December 13, 2023

Becoming Proficient in Multiple Trades

My question for you is essentially how did you manage to become excellent at so many things and avoid becoming more of a handyman? I think the danger for some folks who go that route is that you become the “jack of all trades master of none.” I’d love to hear your advice on developing and maintaining a high quality standard across multiple trades or specialized aspects of carpentry. 

— Levi

For a little background, Levi started as a finish carpenter, but is currently looking to transition to remodeling. I do not want to speak for him, but it sounds as though he is feeling slightly overwhelmed by the prospect of handling so many trades. He wants to deliver a quality product, but he is apprehensive that he will not be able to master the nuances of several trades. 

But ... Levi! Thank you for the question and for the email. All of the kind words, suggestions, and insights are greatly appreciated. If any other listeners have questions, concerns, or topics that they would like to see addressed, please email me at tyler@trghomeconcepts.com.

This is a great question that may have more to do with my personality than my trade skills. From the day that I started my company I wanted to do things the right way. I found that working for other people led to bad habits, short cuts, and a heavy emphasis on speed and profit. I have a fair amount of anxiety, and knowing that things are done the right way gives me a lot of peace both professionally and personally. I truly believe this may be the impetus for most of my businessl and professional ethos. From day one, I needed to understand how to execute a trade the right way, and was unwilling to accept anything less than that, regardless of budget. In the short term, this made for modest earnings, but a dozen years later it is my bread and butter. For years, I have refused to accept anything less than my best from myself, my subs, and my employees. That is simply who I am and how I tick. My personality bleeds into my business for better or for worse. 

My suggestion would be to start small and maintain your values. Larger more complex projects may seem intriguing and exciting, but you have to learn to walk before you can run. Too many people want the large contracts and chase the high-dollar jobs, and they end up costing them in the long run. If you want to learn how to tile, start with a backsplash. If you want to learn how to paint, start with a small repaint. If you want to learn how to build cabinets, start with a low-grade mantel or some simple shelves. These projects may not be the sexiest thing in your portfolio, but they afford you an opportunity to learn without the stakes of a larger more complex project. The standards and expectations are not as high, and you can refine your skillset as you go. 

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I would also suggest that you educate yourself as much as possible prior to taking on any project. Find out which tools are the best value, which materials fit the budget, and which techniques fit your current skill set. There is a balance between budget, competence, and experience. Charge and budget accordingly. When I was starting out, I would read and consume as much content as possible prior to tackling any project. I would ensure that I had a plan in place, regardless of which direction the project took. Do not be afraid to ask questions. No one knows everything. No one is perfect. Find people who are willing to help and answer your questions. This not only will help you in a bind, but it will assuage the anxiety of performing a task for the first time. 

FIX YOUR MISTAKES! This is painful, but necessary in the world of self-performance. I have yet to complete a project for which I was one-hundred percent content or made zero mistakes. These mistakes are tough, but they are what shapes you as a contractor, business owner, and tradesmen. You must assess what went wrong, what is necessary to remediate the issue, and how to ensure you avoid the same mistake moving forward. I make mistakes every single day of my life. I also fix mistakes every single day of my life. These redos cost me money in the short term, but make me money in the long run. They are what defines my aptitude as a remodeling contractor. You must understand that all of this will take time. You cannot expect to become proficient at anything in a matter of hours or days. It will take years, but this is simply an investment in yourself and your business. As you grow, you will make less mistakes, you will deliver a better product, and you will in turn make more money because you can charge more for the product and make more through your efficiencies. 

My last piece of advice for you would be to be realistic with your expectations of yourself and to charge accordingly. The more you charge, the more pressure you will put on yourself to perform at a high-level. Afford yourself a little breathing room when you are learning. Understand that your results will be less than perfect, and charging for perfection will only hinder your growth and performance. As you progress you will be able to execute at a higher level and more efficiently, and at that point you can start to charge for a premium product and service. This is all about expectations for yourself and your customers. 

Becoming good at anything takes time, patience, and practice. You cannot expect to do something once and become an expert. If you want to become a well-rounded self-performing tradesmen you must devote the time. Read, study, ask questions, sign up for training courses, shadow other tradesmen, and be resilient. You must understand your price point and work towards your goals. You cannot over-deliver and you cannot under-deliver. Be smart and adapt with each project. Hold yourself accountable. At the end of the day only one person is responsible for your growth and your success. If this is what you want to do, you have to devote the time and energy. We are entitled to nothing that we do not work towards!

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