As a 35-year-old, single mother, and a woman not raised around the construction industry, I'd never guess that one of my biggest life achievements would be owning a small business as a licensed tile contractor. What I quickly realized is that my decision to enter a career that has historically been a male-dominated industry would bring into question whether or not I would be accepted.

I remember times when homeowners or businessmen made me feel less than worthy to be in the tile trade. At one point, I was hired to fix someone else’s work and welcomed into a home on the first day as “the grout girl.” I’ve been fired for asking to be paid the 50% difference of my male coworkers who weren’t nearly as qualified to set tile. My IQ has come into question as I am seen as less than someone with a college degree. With these experiences under my tool belt, I had to take a hard look at what image I, as a businesswoman, was portraying to the outside world and how I could ensure successful connections with both male and female clients. 

My business model is simple. People purchase passion! So, it’s very important that connection be priority number one. While there are many different ways in which we can connect—consciously and subconsciously, how we do so with homeowners is important. 

As a female contractor, I choose to speak to women in a professional, yet personal and non-egotistical fashion. I want her to feel in control of the situation, as this is her home. She should feel comfortable enough to convey any issues or insecurities about the job to me without feeling anxiety or doubt. I create this connection by finding her passion within the project and focus on that in my own unique way. My goal is for her to see that I am genuine and through that, gain her trust.

I approach men a bit differently. I use “Sir” as a respectful acknowledgement regardless of age or stature. I dull my feminine personality traits. I do this not to become more masculine, but as to ensure my professionalism and confirm my presence as a businesswoman. I am less emotional and more direct with my knowledge and information on installation procedures, scheduling and financial decision-making. When it comes to men, my connection is strongest when I present as a “to-the-point” contractor. The best way I manage is to put the conversation away and allow the work to speak for itself.

Alongside how we speak to a client lays a subconscious communication factor. This is how we dress for the job. What you wear says a lot more about how a homeowner will approach you than you think. 

 I feel I gain the most business traction when I look and dress professionally. I do not overdo my makeup, and I keep my hair in an updo, bun or braid. Loose hair is a construction hazard and should always be tied up and out of eye obstruction. I wear long jeans or construction style pants only, and I choose not to wear shorts of any kind. My shirts are no smaller than a T-shirt style, with no cleavage or underarms showing. Inappropriate clothes, however comfortable, will draw inappropriate attention and when it comes to business, the only attention I want is what comes from the work itself. Clothes should be clean and maintained to portray a sense of care and quality in oneself and work. Additionally, attire with logos and printed gear indicate that you’re invested in your business. Overall, my approach is to not sexualize myself and maintain proper PPE standards, all while remaining authentic to myself and my personal business style.

Another subconscious communicator is personal hygiene. Our presence in the world is not 100% visual. This is where personal hygiene comes into play in the trades when approaching a client. 

I used to be a heavy cigarette smoker. While I was smoking, I was nose blind to the fact that I carried this “heavy cigarette smoker” smell alongside me wherever I went. Only when I finally quit could I smell the smoke on others, and now, it makes me queasy. Also, heavy perfume and cologne odors linger in homes and can exacerbate patients with lung issues. This should be considered when entering a jobsite or scheduling client meetings. 

In addition, things like having good oral and personal hygiene routines matter. The one thing your ventilator mask will never protect you from is your own breath, so if you don’t like it, chances are the homeowners won’t either. And unfortunately, no amount of deodorant accounts for open armpits swaying in the breeze. We still smell you! Staying clean and well-groomed goes a long way to earning a client’s trust.

Paying attention to how you consciously and subconsciously communicate, or your self-awareness, with your clients is a must have tool. It is imperative to the success of future tradesmen and women. We are seen in so many different lights, with so much freedom for authenticity. It is important to remain professional not only for our businesses’ image but also for the industry image as a whole. One by one we can raise our standards and the collective opinion of who we are as a construction and trade industry. 

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My expectations, as a tile contractor, small business owner and single mother, are to leave the world with a better understanding of what women are capable of, how we are growing our respect for ourselves and the trade, and to shine a light on the construction industry as a whole. There's always room for anyone with a passion for their work.