Tradesmen listen up, here are 14 tips to look more professional and win more of the right business.

October 2015, four months after I’d had my little girl Neave we came home to a flooded house! What happened over the next 12 months, I will never forget but it taught me a lot about what a customer needs from a tradesman when deciding who to award the business to.

I’d been down in Edinburgh at friends for the weekend and had returned to our house in Montrose at about 8pm on Sunday night.  I can still remember it clearly, it was dark outside and I’d left Andy to get Neave out of the car- I’d gone to unlock the house and having opened the front door I’d let out an almighty shriek.  I think Andy thought there was someone dead in the hallway!

What had actually happened when I’d opened the door was that I’d been confronted by water pouring in through the ceiling and soaking wet carpets that I could feel squelching under my feet. After my initial shriek I think I was I just in shock, totally overwhelmed by the whole ordeal that was revealing itself more and more as I went into each room.

Frantically we started searching for our house insurance documents, for reassurance that we were covered and with hope that they’d tell us what to do! We were informed that all we could do is turn off our water supply and wait until the morning when a recovery team would be sent in to inspect. After moving everything that we could save, we sat huddled in the spare bedroom and quickly realised there was no way we could stay the night with a baby in tow.

Carpet removal after burst water tank

Andy’s Mum and Dad were away but thankfully we had a key to their house so pitched up with the little one for some respite for the night- little did we know that we’d spend the next 12 months living there!

When the recovery team turned up the next morning it was the most heartbreaking few hours as they literally hauled out every carpet, and piece of furniture from our house. As the time rolled by I plucked up the courage to ask the team leader how long they thought it might be until we got back into our house. I think up until now I’d been under the illusion it would be a few weeks however, he was straight to the point- there as no way I was going to be home before Christmas (Our first proper family Christmas) and it was likely to take more than 6 months. I think I literally stood there with my mouth gaping open!

Over the next few days we were visited by the loss adjuster and quantity surveyor as they pieced together all the damage that needed to be repaired. Most walls and ceilings needed to come down and be repaired, the kitchen would need to be disposed of and quite quickly we realised all rooms apart from our garage and spare bedroom would be out of use until the repair job was completed.

It was a dark time in our life, I’m not going to lie, it felt like we couldn’t see the wood for the trees and my perfect maternity leave was well out of the picture!

water damage to house

I can’t remember now what started the conversation, but when looking at what needed to be repaired we realised we could make some changes to the house layout. We’d always fancied an open plan living area and strangely this water ingress had presented us with an opportunity.  It started off as a bit of a dream that gave us an escape from reality but as we started to ponder over our extension dreams that we’d eyeballed for about 5/6 years down the line- why shouldn’t we try and make something positive out of these upsetting circumstances?

No one teaches you this stuff, but it made me realise I was definitely a grown up!  Yes I’m married and have a child, but strangely this project was going to make me realise that I was no longer a 24 year old who could float through life and get themselves out of every situation!

Arriving at the architect’s office, I felt intimidated and a bit lost.  I needed them to show us the way and give us confidence that our hopes could be reality. I wanted this project to be the rainbow to our current shit storm!

The information I needed from the architects..

  1.  How the process would work
  2. An honest evaluation of our ideas
  3. Ballpark costs of what the project would cost
  4. A non-jargon explanation
  5. Timely turnaround
  6. Recommendations of what we could improve on our current ideas.
  7. Real-life imagery of what it could look like as well as the official drawings
  8. Reassurance that they knew what they were doing

About a fortnight later, we made the decision to go ahead with the house extension, taking a cash settlement from the insurance brokers, and adding to the pot with our savings. This was scary we were about to spend over a £100k on our house and it currently looked like a beaten out shell.

House extensions don’t happen everyday so we had no idea where to start.  Luckily the architects gave us some names to contact, however none of them had a website or even social media.  This felt like going against the grain, if they didn’t even have a website, are they even kosher?

In the back of my mind all I had was the TV programmes Watchdog and Rogue Traders.  Having not a clue what I was talking about, how was I going to know what questions to ask and how should I know if they were any good?

Having experienced the situation above, these 14 points would have made my life so much easier as a customer.

  1.  Have a website for your business, it is your shop window, if all we can find is a phone number it already has us on edge.
  2.  Provide case studies of your work, including imagery and testimonials from your customers, it reassures us that you have quality experience.
  3. Introduce your wider partners i.e. who you work with for plumbing, rendering or ground works.  Depending on their reputation they could enhance our perception of your business.
  4.  Explain everything simply, don’t presume that I know everything, the more I grasp, the more confident I will be of your capabilities.  We were stressed and didn’t really trust anyone, in order to feel secure in our decisions both Andy and I needed to have a clear understanding of what was happening.
  5. Introduce your team, whether it’s on your website, social media or on a brochure it’s reassuring to see the people who will work on my project. After all I’m about to trust these people with my home.
  6.  Be willing to challenge some of my thoughts, not everything I say will be right. If you can add value to the project be it through savings,  efficiencies or presentation tell me! By making me feel that you are looking after me and not just your own back pocket, I am going to feel far more comfortable and likely to trust you.  Our nominated joiner/builder encouraged us to lift a lintel as it would make the corridor all feel part of the same house, he also encouraged us to put full-length mirrors on the hallway wardrobe to help reflect the light and I’m so glad he did.
  7. Use social media, to give an insight into your work and share knowledge of your area of expertise. I know it is not easy to find time, but as a potential customer I am looking for other peoples opinions on your business. By embracing social media you are encouraging this and acting more transparently, which helps build trust.
  8. Ask for reviews from past customers; encourage Facebook or Google in particular. As a customer, we want to hear about other people’s experiences first hand- think about how you use tripadvisor when you go on holiday. I know it might feel daunting at first but as a quality tradesman you should have nothing to worry about.
  9. Enable customers to speak to some of your past clients, I asked my builder for some past clients that I could get in touch with and it made me feel so much more confident about my final decision.
  10.  Explain your costs, a lot of my hard earned money is about to be spent and I do not want to feel taken advantage of. Break your costs down if possible, into manageable chunks, which are easy to digest. In the opposite direction don’t go overboard with too much information as it is bamboozling.  I don’t know need to know the price of every bolt!  This actually put me off one of the tenders.
  11.  Give me a rough timescale. When can you start and how long do you think it may take. Explain that there are certain situations that can effect it such as weather, delivery times etc. but at least give me a realistic ballpark to work with.
  12. Don’t turn up in a scabby old van, Image is everything. If you don’t care about your appearance why would I think you’d care about the finer details of my house? We all say that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but we all do.
  13.  Put yourself forward for industry awards and/or Quality assurance standards. Opportunities such as the Trades Awards  and the Scottish Home Awards are stamps of approval, they provide reassurance that you provide quality workmanship and should feature prominently in your marketing.
  14. Get a proper email address, makes me feel that you do not have your business in order. is simple to organise, especially when buying a domain for your website to be created. 
completed house

You may have been getting business for the past 40 years successfully without all of these 14 tips, but the truth is the customer journey is changing. We do so much more online and therefore the more you can invest now in this area the better, it will create stability for your future.

House development is stressful, in most situations a lot of money is in discussion and due to the poor state of the industry the customer trusts no one! You may deal with these situations everyday but it is more than likely that your client is dealing with it for the first time.  Looking back on my experiences, it could have been so much smoother with these steps in place. My advice would be to help your customers through the experience by giving them the information that they need to feel reassured and in control. Their situation might not be as sudden as mine was, but its still going to feel quite stressful as it is typically out of their comfort zone.

Your turn…

  • How do you convert business at the moment?
  • What is holding you back from completing any of the above
  • Do you have any tips on how you’ve won business in the past?

If you’d like to hear more on how you can put the 14 steps into action successfully, complete your details below and I’ll let you know about future article releases.