Working under your own steam

It can be lonely running your own business – you’ve got to do the job, but you also have to organise all the paperwork and prepare to pay your tax. Benjamin Dyer of Powered Now shares some thoughts that may help busy installers avoid unnecessary stress.

Do good work: Doing great work leads to more and more work in an industry which gets 70% of its new jobs from word of mouth recommendation or previous experience. This is probably the simplest point to make if you want to avoid stress.

If you don’t have the discipline to finish a job well, maybe it’s worth asking if you should work for someone else. If you can’t do a quality job whatever the environment, maybe you should be reconsidering your career choice.

Focus on what you do best:  The truth is we are better off doing what we do best and getting other people to do the stuff we are no good at. You will make life easier as a sole trader when you are prepared to pay other people to do the stuff you hate, and this usually means book-keeping.

Often, the bookkeeper’s cost per hour will not only be less than yours but they will be faster too. That means you can make more money as well as dumping the boring stuff.

It is not uncommon for a sole trader’s partner to do the admin. If you are ambitious, this can be the way to get a growing business started. When someone who does the job well combines with someone brilliant at admin, it’s the recipe for a big success.

Get advice from friends and mentors:  It can be lonely running your own business, particularly when there are problems. Because you don’t have anybody else alongside you, you have to solve everything. That’s why it’s good to spend time building friendships with similar people.

Another approach is to share a beer from time to time with someone with more experience that would enjoy giving you advice. A lot of people look to an accountant for this. In fact, when we surveyed our customers we found that 81% did it. It’s great advice from people who know how lots of different businesses tick.

Nowadays, there are forums and Facebook groups covering pretty much every trade and every aspect of running a trade business. So, join one of these and you will be able to ask lots of other friendly installers how to solve different problems.

Keep the business cash coming in:  Getting on top of your cash flow is also very important. Cash is the life-blood and without it, every business is dead in the water. Seeing little in the bank when you have bills to pay is hugely stressful. Try to avoid that with the following tips:

• Get your invoice out the same day that you finish a job.

  Take a deposit and make this larger when you have to buy significant goods up front.

Buy everything on account and try to avoid unplanned trips to merchants by thinking through every-thing you need before you start the job.

  Put money aside for tax and even after that, spend a bit less than you have coming in. Then, you always have something for emergencies.

Make a profit:  One of the most common causes of businesses going under is pricing too low. And of course, there is nothing more stressful than when this happens.

You may need to price low when you get going but after that make sure that you charge enough for your good work. As said before, if you need someone else to push you to do good work, you shouldn’t be a sole trader, and if you can’t produce good results, you should be in a different business.

Know how deal with difficult customers:  Dealing with difficult customers can be hugely demoralising. Even if you take a lot of care, the best installers around will still sometimes have problems with customers. Here are some thoughts for dealing with them:

• Make sure you have covered yourself in your terms and conditions. At a minimum, say that any work not explicitly mentioned is not included. Also, that estimates exclude anything that could not have been reasonably foreseen.

Listen carefully to customers that complain before you give your reply. When the customer doesn’t think that you have listened it makes the problem worse. Tell them what they have told you so that they understand that you have listened, as it will make them more receptive.

  Try to apologise even if it’s only “I’m really sorry that you are upset by this”.

When the problem is down to you, fix it as soon as possible. Surprisingly, that can lead to them becoming your most loyal customers and advocates. That’s because they know they can rely on you to put things right if things go wrong.

Walk away:  Prevention is better than cure and sometimes when prospects are too picky and price-conscious, it may be best to leave them to someone else. If the job has been started, giving a refund might be less damaging to your business than battling them for months. Life is too short for that!

About the author: Benjamin Dyer is CEO and co-founder of Powered Now – an app which aims to take the pain out of paperwork for small businesses. For more details visit: www.powerednow.com

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