Plumbers provide a service their clients can’t do without. The competition may be steep, but starting from scratch can also work to your advantage. Here are a few tips on laying the groundwork for a plumbing start-up with a competitive edge.
The key to starting any business is planning. We’ll take you from drafting a business plan to cementing your reputation as one of the best plumbers on the move in your area.
First things first: get qualified
You won’t need any official certification in plumbing to start your own small business but, more likely than not, you already have some working knowledge of the trade. Your first steps should aim to consolidate that knowledge and build on it.
Learn from established plumbers
If you don’t have enough business experience, consider learning under an experienced plumber as an apprentice. There’s no better way to learn the day-to-day work of plumbers and their needs in terms of equipment and support. You’ll also get to know your potential future clients. Contacting local plumbers is a great way to get going.
Get the education you need to go far
Research training institutions. Many offer programs that provide hands-on experience with clients. Recognition from industry bodies will benefit you in the long run, lending your start-up the legitimacy newcomers need. Even if you go the apprentice route, consider getting qualified with a respected training provider and gaining your NVQ level 3.
Balance your shortcomings with a partnership
It’s never too early to connect with others with proven knowledge of your weak spots – whether those are plumbing, business, accounting or marketing. If you’re already a seasoned plumber, consider bringing on a partner who can handle the operational side of running a small business. If you’re coming out of an MBA program on the other hand, it’s plumbers you need to look for.
Plan your business from the inside out
The best way to organize your thoughts about your business is by writing a business plan. A business plan will cover all the details you need. Here’s what you need to consider specifically for your plumbing start-up.
Choose a focus
Plumbing companies can have varying specialities. Some exclusively service already existing installations, providing maintenance and repairs. Others install new plumbing systems – either in homes or large-scale institutions like schools and hospitals. Others simply offer tools and supplies.
Your choice should be based on your skills, but also on local competition and demand. Research what’s already offered in your area and what’s lacking. Which kind of plumbing business will be most likely to succeed?
Project costs and size up your price
In your business plan, you’ll have to account for initial start-up costs as well as monthly and yearly costs for keeping everything running – from staff to tools and fleet upkeep.
The more accurately you’re able to project costs, the better you’ll be able to set up a pricing structure. Try to get this right the first time around – significantly changing your prices later on can erode consumer confidence and wreck business plan expectations. Once you’ve tallied your running costs, find your breakeven rate for a day of work. How many times per month will you need to plug a leak or install a toilet to be in the black? An accurate projection of costs also means reliable revenue projections. Those will determine your actual profits – your bread and butter.
Consider the franchise route
Adopting an already strong brand name by starting a franchise business can get you on your feet fast if your franchisor has strong brand recognition. Be sure to revise franchising fees carefully, as well as other requirements. Some franchises are quite strict and can significantly reduce your flexibility, which, for many entrepreneurs, may be the prime motivation for starting a business in the first place! Research franchise options to see if they might be right for you.
Register, fund and drive your plumbing business
With business plan in hand, it’s time to secure the funding you need, register your plumbing company with the government, equip your fleet, and hire a team.
Once you project costs, you’ll know how much money you need to raise. If you don’t have the initial funds yourself, your business plan and/or its executive summary will be your sales pitch to woo investors and raise funds.
Do you have significant experience with the plumbing side and less on small businesses management? You might consider bringing on a third party as a partner or consultant, preferably one with ties to the local business community and experience in obtaining investment.
Register your plumbing business and acquire accreditations
As with any other kind of business in the UK, you’ll need to register as either a sole trader or limited company. This is a standard procedure that applies to businesses of all industries. Regardless of what you decide, you’ll probably also want to register a company name.
Although you won’t need a license to work as a general plumber, you will need to adhere to regulations. Depending on your plumbing business’ area of expertise, you’ll have to uphold standards regarding water regulations, building regulations, and maybe gas safety as well.
Institutional associations will also lend credibility to your business: consider joining the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE); additional specialized accreditations might include HETAS and OFTEC i f working with heating.
Supplies and fleet
Plumbing requires a variety of tools and materials and, more often than not, a reliable van for transport to job sites and storage. Whether you are launching a one-man-with-a-van-company or require an entire fleet, finding the van that’s right for you will be an essential step on this new adventure. Given your trade’s reliance on tools and equipment, you would do well to look into smart interior storage solutions for an optimal and safe use of space. With a well-equipped van, your essentials will always be at-hand, without the need for a central office or separate storage space.
Keep in mind that any electrical equipment – any plumbing equipment that plugs into the wall – must be maintained in order to prevent danger, whether through regular Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) or other means.
Though it depends on how much business you expect in your beginnings, you’ll likely want to consider hiring employees. Plumbers will be the priority, but if you might also need an office assistant if you find yourself constantly out making house calls. Based on the size and status of your business, hiring a part-time accountant – even if you’re a sole trader –might also be a wise move.
As a business owner, you will have to comply with HSE Health and Safety legislation and take out both employer’s liability insurance as well as public and products liability insurance. This is obligatory, and will protect you and your business if a member of your team, a client or another member of the public is injured or becomes ill as a result of your business activities.
Now that you have the ground set, it’s time show the local community what your plumbing business has to offer.
Make a reputation for yourself
Make a point of offering the best service possible. Always. Be transparent with your rates, reliable with your deadlines, and attentive to your customers’ needs. If word-of-mouth is on your side, you will barely need an advertising budget. Prestige jobs, such as for local government, hospitals, schools, or prominent people and families, can also help attract more customers.
Most people shop around for prices when they search for plumbers. Keep track of your competitor’s pricing and what services they do and don’t provide. Market research isn’t over once you’ve finalized your business plan; keep tabs on the competition throughout the life of your business.
Maintaining an online presence – whether a website, social media profiles or combinations thereof – is a huge boost for attracting new customers. Highlight positive testimonials whenever possible, and consider investing time into Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) to better rank in search results. You could also offer rewards or discounts for customers who find you through popular review sites, and encourage satisfied customers to leave reviews. They’re what a reputation is built on. A new plumbing business can solidify its image and reputation with a solid online presence and a slick profile. Focus on delivering a great service and a great impression, and it will make all the difference.