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Top tips from award-winning tradesman Ollie Allen

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Anna Delves

Anna Delves

12 September 2017

If you’re considering going self-employed, or already have a business and want advice on how to secure clients and investment, it’s always good to hear from someone who’s been there, done it, and got the award to prove it.

Ollie Allen, a Simply Business customer, recently won Jewson’s Young Tradesman of the Year award, and we spoke to him to find out how he got there and what words of wisdom he has for others.

Top five tips for tradespeople going self-employed

We asked Ollie for his top tips for those planning to go self-employed. Here’s what he had to say:

  1. “Be confident,” is at the top of Ollie’s list- you’re running your own business, so you shouldn't be afraid of promoting yourself. “Tell people what you do and get a website set up telling people what you do.”
  2. It’s not just about telling people what you do, but showing them. “Take pictures of everything you have worked on and showcase these as a portfolio to help build new customers confidence in choosing you.” says Ollie.
  3. “Make sure you include time to work on the business (accounts, new business development, website) and in the business (day to day working and actual paid work) in your calculations when you plan your new venture as a self employed person.”
  4. “Remember that it will be more hard work than just a 9-5 job, as at the start everything and every job relies on you - but the rewards are there if you’re motivated!”
  5. According to Ollie, communication is key. One of the vital parts of going self employed is “having great communication skills and keeping customers in the loop, no matter how small you think an update is.” It’s one of the key parts of ensuring your customers have confidence in you.

How tradesmen can secure investment

Unfortunately, starting a business is not just about how you behave and what you have to offer. Making sure you have enough capital to get things off the ground can be a challenge - so how can tradespeople go about securing investment?

For Ollie, having a well researched and thought out business plan is the place to start. “Once you know your figures, potential profits and the costs of startup then that will convince investors that you know your numbers and are serious.”

It’s also worth looking into your local government to see what funding they have available for new businesses, and what advice you can access. “They can then direct you to Venture Capital houses or a search online to find local investors in your area, meeting with them and getting feedback on your ideas is a good way to start.”

And if your business is based around a product, then think about trying online crowd funding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

How to grow your business as a tradesman

Once you’ve started your own business, one of the biggest challenges can be finding new customers and - better yet - making them repeat customers. Here’s what Ollie did to make sure his business scaled.

“I've told everyone I meet what I do, documented our projects on social media and tried to say yes to every opportunity put my way.

“I invested time into all my customers’ projects. Some jobs may have looked too small or too much effort at the start but having the 'long game' mentality taught me to hang in there.

“I made sure I did a great job even if the profit margin was low and that has subsequently built up trust with customers. Now, they would prefer to go direct to me rather than have many people quote for their work.”

Should independent tradespeople take on full-time staff or subcontractors?

At some point, you’re going to need a few more hands helping out with your business. Whether that’s sooner or later depends on your particular business, but the question remains - is it better to take on full time staff, or hire in subcontractors?

“When you’re starting or growing a business then using subcontractors is essential,” says Ollie, “You have less risk and no fixed overheads for employees allowing you to 'prove the principal' of your business.”

“There is a substantial risk involved when taking on a full time member of staff, but the cost is lower in comparison to a subcontractor who will charge more to cover all aspects of running their own business.

“Once you have an established customer base or you have adequate funding in place then taking on full time staff would make sense.”

Challenges tradespeople may face when going self-employed

There are always going to be challenges when you go self-employed. Here are Ollie’s top three to keep an eye out for:

  1. Finding good subcontractors who you can trust. “Being honest and trusting usually works both ways and people will go the extra mile to help you once your have build the relationship up.”
  2. Like any other business, there will be financial challenges. Find a way of managing your cashflow that works for you, and don’t let your finances run away with you.
  3. Keeping customers happy and getting projects done to their deadlines, even when you have more than one project on. “It’s the most difficult challenge, and it’s still a work in progress for me, even today!”

The importance of insurance - and why Simply Business

From stolen tools to trips and slips, there are all sorts of pitfalls that come with running your own business, and you have to think about insurance when you strike out on your own.

“Insurance gives not only my customers peace of mind, but it reassures me, as well. Knowing I will be covered if my tools get stolen allows me to be confident I can work where I like.” says Ollie.

“More importantly, I know Simply Business have my back should I become ill or something manages to destroy our work or stock we have for a customer.

“I choose Simply Business because of their continued professionalism, reasonable costs and flexibility. I know I can get the right cover for the right price.”

Ollie’s story and top milestones

Building your business can be so all-consuming that’s it’s important to take a step back and celebrate your achievements. Here are the moments Ollie is most proud of.

“My top milestone so far has been winning the 'Best Young Tradesperson of the Year Award 2017' aged 29! I've now been nominated for the 'Best Joiner' and 'Best Carpenter of the Year' by 'On the Tools Awards'.”

“Its great to say I launched a new business over a year ago and have been successful in gaining national recognition for the work we do. Working with local museums and architecture practices who have national acclaim is great too and allows me to build a more exciting and stronger business with every project we complete.”

Ollie Allen is a designer, woodworker and builder in Sheffield. You can find out more about him at or on his instagram account. If you like what you see, feel free to vote for him to win Best Joiner and Best Carpenter in the 2017 On The Tools Awards.

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