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How I Built a Successful Electrical Business

This is the story of how Sam Horder, Toolbot brand ambassador, changed his career and built up a successful electrical business.

Learn how Sam switched from sound engineering to sparky and the biggest takeaway from this journey.

Not a sparky? No problem, the lessons from this article will apply to you too.

My History


I’m sure that like you, I’ve always loved tools and building things. And by things, I mean pretty much anything.

People often joke that I’m a solution looking for a problem, and it’s true!

Putting this passion for tools into a career is a fantastic way to earn a living.

I began working as a sole trader 10 years ago after leaving an exhausting, but fun, career as a sound engineer.

I have a lot of good memories, but it’s a job that equals very long and random hours, working late and unstable wages.


Don’t get me wrong, I worked with some big bands and enjoyed what I did, but it finally took its toll.

Why I Decided to Train as Electrician

It was after having two elbow operations from continually lifting heavy sound equipment, and then being out of work that forced the decision.

And I’m happy to say I’ve never looked back and regretted it.

While I miss some aspects of my sound engineering days, it’s a young person’s game, and I now enjoy a lot more stability and going to bed at a decent hour.

The Electrical Apprentice


OK, so I have to confess I had a lucky break, which made starting a lot easier.

I asked my mother-in-law’s electrician, Dave, if he’d give me some pointers, and he took me on to help him with some bigger jobs that needed two people.

This was a big advantage in helping me learn the ropes quickly and if you can find a similar opportunity, I highly recommend you grab it with both hands.

Dave showed me how to calculate the parts and materials needed for each job, how to collaborate with the client to work out what needed doing, if there was remedial work, and what stock to carry in the van on a day-to-day basis.


These are all essential skills you need to work on if you want a successful business, there’s a lot more customer-facing and planning skills involved over and above the functions you want to be doing.

Initially, I wasn’t paid much as a helper, but the on-the-job training built the confidence I needed to go solo.

And going solo takes a lot of courage, you need to believe in yourself to figure things out as you go, and not worry too much if you make mistakes, it’s all about learning at this stage.

Be Willing to Suck up the Small Jobs

I mentioned at the start that I had a big takeaway for you, and it’s this one: if you’re building your business up from scratch, it’s going to take time to grow your client base and you must be patient.

For me, this meant accepting handyman jobs, still on the tools but putting up blinds, or painting fences and fixing gates.

I sucked up the smaller jobs that paid less money.

But this was crucial.

I started growing my address book and amassing testimonials from happy customers who would tell other customers about me.

Don’t underestimate this stage, word-of-mouth is the foundation of your business if you get it right.

During this time, I learned first-hand about planning jobs, dealing with people, and helping plan their projects.

Over two years, my reputation for quality work and reliability grew, and when I could offer electrical work too, my clients were delighted.

Gradually, I shifted from the handyman jobs to purely electrical services.

This meant I could increase my rates and bring in more money for my time spent working.

Should You Use Trade Job Boards?


If you asked me about this one about 7-8 years ago, I’d have said yes as I picked up a lot of new clients using MyBuilder.

Fewer trades were using the site back then, so it was easier to bid on and win work.

I don’t use it now as it is overcrowded and there’s a lot of competition from other sparks charging rates lower than I can support – but maybe that can be you as you start your career and want to pick up the smaller, cheaper jobs that the experienced traders like myself don’t want.

It was a brilliant way to build my customer base, but be aware that these boards charge you for bidding for a job and you pay even when you don’t win the work.

How to Build a Solid Reputation


Your reputation is everything as a sole trader, so it’s important to remember a few key things when dealing with people.

First, I found that being open about pricing and any extras that might arise was crucial for building trust.

Some customers told me I was too expensive, and it happens from time to time.

One thing I learned over the last decade is that trade work is not always valued as a skill, and many people don’t expect you to be charging much.

You need to earn a living and be paid fairly for your skills and quality of workmanship, so let the customer know all the costs before you start.

Some customers won’t accept a quote if it is more than expected, but it’s entirely up to you if you want to negotiate - a few adjustments or spreading the work can make it more manageable.

I’ve never gone down the route of offering finance, but that is also an option.

Be open about your pricing and the work you will do, especially if there's remedial work required.

Communication is essential, and par for the course of having your own business.

Over the years, I found that if I let customers know if I’m going to be late, it’s usually not an issue.

And be honest if you're too busy to fit them, it doesn't go in your favour if you don't keep your word.

If you converse well with them at the start to discover their expectations, it should be a pleasure to deal with them, as you’ll be giving them exactly what they want, and building their dream.

Lastly, respect the customer and their property.

You’re in their home – and an Englishman’s home is his castle, right? – so I always offer to take off my shoes or use shoe socks, check it’s ok to use the loo, and don’t assume anything!

How to Price for Electrical Work

This is a big one! How do you know how much to charge?

One determining factor is geographical location, for example, London traders generally charge more to cover the higher cost of living.

I started off charging the lowest rate possible while I picked up odd jobs before I had my electrical qualification.

This worked because I built up my client base, and over the course of a couple of years after qualifying, I gradually increased my prices.

One tip is to charge a lower rate for existing customers and place new clients at a higher rate.

Then over time, you can slowly bring your other customers up to the same level – this worked well for me, and if you have a subscription to Toolbot, you have the flexibility to create multiple rates.

Do your research though, you don’t want to be undercharging any more than overcharging.

Is Advertising Worth it?

In the decade since I started, advertising has mostly shifted from paper-based publications to digital.

Advertising in your local circular, whether that’s a community, village, or church publication can be a way to reinforce your name as the local person for your trade, and they don’t usually charge much.

But it usually has a long tail, and you need to advertise year after year for residents to see your name, ready for when they finally decide to do the work on their home, and they think of you.

I experimented with advertising in local publications but found that after about five years, word of mouth gave me more leads.

People ask other people for their opinions and trust a fellow customer.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t advertise to maintain your presence, just be wary of the costs.

Also, if a small publication already has a couple of adverts for other trades the same as yours, they might refuse you anyway.

Repeat business and word of mouth are the best ways to get jobs, but be patient when you start building up your address book.

I’d recommend you add yourself to Google Business and create a Facebook page at the minimum.

Networking with Other Trades

I hope this last tip gives you some enjoyment and connection. It doesn’t harm to go down to your local pub or somewhere where other traders hang out for a quick pint and a chat after work.

Consistently showing up and mixing with complementary trades not only gives you a social group that you can tap into for advice but also opens up opportunities for collaboration.

I have a few sparks that pass work my way when they are too busy and I’m always happy to return the favour.

It helps your customers if you have a backup trade you can send their way if you’re unable to take on a job.

Whether you’re a spark, plumber, or builder, at some point you’ll need other skills for a job, so it helps to have some trade buddies to call on that you know and trust to be reliable and do a good job.

It’s good for work and it’s good for your mental health to have friends in the trade.

Wishing the best of luck with your new career, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.


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