Demand for tradespeople is growing, with research from the end of last year showing that 37% of UK adults were planning home improvements for 2024.

However, despite this positive outlook, there is another side to the story for self-employed tradespeople and small business owners who are at increasing risk of suffering burnout and stress as a result of trying to take on too much work.

The challenges facing trades

General political and economic uncertainty has always generated worry for businesses in the trades, since their work is regularly impacted by factors that are out of their control, such as the weather and supply chain issues affecting materials. However, workforce-related challenges are now adding to these concerns, putting considerable strain on small trade businesses that are trying to make ends meet or grow, without the staff to scale-up their operations.

Indeed, the number of UK tradesmen and tradeswomen is declining. Brexit was one cause of this, with the Office for National Statistics showing there are 244,000 fewer workers in the construction industry than pre-Brexit. Construction in particular has an impending age problem, with the majority of workers sitting within the 50 – 64 age bracket and the sector set to lose almost a quarter of its workforce over the next 10 to 15 years ( But there is also a large portion of construction workers who simply can’t afford to retire. Last year’s Great British Retirement Survey ( revealed that three-quarters of self-employed survey respondents were paying nothing into a pension, and 38 percent reported having no pension at all.

Data from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) showed that 64 percent of small businesses found it difficult to recruit bricklayers and carpenters in 2023, and 59 percent of SMEs said the same about attempting to hire a carpenter. It will be no surprise then that 2023 research by Kingfisher, the owners of Screwfix and B&Q, predicted a shortfall of 250,000 tradespeople by 2030.

All this means that tradespeople often find themselves working when others take a well-earned break. Not doing so has become harder, as financial pressures mount amidst the cost of living crisis and worsening economic uncertainty. Many workers are already at max capacity, working six days a week to get the job done, and using evenings and what’s left of the weekend to catch up on the tedious administrative tasks that are critical to operations.

Digital solutions

Lack of digitisation across the trades makes life harder, with a majority of small business owners and self-employed people in the trades still relying on pen and paper or basic software like Excel to track their earnings and outgoings. This creates up to 30% more work on top of the manual day job as business owners battle to get their paperwork up to date during evenings and weekends.

There are simply not enough hours in the week for many business owners, leading to severe stress and putting them at risk of suffering from burnout. It’s not as though they can turn to HR or get signed off sick with a business to run.

Tradesperson-run businesses need to become more efficient if they want to be able to take advantage of the available work, scale up or, quite simply, not run themselves into the ground. But the UK lags behind the US, Germany and France when it comes to productivity, with a recent survey of UK businesses identifying poor management, poor communication and a lack of collaboration as some of the major internal barriers to efficiency. Low motivation levels and employee burnout were other factors cited.

Of course, it’s uncommon for sole traders and small trades businesses to have undergone effective management or communication skill training. But by working smarter and embracing digital tools which take the leg work out of many of the more mundane administrative elements of running a business, help is at hand.

By incorporating simple digital tools to help streamline and automate things like sending quotations, job tracking and reporting and invoice generation, it’s possible to save hours of working time every week – not to mention creating a more modern, professional customer interface. Not only that but shared digital calendars and job notes that sync in real-time can provide a better overview of jobs on the go, and what’s coming up, meaning more time can be spent on delivering a top-quality service that leads to new jobs coming in – without taking trades over capacity to achieve a better work-life balance.

Making these digital tools affordable, accessible and easy to implement for trades of all shapes and sizes is critical to preventing burnout and protecting the mental health of small businesses and the self-employed.

Job management software: a digital life line

Digitistion is a route that many tradespeople have been reluctant to go down. This is largely due to the older demographic of workers, and a tendency to maintain the status quo of ‘the way we have always done things’. However, there have been dramatic developments in digital tools over the last decade that have hugely increased the usability of applications, as well as driving down the costs of accessing them, meaning onboarding digital tools has never been easier.

Job management software can deliver dividends. Our customers, on average, save 30% on working time for example – and we have other examples of the time saving being more like 50%, with knock on impact on profit growth.

By centralising all company admin, tradespeople can not only streamline company processes to save time, but also create a clear picture of work a business has on and what’s in the pipeline in order to effectively plan workflows and capacity and actively pursue new business where needed. It also creates a holistic view of all operations, jobs completed, customer feedback, pricing trends and more. With enhanced operational planning and a centralised information repository comes better customer and team communications, positioning a business positively for client referrals and recommendations, and also talent acquisition.

Templates for digital paperwork such as invoices and quotes bring down the time spent manually creating new versions each time, while also building company image and professionalism. Saving job documentation to one system that can be accessed from wherever a team member is saves time on filing and finding key details. And at the end of the tax year, all the relevant financial information can be easily downloaded and shared with accountants, making it easier to locate anomalies and get the process completed much more quickly.

When it comes to preserving the mental health of workers across the trades, improving efficiency and productivity is key. Getting the same job done, in less time, is critical in the fight to give workers back time to spend on themselves, and with friends and family. Or indeed, to funnel back into growing their business and bring in more revenue. This is why digitisation is going to prove a critical asset for the trades in the months and years to come.

CEO at ToolTime | + posts

Marius Stäcker is the Co-Founder & CEO of SaaS company ToolTime, a job management software platform. Developed specifically for home service trades, ToolTime can be used to digitise and centralise all company processes to simplify operations and find efficiencies, giving tradespeople the power to effortlessly keep track of work in real-time and from wherever they are.

Marius has over 10 years' experience in B2B SaaS and marketplaces. Before founding ToolTime, Marius built several startups, and worked at BCG X, Movinga and SumUp. He studied business at WHU - the Otto Beisheim School of Management in Germany.