How to start up a tiling business

If you're planning on offering tiling services, will you target domestic, trade or commercial customers? Get the essentials for starting up and running your tiling business in our practical guide.

Research your target market

When you plan your new tile fixing business it's important to check how much demand there is for your services, what people actually want, and how much existing competition there is.

Customers

Think about how many people are likely to use your services. These might include home owners, residential landlords and owners of commercial property, as well as other businesses and organisations that need tiling services on a regular basis.

Domestic work

Have a look at the type of housing in your area. Are houses large and expensive or small and low cost? Are they old or new? Do they appear well kept or run down? Would any be likely to have conservatories or swimming pools? Is accommodation mainly owner-occupied or mainly rented? Is some owned by the local authority or by a housing association? Are there many buildings with special requirements, for example listed buildings?

Try to match the range of tiles and services that you offer to the needs and wants of local customers. Think about whether or not you are prepared to travel to other areas to do work.

Work for other businesses and organisations

Think about other buildings in your area. Shops, pubs, restaurants, hotels, offices, schools, leisure centres, factories, hospitals and so on may all require tiling services at some point and are all potential customers.

Many of these will simply want ceramic tiles fitted in toilets and kitchens, but others may require more specialised tiles - for example non-slip floor tiles for a swimming pool area or hygienic wall cladding for premises where food is processed.

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

Contract and sub-contract work

Try approaching other businesses that may need your services regularly. You could, for example, leave your details with local building contractors, property developers, interior designers, kitchen and bathroom specialists, decorators and shopfitters. Tile manufacturers and suppliers might also require or recommend specialist sub-contractors on a regular basis, as may bathroom and kitchen suppliers and fitters. Consider approaching your local authority - these are major users of construction services and may be prepared to include your business on a list of approved contractors. Housing associations may also be potential clients.

Large organisations that 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 tiles and other items may have to be paid for well before any payment is received. But it may be worth finding out who is responsible for putting work out to tender in large organisations such as housing associations, local authorities and big construction firms. Try to find out how the tender process works and what you would have to do if you wanted to tender for a contract.

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 businesses in your area offer tiling services? A look through the relevant classifications on Yell.com and other similar online directories will give you an idea of how many tilers there are in your area. You could also look at local print directories. Bear in mind that other types of business may also offer tiling services, for example general builders, plasterers and bathroom design and installation specialists - take a look at their advertisements and websites too. One of the challenges you may face is getting across the benefits to potential customers of using a specialist tiler rather than someone like a general builder. You'll want to emphasise the fact that while many trades-people know the basics of laying tiles, they often don't understand the range of specialist materials and techniques which may be needed to produce a first-rate job.

When looking at your competitors' advertisements and websites make a note of:

  • the types of tiles they fit
  • whether they offer additional services such as painting and decorating, complete bathroom, wetroom or shower installation, or laminated flooring
  • any special features advertised, for example 'all work guaranteed', 'no job too small', 'free estimates', '25 years experience' and so on
  • whether they belong to a trade association such as the Tile Association
  • what sort of impression their advertisement gives you (for example, does the business come across as small and friendly, large and efficient, good value, traditional, upmarket)

Remember that, unfortunately, you may also face competition from 'cowboys' and 'moonlighters' who work for cash but don't advertise anywhere. These often quote low prices but usually fail to match the quality of professional firms. Many have no insurance and some are blatantly dishonest.

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 tiles and other materials (such as adhesive and grout) that you supply
  • charge for some jobs on the basis of the area to be covered. For example, you might charge a certain price per square metre (probably excluding materials) to tile an interior wall or a floor
  • charge for certain jobs on a fixed rate basis. For example you might work out a standard basic charge for tiling a shower enclosure or kitchen splash-back
  • make an additional charge for any preparatory work that is necessary such as repairing damaged plaster or levelling a floor

You may decide to use different methods of costing for different jobs, depending on who the customer is and what type of work you will be doing.

It is very important that you 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.

Make sure when you set your prices that you will be working for a reasonable hourly rate. The same goes for any staff you employ - be sure that you will earn a reasonable margin for the business on top of the wages you pay them.

Also consider the following points when setting your charges:

  • what do your competitors charge for similar services? Do they calculate their prices in the same way as you
  • 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 tiles and materials that you supply or will you pass these on 'at cost'? If you decide to add a mark-up, decide how much this will be
  • what will you include in your prices, and what will you charge for as an extra? Make it clear to the customer what your prices do and do not include

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 discovery of dampness in a floor, loose or crumbling plaster behind old surface coatings, or previously undetected asbestos. 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.

People will often get quotes from several different tilers, so it is important to be able to quote accurately and competitively. (Some tile and adhesive suppliers may help you to work out what quantities you will need for a particular job, and the cost.) If your quote is too high customers will look elsewhere, but if your quote is too low, you might end up working at a loss. Remember that many clients value good quality craftsmanship, reliability and efficient service and will be prepared to pay a realistic price for it.

Decide which services to offer

Think about the range of services that you will offer and the kind of jobs you will agree to take on. You may decide to specialise in a particular type of work, for example floor tiling or swimming pools. Or you might take on a wide range of jobs, depending on your skills and experience.

Domestic work

Domestic jobs make up the bulk of work for many small tiling firms. The type of work you might be asked to carry out includes:

  • installing (and possibly supplying) ceramic tiles and mosaics in bathrooms and kitchens
  • installing other types of tile (for example stone, glass, slate and cork)
  • installing glass splash-backs
  • tiling hallways and conservatories
  • tiling around fireplaces and installing decorative tiling in living rooms and conservatories
  • installing floor tiles of various types
  • sealing natural stone tiles
  • re-grouting existing tiles

Think about whether you'll get involved with preparatory work - such as removing old tiles and floorcoverings, levelling floors, installing plasterboard and tile backer boards, or applying tanking and waterproofing systems in wet areas prior to tiling. You might also offer underfloor heating installation if you have the necessary skills.

Commercial work

A wide range of commercial premises will require the services of a tiler from time to time. For example, shops and office premises may have toilet facilities or a commercial kitchen that needs tiling. Retail outlets of all types might use tiles on the counter, floor or walls. Restaurants, pubs, hotels, nursing homes and large buildings such as shopping malls, leisure centres or hospitals also have tiled surfaces. Work in commercial properties will often be on a much larger scale than domestic work.

Specialist work

In addition to your regular tiling work, you might offer more specialised services such as tiling swimming pools and garden patios, wetroom installation, or fixing hygienic wall cladding and tiles in buildings used for food production.

Additional services

Tiling, like most areas of the construction industry, is a competitive business and you may decide to offer your customers a range of added-value services to help your business compete. These might include, for example:

  • free surveys, estimates and quotations
  • insurance or trade association backed guarantees on all new work
  • a freephone telephone line
  • a 'no job too small' or 'distance no object' promise
  • guaranteed quick turnaround

A complete package

Many of your customers are likely to be householders who want you to provide a complete package of services from start to finish. This might include giving advice on cost, design and tile specifications. Give some thought to the services that your customers might like you to include. These might range from levelling floors and plastering walls to complete bathroom and kitchen installation work. It is likely that you will carry out some jobs in conjunction with other tradespeople such as plumbers, builders, painters and decorators, interior designers and shop fitters.

Advertising and marketing

It is important to advertise your business effectively, to let your potential customers know who you are, where you are and what you can do for them. Most of your domestic customers will not require tiling services regularly and so may not have the name of a tiler to hand.

Advertising and marketing

Now that so many people search for things like tiling 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. It may be worthwhile getting a sign board made up with your name and contact details on it to put up at places where you're working. Be sure to get the owner's permission before you do this though.

Think about other ways of promoting your business. You could, for example, sponsor a local sports club or event. Some tilers keep an eye on local planning applications and send a flyer to applicants in case any who are project managing the work themselves might want to engage them.

Networking

Local builders and property developers are likely to need the services of a good, reliable tiling specialist on a regular basis. So it's well worth getting to know key people in the industry and making sure they know about your business. The same goes for tile retailers and kitchen and bathroom shops and fitters too. Other businesses and organisations that could be worth approaching with your details include builders' merchants, housing associations and the local authority. With larger organisations, it's well worth making the effort to find out who the best person is to contact.

Once you've built up a list of contacts, stay in touch with as many as possible, even if you haven't yet had any work from them. Tell them about any new services that you introduce and do your best to maintain a good relationship with them.

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 a friendly and polite manner can pay big dividends from the outset. Make sure that any employees that you have are good ambassadors for your business too.

Your work rate

Assuming that you get a fairly steady stream of work, the amount 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 - perhaps an earlier start. Perhaps you are prepared to work very long hours at times when your services are in demand, taking some time off during quieter periods.

You should have a good idea of how long certain types of job will take you. It's very important when quoting for a job that you can make an accurate estimate of how long it will take. It's no good basing your quote on two days work if it ends up taking you four!

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 may sometimes find yourself working hard but earning nothing:

  • visiting sites to cost new work and give quotes
  • finishing off jobs that take longer than you had thought (possibly due to unforeseen problems, such as unsound plaster discovered after removing old tiles)
  • rectifying faulty workmanship free of charge
  • travelling to and from jobs, or to get tools or materials from a supplier
  • repairing tools or vehicles

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

  • you are waiting for tiles to be delivered - or the wrong materials have been delivered
  • a vital tool or piece of equipment is broken, or your van is out of action
  • another contractor has fallen behind with his or her part of the project (for example, a plumber installing bathroom fittings or a builder laying a floor screed)
  • unforeseen problems crop up on a job - for example a subfloor turns out to have damp problems, or a fault with an under-floor heating system comes to light
  • you or a key employee 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. Be realistic! When you plan your working schedules, try to minimise the amount of time that will be wasted. For example, you may be able to build a contingency into your work schedule so that you can move straight on to another job if for any reason you are unable to work at the original one.

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