Becoming a Handyman

Dear NH,
I've been visiting your site periodically when I'm in the office and have a minute to spare. I am giving serious consideration to starting a one man "fixit' service. From what I can find in asking around, there really seems to be a demand for it in my neck of the woods, and if I might say so, I'm pretty good at it.

I am planning to get listed on your website. Other than that, I'm mainly counting on word of mouth for advertising at first. Do you have any words of wisdom or suggestions? I am 61, in good health and like woodworking and fixing stuff.

You sound like the perfect handyman... young (by my standards), handy (of course), motivated and available! The last criteria... available... probably won't last for long once you hang out your shingle! You will undoubtedly have more work than you can possibly handle within a few years... maybe sooner if you live in a very populous area.

In many areas, there are too few reliable handymen serving too many needy clients. This unfortunate situation (for the customer, anyway) has occurred for a number of reasons. The first is that many very skilled people don't want to take the chance of striking out on their own. And I understand their concerns... until a handyman business becomes well known and develops a following of loyal customers (and the endless flow of referrals), there is always the risk of "cash flow" problems... e.g. not enough income to pay the bills!

Another reason is that many handymen are overwhelmed by the demands of their successful business. Though it may seem inconceivable that "too much business" is possible, it is a fact of life in a one-man (or woman) independent trade! After all, how much work can one person do in a day? And how many hours can one person work before the quality of all his work deteriorates? What about personal life and recreation? Yes... a small handyman business can own you if you let it get out of control. To some people, a regular "9 to 5" job can look pretty good when the weight of overwhelming business becomes unbearable!

So, you asked for advice. In a nutshell, here is a list of important considerations...

  1. Develop your skills as you go! Don't be afraid to try something new but also be honest with your clients about your skills. If you are wary about a certain type of job or if you prefer not to do certain types of work, be upfront with your customers... you will gain their respect and trust.
  2. Control your destiny by controlling your business! Make a few fundamental decisions now regarding the type of work you will do and the job size you feel comfortable with. These parameters will change as your business matures but you must decide from the get-go the kind of home repair business you want. If you like long-term projects, then you will use small jobs to fill in the gaps. If you hate long commitments, then only schedule larger jobs during slow times. Again, these are things you will learn by trial and error as you get a sense of seasonal workflow in your area.
  3. Don't be afraid to refuse work! This is the biggest mistake a handyman can make. Friends, former colleagues, etc. may approach you to take on projects you are not ready for or just flat-out don't want to do. Well, my advice is to just say no! Keep in mind one thing... it is your business and your life. Balancing the needs of your business with your personal goals will keep you sane in the long run.
  4. Understand the state and local rules regarding your business! Some areas require registration or licensing. Some areas severely limit the handyman's ability to do certain types of "protected" crafts such as plumbing and electrical work. Keep yourself legal and keep yourself in business.

Good luck and have fun... loving the work makes it much easier!

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