Starting your own plumbing business – a practical guide to becoming your own boss

How to Plumbers

*Updated 2020*Plumbing_Blog_Thumb

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably been thinking for a while about being your own boss. You’ve likely worked for someone else for a while, and you’ve decided you’ve got enough experience under your belt to take that seriously exciting next step and launch your own plumbing business.

The path to business ownership isn’t always easy, and you need to be prepared to put in some hard graft, but it’s worth it. So if you’re ready to go solo, this in-house Tradify guide is for you. We’ve covered everything you need to know about turning your plumbing skills into a successful business.

So turn on those taps and get the ideas flowing!

Plumbers: a global shortage and always in demand

Globally, the demand for plumbers is always high. Check out these stats:

  • New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website says that demand for qualified plumbers is growing – and is expected to keep growing

  • BusinessTech says that plumbers are in high demand in Australia, and this is a good idea of how much you could earn

  • The Able Skills website says that demand for qualified plumbers is increasing in the UK, and there are not enough plumbers to go around

  • The Career Explorer in the USA says the plumber job market is expected to keep growing throughout the decade, and there’s a shortage of plumbers there too

While there are always ups and downs in different economies, the basic fact is the shortage of plumbers means now is a good time to start a plumbing business.

First things first

Ask yourself this question: why do you want to start your own business? Is it because you want to grow your income? Do you want to work flexible hours that free up more time with your family? It might sound a bit airy-fairy, but at the end of the day, you need to be clear on what’s behind your decision to start your own business, because that’s the foundation on which it will be built.

Once you’ve got your goals and objectives clear in your mind, it’s time to start thinking about the practical stuff.

Getting down to the nitty gritty – here are the four things you need to start a plumbing business:

1. Training and qualifications
The essential first step is to obtain education and training from a certified trade school or apprenticeship programme. It doesn’t matter that you can unblock the most stubborn of toilets or plunge any sink that comes your way, official certification is critical – you can’t get a business off the ground without it. You’ll be hard-pressed to secure clients if you’re not qualified – when potential customers check you out online, one of the first things they’ll be looking for are your credentials.

Programmes vary not just from country to country, but also between states, regions and provinces. The below links will get you started:

2. The money side
The next big thing to get serious about is resources and capital. Starting up any new business doesn’t come cheap, and will almost always require an initial outlay of cash. As an independent plumber, your major costs will be investing in a vehicle and equipment. The scope of these will vary depending on what sort of market you intend to service. You pretty much have two options here - either fund your own venture or seek cash from a third party like a bank, an investor or a business partner. Some of these links might help:

3. A solid business plan
Don’t expect to get your plumbing business off the ground without a decent business plan. Yes, it takes time, but it’s time well spent. That’s because a comprehensive plan gives your new business structure, purpose and a clear-cut strategy. It should include all of the key business details, such as financial projections, growth opportunities, marketing strategies, financing, short/long term goal outlines and so on. You can hire a business consultant to help you, but there are lots of tips available to help you DIY:

4. The right attitude
Starting your own plumbing business means you need to be positive and prepared. You’ll have to work hard to start with, and you should be enthusiastic about that. Success is all about your attitude, so make an effort to switch into the right mindset as you navigate your way towards small business ownership.

What will you need to get your plumbing business started?

A small business loan
Unless you’re lucky enough to have enough cash on hand to launch your business, you’ll need to approach your bank about a small business loan. Almost all major banks have small business departments, and they provide a range of financial options – accounts, credit cards, loans – and they often have small business experts who’ll hold your hand through the process and be available on an on-going basis to give you advice and guidance when needed. Just make sure you take your well-thought-out business plan with you, because no bank is going to lend you a red cent if you can’t show them you’ve done your homework.

There are other options when it comes to finance. You can apply for a grant (mentioned above), but you could also consider investors. Sometimes that might be family – and often that means no interest to worry about. Or you can look into less orthodox investor options, like angel investors. These are successful entrepreneurs in search of investment opportunities with promising businesses. They’re looking for a piece of the action, but they also have investment criteria and expectations.

Investing in gear - the cost of starting a plumbing business
Unless you already have your own equipment, an initial investment in tools is going to be your biggest outlay. While the administrative costs of setting up a business are fairly low, you’ll need to invest in a set of wheels. Typically, plumbers need a van or ute that can house all of their equipment and tools. It’s a mobile business, and you want to have everything you need on hand as you travel around your customers’ sites. A reliable used van can set you back as little as $5000 if you shop around, but a brand new one will likely be more than $50K.

That said, there are some great financing options out there, so you won’t necessarily need a huge stash of cash to drive away in a new van. Equipment costs will also vary pretty significantly, depending on your need and preferences. This isn’t generally the best place to cut costs, as cheap tools are unreliable, and will deteriorate much faster than their better quality counterparts.

When you’re kitting out your van for the first time, you’ll want to include essentials such as:

STOCK TOOLS
  • Fittings
  • Pipes, including plastic and copper piping
  • Inlet valves
  • A range of tap wear
  • Elements
  • Thermostats
  • Hot water cylinder valves
  • Crescents
  • Grips
  • Pipe cutters
  • Hacksaws
  • A cordless battery tool set: drills, impact driver, saw grinder

 

Costing up your initial outlay can be daunting, but remember that both your vehicle and your equipment are assets, not liabilities. All can be resold if necessary, or added to the total value of your business if you decide to source capital based loans or funding.

As for brands, we like Milwaukee, and so do our plumbing clients. “They have a really good range for plumbers,” one of them said. “And they’re good quality tools.”

Accounting, taxes, and government regulation
How will you stay on top of your books, and transfer your business data to accounting software?

For an all-in-one fix that’ll stack your day-to-day quoting, scheduling, job management and invoicing processes into one streamlined system, Tradify is a must-have tool. Take control of your plumbing business with intelligent, trade-specific features designed to keep your business in top gear.

As a small business, the last thing you want to do is get on the wrong side of the tax man. Guaranteed, he’s going to come knocking eventually. And when he does, you could get hit with hefty back payments, interest rates and fines that could cripple your venture. Avoid this by playing by the rules from the word go. Find an accountant, and cash in on big time savings in the form of both time, and money.

Think about it this way… you sell your time for say $65 per hour. If you do your own taxes, it takes you two hours of mucking around per week, which equates to a cost of $6,760 a year. Plus, you’ll probably miss out on a heap of smart opportunities to maximise your rebate. Pay an accountant and maybe you’ll spend around $2,000, but will free up two extra hours a week, which will earn you back that $6,760 a year. Remember, two things in life are definite - death and taxes. You can’t avoid either, but a good accountant can take the sting out of your number crunching.

We've created a handy Cash Flow Forecast Template & Guide to help you forecast your businesses cash flow and keep everything on track.

The other annoying thing you can’t afford to ignore are government regulations. They can be a chore, but if you’re not compliant it could cost your business big-time. So make sure you get it right from the start:

Insurance
You wouldn’t go snowboarding in Canada without travel insurance, and you need to cover your plumbing business in the same way. You’ll need insurance for your vehicle and equipment, as well as other essentials like general liability insurance. Depending on your priorities, you may also want to take out other policies like worker’s compensation, a general business owner’s policy and income protection insurance.

If you’ve got your very own small business expert at your bank, the package they set you up with will probably include insurance. But if it doesn’t, you’ll need to do your homework to find a reputable provider of business insurance.

What market will your plumbing business operate in?

Scope out the competition
It’s unlikely you will be the only plumbing business in town. Scoping out the competition is not a sneaky task to keep on the down-low, it’s an important step and you shouldn’t skip it. It’s essential that you find out about their strengths and weaknesses, or else how will you know how to beat them? Remember, there’s a big difference between imitation and inspiration. So if you hone in on a concept or idea that you love, find a way to make it your own.

Pricing - how much should you charge for your labour/time?
Pricing up your service can be difficult, and the trick is to strike a balance between quality and quantity. Yes, there are clients out there that will always opt for the cheapest plumber, but competing on price isn’t always the best business model. Basically, low prices will attract clients who want everything for nothing, while high prices may attract clients with superlative standards. Think about what you plan on delivering, and price your service accordingly.

To help you with this, we’ve developed a billable rate calculator that makes crunching the numbers super easy. There’s even a guide to go with it, but don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’ve got any questions about using the calculator.

Growth OpportunitiesElectricial Business Growth Opportunities

As a small business, you’re going to want to put yourself on track for growth. Especially if one of your goals is to get a cracker-jack workforce in place so that you can ease off a bit and start thinking about what your retirement might look like. So how can you get there? Do your homework about what the economic outlook for plumbers in your area might look like. For example, setting up a business in an up-and-coming neighbourhood or a new suburb will likely translate into increased demand a few years down the line.

Geography - where is your plumbing business going to operate?
The nature of a plumbing business means you’re mobile. When setting up your business, think about what areas you’d like to service, and how you can take a geographical approach to optimising business. For example, if you live in an area that’s saturated with plumbers yet an hour away there’s hot demand, it could be worth the time and petrol to include that area, because the trip will pay for itself with lots of new customers. You can also factor pricing into the mix. If the market for low-cost suppliers in your local area is saturated, try opting for a higher price point, and ‘boutique’ service.

Finding your competitive advantage

You’re probably not going to be the only plumber providing a service in your local area. That’s why it’s important to differentiate yourself from other plumbers. That’s what’s known as a competitive advantage.

A competitive advantage is what you do better than anyone else. The smarter you can be about developing and promoting your competitive advantage, the better placed your business will be to succeed. So:

  • Do you specialise in a particular area? You might want to build a reputation for dealing with difficulties other plumbers shy away from 
  • What kind of guarantees can you offer? 
  • Is there a tech solution you could harness, something that no-one else is using? 

Whatever it is that sets you apart from everyone else, own it – it’s what will make you stick in people’s minds help you win more work.

Get ready for launch

Trial and test your plan
You’ve got all your tools and equipment ready to go, your business plan is looking robust and shiny, and that new work vehicle is itching to get out on the road. So what’s next? 

1. Start by testing your plan, and working your way towards a business model that works for you. Go lean with your approach, and remember to spend less time planning and more time doing. This will allow you to test ideas quickly, build on your success, and learn from your failures. Speaking of lean…

2. The Lean Start-up Methodology is solid when it comes to learning to drive your start-up, steer it in the right direction and eventually, switch into top gear. The key concepts are definitely worth reading up on.

Scoring new clients
When launching a new plumbing business, no network is quite as valuable as your family and friends. Pretty much all households need plumbing work at some point, so make your inner circle your first point of call. Once you’ve got a bit of a following you can start to build clients via other channels. Word of mouth is invaluable, as are marketing channels like social media.

Check out our Marketing Toolkit that offers practical advice to building up your customer base, including examples of what other trades businesses are doing to generate more work.

Tradify_Marketing Guide-Social_UK_LinkedIn

 

Potential Marketing Channels for Plumberstradify-marketing-channels

Know your strengths and weaknesses
It’s important to be realistic and honest with yourself here. If you know that admin isn’t one of your strengths, look for tools that can help. In this day and age, there is technology and apps developed for trade businesses. Make sure you check out the plumbing software available to help save you time and make your business more efficient. 

If you’ve got the gift of the gab, make the most of it when you’re dealing with customers. Plumbers sometimes need to solve problems customers might be embarrassed about – like blocked toilets – so use your gift to put them at ease.

Whatever your strengths, work them to your advantage. Then identify weak points, and take steps to work on improving your aptitude, or simply outsourcing to experts. We’re talking specialist processes like accounting and web development. 

SWOT Analysis
Finding it difficult to figure out where you rock, and where you crash and burn? Running a SWOT analysis is a great way to not only understand your strengths (S) and weaknesses (W), but also identify opportunities (O), and anticipate threats (T).

What is a SWOT analysis?
Usually Strengths and Weaknesses are internal aspects of your business (what you’re good at, what you’re not so good at), while Opportunities and Threats are external forces (what is likely to impact on your business in a negative or positive way).

  • Strengths – top strengths or benefits of your business, and how you can protect and enhance them.
  • Weaknesses – your top weaknesses or issues, and how you can minimise them or do better.
  • Opportunities – top opportunities for your business and how you can access and take advantage of them.
  • Threats – your top threats, and how you can minimise them and do better.

Use this basic template to write them down – this will help crystallise your thoughts:

SWOT Analysis for electrical business

You’ve ticked all the boxes – it’s time to launch

Starting a business from scratch isn’t always the easiest path to take. But if you’re dreaming of a better salary, an improved work/life balance and a genuine sense of achievement, then it’s the path for you. Remember though, that being your own boss isn’t a cushy number in the beginning – you’re going to have to put in some long hours to start with. But it’ll pay off as your business grows and you can start to hire staff.

Bookmark this guide and keep your business plan on hand, and refer back to them regularly. They’ll help you take a strategic, step-by-step approach to starting and running your plumbing business. Keep your goals and objectives in mind, and continually hone your competitive advantage so that your reputation grows. 

Finally, we asked one of our plumbing clients about the most critical aspect of starting and growing a plumbing business. Here’s some advice to keep front of mind at all times:

“Stay honest and stay loyal with your customers. That way, you’ll always have repeat business and that’s a key goal for any plumber. If you’re dodgy and ripping people off, it will come back to bite you. If you charge fair and always do a great job, they’ll keep coming back and they’ll tell others about you. Repeat business – that’s the goal.”

PipeFix_TomA special thanks to Tom from PipeFix Plumbing for helping us with this guide.