4 – How To Hold Your Own When Working With Trades

  1. Home
  2. /
  3. Podcast
  4. /
  5. 4 – How To Hold Your Own When Working With Trades
Working With Trades

Working with trades is like understanding and learning how you can efficiently manage the time and cost of a renovation project.

On today’s episode,

Bernadette discusses working with trades as a woman renovator.

Listen to Episode 4: How To Hold Your Own When Working With Trades

Podcast: Download (Duration: 13:28 — 12 MB)

Bernadette covers,

  • A look back at her initiation with renovating with her husband and business partner, Stephen Janson.
  • How she and Stephen started renovating by doing the excavation of their own home themselves.
  • Her first experience as a woman supervising her husband, the trades, and the whole renovation project.
  • How to work on your mindset and be positive about working and communicating with your trades.
  • Why you need to build your confidence and trust your supervising skills.
  • Creating a process for selecting trades and getting quotes.
  • The importance of being organized and why your trades will love you for it.
  • Becoming efficient with making decisions and why it’s okay to get help.
  • Training yourself to truly understand traders’ lingo.
  • How to make sure your trades are happy and remain competent and reliable.
  • Her next mini podcast series called 14 Days to a New Bathroom.


Hello! This is Bernadette Janson and this episode of “She Renovates” is entitled: How To Hold Your Own When Working With Trades.

I was on site about two weeks ago and a guy turned up and he walked past me and also the site manager, who happened to be a female, and went off. And started asking the painter for directions on his job. And I thought, oh my gosh! We’ve come such a long way, and yet, still it is assumed that if there’s a woman on site, that she could not possibly know what she’s doing or talking about. So I thought, you know what? It’s high time to talk about this.

So here we are. And before I move in into the topic I want to just share another story that was really my initiation into renovating and it was a baptism of fire. So this was three decades ago when Stephen, my husband, and I had just started down the path of renovating. And we were renovating our own home we’re doing a big addition to it. So it was about 120 square meters and using a traditional method of footing so most people would pour a slab. We decided to do it the same way as the house was built, which was to pour strip for footings and have a timber floor that went on to those.

When we were getting the quotes in because it’s not a typical form of construction they are really expensive and way out of our budget. We decided to go directly to the earth moving company and hire the backhoe and truck on an hourly rate with the drivers, and do the excavation ourselves. And when I say ourselves, Stephen had a full time job. So I was the person that was onsite every day, plus I had at least one baby on my hip, I can’t remember now. And so we’re able to do that because Stephen had a builder’s license, but we had to promise that there would be someone on site that was capable of supervising them. I wouldn’t take any responsibility for the actual team.

He was absolutely furious that he was going to be directed by a woman. I don’t think it was because I was a woman. But I think it was because he assumed that I didn’t know what I was doing and he was probably right. But that’s okay. He wouldn’t look me in the eye. He was just so angry. But that’s okay. We moved on and we got going.

Basically what he would do was dig the footing and I would check it with the dump level to see if it was deep enough and I’d even say, no you need to go down further, or no it’s fine. And so a few times I got it a bit mixed up because it’s converting it turning it upside down got me really confused. And so sometimes I’d say to him, Oh no! you need to go down further, and he’d look at me like, really? And then I’d realize I’d made a mistake. I didn’t tell him that, I just thought what bit more concrete doesn’t really matter. But as the day went on, I became more and more competent and he became more and more friendly. And by the end of the day we were best mates.

I think the point I want to make is, sometimes when it’s hard for women to get on with trades, it’s not because necessarily because you’re a woman, it’s because it’s hard to work with someone that’s not competent and doesn’t know what they’re doing. Sometimes they are just arrogant so and so’s and that’s fine, you choose not to work with those, but you really do need to work well with tradesmen, because they are your ticket to the results that you want. And that’s what this episode is about.

I’m going to give you some really practical tips. If you feel daunted by the prospect of working in a very male dominated industry, this will help you.

Now the first one is to work on your mindset. It’s a bit like the carpet layer turning up and assuming that the manager would be male. We need to not assume that we’re going to get a hard time from the trades. So be positive about working with your trades and when you’re communicating with them.

The other thing is to work on your confidence. So often we undermine ourselves because we lack confidence and we sound like bumbling idiots. But really what all there is to do is to really just tell yourself that you can do this. You are competent and even if you’re not your skills will grow and that is the first step to actually being able to have a good relationship with your tradesman.

The second step is to have a process for selecting trades and getting quotes. I cannot stress this enough. This is such an important part of the renovation journey. When I say have a process, have a process, for actually seeking the information. I will do a full episode on this at some stage.

Basically making sure that you’ve got well resolved scopes of work, for those of you who don’t know what the scope of work is, it’s sort of a wish list of things that you want the trades to do. And in those scopes of work you set down the rules for working on your site. So basically you’re making sure that they do good work that meets the national construction codes. They meet with the work health and safety laws, that they’re properly insured and their properly licensed. And also that they all quote on the same list of work. So when you are getting quotes, you’re comparing apples with apples.

I guess the most important part of the process is firstly letting them know that you’re getting multiple quotes and that you’re quoting process is very professional. So they know that you’re not going to have the wool pulled over your eyes. You’re really quite switched on with how you’re doing this and also making sure that you do adequate reference checks. One thing I would say is you’re in the fortunate position that you don’t have to work with people you don’t like. So in your tendering process, you get the opportunity to weed out the people that have attitude issues or you just don’t like working with them then you don’t have to. So weed them out straight away.

Occasionally, you’ll have a trade quoting on a job and they’ll be huffing and puffing. And I think the word is catastrophising and drives me crazy because you’re being conditioned for a fat quote basically. So these days I don’t let that go. I actually say something because it’s wasting both our time so I’ll normally say to them, I’m clear about the scope of the work, if it’s beyond you just leave it. Otherwise you’re wasting both our times and you’ll find you’ll have one or two things, so get shirty and leave or they’ll pull their heads in and get on with the job.

Our next point is to be as organized as possible. Super organized. And your trades will love you for it. So this relates to every aspect of the renovation, from the planning stage to the tendering stage, in terms of your documentation and your process to awarding the contracts. So making sure everything’s in writing and it’s really clear and easy to understand. To the program or the scheduling of the works and ordering of materials and so on. Coordinating the trades so they’re not working on top of one another, all these things make for a good working relationship.

For example, if you bring your tradesman in too early, say you bring your plumber in the second stage, before the project is completely ready, then you’re just wasting their time. Getting a grip of the program and being organized and efficient will save them time and it will save you angst, and it will preserve your relationship. Because no tradesman wants to charge a variation. Well I’m sure some do, but in those situations, they don’t want to be charging you. But they also don’t want to be standing around doing nothing when they could have been on another job just because you weren’t organized enough to keep.

The other thing is that you need to be efficient at making decisions. The trades will ask you to make a lot of decisions, like every day there will be a lot of decisions to make. And if you’re not able to make them in a timely manner, it just really messes up the whole process. So if you’re struggling with making the decisions, then get some help. So you might need a color consultant, a designer or a building designer or you might even need an architect. Have someone to help you with making those decisions. So you’re not holding the whole process up while your laboring over sample parts or whatever.

The next point is to learn the lingo. Traders have their own lingo and obviously you’ll start out green but you’ll build on your vocabulary as you go. And my suggestion is make an effort to learn quickly, because that will certainly help you in that relationship. Some examples are instead of saying flat like a wall is flat. They would say it’s flush. Instead of saying a PowerPoint they would call it a GPO. A General Purpose Outlet. And they won’t measure in centimeters they’ll measure in millimeters.
Like a wall won’t be 2.7 metres high. It will be twenty 700mm. It’s a really little thing, but it’s like when you join any community, you learn the language of the community, so that you belong.

My last point is to look after your trades. So a competent reliable trade team is your ticket to success. And you want to make sure that they’re happy to come to your projects, the way you do that is by looking after them. And 101 is to pay them on time. Don’t string them out for payment, as soon as the job is completed to a satisfactory level. You need to pay your trades in line with the terms of the contract.

Usually, picking up the occasional coffee on the way to site, is a great idea. Generally speaking, the trades look after themselves in terms of food and drink. But it’s a good idea to have some bottles of water on site for anyone that does turn up, when it’s a stinking hot day. They’ll go through lots of it. So just be a bit hospitable. I think that’s the word.

The last thing is to lend a hand when it’s needed. So particularly, if you’ve got guys or trades working solo, sometimes jobs are hard to do with just one person. And if they don’t have an apprentice or a laborer, for instance we have a plumber who’s a one man show, installing a vanity single handed, can sometimes be challenging. Because they are a bulky piece of equipment, I will always say, witty putting that in. I’ll make sure I’m here to give you a hand. It’s not hard and it just makes a big difference.

Love to hear what your tips are on working with trades. But that’s it for this episode. In the next couple of weeks we’re going to be publishing a mini podcast series, so it’s called 14 days to a new bathroom. And what it will be, 14 short episodes on the different aspects of renovating a bathroom, from the beginning, the concept the planning stage, going through your material selections, working with trades and then the execution of the renovation.

So if you have a bathroom renovation in your plan for 2019, this will be a good one for you. So keep an eye out for it. And then lastly I want to ask you a favor. So if you’ve been enjoying this podcast what I’d love you to do is to go over to iTunes and leave a review. Then we can spread the word and share the love. And for that I would be very grateful. So that’s it for today. Thank you. And I’ll see you same place next week.

She Renovates Free Facebook Group

If you want to meet up with a group of savvy renovators. I would say come over and join She Renovates Facebook Group. It’s a completely FREE Facebook group and it is growing at the rate of knots. We hit over a thousand members just recently, and now it seems to have picked up momentum. They are all savvy renovating women and men working their little hearts out to live a better life through renovating.

Share This

Bernadette Janson

Related Posts