Finding a Work-Life Balance as a Solo Gas Engineer
Countless gas engineers want to start their own business. The flexibility on offer is next to none, and it can be incredibly rewarding to watch your business grow and succeed as a direct result of your own hard work.
But there’s a trade off. Handling every aspect of your business yourself takes lots of time, making it hard to maintain a good work-life balance. You’ve got to juggle paperwork, marketing, and admin duties that can easily take away from other aspects of your life. At the same time, you’re competing with bigger and well-established brands that have more time, money, and people at their disposal.
We recently spoke to Richie Basquine about his experience running RJ Heating – his own sole trader heating and plumbing business. Managing a work-life balance was one of the topics we covered. It’s something he deals with every day and something we at Gas Engineer Software actively try to solve with our platform.
This article discusses the 3 reasons why finding a work-life balance is hard as a sole trader and offers some useful recommendations. Let’s begin with the most obvious reason:
Wearing multiple hats
Unlike bigger companies who can bring in specialists for each department, sole traders have to handle each and every aspect of their business. Richie started his company during the height of the recent pandemic, and learned a lot about working alone the hard way: “you have to find that balance of spreading yourself everywhere – but not too thin. I have to wear every hat – I’m doing the invoice, ordering, the job, diary management, you name it… social media, marketing, everything falls on me too”.
Despite having close to two decades of experience as a gas engineer, all these other aspects of running a business were new to Richie. Starting a sole tradership presents a steep learning curve towards the beginning. Often, there simply isn’t enough time to handle every aspect within the hours of, say, 9-5. The actual jobs end up filling much of this time, and you get home to be faced with all the rest – paperwork, marketing, tax, and so on.
- Plan your day to include business-related tasks, rather than doing them as an afterthought. Even if they aren’t billable hours, they still contribute to the success of your company.
- Stay organised so you spend less time searching for documents, filling out tax forms, and chasing invoices.
- Use paperless solutions where you can to cut down time spent on admin.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for advice and help where possible.
Competing with bigger companies
Another problem faced by gas engineer sole traders is that they’re directly competing with larger heating and plumbing businesses. Many feel an underlying pressure to offer the same services as these companies but, as a sole trader, their resources are limited.
“The newer the business, the harder it is. Jobs come in at all kinds of hours, and I’ve got to go do it. I need that work because I need the money, and because I need the customer, I need the word-of-mouth, and I need the recommendation going forward”, says Richie. He elaborates on the point by saying: “you need to offer that service because the bigger companies do offer 24 hour service. You already set yourself kind of at a disadvantage if you don’t.”
Seasonal influxes of work play a role in this as well. While a larger company might be able to hire additional help to handle the winter boom, sole traders don’t have the same luxury. It’s a balancing act: “In winter it’s a lot harder, but summer is fine – people are happy to wait.”
Of course, the nature of being a sole trader means you can offer a much more personalised and overall better service than these bigger companies. “It’s hard to get that balance”, he mentions, “but hopefully the goal is year on year, the business starts to look after itself and then you can focus on more important things.”
- Remember that your unique selling point is your personalised and quality service, and sell your services in this way.
- Set up automated replies for messages and calls after work hours.
- Understand who your ideal customer is, and focus on them.
- Use the quieter summer months to take time off.
Focusing on long-lasting relationships
In the trades world, strong customer relationships are absolutely essential. The benefit of prioritising existing customers over new ones is an area well-studied and documented.
But for sole traders, this can make life a bit more stressful. There’s a fine line between jobs and customers, with the latter representing what could be year after year of reliable work. “Because your business relies on things like word of mouth…it’s the fear of letting someone down. There will be times like a Sunday afternoon when someone calls you”, Richie explains: “If I don’t go, then I lose that customer”.
In his eyes, there’s a fairly simple explanation for this. “Naturally, a lot of people will just use the last person they used unless they had a bad experience. They could be completely happy with you up until then. But because you weren’t available at that time and if the next person’s done a great service for them – or a decent service even – they think “oh, just call that guy we got last time.”” With such high stakes, many sole traders feel like they can’t ever relax and that they’re always on the job.
Software as a solution
As a sole trader, some things are out of your hands until you grow and scale up. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t actionable steps you can take to improve your work-life balance.
We’ve spent the past 12 years honing Gas Engineer Software to be the perfect partner for heating and plumbing businesses – sole traders included. We offer features that help reduce the burden of paperwork, strengthen customer relationships, and offer a service that outshines your competition.
“[Software] does help with the work life balance…everything’s there, nice and accessible”, says Richie. As well as our core features, smaller things like transferring analyser readings to his phone make a significant difference to his day, too: “in an ideal world, with eight services a day, that 3 or 4 minutes turns into 25 minutes.”
When you’re your own boss, work-life balance is always going to be tricky. This is especially true nowadays with our smartphones – the very things which make being a tradesperson easier – further blurring the line between work and personal time.
Are you really going to let that phone call go unanswered just because it’s after your “work hours”? What if it’s the start of a long-lasting and profitable client relationship? And, if you turn your phone off, what jobs might you miss that are now being taken on by your competitors?
These are all questions that run through the minds of sole traders after hours. But at the end of the day, a line needs to be drawn somewhere in the sand. Having your own heating and plumbing business can be an extremely rewarding journey filled with success, but it’s crucial to utilise all the tools and resources available to make the best possible use of your time.
If you’ve been thinking about implementing software into your workflow to save time, here’s what you can do next:
- Visit our resources centre where you'll find more articles like this one and our detailed help centre.
- Start a free trial to see exactly how our software works for your business. Software is hard to visualise – let alone abstract benefits like “saving time” and “boosting profits”. This is the best way to see for yourself how it works and what benefits it brings.
- Book a demo with our customer success team to get a bespoke training and advice session. We’ll help walk you through the ins and outs of our software, how it’ll help you save time and money, and anything else that springs to mind.
- Know an engineer who's still using paper? Help them and us out by sending our software their way!