Tag: tradesmen

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The pleasure of painting

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A matter of standards

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Advice for tradesmen:

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

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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.”

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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