Top tips for new, self-employed tradespeople

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Tradesman working under a sink

There’s not as many people learning trades today, such as plumbing, building or electric work; over the last couple of decades, the trend for school leavers has been to follow technology and work with computers or to hanker after a more ‘creative’ career, such as being a social media influencer.

Since the pandemic, however, the country has had a bit of a shake up, as to which jobs are more important than others. For example, you can’t run a computer for long if your electric is out. You wouldn’t be calming coding away on your PC if water was gushing from a pipe in your home. And how would anyone ever move out of their parents’ home if the current housing shortage escalated into a housing crisis?


Learning a trade has always been an incredibly useful career that benefits the general public. Tradespeople will always be in demand, and it’s therefore a secure career to work within such industries.


When starting out as a self-employed tradesperson, there are things you should be aware of. As you’ll no doubt be aware, it can take years to learn a trade, and things continually change. The following tips are not necessarily ones you will find in a training manual; however, they’re useful all the same…


Know your tools

Whilst you may be au fait with a few different tools of your trade, it makes sense to learn what other tools may be out there, as some could make your job a lot easier—even if they’re not originally designed for your line of work. It’s also good practice to know exactly how to use each tool from a health and safety aspect.


Be prepared to listen and learn

When starting out, there’s a lot to take in. Practice is imperative, and you will find that, as the months and years pass, you will get better and better at your trade. Don’t, however, assume you know everything the moment you complete your apprenticeship or training course—there’s likely to be a lot more that you can only learn ‘on the job’.


It’s a good idea to find a mentor who’s willing to share aspects of their many years in the industry; soak up this knowledge and expect that you may be learning in some way or other throughout your entire career—for instance, techniques change, new tools are invented and regulations are often updated.


Rome wasn’t built in a day

It’s important to manage your expectations. As mentioned, it may be a few years after the end of your formal training before you begin to feel confident about your work…which is fine and absolutely normal. Not everything can be learned by theory alone, practical experience counts for a lot and this takes time.


Take care

Health and safety should not be ignored or trivialised; corners are never cut by professionals, only amateurs. On-site accidents occur more often that you may think; get into good, safe habits from the off, and always keep abreast of any changes to H&S regulations.


Involve others if necessary

There’s no shame in asking for help at any time. The client won’t care as long as the job is carried out to a high standard, and you will know how to deal with the scenario next time it crops up if you ask a colleague to teach you. Don’t risk trying to fathom something out yourself if you’re unsure.


Hone your communication

If you’re not used to dealing with people, it may feel awkward to discuss quotes, ask for payment or give instructions to clients. These things get easier with practice. Ask a friend or family member to role play a difficult customer, so that you can hone your communication skills. You won’t be the first to feel uncomfortable.


Keep up to date

New trends, techniques, tools and tips will not fall in your lap, you will need to be proactive in this department. Set up relevant alerts on your phone, spend a couple of hours each month watching tutorials by fellow tradespeople on YouTube, explore the ‘latest news’ sections of industry bodies/academies related to your trade.


Late payers

Self-employed people of all industries will eventually come across a late payer or someone who seems intent on not settling their bill.


You could reduce this risk by asking for a deposit at the outset or arranging regular payments as the work is being completed. Unfortunately, there are chancers out there who still manage slip through the net. If you have a late payer, firstly, don’t feel it’s your fault, these people are menaces. Secondly, don’t hesitate to enforce your rights via the small claims courts.


Saying no

You may have to exercise the word ‘no’ when it comes to favours for friends and family. There are many who would ask/expect you to carry out tasks you’d do in your day job at weekends, for free, just because they’re related to you or they’re a pal. By all means, if you’re happy to carry out work in your spare time as a favour, that’s up to you…just be careful that others don’t take advantage of your generous nature. You deserve downtime as much as the next person.


Insurance

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, ensure you have adequate insurance before you even attempt to carry out work in a client’s home. It may seem an unnecessary or huge expense when you’re not earning much at the outset, but it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than paying to rectify something if the job goes wrong or an accident occurs.


As soon as you begin to accumulate tools, lock them away safely from thieves at night, and make sure your insurance covers their value.


This is not an exhaustive list—we’re sure there are many more things seasoned tradespeople wish they’d known at the beginning of their careers. Physically learning your trade is only half an education when it comes to running your own business and charging clients for your work!


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