What is it?
The handyman is a fairly new concept industry-wise. Years ago, property maintenance companies confined themselves to specific services, such as plumbing, electrical, and painting. However, recently there has been an eruption of handyman businesses, carving themselves out as distinct service providers. With the ever-depressing job market, people are seeking news ways to make a living, and an increasing number of people are following their passion and setting up their own companies.
Perhaps the success of the handyman business is due to the increasingly busy and hectic lives that people lead. Finding enough time to juggle work with family and other commitments can be troublesome, and consequently more and more people are looking for help with odd-jobs around their home, whether it’s changing light fittings, putting up shelves or repairing dripping taps.
Who is it suited to?
In essence, anyone can set up a handyman business. City-workers who have grown weary of their office jobs are among those who have taken the plunge, as well as individuals with a background in property maintenance. This is also not an industry reserved for men, since there are numerous handywomen on the scene. Kerrie Hanafin started A Woman’s Touch in 2003, a company that boasts a team of highly qualified tradeswomen. She explains: “Being a woman can be a fabulous advantage, I think people find it easy to trust you and feel happy leaving you in their home, or with their young children”. Kerrie spotted a niche in the market, and with a current turnover of £3.5m, her handywoman business is flourishing.
An interest and basic knowledge of the different trades are important factors when thinking of starting your business. While there are no specific qualifications required, it is helpful if you are familiar with all aspects of the trade, from painting and plastering to plumbing and carpentry. Central to the handyman concept is that no job is too small, and so a willingness to offer all services is beneficial. Customers will not come back if you refuse the small jobs like changing their light bulb, therefore if you are prepared to do any job, however big or small, you will stand yourself in good stead to be called upon again. Will Davies set up Aspect Maintenance in 2005, a thriving business that today enjoys a turnover of £10.5m and employs 110 fully-qualified maintenance workers. He believes that the key to success is to offer as wide a range of services as possible. “Many handyman businesses can only deal with problems up until a certain level, often they are not suitably registered for the more complex jobs and so while they may be fine for basic problems, they might not be able to resolve the more difficult ones.” This, he explains, can be a hindrance to the growth of your business, because people won’t use you again.
Perhaps most crucial is your attitude and behaviour towards customers; being friendly and approachable is fundamental to build and maintain trust between you and your clients. People want to be able to rely on you, and so honesty and dependability are invaluable qualities when dealing with customers. Chris Gilbey established his own handyman company Bitsbobsandoddjobs in 2006, and affirms the importance of building solid relationships with clients. He says: “The most important thing is customer relations and being responsive to clients. I think we are unique in the way we deal with people, and most of our business comes through word-of-mouth, so it is essential to gain peoples’ trust.”
Research and planning
You need to decide the scope of your business early on. That is not to say that you can’t add further services to your list at a later date, but its important to set out boundaries of the types of jobs you will do. The handyman industry is incredibly broad, and services can range from the simplest of tasks such as changing a light bulb, to fitting a new bathroom or even completely renovating a house. Some of the more complex jobs require specific training and qualifications, as well as industry authorisation, which can limit the scale of services you offer. Nevertheless, it is beneficial to lay out clearly what you are offering so that customers can make an informed decision on whether to hire you.
Starting up any business requires a good degree of planning and preparation. While it may seem fairly straightforward, setting up a handyman company is no different. Kerrie Hanafin suggests talking to people in the area to find out what they would look for in a handyman business. Researching your locality and main competition can really help to establish your place in the market. Sorting out your pricing is also essential at the early stages, so find out your competitors’ prices to get an idea of what you could charge. “No matter how small your company, you should lay out your plans for the next 12-24 months”, explains Will Davies. “If your goals are clearly laid out in front of you, you will find it far easier to achieve them.”
A unique and memorable name for you company is fundamental. Chris Gilbey, from Bitsbobsandoddjobs, stresses that coming up with a good name can really help with branding your business, so it’s worth dedicating time to this.
Experience is probably the most valuable tool. There is nothing better than going out and gaining practical skills and know-how. Chris Gilbey from Bitsbobsandoddjobs spent time as an apprentice for a building company, which has helped enormously with setting up on his own. He says: “There’s nothing better than experience, having a background in the building industry is a huge advantage and it is invaluable to get some practical experience.”
Rules and regulations
There are no specific certificates or training required for starting up as a handyman. However, if you want to be able to offer a full range of services, it is worth getting certified with certain regulatory bodies.
The NICEIC is the organisation that authorises the electrical industry, and if you intend on carrying out any new electrical wiring, this is vital.
For work relating to gas engineering, it is important to register yourself on the Gas Safe index. Initial registration costs £428, which must be renewed every year for a further £205 via telephone, or £180 online. The Gas Safety Register is the UK’s official body for gas safety, having replaced CORGI in 2009, which requires anyone working on gas maintenance to carry the card, proving they are part of the network and are therefore approved.
There are a variety of credible courses that can help you acquire the more complex skills. Kerrie Hanafin from A Woman’s Touch recommends taking a few short courses in each trade. You can find courses for one or two weeks which will give you enough confidence and knowledge to be able to offer your services in that trade.
You will need to think about registering for VAT. As of 2010, you must register for VAT if your turnover for the previous 12 months is more than the current registration threshold of £70 000, or if you expect it to go over that figure in the next 30 days. If your turnover hasn’t crossed the registration threshold, you can still voluntarily register for VAT, because it may be beneficial to you, however, it is not required.
If you are planning on sub-contracting some of your work to other servicemen, you need to register with the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS). As a contractor, you will need to check your workers are registered with HM Revenue and Customs.
Reputation and marketing
Reputation, reputation, reputation. Shakespeare’s famous quotation from Othello rings true throughout all trade industries, and is fundamental for securing a solid customer base. As service providers, keeping your customers satisfied should always be your number one priority, because one unhappy customer could be catastrophic for your business.
Basic rules apply, so a respect for other people's homes is paramount, as is a friendly and approachable manner. Word-of-mouth accounts for a huge proportion of new business, and recommendations are gold dust in this industry, therefore being helpful and going that extra mile can really help you build a reputable and trustworthy enterprise.
Advertising and marketing are good ways to promote your business and to generate commerce. James Irwin left his career in finance to set up The Handy Squad in 2005. He stresses the advantages of creating a website for your business, to develop and retain a strong online presence. “We invested a lot in our website initially because we believed it would really help us market our business. It is also good to have a reliable IT system – it’s a worthy investment”, he says.
The cost of setting up a handyman business can be fairly low, especially if you are a one-man-band. Initially you will need to purchase a set of tools, many of which you may already own, and you also need to think about a vehicle - a van, car, or even scooter will do. However, if you don’t have enough funds to buy one straight up, it may be worth looking into vehicle leasing. Will Davies from Aspect Maintenance recommends going to your local bank to ask about vehicle leasing, as many of the main leasing companies are associated with major banks.
In terms of what you can earn, this can vary according to the size of your business. Most handyman services charge customers at an hourly, or sometimes half-hourly rate, although some also charge a separate call-out fee. Occasionally companies charge according to the job, however this can be complicated, says Will Davies, because it is often difficult to judge the size of the job from speaking with the customer over the phone.
A fairly standard charge may be £20 or £30 per half hour plus VAT. Individual handymen can make up to £300 in a day if business is good, but this may require working long days. Chris Gilbey’s working day often starts at 6am and may not finish until after 10 at night. He says it’s a very “hands-on industry”, however he insists that the excitement and satisfaction of running your own business far outweighs the arduous working hours.
Kerrie Hanafin has learnt two important lessons from starting her business. She highlights the significance of keeping a close eye on the figures and to work out costs ahead of schedule, to make sure you stay on top of things. She also emphasises the importance of paying yourself first. “When cashflow is tight, you often find that you end up working for nothing because other people need to be paid. However, you must always ensure you pay yourself first, to avoid letting yourself down.” James Irwin, from The Handy Squad, reaffirms this point, having witnessed his own salary take a back seat in the early days of his business. He also highlights the importance of being fair in business. He says: “Always treat customers fairly and price fairly, because that way customers will return with more business and will recommend you. Probably half of our business is through word-of-mouth and repeat customers, and I’m sure it’s because we are fair.”
There are a number of helpful websites that offer information and advice on how to start up a business. Business Link is a credible government site that can provide personal advisors to individual businesses, free of charge. There is also an extensive range of easily accessible leaflets on all areas of business that can be an invaluable source of information.
Construction Industry Scheme (CIS)
0845 366 7899
0845 010 9000