13th February, 2018

What I learned in my first year on my own as a tradie

When tradie Adam Rapley from Krisp Aircon struck out on his own towards the end of 2016, he had no idea what awaited him.

Like a lot of tradies before him, he decided to go out on his own because he kept seeing below-average jobs being rewarded by good money.

“I got kind of annoyed with seeing all these people who couldn’t do their job properly making good money and I thought I could do a better job – so I decided to go out by myself,” he told The Pulse.

While he chewed over the idea, his partner announced she was pregnant – putting the ambition to get out there and give it a go into focus.

“It was now or never to have a go – if it failed I still had time to find another job before she [my daughter] came into the world,” said Rapley.

So with a car and a few hand tools, he struck out on his own – handing out business cards and relying on word of mouth to build a job list.

But he found that the sun was more than enough to have his services in demand quickly.

Work-life balance is tricky

“The hardest part is balancing everything,” said Rapley. “Balancing all the jobs, balancing all the paperwork, calling customers back, ordering jobs, and just trying to balance life.”

During summer, he’s in such demand that he fields calls up to 8pm at night on weekends. Try as he might Rapley just couldn’t carve out time to balance family and work.

“I’m lucky I have a pretty understanding partner,” he said. “I tried to have a couple of weeks off over Christmas, but then we had an absolute scorcher one day and the phone wouldn’t stop.

“I didn’t want to knock back opportunity, so I just got out there.”

Apps and add-ons help

Rapley’s experience rings true for bookkeeper Kelly Berger, who runs a successful business and a bookkeeping support network.

She told The Pulse that the number one challenge for her tradie clients was simply finding time to do everything.

READ: Why a bookkeeper’s value isn’t in dollars, but sense

“A lot of them take it on themselves to do the scheduling, do the invoices, then chase the invoices, and then they have to do all the expenses,” said Berger.

“So they struggle at getting that balance between work and family…they can get a lot of time back by using apps and add-on software, so that’s what I advise them.”

While Rapley had a previous business with a business partner, he admitted that the business wasn’t as robust as it could be, leaving him in the lurch on key financial matters too.

“The last business wasn’t that great – we weren’t great with the books. We were really lazy, we didn’t run a good ship,” said Rapley.

“This time I’ve made sure I’ve gotten some accounting software and sat down with the accountant to work everything out, so I understand everything more.”

Berger said explaining the difference between a profit and loss and cash flow was also something she found herself doing with tradie clients.

“They see that on their profit and loss that they have a certain amount of money, but they don’t understand that the money there is only there at one particular time,” she said.

“So I really do take on an educational role too.”

Rapley also said his business adventure had taught him the sheer dread of having an employee.

Hiring can be complicated

After building momentum in his business, Rapley was recently able to bring on an apprentice for the first time. After having some trouble initially he says the apprentice he’s brought on is doing a great job.

“I’ve been pretty lucky,” said Rapley.

“I’ve got a young bloke who’s just finished school who’s been good. He can work, he gets in and gives it a go – so it should work out.”

READ: Finding a great apprentice

But finding a great apprentice is only one part of the puzzle – now Rapley needs to find enough work for two.

“I’m starting to get a bit more stressed because he’s reliant on me for work now,” said Rapley. “There’s a little bit more stress in the back of the mind about keeping the work coming in.”

“When it’s just you, you don’t have something for a couple of days you can always catch up on other stuff in the business. But when you have someone working for you, you need to find eight hours a day for them to do work.”

He also said his accountant had been a god-send when it came to the paperwork associated with hiring an employee.

“The paperwork’s been really surprising to be honest,” said Rapley “It’s been a real eye-opener. I’d tell anyone bringing on an employee to see their accountant because it’s really complicated.”