You think you have what it takes to own your own plumbing business? Every first-year apprentice dreams about it. But owning your own business someday takes hard work, perseverance and a willingness to learn. Recently, we talked with four prominent business owners about what they thought it took to go off on their own, and what they have learned from their experiences of ownership. Here is the advice that they shared:
Owner, LH Plumbing Services LLC
The most important things were knowing my worth as a professional and licensed plumber. So many people start a business thinking their previous boss was overcharging or “lining their pockets off my back,” in their words. Don’t undercharge. Knowing and understanding expenses is so important. Your wage is not the same as the business profit.
It’s also important to not fall for the temptation of going into business too quickly when you are not knowledgeable enough in the technicalities of you field. Being uneducated or undereducated and inexperienced in plumbing can cause major property damage and even death to yourself and your customers. I went into business still lacking some knowledge that I had to learn the hard way.
Owner, Baker Plumbing Inc.
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Cash flow is KING! You can be the best tradesperson on earth with skill and knowledge oozing from your pores! None of that matters if you ain’t getting paid. So many people start their business by market research—what’s the average hourly rate. They phone around and get some pricing and figure the average is $115 an hour so I’m going charge $105 and steal my piece of the pie through price.
Initially, it seems like a decent plan but the guy starting his business three months after you has the same plan and before you know it you’re losing those cheap clients to the cheaper guy. My suggestion is add up all your monthly expenses—rent, fuel, truck, your personal wage, etc. and determine what you need to make to meet your needs. Distill that down to an hourly rate and stick to it. If you’re good, the clients will come.
Also, the best tools don’t make you the best. It’s a hard one with all the cool tools out there these days and their splashed all over social media. Set yourself a tool budget and stick to it. The formula pertains to skills, knowledge, experience, and then tools. Expensive tools don’t make you money, your skills and knowledge do. Tools make your job easier but as I’ve told my boys, learn the hard way first so you can appreciate the easier way.
Maybe this one is too old school but I think it tracks. Your personal appearance matters! You need a uniform—you ought to wear clothes that are cleaned, pressed and smell good. You need keep your appearance neat, clean and tidy. You, your person, needs to look presentable, smell good, teeth brushed, hair combed and be well put together.
It seems obvious but I’ve seen so many people starting out looking like they slept in the back of their trucks on some random Thursday. Even in today’s wide scope of acceptance, the disheveled look is always a bad one. Personally, I carry a brand new black shirt—still in the packaging—a variety of hats and a can of deodorant in the truck for those days where the first job of day goes horrible wrong. Your first impression is of vital importance and yet so is the 10th. People notice that stuff even if it’s sub-consciously.
Owner, Mickelson Plumbing & Heating, LLC
I wish I would have known how to anticipate the time required to run the behind-the-scenes portion of our business, not sure it would change anything, but nonetheless it would have been nice to know what to expect.
I have learned that every employee has their own baggage and quirks that show up occasionally and require a special set of kid gloves to handle.
I also have learned that I need to be open minded when it comes to trusting my employees to do their best and allow them to make choices that sometimes might not completely align with what I would have done.
Owner, Lomonaco Coast Plumbing,
San Clemente, Calif.
Make sure you know business; it takes more than being a good technician and wanting to go out on your own to be successful.
Know your competition, and what separates you from your competition.
Know what your definition of success is, and where to draw the line. It’s about how much money you save, not how much money you spend. Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. To start your own business is a major commitment. It’s a lifestyle change that doesn’t stop. It is a huge toll on all aspects of life that you will have to juggle.