The importance of soft skills

The other day I was having a conversation with a couple of my friends who are carpenters. They work as subcontractors and I was trying to convince them to start doing private work. Some of their reluctance to take the plunge was around financial risk, but they also found homeowners frustrating to work for.

They told some amazing stories of bad workmanship by other trades and how the customers just stuck with these guys as they did more and more rubbish work, simply because they were nice, or good bullshitters. It was clear that they worried that the quality of their work wouldn't speak for itself in the eyes of homeowners.

They told me about the plumber whose shoddy workmanship caused a leak that made the ceiling fall in. He blamed a faulty pipe and then had the nerve to charge the client to fix it. My friends suggested that the client get a new plumber, but the angry response was that the plumber was a nice guy and they should mind their own business.

Ceiling ruined by bad plumbing

Then there was the story of the idiots who installed a washing machine at one of their kitchen fitting jobs. They neglected to take out the transportation bolts that fix the drum in place. And then they didn't have a hole cutter big enough for the waste water hose, so they cut a smaller hole and heat shrunk the hose to fit. The resulting flood ruined the kitchen and the new floor, which my friends were called in to fix.

And then there were the shocking pictures of a skirting board being painted so badly that it made me want to cry. There was white paint all over the brand new dark hardwood floor they installed. I just can't fathom this sort of vandalism.

These stories are so frustrating, you can see why some tradesmen want to avoid this crazy world and simply get on with their work.

photo 1

But we have to take the world as it is and for better or for worse, homeowners can be manipulated by unscrupulous tradesmen. It's difficult to tell the good from the bad when you're not in the trade. What this means for good tradesmen is that being good at your trade is just not good enough. You also need to master the 'soft' people skills that are required as a part of your job. It's not easy to understand people. But boy will it help you succeed in life.

We have very similar challenges at MyBuilder, in fact. We have to balance tech prowess with good marketing and solid customer service. Some people take the attitude that as long as we have the best website, that's all that matters. Others think that the website isn't important as long as it works - all you need to succeed is good marketing. Yet others think that it's all about customer service and sales. The truth is that you need all of these things to be successful.

For tradesmen, it's the same. You need to be good at your trade (technical), you need to convince clients that you're good at your trade (marketing), and you need to be responsive, communicative, and likeable (customer service).

Few tradesmen have all three of these nailed. Those who do are easy to spot. They're the ones getting all the work on


  1. Maybe those tradesmen who refuse to do private jobs are the biggest problem. It's their refusal to do private jobs, which means us homeowners who lack the skill knowledge or time have to rely on the cowboys to do what we can't.

  2. For whoever monitors this site. Just wanted to say that I've just had my second positive experience of tradesmen hired through this site. Both my jobs were fairly mid range but slightly out of my capability. Both quoted really sensible prices and delivered good work. I get the feeling this site regulates the feedback with far better scrutiny and control than other tradesmen sites. Will always use this site for future jobs.

  3. The trouble for the home owner is that it is very difficult to tell a 'bullshitter' from a genuinely knowledgeable and skilful workman, especially if they are articulate, friendly and appear to wish to do a good job. We had the wool thoroughly pulled over our eyes recently by such a bloke who did a truly terrible bathroom installation, ruining a carpet into the bargain. In the end, having taken 5 weeks over a two week job we took him off it but not before it was too late - the tiling can't be redone (though we managed to get the plumbing fixed) and we have to live with the result. It's so disappointing. If only there was a way to warn folk of these people but they seem to carry on regardless and continue to get plenty of work.

  4. With regards to dodgy tradesmen and work that leaves you less than satisfied I agree it can be difficult to find the right man (or woman) for the job.
    There are a couple of things you can do to sort the wheat from the chaff.
    1. Get references and check them out.
    2. If you can, go look at some of the their previous work.
    3. Start your potential tradesman on a small job first, for example, if you want the whole house painted and you have a painter that seems to know what hes about then get him into do one room first and see how he gets on. If it goes well then you can let him loose on the rest of the house but if things don't look right you can pull the plug and send him packing.

  5. hello I tend to be able to judge a person within a few moments and after doing past work through I could trust them ,was I wrong after the customer asked for extra work to be done when payment was asked for the reply was I through it was in the price.this has tought me a good lesson give a written quote with a itemised work to be carried out and ask for a deposit

  6. It’s fair to say we've all had bad experiences from both sides. Being a general builder (and knowing my limitations) I approach my potential clients with honesty, giving a very clearly defined quotation relating to the nature of work involved. Unfortunately, there will always be a minority of clients that expect something for nothing especially in these days of austerity.
    Most honest builders know that they can be taken for a lot of money by a client and its very difficult to pursue these costs legally.
    Be fair, be honest, keep informing the client throughout all stages of a project and things don't usually go wrong!

  7. I think that unfortunately the few dishonest builders that are out there give us tradesman all a bad name and I constantly feel under scrutiny from possible clients as it is a major concern. People are having to spend out lots of money and in today's market I think people are being extra cautious.

  8. I pride myself on doing an excellent job every time and leaving the worksite clean an tidy as well as safe for customers. If you struggle a bit with customers, make sure you say your Ps and Qs. Remember you are entering into their house so treat every property with the same respect as if it was your own, make sure you do the best job you can possibly do then you wont have any problems and will soon gain the customer’s trust.

  9. I am technician graded electrician and was talking shop with other company QS's at a recent professional development course. The outcome was we should all accept there being a little less work in our diaries but keep the price profitable. The worst thing that you can do is undersell yourself and be too cheap. Although its a fine line to being too expensive...The customer is usually looking for the bottom line and contractors all want to make the same profit margin so as to be the lowest bidder and get the job. The cost is reduced by using cheap nasty materials and throwing it in fast with under qualified staff to save on wages. Only a fool works their life away not to get paid for what they have done. If I had to remove a big slice of my competition it would be the cowboys as to do a good job, in addition to skill, takes time and money. That way when I quote on work the playing field would be level.

  10. 8am, I am onsite, 10 mins chat with client or however long they need! (Each client, TO ME, is like my mam or my sister or brother, my PUB vocabulary is put aside). 9am my team arrive, all dressed to impress, company names visible, all required protection on their person. (Don’t smoke or swear on site, don’t spit or rant, you are now at work, everything you do including your trade is questionable. Never ever chat up the wife the daughter! This job can and will pay your mortgage/your rent, it can be an endless stream of income, IF you do your job properly)...Best guidance I may give anyone in the building industry is this: You have a duty to your staff and yourself, then your client. Work safely, come on it’s just a few quid these days for toe tectas, goggles etc. NO EXCUSE. Be on site before your staff, make sure your client understands what you are doing, nothing technical, just a simple - we will do this, then this, then this...I find working in the domestic side of building repairs very simple, to be honest. Just tell the truth, do what you are good at and let the next pro do his/her role and move on. We ain’t in a recession anymore,lol. Best of all? Have safe fun and make a few quid!

  11. I am a general builder and a bricklayer by trade. I am not the greatest bricklayer in the world but I do good work at fair price and would never try and take someone for a ride or would do anything unsafe or wrong.
    Last year I got a job from another site,a straight forward retaining wall and patio. I gave an estimate in writing. On the second day I was asked if they could have a brick wall instead of a block wall so I said yes and did the job it came close to the end when the slabs was being delivered I told the customer that the job has gone over by £150 and this was mainly due to the brickwork. She told me I was a cowboy, a cheat and she wasn't giving me another penny. After speaking to her husband he said of course they would pay for the brickwork. But with her words still in my head I couldn't do anymore work for her and didn't want to fork out £250 for the slabs if she wasn't going to pay.i phoned them and told them,she was begging me to finish it. I had left the job in a good state and was ready for slabbing. I sent an invoice in the post and she refused to pay me and gave a slanderous report on the website. I am still £300 down. I did want to take her to court but with costs is it worth it?

  12. Do every job as you would in your own home , treat your customer with respect lay down dust sheets tidy up after your self even if the client says to leave it they will do it . It's not rocket science .

  13. Ho hum.... oh yeah, over 25 years of dealing with customers in the private sector, I could tell some stories.
    I remember one of my first in the early years. My customer was a little old lady who insisted on bringing me tea on a regular basis.
    Well that's fine you may say, but hold on, when the whole caboodle rocks up with teapot, sugar bowl, milk jug and all on a silver tray you just gotta wonder whether you should nip back home and get dressed for the occasion.
    Then there was one strange case, never took it on though. I rocked up for the job and the customer had laid all his tools out on a long table ready for me to use on the job he wanted to be done. I dealt with it very diplomatically, thanked him, led him to my big ol' transit van and showed him my 'tool table'. - I never quoted cheap prices again.
    One of the comments above about never to chat up the ladies of the house is right on the button. Never the less, I'm sure there have been those experiences amongst us where we are often on the receiving end. Ok if there are no men on the scene in the form of husbands and boyfriends... then that's your risk, but watch out for the ploy in giving a freebie or discount just 'cos the only thing that's soft is your nature.
    To add to the summary comment above, 'fraid we gotta be multi-skilled today in sales, marketing and customer service... yip too true.
    The best success story of any guys working for themselves is to truly love your work and enjoy it... if you don't, you've already lost. It's scary being in the driving seat of your business, but the beauty of it all is that you can take it as far and to any place you want to head for - you answer to yourself.
    There's always gonna be good customers and bad customers, the skill is getting to know the signs and never ever sell yourself short, as it devalues your workmanship. Once you're well up there, you can take the cream and leave the milk to the cowboys etc.
    Good on all you top-notch work-loving guys out there. The economy is on the up and we can all start to look positive and feel real good again.

  14. If all homeowners were capable of great DIY we respectfully would have less work to compete over! These days it is a competition, it's sometimes cleaning up after a lesser skilled tradesman! As the opening statement states it's you (us) as tradesmen searching out to gain that next great contract to make us the most attractive company for the job! If you can clearly obtain the good jobs and have good clients to date and previous then your work speaks for its self! No one but yourself can tell you if you're going wrong or doing right.

  15. Excellent article! I couldn't agree more. My job involves seeking out suppliers/trades to perform specific work, along with all of the quotations, negotiation and contracts etc. I have to completely agree that there are many, many tradesmen out there who are perfectly good at their "job" technically but pay no heed/interest to the marketing or communication. Execpt for rare trades (thatching, coppicing, drystone walling etc) I don't believe that are in short supply. It's tradesmen who have the skills AND can actually string sentences together and who can communicate or articulate effectively. Those that can I applaud and celebrate, which is probably why they're so they deserve to be! Well done to all you excellent tradesmen who fall into this category.

  16. I agree a lady said to me she was impressed how articulate I was and how easily I could grasp design concepts . What sort of pond dwellers had she been talking to ? The vast majority of builders and contractors are technical by nature we have so many things to consider before picking up even one tool the simple logistics far evades the average diy-er Think it through , plan then it all fits !Steve Clayton

  17. The painting yes rubbish , the washing machine yes stupid , the leak ? unless you do plumbing day in day out you always watch and check new joints through out the day ,and check before you leave but but if you are unlucky sometimes just sometimes sh*&^ happens . Different pressures and heat etc.

  18. I think the problem is people don't watch their contractor work and ask pertinent questions. If you approach the situation as an opportunity to learn it wont take long to sort the good'uns.

Leave a Comment