Running your own tradesman business isn’t all sunshine and massive cheques…
4:30 am: Tradie’s alarm rings
He hits snooze. He still has a few minutes left before things get serious.
4:45 am: Tradie’s alarm rings, again
It’s time to get up and face another gruelling day. While every other bastard is tucked up in their warm beds, Tradie’s dragging his sore, tired body out of bed in -4° temperatures. He feels like he’s been hit by a Mack truck that’s also promptly reversed over him.
But Tradie has to eat some concrete and harden up on this dark, cold morning…because it’s handover day.
Get your toolbelt on, Tradie, today’s gonna be a pearla!
5:00 am: first mission: getting out of the house
Trying to navigate the house in the dark while half asleep is a stealth mission. Have you ever encountered the species of Wifey that exists at 5 am? It’s a cross between the exorcist and one of those raging bulls at the rodeo. Avoid waking at all costs!
To make his morning routine fun, Wifey’s set up an obstacle course for Tradie. Yesterday she rearranged the entire house, and the situation’s harder to navigate than a Spartan mud run. Plus, the kids have strategically placed LEGO pieces in the hallway…think torturous pain with each misstep. Three smashed toes and a twisted ankle later, Tradie makes it safely to the kitchen.
Now, where are the bloody keys? Wifey can be a tad OCD at times and tends to organise everything in a chronological, alphabetical, mythological way. Today there’s nothing logical about where the effing keys have been moved to. Why can’t they just live on the hall table?
Tradie cautiously wakes Wifey, gets his ear chewed off, promptly exits the room, locates his keys, and leaves home for the day. It’s dark outside, and he knows for sure it’ll be dark again by the time he returns.
5:30 am: meet at the factory
Damo and Benny enjoy their traditional nutritious breakfast (Mrs. Mac’s sausage roll and Coke). The new apprentice is late. Again. He’ll have to make his way to the site, as there’s no time to waste today.
Nobody’s loading the truck. Tradie asks himself why he’s paying wages to these lazy bastards and loads the truck himself.
7:00 am: let the games begin
Unpack the truck and touch base with the foreman who’s in a cracker of a mood. PMS is hitting hard today, and he’s running around like a goose with his head cut off.
The looming deadline has him ranting about defects and people not getting paid. Piece together all his instructions and get to work.
Tradie makes a mental note never to work with this mob again. Tradie delegates the day’s jobs and ensures the team knows that if the handover doesn’t take place in exactly eight hours, shit will hit the fan.
8:00 am: Tradie gets on the tools
The team’s hard at work, and typically Tradie would be ordering materials, organising tool repairs, talking to site managers about future jobs, and chasing leads. But today Tradie has a deadline, and he’s behind, so he needs to get on the tools.
But first, he needs to find his tools…anyone who knows a tradie knows how meticulous they are about their tools. They are not to be borrowed. Ever. Tradie grabs his drill only to see some bugger’s borrowed his drill bit and hasn’t returned it.
Cue a few 15-minute rant about tool etiquette.
8:35am: call from Max (Tradie’s kid)
Max is excited about his assembly today and he wants Dad there. Tradie’s gutted he’ll miss Max’s item but assures him that he’ll be at the footy game on the weekend. Sorry, mate.
8:45 am: screw up #1
Benny points out a mistake in the work and remarks, “the painter will fix it.” Cue another 15-minute speech about workmanship and how they will not eat tonight unless everything’s Al.
Tradie makes a mental note that he’d probably make more money working by himself.
9:00 am: smoko
Tradie grabs his thermos out of his truck in an attempt to get warm. He’s been waiting for this coffee for a couple of hours now. He takes a swig, realising Benny the prankster has cunningly snuck salt into his thermos.
Tradie returns a call to his brother and informs him that he doesn’t have time to work at his house for mate’s rates. Heck, Tradie’s wife’s already pissed about the growing list of house repairs she’s been waiting on for months.
Tradie returns a call to Sally who left a voicemail requesting a quote. She tells Tradie the “handyman” on Airtasker has made her an offer at half the price Tradie is quoting. Tradie wishes her well and tells her he’ll be expecting a call next week after Mr. Unqualified creates a scene of mass destruction on her house.
9:15 am: back to work
Tradie’s back hurts, his hands hurt…every bone in his body hurts. Tradie makes a mental note to book into the physio on his next day off.
His brain starts to wander to when he last had a day off. The last few weekends he’s worked 12-hour days just to catch up.
Not this coming weekend though; nope, this coming weekend he’s going to his son’s football game. No amount of work is going to distract him from this game. He’s made a promise he’s going to kеер.
10:00 am: the lost apprentice
The apprentice is wandering around looking lost and getting in the way, so Tradie sends him off to Bunnings to buy a tin of striped paint and left-handed screwdrivers. That’ll keep him busy and out of everyone’s hair for a while.
10:15 am: screw up #2
Benny informs Tradie the order for materials has come in incorrectly. Time to jump off the tools and put his boss hat back on. The guys can’t do their job, on time, without the correct materials. Now in damage control, Tradie orders new materials and agrees to the extra surcharge for delivery.
Tradie makes a mental note that this job has crept out of scope. He does some rough numbers in his head and realises that it may actually be running at a loss.
Tradie’s been so busy trying to get the job done that he hasn’t had time to track expenses properly. In fact, he isn’t even sure he has kept a good record of all the variations.
Hopefully, his trusty tattered notepad in the truck (covered in coffee and tomato sauce) will have some magical variations to pull this job out of a loss.
11:00 am: keep on keeping on
Tradie’s back on the tools again, listening to the acoustics of Triple M on the Makita radio, while Benny whistles a tune he only knows two lines of.
Again, Tradie’s mind starts to wander. What if they don’t pull off this job on time? What if they pull off the job, only to get to the end and realise it ran at a loss? Where is the next big job coming from? What will happen if this mob takes more than 30 days to pay and strings it out to 90 days like the last one? Will cashflow survive?
Tradie feels the weight of his employees’ families, like extended members of his own family that he’s obligated to support. He thinks of his wife, the gal who has supported him through this journey of running a small family business…the one who’s held the fort at home with the kids when he’s had to work every weekend for months at a time…
The wife who is the only one to know when things have become really tough…SHIT, it’s their 15th anniversary today! Tradie’s been so focused on making handover that he’s forgotten their anniversary. Again.
11:45 am: damage control
Tradie calls the florist to order a flower delivery, pronto. He has no idea what an “extravaganza bouquet” is, but he decides to run with it. Tradie tries not to choke when he realises the extravaganza bouquet comes with an extravagant price tag and a priority, same-day delivery fee.
12:00 pm: white lies
Tradie calls Wifey and pretends he didn’t forget their anniversary; he was just trying to be considerate by not disturbing her during her morning rush. Wifey secretly knows he forgot, but it’s ok because she forgot too – she just won’t tell him that.
2:00 pm: the dreaded phone call
Tradie’s phone rings; it’s an urgent job that needs to be done this weekend. Tradie knows he promised Max he’ll be at his football game, but he also knows that this job could be the ticket to getting the next big job.
The new site manager of this mob is a total ball-breaker, and Tradie’s been kissing his ass for months to get the contract.
Tradie agrees to take on the job and starts working out how he will explain this to little Maxy.
3:00 pm: just in the nick of time
Work’s complete, job site’s clean, and the foreman’s happy. “Cheers mate, look forward to seeing your payment in 30 days.” Time to pack up the truck, cram three sweaty bodies into the truck cab, and sit in traffic like minions for the next couple of hours.
5:00 pm: home sweet home
Tradie arrives home. The first thing he notices is his lawn.
Second to having impeccable tools is having a well-kept lawn. But Tradie doesn’t have a well-kept lawn at the moment. No, he has a jungle, and he knows that Bob up the road is no doubt enjoying his beer and making comments about Tradie’s “Houso” house.
Tradie makes his way inside and is greeted at the door by an excited Max, flashing his new merit certificate from today’s assembly. Tradie shoots Wifey an exhausted look that tells her he made the handover deadline and then sits with Max to talk about his day before grabbing a quick 15-minute kip.
5:30 pm: tired, but still going
Still in his hi-vis gear, Tradie drags his tired bones to Max’s footy training and does his best to be as enthusiastic as he can, while mentally planning the conversation he’ll be having in the car about the footy game this weekend.
7:00 pm: the awkward silence
Max isn’t talking to anyone. He’s just been told that Dad will be missing the footy game. Max knows how important Dad’s business is to him, but he can’t help but be disappointed that his hero won’t be at his game.
Wifey is talking about sheets, something about thread counts, but Tradie can’t hear her…he’s busy planning, stewing, and worrying about upcoming jobs, cash flow, and keeping his family afloat.
Instead, he smiles and nods, knowing full well that at some time Wifey’s going to catch him out for missing this important conversation.
8:00 pm: the paper shuffle
Dinner’s finished, Max is in bed, broken-hearted but putting on a brave face, the dishwasher’s loaded, and it’s time to do the business stuff that Tradie dreads: the paper shuffle.
Tradie pulls out the old laptop that seems to have a vendetta against him. He grabs his trusty notepad and starts piecing together some invoices for the final claim on today’s job. He scrounges through every page, looking for variations that he can pick up.
He hates being unorganised – he knows he’s missing details. He wishes there was a better way. An hour and quite a few swear words later, he emails the invoices.
Next up: quoting. He again scours his notepad, checks his phone for text messages, and remembers some quote details he wrote on a scrap of plasterboard (which is still on the back of the truck). He sends his quotes and prays to the quoting gods that some get accepted.
He checks his emails and sees that he’s just received month-end statements from suppliers, and suddenly all the invoices he’s just sent seem irrelevant because he’s going to need to remortgage his home to pay this month’s accounts.
Tradie remembers that it’s also the end of the quarter, so now he must go through the pain of muddling together a BAS, hoping it will never get audited. He puts this off until another night and silently stews over how he will pay it this quarter.
There must be a better way to stay on top of this stuff? Tradie makes a note to research bookkeepers so that he won’t have to go through this pain again.
10:30 pm: Groundhog Day
Tradie drags his exhausted, defeated arse to bed. Sore and shell-shocked, he sets his alarm, and before he knows it, it’s ringing again. Groundhog Day.
If you’re living your life like Tradie, there is a better way. Look, I can’t help you with site projects (I’m awful with a hammer), but I’m excellent with numbers (not to mention funny as fxxck). Ohhh and hey, I’m also a qualified BAS agent who’s spent her entire 15-year career helping tradies like yourself take the overwhelm out of the paper shuffle.
So, if you’d rather not spend your evenings and weekends battling with your laptop, and like to know how you’re travelling week-to-week (instead of flying blind), hit me up.
Also, if you’re ready to laugh at the flip side of the coin, check out Part 2 of my blog: A Day In The Life Of A Tradie’s Wife.