Tradies and finances - We have no F****** idea what we're doing and some of us are paying the price with our lives

When I finished my trade, I went from being an apprentice who had no idea what I was doing to becoming a tradie that had no idea what I was doing but with more responsibility.  

I went from being employed full time to becoming a sole trader with an ABN who had to pay my own tax, supposedly pay my own super and essentially run myself like a business with little to no guidance. And by little to no guidance I mean asking the other tradies on site how they did thing things on the paperwork side.  

Literally the blind leading the blind. 

It didn’t really occur to me to chat with an accountant (asking for help? Nah – don’t need it! Right? 

I did, however, have my income protection insurance sortedluckily. About 8 months after being signed off I did a massive knee injury while playing sport on the weekend which put me off work for 6 months. If it wasn’t for the fact that I had that income protection I would have been completely screwed. So, if you’re a sole trader like I was,  GO AND GET INCOME PROTECTION INSURANCE ASAP 

When tax time next came around I got a very nasty shock. I ended up $30k in the hole because I had no fucking idea what I was doing. I had operated as a sole trader for 8 months, hadn’t paid tax and then got whacked with tax from the insurance payout. The ATO went through me. I felt completely powerless after what was a series of unfortunate events, some poor advice, bad decisions and a kitchen bench full of scary letters from the Taxman that I couldn’t really understand. It was shit. 

That’s my story from my time as a sole trader. But I know I'm not alone.  

I have heard plenty of equally as terrible stories from other tradies when it comes to poor financial management, and plenty of much worse stories too. But the scary thing is how many stories out there are probably going untold. How many operators are suffering in silence because they think that they are the only one going through it and are too afraid to reach out and seek help because of the shame?  

Warrick BidwellHamish Clarke and Duayne Pearce who were guests on the TradeMutt podcast, all spoke about the enormous psychological toll that not understanding your numbers takes on yourself personally and professionally. In Hamish Clarke's case, it was a contributing factor that led him to attempt suicide. 

Financial stress will take a significant toll on your psychological state of wellbeing, but you can prevent this by being proactive. 

As a social enterprise with a core mission to prevent suicide, particularly among blue-collar industries, it would be completely irresponsible of us not to talk about the contributing factors that have led many people down a very dark path before us. Given that the two biggest factors that cause a decline in mental health, particularly for bokes, is finances and relationships, it is time we start treating the cause of depression and suicidal thoughts rather than simply letting everyone know what signs and symptoms to look out for that someone might be depressed. 

Looking after yourself needs to be everyone’s focus in 2020. This does not just mean eating well and getting enough exercise, although that’s a great start. When it comes to financial control and running a small business, you need to make it part of your routine to get on top of your books. No one else will do it for you and it won’t matter in the slightest until you get a knock at the door from the ATO or the shit hits the fan somehow. You might have been flying under the radar for years, and that’s great, but sooner or later something will come unstuck, and so will you.  

Here are some quick and easy things you can do to get on the front foot with finance in 2020. 

  1. Get yourself a good accountant that you can trust to help you understand your numbers. Make it part of your routine for the new year which will set you up for success in 2020 and for many years to come. If you need to be put in touch with some awesome Tradie business coaches who can help put you back on the right track, feel free to flick us an email at
  2. Invest in some simple accounting software, something that will make it easier for you to invoice, track budgets, draw up work contracts and remind you to follow up on those unpaid invoices. We recommend getting in touch with the team from Quotespec for quoting and contracts, and for everything accounting and finance check out Live Life Build. Set aside 20 mins to set up your week and start understanding your numbers - it's a small investment in time which will prevent a potentially far greater consequence in the long run. 
  3. Get income protection insurance and any other insurance you need to cover your ass. Yes it's another annoying bill you have to pay – but you pay it because it’ll be a matter of when not if shit does go wrong – and you need to be covered for that situation financially or else you (and your family if you have one) will be in financial trouble.


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