting up on his own with years of experience under his belt, but things didn’t quite go that way.

“I liked being out with my dad, but I didn’t stick at it. I ended up packing it in and getting a job in a warehouse. It’s odd to think now, but I actually wasted six years of my life there, just moving boxes around.”

Thankfully, like riding a bike, Yaz never quite forgot his trade skills, and when he finally picked up the courage to pack in his warehouse job, he was able to go back to his roots as a jobbing tradesman. As his house-building skills show, he has a wide range of abilities, and when we visited him at home in Nottingham, he struggles to pick a favourite when asked what he most enjoys. “I know people say you’ll just be a jack of all trades and a master of none, but I honestly do think I’m pretty good at most of the things I’ve tried. I’ll turn my hand to anything.” He points to the garden decking outside: “I built that after we moved here, not having done decking before. The neighbours liked it so much, they asked me to go over and do some for them as well.”

Despite having an omnivorous attitude to jobs, he’s settled into a few particular niches, particularly bathroom fitting. “I like fitting a bathroom, and I think my wider experience helps with it. If someone is just a bathroom fitter, sometimes they won’t think about the bigger picture, they’re just focused on putting in a new suite and that’s it. Because I’m a builder too, I can take a different approach, and think about things like taking out walls to really make use of the space.”

A night on the tiles

Sadly, bathroom fitting also brings him into close contact with his least favourite activity. “Tiling! I hate tiling. I wish I could just wave a magic wand and have it done. I know it means the job is nearly finished, but I just hate it.”

He still does it though, as he does most jobs. While he’ll bring in a Part P registered electrician for electrics, and a Gas Safe engineer for any gas work, he’s reluctant to bring in anyone else. “Sometimes I think about expanding the business, and having other people work for me, but I’m concerned about my reputation. I need people I can trust to do the job properly. At the end of the day, it’s my reputation on the line.” So far, it’s a reputation that has seen him gain 100% positive feedback on MyBuilder.

Working by himself means there’s always work to do, being hard at it for five days a week and visiting potential clients at weekends to give quotes. After building his own business and building his own home, does he think about hanging up his tools? “Sometimes I think I’d love it if I could retire at 50,” he muses. “But at the same time, I also know I’d get really bored.”

Thankfully, there might be someone to carry on the family trade, with his youngest son keen to follow in his footsteps. If he comes up to Yaz’s high standards, there’ll be plenty to do around the house, as he looks to swap his home’s kitchen and living room. If he gets round to it of course. “That’s the problem,” he sighs. “It’s always the last thing to get done.”

See his full profile here.

Advice for other tradesmen

  • “Make sure you take the time to listen to what the customer wants. I work five days a week and save my quoting for weekends. That means I can sit down with the customer and understand what they want without them feeling rushed.”
  • “Be careful about who you choose to work with. If you’re the project manager, it’s your reputation on the line. Make sure you trust anyone doing work with you to do it up to your standards.”
  • “Look after yourself. You have to look after your body a bit, especially if you’re doing things like tiling, down on your knees all day. It takes its toll. You have to understand your limits. You can’t keep going forever, you have to be sensible.”

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