When Sonny Kennedy started his building apprenticeship, he was excited to learn all the tricks of his trade – but that didn’t include much focus on how to run a business.

Fortunately for Sonny, who now runs a residential building and renovation business in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, he found good teachers and supporters who made going out on his own much less daunting.

Today he heads up his own business with a couple of employees, and most of his new work comes through referrals from happy customers.

“It’s pretty incredible now to have my own business and know that I can start a project, and eight months later I am handing someone their new house. I’ve always enjoyed my own time, doing things my own way, and I have always had an interest in being my own boss. But the business side was not instinctual for me, the way that learning the trade was, and even now I know I’ve got more to learn about running a business.”

Sonny’s advice for young tradies

Sonny has learned a few lessons in the years since he struck out on his own, and he said focusing on a few core things could help other tradies make the transition to business owner successful.

“Surround yourself with good people who know the business and ask for advice. And learn from your mistakes. You are going to make some,” he says.

He believes the two hardest things to master as a business owner are accurate quoting and managing client expectations.

“You have to triple check your quoting and you have to be able to offer great customer service. That means being flexible and getting a sense of how and when to talk to clients. They are all different.

“The customers I am working with are usually young families who are borrowing to the eyeballs to build or renovate their homes. They’re spending a lot of money with me, and they are giving me a lot of trust, and I always respect that.”

Overall, Sonny said tradies should not be discouraged from starting their own business.

“It is hard, but it’s not as hard as you think. It can be daunting, but there is support out there.”

Although it was challenging, Sonny built up his business little by little.

“I was always a hands-on learner, and I always enjoyed that sense of accomplishment that comes with being able to stand back and see what you have done, what you have created,” Sonny says.

“Even though my interest in starting my own business was there from the beginning of my apprenticeship, I thought it would be difficult to achieve.

“I started taking on small subcontracting jobs as soon as I finished my trade, building decks on the weekend and that kind of thing. Word got out and I was soon getting more work, and eventually came to a point where I was ready to leave my job.”

He says his first boss was an enormous help.

“I am incredibly grateful to have had a good teacher. In the industry there’s a lot of structure around learning the trade, but you don’t really learn much about the business side of things, but my boss was super supportive. He was always available to talk through challenges as I built up my business, and I hope I can be that same kind of boss to my own team,” Sonny says.

“I’ve got a reliable tradesman and a great 17-year-old apprentice, and I want to help them to achieve their own goals. My tradesman is looking to do his Certificate 4 and I am really supportive of that, as he moves towards maybe starting his own business.”

While the early days had their challenges, Sonny says running his business has become easier over time.

“I’ve got my systems running smoothly and a good team now, so I don’t have to wear all the hats. Last year we built two houses and did a major renovation, and looking ahead I’m hoping to focus more on custom built homes.”

The right banking partner makes all the difference

Sonny is in the process of moving all of his personal and business banking to CommBank and says a good banking partner can really make running a business easier.

“I was in a sticky situation where I had already signed a contract and needed a commercial loan, but my previous bank let me down and the finance fell through. My broker got me on to CommBank and the process from there was just so incredibly easy. The banker really understands that as a tradie running my own business, I don’t have enough hours in the day. Everything about working with CommBank has been simple – the systems, the portal, it’s all been smooth sailing. My banker kept me copied on emails so I always knew where things were up to, but didn’t have to give it my complete focus. The communications were spot on.

“The manager in Coffs Harbour is always able to answer my questions and I just feel like CommBank has made it really easy for me to get on with building my business. I wish I had been with them from the start, but switching was easy and I am now moving all my banking across and looking forward being able to streamline my banking.”

Thinking about starting your own trade business some day?

It’s never too soon to think about what the future might hold, or to get your finances on track. Request a call back from our Australian-based business support team or call 13 1998, available 24/7. 

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