How to start up a roofing business

Roofer fixing lead tiles on slanted roofAs an experienced roofer you might decide to set up your own roofing business. Remember you'll need to make sure that you and any employees work safely at height. Read our practical guide to starting up and running your roofing business.

Research your target market

It's very important to research your market properly. Try to find out as much as you can about the level of demand for your services, and about how much competition there is to meet that demand.

Customers

Think about how many people are likely to use your services.

Domestic work

Pay attention to the types of housing in your area. For example, are houses large or small? Are they old or new? Do they appear well kept or run down? What types of roofs do they have? Is accommodation mainly owner-occupied or mainly rented? Is some owned by the local authority or by a housing association?

Find out about local planning requirements, for example rules which specify that a certain type of roofing material must be used, or prohibiting flat roofing.

Work for other businesses and organisations

Think about other buildings in your area. Shops, pubs, offices, factories, schools, churches and so on will all require the services of a roofer at some point.

Once you have identified who your potential customers are, you can direct your advertising efforts at them.

Contract work

Find out about any proposed new housing developments and regeneration schemes planned for your area if you decide to tender for this type of contract.

Large organisations who invite firms to tender for contract work may be reluctant to use a newly established business. Also, a young business may have difficulty in funding a large contract, as many things may have to be paid for well before any payment is received. But it may be worth finding out who is responsible for putting roofing work out to tender in large organisations such as housing associations and local authorities. Try to find out how the tender process works and what you would have to do if you wanted to tender for a contract.

Sub-contract work

Try approaching other businesses that will need roofing services. You could, for example, leave your details with local building contractors or even with other roofing businesses that regularly require sub-contractors.

Establishing the level of competition

Once you have decided who your customers might be, you need to find out how well they are already served.

How many other roofing firms are there in your area? A look through the relevant classifications on Yell.com and other similar online directories will give you an idea of how many roofing businesses there are in your area. You could also look at local print directories. Try searching the web for roofing businesses in your area too. How many offer the same services that you intend to offer? These are your direct competitors. Bear in mind that there may be other roofers working in the area who don't advertise anywhere - some of these may be 'cowboys' who operate illegitimately.

Look at some of your competitors' advertisements and websites:

  • what services do they offer
  • do they advertise any special features, for example an insurance-backed guarantee, 24 hour emergency service
  • do they belong to any trade associations, for example the National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC) or the Federation of Master Builders (FMB)
  • are they signed up to the Competent Roofer scheme, enabling them to sign off aspects of their work for Building Regulations
  • what sort of impression does their advertisement give you (for example, does the firm come across as small and friendly, large and efficient, good value, upmarket)

Research current trends, plus legal and tax issues

Price your services

How will you decide on your prices?

First decide how you will charge for the work you do. For example, you might:

  • charge for your services on an hourly or daily basis, adding to this the cost of any materials you supply
  • base your charges for certain types of jobs on the size of the area to be covered, plus any extra materials and services required

You may decide to use different methods of costing for different jobs, depending on who the customer is and what the job is like.

It's very important to set your charges carefully. You must make sure when deciding on what to charge that, assuming you get enough work, you will earn enough to cover all of your operating costs, including your own drawings.

Also consider the following points when setting your charges:

  • what do your competitors charge for similar work
  • do you aim to win business away from your competitors with attractive pricing
  • will you vary your rate depending on the type and complexity of the work involved
  • will you make a profit on any of the goods and materials that you supply, or will you pass these on 'at cost'
  • will you make a call-out charge for some types of job
  • will you charge a higher rate (for example double time) for out of hours emergency work

Quote or estimate

If you give a quote for a job, that is a fixed price. Once it has been accepted by the customer the price can't be changed, even if there is a lot more work to do than you realised when you prepared the quote. So your quotes should give precise details of what is covered and make it quite clear that any variations or extras not covered by the quote will be charged for as extras.

An estimate is not a fixed price, it is just your best guess of what the job is likely to cost. You are not bound by it. It is perfectly acceptable to provide several estimates, each taking into account different circumstances from best to worst case scenario.

Where necessary explain to customers what could lead to the price for a job having to change - for example the severe rot in the roof structure. And if the customer asks for extra work to be done during the course of a job, be clear about how this will affect the overall cost.

It is usual to provide estimates and quotes free of charge on a no-obligation basis. You might, though, decide to make a charge for more complex and time consuming consultancy work - perhaps you will refund this charge if it leads on to a substantial contract.

Trade rates

Clients that are other businesses might expect you to offer them a special 'trade rate'. Large organisations that invite firms such as yours to tender for contract work will also expect your rates to be very competitive, as will insurance companies.

Think carefully about whether or not scaffolding will be needed on a job, and be clear about whether your quote includes this cost. Health and safety legislation means that there are strict limits on the types of work at height that can be done off a ladder.

Be aware that many of your clients will get quotes from several roofing firms, so you need to be able to quote accurately and competitively. However, don't cut your own throat. Many clients value good, efficient service and are prepared to pay a realistic price for it. Above all, make sure that you don't end up working at a loss because your quote was too low!

Special guides are available to help you when pricing all aspects of roofing work. They give up to date advice on what rates to charge for particular types of jobs. Many roofing materials suppliers will help you to work out what quantities you will need and the cost.

Decide which services to offer

You might do pitched and flat roofing work on both new and existing buildings, using various different types of roof cover materials. Your range of services could include repair work as well as new build. Some of the types of work that you might decide to do include:

  • felting, sarking, battening, boarding, timber treatment and other preparatory work
  • slating and tiling
  • flat roofing (felt, bituminous and fibreglass)
  • sheet roofing and cladding
  • leading and other finishing work such as the installation of barge boards, fascias, mouldings, guttering and so on
  • installation of skylights, dormers and solar tubes
  • loft conversions
  • repairs to various types of roofing, perhaps including emergency repair work
  • chimney repairs

If you have the appropriate skills you may decide to specialise in a particular type of roofing, for example stone roofing, traditional metal roofing (lead and copper sheet), other heritage roofing, wooden shingles, green or living roofs, or thatching. You might also decide to work on solar panel installations if you have the right knowledge and expertise.

If you decide to offer an emergency service you will probably make this available 24 hours a day 365 days a year. Emergency customers will expect a prompt and reliable service. You might decide to team up with another roofer to offer this level of emergency cover.

Added value services

The roofing industry is competitive and you may decide to offer your customers a range of attractive added value services. These might include, for example:

  • free estimates and quotations
  • insurance-backed guarantees on all new work
  • membership of a recognised trade association
  • Competent Roofer scheme membership, enabling you to sign off aspects of your work for Building Regulations and to provide a standard ten year warranty on domestic refurbishment work
  • a freephone telephone line
  • a 'no job too small' promise

Other types of work

Depending on the skills that you and your staff have you may decide to offer a range of other services. You might, for example, take on general building work yourself. Alternatively, you could team up with another local tradesman.

Your work rate

Assuming that you get a fairly steady stream of work, the amount that you can earn depends partly on the number of days you work and the length of your working day.

You may decide to stick to normal business hours, for example 8.30 am until 5.30 pm Monday to Friday and perhaps Saturdays too. Or you may decide to work longer hours. Remember though that bad weather can disrupt your work schedules. Perhaps you are prepared to work very long hours when the weather is fair and your services are in demand, taking some time off during quieter periods.

Some roofing firms offer a 24 hour emergency service for work such as repairing loose and damaged slates. If you intend to offer this service you will need to make sure that you can provide cover at all times, particularly during the winter. You might decide to team up with another roofer to share responsibility for emergency calls.

As an experienced roofer, you should have an idea how long certain types of jobs will take you. It is very important when quoting for a job that you can make an accurate estimate of how long it will take. It's no good quoting for three days work if it ends up taking you five!

The speed at which you work depends on your own skills and experience and on the type and standard of the work that you do. Your charges should reflect all of these things.

Non-productive time

Unfortunately, not all of every working day will be spent earning money. Here are a few examples of reasons why you will sometimes find yourself working hard but earning nothing:

  • visiting sites to cost new work
  • finishing off jobs that take you longer than you had thought (possibly due to unforeseen problems)
  • covering up a stripped roof to protect it from the weather overnight - a job which can take even longer if it's windy
  • re-doing faulty work
  • travelling to and from jobs, or to get tools or materials from a supplier
  • repairing tools or vehicles

Sometimes you will find that you are unable to work at all, because:

  • the weather is too bad to work outside
  • you are waiting for materials to be delivered
  • you are waiting for a building inspector to carry out an inspection
  • unforeseen problems crop up on a job - for example the roof structure turns out to be damaged or unsafe
  • a vital tool or piece of equipment is broken, or your van is out of action
  • you are ill

Take all of these factors into account when you are estimating the maximum number of productive hours that you can work each month.

Advertising your business

It is important to advertise your roofing business effectively, to let your potential customers know who you are, where you are and what you can do for them.

Many of your customers will not require roofing services regularly and may not have the name of a roofer to hand. Emergency customers in particular will not want to spend a long time looking for a roofer and will often telephone the first reputable firm that they come across.

Advertising and marketing

Now that so many people search for things like roofing services online, a good website can be a very good way of advertising your business and reaching a wider range of customers. Think about getting listed in online directories - perhaps 'contact an expert' directories run by some trade associations.

Social media can also be an effective way of marketing your business, staying in touch with previous customers and making contact with potential new ones. Think too about using relevant forums and perhaps a blog (although be aware that some forum websites ban blatant advertising in forum posts). You could sign up to a review website for trades-people such as Checkatrade. You could also consider trying to obtain work through job-referral websites like Mybuilder.com and Rated People too.

An entry in a local print directory can be an effective way of advertising your business. However, many of your competitors will have done the same so try to make your business stand out.

Some firms spend a lot of money on large, eye-catching display advertisements. You will have to decide whether to compete head on with these firms, or look for a different way of attracting customers. You could, for example:

  • focus on your own unique selling point (USP) in your advertising material. This might be, for example, "25 years experience", "Family run firm" or even simply "Friendly, honest service"
  • advertise in other ways. For example, you could distribute a paper flyer, plastic card or sticker with your business name and telephone number on it as part of a mail-shot that you do, perhaps in the early spring
  • look into becoming listed by an insurer, specialist helpline or directory as an 'approved tradesman' (most of these organisations operate a quality screening process and some will only list firms that have been trading for at least two years)
  • contact local residential landlords associations to enquire about being included in their suppliers guide

The important thing is to tell people as many of the good things about your business as possible in your advertisements, particularly things that distinguish your business from your competitors.

Other ways of advertising

Your local paper may run a regular 'contact the experts' advertising feature. Remember that your vehicle can be a very effective means of advertising if you have it sign-written and keep it clean and presentable. You might consider having a large sign made that you can display outside places where you are working and/or on scaffolding - but make sure your customer and other contactors have no objections before putting it up. Also be sure that it does not cause an obstruction or hazard.

Think about other ways of marketing and promoting your business. You could sponsor a local sports club or event, for example.

Word of mouth

Word of mouth recommendations are very valuable to your business. Everyone has heard horror stories about 'cowboy' tradesmen who bodge jobs and swindle their customers - and they want to be sure that you're not going to do the same to them. You will have to earn your reputation through good, reliable workmanship - but even small things like politeness and considerateness can pay big dividends. Make sure that any staff you employ are good ambassadors for your business too.

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