What are support networks for tradespeople?

Two tradesman sat down having a chat over a cup of tea.

Working as a self-employed tradesperson can be stressful. With long hours, often physically demanding work and potentially a lot of time spent away from home, feelings of isolation, burnout and loneliness are common.

This lifestyle also comes with a lot of responsibilities. Unlike when you’re working for someone else, when it comes to finances, business building and legal issues, the buck stops with you. You can be a master of your chosen trade but if you have never run your own business before, there can be a lot to learn, fast. This can add to existing pressures and make life very stressful.

This is why support networks for tradespeople are so important. Simply knowing who to turn to when you need financial, legal or personal advice can go a long way in relieving stress.

In this guide, we explain what support networks are and outline what they look like. We also highlight the reasons why these networks are so important for successful self-employed tradespeople, before looking specifically at the three key areas where they can impact your business. 

What is a support network?

A good support network is made up of individuals, organisations and other resources you can turn to when you are in need of advice, encouragement and/or emotional support. With the ultimate aim of protecting your wellbeing and helping you to achieve both personal and professional goals, a good network can help you to meet your goals even when the going gets tough.

The people and organisations in your network should be as diverse as possible, each with different skills and specialist knowledge. The more diverse your support network, the more likely it will be able to provide meaningful help and support when you need it. For example, a friend who is an experienced self-employed tradesperson could be an ideal source of support when you need it. From providing tips on building a customer base to advice on tradesman insurance, their experience and knowledge could be invaluable when you are building your business.

Even feeling part of a virtual community can help no end. Whether this is by being a member of an industry-based support/networking group on Facebook, or tuning into a trades-based radio station such as Fix Radio each day, feeling part of a larger community is invaluable when it comes to seeking advice and support as a self-employed tradesperson.

Family members and close friends should also be included. These individuals, who know you best, are priceless when it comes to providing emotional and mental support.

Trade associations and enterprise partnerships

Trade associations can be a fantastic source of support. These industry bodies work to lobby on behalf of those working in your specific trade. This can impact everything from the industry regulations you have to adhere to, to the tax your business pays. Aside from lobbying, trade associations can also offer their members support in the way of business advice and industry insights. Different associations offer their members varying levels of benefits. Perks can include the following:

- Regular industry updates and insights
- Industry-specific business advice and marketing opportunities
- Legal regulation and legislation advice
- Mental health support and advice

Additionally, although not trade-based, organisations like the Federation of Small Businesses can offer member businesses a wide range of helpful support services. This can include everything from general financial expertise and support to business-related legal advice.

Finally, enterprise partnerships are another rich mine of support for self-employed tradespeople. Organisations such as the LEP Network, for example, provide a space for local tradespeople, union representatives and trade associations to come together to share industry knowledge, advice and good practice.

Why are support networks important?

Support networks allow self-employed tradespeople to learn from the experiences of others and seek advice from experts during critical moments. Whether that’s taking advice from a fellow tradesperson, an individual/organisation with specialist knowledge of a particular area, or a family member/friend, having someone to talk through your thinking when it comes to making a decision is invaluable. And remember, it’s not just about getting reassurance that your decision is the correct one. It’s also about having other individuals to bounce ideas off and gain new perspectives from.

What support might tradespeople need?

According to online accounting software specialists Sage, 27% of individuals turn to people they know for advice when it comes to making business decisions. This highlights the importance of making sure the people around you are in the best possible position to support you. When it comes to tradespeople, there are typically three key areas in which support may be needed. Below we take a look at each of these in turn and explain what kind of people/organisations should be making up your support network.

Financial/business support

The first area self-employed tradespeople may require support in relates to financial queries and general business-building issues. Many tradespeople go it alone and start their own business without any formal business management training. This is to say, they may be fully qualified when it comes to their specific trade, but have limited knowledge of how to finance or manage a business. In order to be successful, knowing how to run the business side of your operation is essential. For this reason, having individuals and organisations that can provide advice and support in this area is key.

Your first option when it comes to financial and business support comes in the form of fellow tradespeople that have previously gone through similar experiences to yourself. Successful tradespeople are particularly well-placed to provide advice on financing and managing your small business based on their own experiences.

Alternatively, you could turn to the internet for digital business advice and support. No matter how niche your business issue or query, the chances are there is a tradesperson-specific website or social media group that can offer support. Markel Direct’s Help & Guidance hub for tradespeople is a good example.

When it comes to support on social media, simply browse Facebook and LinkedIn for relevant support groups. These online communities can give self-employed tradespeople a sense of belonging and can provide a platform to ask questions and seek advice. Indeed, from local window cleaners’ groups to nationwide networking pages for self-employed joiners, there is a group for every self-employed tradesperson on social media. And, remember – if you can’t find what you’re looking for, why not create your own? It’s never been easier to connect with like-minded individuals and businesses or tap into relevant online communities when searching for support.

You can also contact the government’s Business Support Helpline for free advice. Although not technically part of a personal support network, this is a resource that should not be overlooked.

Legal support

Legal support is another area that self-employed tradespeople often require support with. Once again, your first port of call when it comes to seeking industry-specific support might be a fellow tradesperson. After all, the more experience a tradesman or tradeswoman has in their specific industry, the more likely they are to have gone through a similar situation to the one you are facing. If this is the case, they will be in a great position to provide advice.

It can also help to have professional support as part of your network - this is to say, individuals or organisations with formal legal training. This could be a family member or friend that works in the judicial system, or an organisation you work with or purchase insurance from. For example, when you buy your small business insurance through Markel Direct, you automatically gain access to a 24/7 legal helpline. This means, whenever you have a legal issue that requires professional advice, you have instant access to the solicitor-based support you need.

Personal wellbeing support

Did you know that one in six adults in England experience a common mental health problem? According to the NHS, this includes the likes of daily anxiety and depression. On top of this, this figure rises when it comes to tradespeople. According to the Office for National Statistics, individuals working in skilled trades are statistically at a higher risk of suicide. For this reason, having the right personal wellbeing support in your network is essential.

Surrounding yourself with family and friends is an important part of this. These tend to be the people closest to you in your life and are therefore often in the best position to support you. When it comes to personal wellbeing struggles, talking to a stranger can be tough. Friends and family can provide a safe space to talk over sensitive issues. They can also offer open and honest advice at a time you need it most.

If you have a personal issue you don’t want to discuss with family or friends, being part of a trade community can also help. For example, trade unions, charities and support groups can all be an important part of your support network. From informal local tradespeople meet-ups to charities like Band of Builders that help tradespeople and their families through personal crises, there is plenty of support available for skilled tradespeople. You just need to make sure you have made relevant individuals and organisations part of your support network, ready for if/when you ever need them.  

Remember that a problem shared is a problem halved. If you’re struggling with your mental health and don’t feel comfortable speaking to family and friends about how you’re feeling, you can speak to someone from Samaritans over the phone, via email, in person or by letter. You can also contact the Shout Crisis Text Line on 85258 by texting “SHOUT”.

Both of these services provide free confidential support from trained volunteers. You can chat to them about anything that's worrying you. Don’t forget, you can also contact your local GP to get further support.

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