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A day in the life of a tradesperson

Reading time: 6 minutes

Part of the joy of working in the trades is that no two days look exactly the same - but they tend to have a lot of things in common. MyBuilder’s Andy Simms breaks down what life on the tools was like for him...

I was a tradesman for eight years, covering a variety of trades, starting out first as a sole trader before growing my business and running a team of up to 14 people. I’ve worked in all weathers on all kinds of jobs so I’ve pulled together a fairly typical day in the life to give an idea of what a usual day tended to be like

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Diary for the day

7.15am: Pick up materials (30mins)
8am: Job one (6hrs)
2pm: Job two (2hrs)
4.30pm: Quoting for new work: (45 mins)
5.30pm: Admin (1hr)
On call: Around the clock

Squeezing in time to eat is usually a good idea as well...

Being a morning person

Building sites aren’t like offices. In my experience, no builder rolls in at 9am. I was always on site by 8am at the latest and plenty start earlier. Before I'd even got on site, I’d have already loaded my van with all the tools and materials I’d need for the day, and picked up whatever extra supplies I’d require too.

Working in people’s houses, the first job is always to make sure you respect their space. Shoes off, dust sheets down, and then you can start bringing your tools in. It's frustrating sometimes, as preparation and tidying up and packing away at the end of the day takes a lot of time, and it doesn't feel like it's actually earning you any money.

However, it does earn you a good reputation, and that’s the starting point for earning anything else. It's a concept that you'll become familiar with if you take up a trade - the job at hand is only half the work. Nobody pays you for quoting, getting supplies, or doing your admin… but it's all priced into the jobs you win.

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Physical work

Work on site will inevitably be physical regardless of what trade you are in, so if you’re just starting out expect to be tired for the first couple of weeks.

In the long term your general fitness will improve, but you'll also undoubtedly pick up bumps, bruises, aches and pains along the way, so looking after your body is vital.

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Organising your time

Most jobs tend to be local, within about 25 minutes or so, and really it's up to you where you work - but of course if you need the money, then you have to go where the work is.

Depending on what kind of work I was doing, I could have been visiting several different clients each day so organistion and communication were crucial. Everything has to be timed in - any unforeseen problems with your next job, traffic, running to the builders merchants for something and so on. If you leave people waiting without an explanation, you’re in for an awkwasrd conversation and there’s a chance they might not hire you again if they feel let down.

You also have to work out how to operate around other tradespeople. Generally there’s a process to all building work, for example when renovating a home there’ll be a first fix, second fix, then finishing, so it's likely your work will be intertwined with other trades. It's rare that things always run to plan so being flexible is a must. Even if you’re working by yourself, there is still an element of teamwork - you can't paint a room if it hasn’t been plastered yet.

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Dealing with headaches

There are many variables that are out of your control, whether it’s materials not being in stock, clients changing their minds, or one of your team drilling through a pipe. This is par for the course - they’re not ‘problems’, rather this is all part of building. As such, if you can take each one on the chin as if it were planned, you'll be happier and healthier for it.

If you can keep on top of the controllable variables - getting materials ordered on time, keeping the client informed, making sure your invoices are paid etc - then you’re onto a winner.

In the long term, there’s always big picture stuff to try and juggle. Money and cash flow can be tricky as all jobs are different, have varying degrees of profitability and work can be seasonal. Every tradesperson knows that some you win, some you lose. The point is, throughout any given year it should average out, and if your passion for quality workmanship and service outweighs greed, then in the long term, ironically, you can make plenty of money.

The stuff that happens off-site

In an average week you might do two to eight quotes as a sole trader, with each on site consultation taking around 30 minutes. If you win half those jobs, you’re doing well. Being the face of your business, it helps if you are comfortable with people and happy to sell yourself. Hiring tradespeople can be a daunting prospect so a friendly face, honesty and no bull goes a long way.

In the evening there’ll no doubt be some admin to do. Bookkeeping, payments, online orders, organising jobs - there are a lot of cogs that need to keep turning and they require constant attention. Looking after your clients is paramount - no clients means no business, and unhappy clients means unhappy you.

My advice would always be to stay ahead of the curve. Proactive communication will avert most conflicts and pitfalls, and even when you do mess up, your previous professionalism will have earnt you some brownie points.

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At the end of the day...

Working in the trades for yourself is a lifestyle choice. Ultimately you can make it as hard or as easy on yourself as you like, but you need to be disciplined enough to keep on top of the to-do list, and flexible enough to keep calm. It can be extremely rewarding if passion outweighs profits - and if that’s the case, the profits will usually follow.

Being your own boss can be awesome, but equally it means that you are responsible for everything. It’s all your choice; I chose to grow big and fast, so I was always on the go and on call no matter what. Ultimately, what never left me was the satisfaction of looking back at a job well done and thinking ‘I did that’. When your client is happy, it makes all the long days worthwhile.

A career in the trades