By Warren Coles
26 November 2020

Ultimate Guide to Setting Up a Trades Business: Better Promotion, Regulations and Managing Customers

This is the second part in our ultimate guide to setting up and running your trades business to maximise sales and revenue opportunities. In the first part we covered how to effectively understand the market and your competitors. In this second part, we will cover how to more effectively carry out promotion, branding, using technology to make your life easier, and tips for ensuring you get good reviews without working for free.

Promotion Channels

Once you have done the above, you can get together your promotion plan – i.e., how you are going to get your business in front of customers. 

There are many channels you could possibly use but buyers, in the majority of cases, look to find information by searching Google and Facebook – While Facebook doesn’t rival Google for general search there is a lot of evidence that shows it is used regularly for people doing a search for someone in their local area – and by visiting recommendation sites, something which we will cover in the next section. 

Note, for Google you will need a website and for Facebook a Facebook page. 

Understanding Promotion

As I mentioned above these are not the only channels available. You should learn about other channel options because, when you price up the cost of reaching your potential customers – for example, if you have a lot of competitors – you may find that Facebook or Google is expensive and there are cheaper ones. 

Promotion is a complex subject and you also need to learn about multichannel marketing, the buyer journey, content that works, and the nuances of successfully running campaigns on each of these channels. This may seem like a lot of preparation, but it will save you money in the long term, and may turn out to be the difference between your business surviving or not. 

Once you have all this information at your fingertips, taking into account your budget, you can then solidify on a segment where you think you have the best chance of success. 

Tradesman Recommendation Sites

One of the main ways you can get your solution in front of customers is through the tradesman recommendation sites like CheckaTrade. This, in itself, is another promotion channel, but, because of its scale, I have listed here as a separate point. 

The advantages of these sites are that they pay lots of money for consumer-focused ads which drive customers to the site, effectively doing the marketing for you. The downside is that there are potentially a lot of your competitors already on the site with reviews and recommendations, meaning – like on Google – you will be at the bottom of the queue. 

You can read a comparison of your options here. But in order to decide if they are right for you, you should search through them to see how many similar companies there are in your local area, how many reviews they have, and what the reviews say so you can understand what matters to your customers. 

Segmentation and Promotion: A Relationship

While segmentation is done before promotion, promotion costs can be a factor in choosing who to target. You should cost up the price of promoting to different segments and then use that to help you choose who to target.  

Budget and Cashflow

I mentioned above getting together a budget for promotion but you should also get together another one that includes everything: your equipment costs, both in terms of initial purchases, and then maintenance, travel and insurance costs, your mortgage payments, and a buffer of a few months to cover living while you build up your business. 

It would be heartbreaking to invest your money to start up and then run out of money before it has succeeded. Heartbreaking, but extremely common. 

Reviews and Recommendations

Unfortunately, the combination of all those shows about cowboy builders, and the fact that you may be charging thousands of pounds for your services, mean good reviews are absolutely essential. Besides making sure you do a fantastic job, you also need to do a little planning around this. 

Choosing the Right Platform for Reviews

There are numerous places to collect reviews: on the recommendation sites, your Facebook page, your Google Business Page and on sites like Trustpilot. Your customers won’t want to post on all these sites so think about which one is your primary source of leads – In addition, see if it is possible to sync them across. 

Tip: One solution would be to take the reviews from one channel and turn it into a graphic that you can then post everywhere. 

Asking Your Customers

While some will automatically give reviews, others need to be asked, reminded, and incentivised. In the latter case, that doesn’t mean bribed to give a positive review as that will get you in trouble on that platform, but rather just to give a review.

Your Portfolio

Reviews are extremely important but seeing examples of your work is also key in convincing your customer. People are naturally skeptical and a picture speaks a thousand words – And is incidentally easier to collect than a review. 

When you finish a job ask to take photos of what you have done, preferably with your customer. Before you get a customer, you can help yourself by creating demo videos or infographics of how you would do the job to show you have the expertise. 

Branding 

Invest a little in a company name and logo. Even if you have acquired all your customers by word-of-mouth, and think you don’t want to appear too commercial, it can only be good to have some T-shirts done and something on your car. Ideally, you want more customers near your present ones, and if your car sits on the road for several hours each week your customers’ neighbours will get curious. 

You get easily get logos done and t-shirts printed on sites like 99Designs. It is really easy and not very expensive. 

Use the Right Technology 

There are a multiple of technological solutions that can help with accounting, scheduling, and with collecting payments and winning business. The majority of people like to use card payments rather than cash and so you should have the ability to take a card payment in the field or through an invoice – In fact, any way your customer wants. In addition, branded quotations and invoices help you appear much more professional and in turn more likely to win the business.  

Don’t Over Promise

Reviews are everything so don’t find yourself in a situation where you are out of pocket, doing extra hours, in order to ensure you get a good one. The way to avoid this is to be totally clear and transparent about pricing; you should let your customer know about anything that could become a difficulty, and stick to what you know skill wise. 

Of course, you may decide to work for cost to get your first few reviews, but remember it is a marketing tactic so don’t let it become a habit. 

Always Provide Excellent Service

This should go without saying, but remember to be punctual, tidy up after yourself, and be polite and courteous at all times. 

Insurance

A tradesman needs to be qualified for the good reason that they are dealing with things that are expensive or dangerous when they are broken. Because of this you should protect yourself through Public Liability Insurance and Personal Indemnity Insurance. If you take on employees, you will need to get Employer’s Liability Insurance. 

Business Structure

Once you earn over £1000 a year your business needs to be registered for tax. You have a number of set up options:

Sole trader – This is the easiest and most straightforward choice, but you personally are responsible for any losses.

Limited company – This takes a little longer to setup and has more reporting and management responsibilities, but your company is responsible for your debt not you. 

Partnership – This is the best option if there are several of you doing this together.

You can find out more here

In all cases, you need to pay tax through self-assessment and you will need to keep accounts of your income and expenses. There are specialist accountancy software packages that can help you with this as will the payment software mentioned above through automatic recording of all invoices. 

Trade Associations

Joining a relevant trade association or professional bodies will help with your credibility and perhaps get you access to additional information on the industry to help make a success of your business. 

Pulling It All Together

Once this is done you should review your business plan. It must clearly detail, with evidence, that you have researched the market, understand it, identified a way to compete, and have a costed promotion plan in place. You may be a little put off by business plan jargon like macro, meso and micro analysis but once you get past the big words it makes sense. Think about how you have criticized or found incredulous when someone has tried to sell you something. Ask yourself the question whether you are making the same mistakes.  

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