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Some Perspectives on The Balance Between Customers and Tradespeople

Artisan Central invited Micala Wilkins of Marketing for Tradesmen to share her insights in “Some Perspectives on The Balance Between Customers and Tradespeople.” Drawing from her unique experiences as a tradesman’s wife and a business mentor, Micala offers valuable advice on fostering empathy and improving communication in the trade industry.

Being married to a tradesman, working among tradespeople, and being a customer needing trade services, I have a wide-lensed perspective of the interplay between trades and homeowners. These personal experiences shape my insights, naturally influencing my perspective on the balance between customers and tradespeople. I see firsthand the frustrations experienced by tradespeople and homeowners. There’s a melange of traits in between the interplay.

It’s easy to condemn tradespeople as unprofessional and uncaring about customers, but it’s important to remember that while many tradespeople excel in their trade skills, running and maintaining a business requires different skills, which many may not possess naturally. From my personal experience, I can attest that my husband, a tradesman, finds administration a minefield despite being excellent at his trade.

Fortunately, my background is in secretarial and administration, and having worked for a big corporation with teams of 20+, I know what it takes to juggle several tasks simultaneously and keep things on track.

But before the active wheels of administration, we had to build his reputation from scratch. Having arrived in France in 2012, it was one thing to be good at what you do in your home country, but how do you prove that in France? We left flyers on cars at local events, leveraged our networks, created a Facebook page and a website, and advertised in local magazines. The marketing effort was crucial and continues to be crucial, and again, I manage this aspect of the business for him. For some tradespeople, a lack of consistency means operating between feast and famine.

The Administrative Burden

Being a self-employed tradesperson involves various administrative tasks as well as working on the tools. They deal with calls, messages, website enquiries, booking appointments, researching and preparing devis, and chasing late payers. They also manage calendars, advertising, marketing, and sales, as well as business administration such as cotisations and tax returns. Administration is never-ending and can be overwhelming.

My husband admits that he would struggle to manage without my help. This personal involvement gives me a deep understanding of the administrative burdens tradespeople face daily.

Not all tradespeople have a partner to help with the business side, and many are still ‘old school’ and lack knowledge and skills when it comes to being more digital. Working on the tools all day and coming home tired, only to face a mountain of admin work, is daunting and overwhelming.

Customer Expectations and Realities

Customers do not see the whole picture, and why would they?  They have their dream home in France and want to forge ahead in getting it to be how they want it to be. Be mindful that trades, good trades, are in short supply here in France; try to give as much information as possible, especially when you contact them.  

Homeowners are contacting many trades, hoping someone will return a call or reply to an email. From the tradesperson’s perspective, I refer to calls and emails we receive. ‘Can you call? I’ve got some electrical work’ – at times, there’s no address. Or we receive an email, ‘Just bought a house. Can you give me a ballpark figure for a rewire on a 3-bedroom house?’ – again, there is no address or real detail. A lot of trades get calls, emails and messages like this, and to be honest, when compared to a message or email with more detail, busy trades will inevitably follow up with enquiries that are much more likely to result in work. Scant calls and messages give the perception that you are not serious about using their services, just doing a call round.

So yes, there will be times when tradespeople miss calls and emails will sit in the ever-expanding inbox with no response. It’s not personal, but it frustrates potential clients and leads to unfair perceptions of unprofessionalism.

Think of when you have left a message or emailed a company without a response. This ‘lack of response’ culture is not just limited to tradespeople but also other service providers and companies, who have set hours, go home and forget about their jobs until the next day. I can speak from personal experience of emails and paperwork being ‘lost’ because it was easier to say they hadn’t received anything. It’s easy to cast aspersions, but customers often don’t understand the total workload of tradespeople, and a little empathy can go a long way.

Challenges Faced by Tradespeople

Whether a tradesperson is dealing with one large project or managing several projects simultaneously, they all require back-office administration. These jobs have come about because they have received an enquiry, attended, assessed, produced a devis, sorted out materials, and placed the job on the calendar.

Tradespeople will be required to see many potential customers and issue many devis, and not all will transpire into work on the calendar. So, imagine a 7 to 10-hour day on the tools, and then in between home life and admin, there’s the ‘sales’ bit of the business: seeing new customers or repeat customers.

Some client/project work moves along well, but some projects have unforeseen hiccups. All this has a knock-on effect on their next client/project. Tradespeople have to deal with frustrations: supplier issues, the van breaking down, someone phoning their mobile every hour on the hour, someone clipping their van, a tin of paint tipped over, whatever. Many things during the working day cannot be planned for.

During the job, a customer may say, ‘Oh, while you are here, could I add a couple more things?’ Some customers like to hover, which can be distracting and unsafe. Customers might change their minds or request additional work not covered in the initial contract, affecting the tradesperson’s schedule. Many customers call or message outside work hours, adding to the tradesperson’s stress.

The Human Side of Tradespeople

As a tradesman’s wife, I see the stress and overwhelm firsthand. I constantly remind my husband to get thoughts out of his head and onto paper and not clog the grey matter up with worry. The mind is a bit freer once the paper list has been assigned to the calendar and task.

Being self-employed means we have to deal with the positives and the negatives; without customers, we would not have an income. There’s no middle management to handle customer interactions, so tradespeople must manage everything.

Being emotionally aware and empathetic is crucial. Tradespeople must listen to customers and be mindful of how their presence and energy affect clients; this can be challenging when they’re focused on the job and tired from a long day.

Behind every single job is a wheel of administration. Efficient business practices can help, but not all tradespeople have the skills or resources to implement them.

Striving for Mutual Understanding

Customers and tradespeople are both human, each with their needs and frustrations. Don’t judge tradespeople by the actions of “cowboys” or rogue tradespeople. Aside from working physically hard during the day, there’s a whole heap of other administrative stuff that customers don’t see. And fair enough, customers want their needs met.

Equally, tradespeople need to be more aware of their lack of skill set in running and maintaining a business. There is no shame in admitting that it is not their strong point, and when they are aware that it is not their strong point, they should either seek external help or learn new skills.

Many tradespeople are great at what they do. Years of experience, competence, and knowledge are needed to get a job done, and this should always be considered. Running and maintaining a business is another aspect of the business; many tradespeople are doing this singlehandedly with no other support and are getting overwhelmed.

And with that overwhelm, it’s easier to bury your head in the sand and hope it all goes away rather than put their hands up and ask for help.  I see it in our business, but I am the hired help that stems the flow of enquiries, responds to customers with a little more thought, and keeps the calendar organised and the whiteboard moving from enquiries to completed jobs with smiley faces on it.

As someone deeply involved in the trade industry, personally and professionally, I strive to provide a balanced view of the challenges and frustrations experienced by tradespeople and their customers. Recognizing my bias, I emphasize the importance of empathy and effective communication in improving the relationship between customers and tradespeople. By fostering mutual understanding, we can create a more harmonious and efficient process for everyone involved.

As a homeowner, I have been disappointed by tradespeople we used for renovation work. Not just because they failed to call back when we were trying to keep our project on track, no, far worse, carrying out an installation with no appropriate work permit or insurance. That is unethical, unprofessional, and what you call a ‘rogue tradesperson’.

Having been on the receiving end of a ‘rogue trader’, I am much more likely to be more understanding if a tradesperson fails to call me back or reply to a message or email within my internal ‘service level agreement’.  I know it’s not personal; they’ve probably had a tough day, got a million and one things whirring around in their heads, are in dire need of a breather and are relying on that last dribble of physical/mental energy to plough through some admin.

Whether you are a customer/homeowner or a tradesperson, we’d love to know your perspective; feel free to email us at

You might want to read How to Deal with Disputes

If you are looking to work with tradespeople here in France, visit our download Checklist Guide

Micala Wilkins, Marketing For Tradesman, contributed to this article. Micala is a business and marketing mentor to self-employed tradespeople. She also looks after the ‘back office’ of one of our members, Paul Wilkins Electricien. Over the years, she has honed a number of in-house processes that keep the administrative wheels moving in their business, along with marketing and business brand reputation. She now shares this knowledge with other tradespeople who are looking to improve the efficiency and sustainability of their trade businesses. If you are looking for this kind of support, visit