Handyman work is something I did as a young man, and came back to in the last few years (my grandmother would still call me a young man..). Back in the day I would work as an assistant to other handymen and occasionally temp with a larger crew, where I observed many approaches to business and construction. It is a business full of unexpected obstacles and delays, which can be maddening to a customer and fatal to a business.
There is a great deal of tension between the need to complete a job, do it well, in a timely fashion and for a reasonable price, while still providing oneself with a reasonable income and safe working environment. I’ve been tweaking the standard handyman model to try and meet those needs, without explaining it much better than what’s on my business card.
This last year has been fairly good to me, and I’m a bit more confident and clear on what I’m doing, so I’ll try and explain some of those practices here.
- Do it once, do it right. That’s my motto and guiding principle. While I still occassionally fall on my face, having this objective saves both me and my customer from many common troubles. My goal here isn’t to get things perfect, but fix a thing so it stays fixed. I prescribe stitches over bandages, and when I don’t know what to do I don’t do it. This can cause delays, but on the other hand sometimes being on schedule is more right than lasting a couple extra years, so then that’s what I do. It’s a broad principle, and most of this post can be derived from it.
- Primum non nocere (First, do no harm). It works for doctors and it works for me. Something I am very mindful of when working in people’s homes is to not break anything new. So I clear a sufficient work space, make sure pets are out of the way, pack work slippers, and generally take a little time to identify and prepare for the mess I’ll make.
- I work. The name of my business is HandymanToby, and that’s who you get. I live in the neighborhood I serve, and do the work I bid on. When I bring in an assistant I’ll inform ahead of time, and I know and trust the people I hire. I’ve seen it go other ways; named businesses where you never meet the owner and can’t speak with the labor, or generically named businesses (Around the Clog LLC) owned and operated by Doug 😉
- I work with you, by which I mean you hold one end, and I’ll hold the other. It’s not always efficient to work with the homeowner, but I’m always willing to try. Sometimes they’re looking to cut costs, other times get some experience. I’ve worked alongside very competent clients who still appreciated the added help of my strength, experience, and tools. I’m usually solo on a job, but can work well with novices or among a crew of contractors too.
- free estimates. This tends to work out well for everyone; the client gets an idea of what should be done and what it will cost without committing, and I get the jobs I want. By serving my immediate neighborhood this takes up very little of my time, and I get most of the bids I make.
- equitable billing. To be fair to myself I charge time and costs. To be fair to the customer I cap how much time I’ll charge, and charge less if it takes less time. For small jobs it’s a verbal agreement paid when I’m done. For longer jobs I’ll write a bid which estimates the material costs and places an upper limit on labor costs, collect something (about half) up front and deliver an exact bill when I’m done. My various jobs leaves me with a good collection of scraps and parts, which I don’t bill to use. This saves me time and saves the client money. I request cash or checks, but occasionally accept credit through paypal or similar services. Invoices are usually sent by email, along with photos if it’s a rental or the owners are out of town.
Ok, that looks like a right list, but I’ll probably edit later 😉