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  Career As A Service Technician

Over the years many of the “old hands” in this industry have seen people setting themselves up as independent appliance engineers and, with very little deviation from this norm, they rarely really, really think about what they are actually embarking on.

Now, don’t get us wrong, we’re happy to see more people come into the industry. Goodness knows, it needs an injection of younger blood but the idea in many people’s heads (including the general public) and the harsh realities of running your own appliance repair company are usually poles apart.

It takes a certain mentality and a broad range of skills as well as the willingness to learn and, very importantly, keep learning to be self-employed. It most certainly isn’t for everyone and we urge people thinking of jumping off the edge of that cliff to take pause and think very, very carefully before leaping.

If this seems like a warning and designed to put some people off, it is. And, it’s for some people’s own good as it’s not all sweetness and light being self employed, far from it in fact and it is not for everyone.

  Typical Route To Becoming An Independent Repairer

The A-typical route is as follows:

  • Employed engineer thinks that he can make £40-60 a call on his own
  • Decides he can muster up the business to support himself from his “homers” etc and perhaps the odd contact with a local estate agent or whatever
  • Packs in his job and goes it alone
  • Realises that the self-employed life isn’t as easy as they thought

  Turnover Is Vanity

Every time that someone thinks about starting their own business they should be made to sit and actually learn what is involved and lesson number one should be the old caveat of, “turnover is vanity, profit is sanity”.

You will never see an appliance engineer driving a fancy car. There’s a reason for that, it isn’t a big margin business and that’s the mistake a lot of people make when they get into the business and, one the public make looking at repair charges.

All that charge isn’t money in your pocket with little or no cost like it is when you do a homer.

You have to pay your salary, pay for fuel, spare parts, insurances, advertising, accountancy, telephones, stationary, computers and a raft of other things to boot. These costs are largely unavoidable.

So, to put this into perspective for you using real world examples:

Most repair businesses, when they cost out what we refer to as their “cost to call” which is the cost to get you (or an employed engineer) to the door of a customer will work out between £27 and £33 depending on your costs, where you are, how far your travel and so on. But, you don’t know that yet as many people thinking on going self-employed in this industry are often living in a place we refer to as Cloud Cuckoo Land, some even have the optional rose tinted spectacles as well. However that works as a rough number to show you how hard this game actually is and, we’ll use the lowest figure there.

Now, that cost is there every time you call. That means it costs you that amount every single visit you make.

If you charge say £40 a call (which is pretty cheap by modern standards) then you absolutely must  complete, first time, over 52% of all the calls that you make or you aren’t making a single penny. 

Oh, and not get a single recall or have to order a single spare part.

The reason being that for every recall or spare part order, you have to make two visits which costs you £14 of costs over what you’re charging for every one double visit that you make.

That changes the equation a lot. It means that you actually have to complete over 75-80% just to make a living. Most good repairers, employed or not, would struggle to do that with the diversity of products out there. 

You may well achieve that on single brand work for a manufacturer. You probably won’t on multi-brand, few will.

Before you take the plunge you have to be made to understand that what you charge isn’t all profit and you must, must, must take into account your costs.

If you can’t do that or don’t understand this, do not go self-employed. You’ll end up bust.

  You Need To Work To Get Work

You need work to make your business work.

Nobody will generally come along and feed you work like they do when you are employed and, it’s now your responsibility to secure that work.

That may mean being able to negotiate and understand contract work, sell yourself and your services and, increasingly, be aware of how to use the internet to get you some more business.

And, all the while you’re doing that there is competition out there as well. There are very few repairers, especially in built up areas, that have little or no competition although it is fair to say that this is less than it was years ago.

The reasons is many fold but generally speaking, cheaper appliances means less repairs and more replacements. Expensive repairs, forget it on all but the most difficult to replace appliances or, expensive ones which usually also means much harder to repair.

The point is, where are you going to get work from? If you don’t know the answer to that then perhaps self-employment isn’t for you.

  You Can Repair A Washing Machine, So What?

We get loads of guys that are ex-manufacturer that go down this road who are used to running about in a van with thousands of pounds worth of stock on them. They’re used to that and being able to order up a bunch of parts and play what we call “Parts Bingo” as they’re not paying for the extra bits that probably aren’t needed. It’s invisible because the parts that aren’t needed go back on the van and will likely get used somewhere else.

Plus, most employed engineers are working on one or a few brands, so they have a massive familiarity with the products they service. Which means that they are often over-confident and cocky thinking that they’re brilliant.

That’s all fine but, when you work for yourself all that simply doesn’t work.

For a start you don’t have the safety net of a van full of parts.

You don’t know what the next machine you get a call for will be, even on many contracts now this is the case.

You probably won’t have any technical support or, it’ll often be very limited.

Play Parts Bingo on jobs for direct clients and you’ll soon get a reputation that you don’t want and you’ll probably be too expensive. 

Do it for commercial clients and they will suss that out and think you’re either a muppet that doesn’t know what they’re doing or, you’re trying to rip them off. You’ll get canned for contracts unless you are the only show in town.

Remember, you’re the one that claims to be an appliance engineer. You’re the one that has been contracted to and, accepted the contract to repair the appliance and, you’re responsible in carrying that out.

A lot of self-employed people get so desperate for work they take on anything, then proceed to cock it up and make themselves look a proper idiot as they can’t fulfil the obligations that they have taken onboard. They venture into doing things that they have no knowledge of or experience and a good number completely fail to do any research at all.

If you are not confident that you can do that, don’t go self employed.

  How Will You Get Paid?

It might seem obvious coming from an environment where you fill out a job card, plonk the details into the PC or whatever and off the information goes by magic never to be seen again when you’re working for a company.

When you work for yourself however you need to understand the bit after that.

This is a scary area that, frankly, most engineers suck at that is known as administration and accountancy.

If you struggle to sign your name or actually write on the job results no more than a simple “replaced X, Y and Z” you really will struggle with this bit of the job.

You see, especially for contract work, if you don’t tell the company you’re working for what you did, they won’t pay you. Equally, if you don’t send them a bill, they won’t pay you. If you don’t send the bill for months then, chances are, they won’t pay you. If you cannot explain why you replaced the parts you replaced, they may think you a part fitter simply playing parts bingo and your days may be numbered. Are you sensing a pattern here?

We see it all the time, field engineers think that they are above doing the paperwork let alone all the admin behind the field guy filling in some blanks, usually poorly. And, if you decide to go self-employed, guess who’s responsible for all of that?

The point is, you don’t stop work when you get home, there’s still a raft of paperwork and accounts to be done. Almost every day.

Or of course, you can pay someone to do it but then that’s going to cut into your margins again and add costs.

So, even if you’re the best repairer on the face of the Earth, if you can’t do the admin properly then your business will fail.

  Twenty Years In, Still Learning

Class never closes in this industry like many others, there’s new products, new ranges, new technologies and a whole heap of stuff to learn and relearn constantly.

A lot of self-employed engineers don’t think that they need to bother. They think that they know it all and you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

The good engineers out there think exactly the opposite. Mainly because the opposite is correct and true. There is always more to learn.

You get your calls for the next day the first thing you should do is know what machines you’re going to and, if that means you’re up at the crack of dawn or sitting up looking for information on the machines you’re not familiar with until the early hours, that’s what you have to do.

A good few repairers out there don’t bother, they don’t even look at a parts diagram.

We see enquiries from engineers on such basic, basic things it is unbelievable and while you might be able to hide in a big company, when it’s you and a client, there’s nowhere to run to or hide.

There’s absolutely no harm in asking a question if you’re not sure in the likes of the forum but, asking how to wire a plug or open up a tumble dryer and other such basic appliance repair 101 questions when you’ve not bothered your backside to look first is liable to get you branded an idiot that hasn’t a clue what they’re doing.

If you think you’ve got nothing more to learn we’d suggest another career. There’s always something to learn in this job.

  Goodness This Article is Harsh

Yes, it is.

So is real life and you will find that the public and clients will offer you little quarter when they are parting with their cash to pay you to do a job.

And, that’s the point.

These people are paying you to do a job for them. They are not interested in your problems or issues, they just want the appliance repaired as efficiently as possible and at the lowest cost possible. End of chat.

If you go self-employed and you take on that responsibility then you have to understand just what you’re getting into and how hard it actually is. That’s why we’ve been harsh as a sizeable number of guys that start up haven’t a clue beyond repairing an appliance and, that’s often limited in some manner.

As to running an actual business, you’ll be lucky if 10-20% of the repairer businesses out there actually knew what was involved when they set out.

Later they have come to realise that you can make a reasonable living repairing appliances usually but only if you’re good in all the areas, not just one. But, you’ll never get rich unless you are extremely lucky and extremely good at what you do, this is a very elite group in the repair industry, odds are you will not be one of them.

So yes, we’ve been harsh because sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.

Walter musekiwa
Gas engineer
Hi how do I became a self employed gas engineer with your company

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