7 top tips for tradespeople to run a successful business

With tax changes, Gas Safe exams, health and safety issues and difficult customers, life is never simple for the busy installer. Benjamin Dyer of Powered Now discusses how easy it is to lose sight of the basics in all of the turmoil.
Most of us that run businesses know most of what we must do to succeed. The problem is not the knowledge, it is more about putting that knowledge into practice. That’s particularly the case when you are busy.
So, this article talks mostly about fairly obvious things. That’s in the hope that we can all give these issues the priority that they deserve. The first and most important thing to think about is the standard of your work.
1 – Do good work
Doing a great job is such an obvious priority it’s almost embarrassing mentioning it. But just in case any of us need a reminder, here are three solid business reasons why all the work we do should be of high quality:
• 70% of jobs commissioned by homeowners go to people that they have previously used or who have been personally recommended to them.
• Customers upset with your work will refuse to pay, fight you in court and generally make life a misery.
• Customers have much more power these days as they can, and will, post highly critical reviews on the web.
That’s why quality is so fundamental to success.
Excuse me for being blunt, but if you are a sole trader that can’t do quality work, look for a new profession. Else, you will face a lifetime of pain.
2 – Quote quickly and professionally
Quoting quickly is the easiest way to win more business. Homeowners find it very frustrating getting quotes out of installers. In a survey that my company conducted with more than 1,000 homeowners, getting quotes was one of the biggest single frustrations.
Quotes should be designed to impress. Provide details of your qualifications and experience, and including pictures of a recent successful job will be highly persuasive. Produce a nice looking quote quickly and you will build trust and make a great first impression. That’s the key to winning more business.
3 – Don’t charge too little
If there is one thing that causes more businesses to fail than poor quality work, it’s under-pricing jobs. This is easy to do and can easily become a habit. Mistakes often include not considering the cost of training, tools, occasional jobs that go wrong, the cost of the van, the taxman and insurance. It’s also easy to forget that you must cover your time when you are on holiday, sick or attending training. That’s before you even look at marketing.
One way to deal with this is to sit down and calculate the minimum wage you need to survive. Figure in all the factors above to calculate a cost per hour. You absolutely cannot afford to work for less than that. The number may surprise you.
4 – Invoice quickly and for everything
Invoicing quickly and not putting it off has a number of benefits:
• When you invoice quickly you can remember the details easily.
• You are more likely to include justified charges for additional work. That could be for additional customer requests or for snags you couldn’t have reasonably foreseen.
• The customer has just had the pleasure of the job being completed so they’re in the best frame of mind to pay immediately.
All in all, it means more money in the bank quicker, with less effort. What’s not to like?
5 – Run your team well
The principles of good staff management are pretty plain. Praise staff in public. In contrast, tell people about problems to their faces, only ever in private.
Recruit carefully. Be suspicious of people that have had too many short tenure jobs. Reward fairly; most things come to light in due time.
6 – Eliminate paperwork
Hatred of paperwork is a mark of the entire trade industry, not just installers. So why not get rid of it completely?
Giving a seminar at a recent Vaillant roadshow, I asked who was using software in their businesses. Around half of the people put their hands up but nobody said it was a mistake.
It’s hugely less work to click a quote to create an invoice and then click one more time to send it to your customer by email and text.
The alternative means writing it out, folding it, finding an envelope, putting the paper inside, addressing the envelope, finding a stamp, posting it and then waiting on the vagaries of Royal Mail to deliver it. And of course, you can always print it out and use the old method of delivery for the few customers that don’t want it emailed.
But to truly get rid of paper, you need a powerful system. This includes one like that supplied by my company and others, which handles all aspects of paperwork with no exceptions and rekeying. So, you not only create and store quotes and invoices but also gas certificates, job sheets, a diary, expenses and project management for larger jobs.
That’s all handled in a single integrated system. It’s the way to truly see the back of paper.
7 – Be well organised
Planning is another thing that will make your business efficient. This involves getting the right people to the right place to do the right job but also having all of the materials and tools necessary to hand.
You should plan all activities and appointments using a shared diary that covers everyone, including all field-based engineers. You should then also be able to track them on a map.
Finally, there should be a company chat facility that enables everybody to chat and help each other.
In Conclusion
The basics in business never stop being important. I hope that there are some thoughts in this article that have re-energised you to tackle some of them with redoubled efforts.

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