How to Start & Grow Your Plumbing BusinessWritten by Bernard on January 25, 2017
The plumbing business has a long and respectful history in the world. It has been around since the first leaky pipe and will be around in one way or another for a long time to come.
With these kinds of impressive figures, there’s no wonder that so many entrepreneurs are interested in starting their own plumbing.
Plumbers are usually broken down into three levels:
- apprentice plumber
- journeyman plumber
- master plumber
We’ll go over these levels in details later. But in order to succeed at your own plumbing business, it’s usually recommended that you have many years’ experience or that you are at least certified as a Journeyman Plumber.
Plumbing tends to move along the same lines as the housing industry. Therefore, the plumbing industry took a real dive (along with almost every other industry) during the Great Recession of 2008-2009.
However, since then, it’s been on the rise steadily.
This does not mean, though, that by starting a plumbing business you are assured success. With so many business starting and failing across the world, if you want to succeed in your business you need a plan.
More specifically, you need to answer some very important questions about the plumbing business. This includes issues of business strategy, the licenses, insurance and tools you’ll need, and the different steps to getting your customers.
In our plumbing business guide today, we’ll address all of those issues.
You can navigate through this guide by clicking on the sections below, or you can read it in its entirety.
I. The Advantages & Disadvantages of the Plumbing Business
You are probably aware of all the great things that can come from owning your own plumbing business. However, in order to be fully prepared, you will need to know both sides: the good and the bad.
1. The Advantages
There are many advantages to the plumbing, and you are probably more than aware of most of these. However, it’s important to understand just how great a plumbing business can be.
You’ll have your freedom
The first advantage to starting your new plumbing career are quite obvious: you’ll be free. Well, free at least to take control of your own career. You will be your own boss, you’ll set your own schedule.
You’ll have all the decision-making power and work the type of jobs that you’d like. Like I said, free.
There’s a potentially great income
Besides that, there’s also the promise of a great income. Plumbers on average make around $50,000 a year (£40,000 in the UK), and the industry is expected to grow at 21% over the next 10 years.
As the salary is only an average, it means that there’s a wide range of possibilities. If you work hard enough, you can earn at the top of that salary range.
There’s lots of work
There’s also lots of repeat work. Homeowners and commercial office building owners will require constant help. It may not be regular (say, once a month, every month), but it will happen at one location constantly.
This repeat business is your bread and butter. Beyond that, seeing as nearly every home and office owner has some sort of plumbing problem, if you have good word-of-mouth you’ll be on everyone’s lips.
Low start-up costs (for smaller jobs)
Lastly, the start-up costs for plumbing is quite low. There is no real formal training required (more on that later), so you won’t have to pay for a university degree in that field.
Also, most of the plumbing jobs you’ll be required to do will be fairly basic stuff that requires basic equipment. You can focus solely on those smaller jobs until you earn enough to invest in bigger equipment.
2. The Disadvantages
There are, of course, some disadvantages to becoming a plumber.
The stress of self-employment
The first and major disadvantage is one connected to all self-employed people: stress. Specifically, the weight of responsibility of owning your own business and deciding everything for yourself.
Your own business includes the actual plumbing work, of course, but you should also add: marketing, sales, customer relations, accounting, web site design, social media manager, and many other roles. With all that responsibility, it can be very stressful and sometimes even lead to burnout.
The long, irregular hours
One of the major disadvantages is the long, irregular hours. This is long work, and often you’ll get calls late at night, even in the
middle of the night. This is especially true for emergency plumbing services or 24/7 plumbing service. When you start out, you’ll have to take those late night hours in order to build up your reputation and income.
You’ll have to get licensed
Although no formal training is required, you’ll have to have some plumbing experience.
There’s also a test in order to become a fully-licensed plumber (necessary for many homeowners) and often a long apprenticeship period depending on your previous experience. That period and test means that you won’t have your freedom immediately, but it is also an investment in your new craft.
Lots of hard, physical work
Lastly, being a plumber can be hard on the body. You’ll be going into a lot of cramped spaces, and this is horrible if you are even a little claustrophobic.
Also, there’s some yuck factor, as you’ll be cleaning pipes clogged up with 20 years’ worth of …something. You’ll be dirty and sweaty and stinky most of the time, but it all comes with the job.
If you are fine with these disadvantages, however, then you’re ready to really get into what it takes to have your plumbing business succeed.
II. The Business Fundamentals
Your plumbing business is more than just fixing leaky pipes. Like any business, it requires a sound mind and a good strategy. Although in the movies there are things that people are born with or without, that’s just not true in real life.
In order to have a good strategy, all you need to do is your research and have a well-structured plan. We’ll look over the important parts of your business basics to start your business off on the right foot.
1. Your business plan
Although there are many popular opinions out there that state that no one needs a business plan anymore, this is simply not true.
Every good business needs a good business plan, just as every driver going into a foreign land needs a map of some sort. It may be a map scribbled on a napkin or a detailed navigation system, but the map is needed.
Your business plan acts as a map for your business, so that when you are unsure of a specific path, you can look back at it and make your decision.
We go into depth of what a really good business plan is in our full guide. However, to summarize, your business plan needs to include:
- your business idea: describe your product or service and the plan for your success
- the plumbing market and the competitors: discuss how you’ll carve a space in the industry and identify your main competitors
- your goals and actions: detail what measurable goals you want to achieve and the pathway to achieving them
- the services you’ll provide: answer—why are your services better than the competitors?
- your target audience: who are your future customers? what are their demographics, and how will you attract them to your service?
- your business structure: if you’ll have management or employees (now or in the future), what will that look like? For the beginning plumber, you can leave this section alone until you get employees
- financing: based on your financial projections, what financing will you require? This can be a note to yourself, without including investors, about where you are financially. Come back in 6 months and measure your finances again.
Your business plan may not consist of all of these, but a very good one will go into detail in most of them. Your sections can be as big or small as you’d like, but you should consider them seriously.
For more information, look at our business plan guide to get started on this business fundamental.
In the US, the federal government does not issue plumbing licenses. As with most other things, it is up to the state to do that, which can get pretty confusing if you’re trying to find out what you need. In order to get licensed for your state, you need to know:
- where do I go (which government institution hands out licenses)?
- what are the work experience and education requirements?
The requirements are based on your plumbing level. Let’s look at them in detail.
If you are in the apprenticeship stage, you have pretty much no experience. You are a clean canvas, and you will have to spend about 4-5 years working under a Journeyman Plumber to get the necessary experience. The only requirements to become an apprentice is to be at least 18 years old and oftentimes with a high school diploma or equivalent. However, there are many other ways to gain experience.
Journeymen have to take an exam in order to get the license. Usually, you’ll also require to show your formal training.
The testing requirements to get a license vary by location, but many have hours-long tests to check you on your skills. After that, however, you’ll get your license.
However, journeymen plumbers are still required to work under the supervision of a Master Plumber.
The Master Plumber is the highest level of plumbing. In order to become a Master Plumber, you’ll need to take additional courses or even complete an educational degree related to plumbing. You’ll have to complete these educational requirements before you apply to take the test.
One exam in Westchester Country, New York, requires that Master Plumbers take a 170-question open book exam that lasts for six hours.
The requirements are similar in the UK, although you’ll need recognized qualifications in Domestic Plumbing and Heating. It is also possible to take a basics course at college which will help you in finding an apprenticeship program at a company.
The type of insurance you need really depends on the type of work that you’ll be doing.
For the most part, however, having insurance is a sign of trust to your clients that you are covered. After all, you’ll be going into some parts of their homes or buildings that they are not aware of.
This is an important part, and if something bad happens, you’ll either have to pay out of pocket or they’ll have to suffer without adequate plumbing for quite some time.
Public liability insurance
The main type of insurance to have is public liability insurance (general liability in the US). This is by no means a legal requirement, although if you have a large commercial contract, they’ll probably require this as a minimum.
This ensures that you have protections if there are any financial liabilities because of your work.
For example, if a pipe you fixed leaks and damages a floor, or if the client injures himself due to your equipment or materials, you’ll need this coverage.
Employers’ liability insurance
The second type is employers’ liability insurance, which is only for those plumbers that have employees or even apprentices (including work-experience students).
In the UK, you are legally required to have coverage with a minimum of £5 million. There is an exception if you work with your immediate family, but it will still be a good idea to have that coverage.
This is comparable to workers compensation insurance if you are in the US.
For American plumbers, it’s also a good idea to have property insurance. This type of insurance covers a client’s building, furniture, and equipment (phones, computers, etc.).
You’ll also need to have separate commercial automobile policy.
4. Software for your business
Luckily for plumbers, plumbing isn’t a very tech-heavy industry. You are generally working hands on with people’s piping, although there are other plumbers involved in the design work.
In order to take care of the financial aspect of your business, however, you’ll need a simple yet effective software. That’s where InvoiceBerry comes in.
Because the plumbing hours can be long, you need invoicing software that will help you create and send invoices in under 60 seconds. The faster you send out your invoices, the faster you’ll get paid.
But the software has much more features. These include expense tracking, recurring invoice, creating quotes and estimates, and creating finance reports.
The choices are many, and varied, but they’re all useful for the design part of plumbing work.
III. Your Pricing Strategy
The pricing for plumbing is, in an overall sense, similar to the pricing for most services. Firstly, you need to take account of the following factors:
- What is the type and size of the job?
- Where do you live?
- What materials are needed for the job?
- Will you charge hourly or based on a fixed rate?
- Is it a standard or emergency situation?
- Is it on weekdays or on the weekend (as weekend and public holiday raters per hour are higher)?
Plumbers usually charge either a flat rate for their services, or an hourly fee. We’ll look at those in a moment, but first, you’ll also have to include the call-out/estimate charge. If it takes at least 30 minutes for you to determine what is wrong, you should be compensated for that time.
The call-out charge varies amongst plumbers, but they generally cover the plumber’s costs and time.
For example, if you call a plumber at 9pm, you should expect a call-out charge of £65 ($80) to £135 ($165) that should cover the first hour plus any additional charges. The plumber should either fix the problem or provide a temporary fix and come back later to fix it fully.
1. How much should you charge per hour?
Plumbing charges can vary widely. Many companies, however, set a minimum hourly charge, then charge in 15 minute units. That’s how London’s Pimlico Plumbers works.
For example, the company sets its prices based on the time of the job.
On weekday hours between 7am and 6pm, plumbing work costs £130 ($160), whereas the price is £170 ($210) for weekday evenings and daytime hours on Saturday.
For Saturday night, it charges £180 ($222) per hour, which goes to £190 ($235) on Sunday daytime. For late Sunday night (early Monday), the company charges £200 ($245) per hour.
2. What should your flat rates be?
It is also common for a smaller plumbing business to charge a flat fee based on the type and difficulty of the job. This will also be based on your location and the time of day and night.
Based on plumbing costs, the average for plumber services are as follows:
- Fitting a bathroom: £1018 ($1260)
- Plumbing installation services: £164 ($200)
- Replacing a kitchen sink: £575 ($710)
- Replacing a toilet: £115 ($140)
- Replacing a hot water tank: £460 ($570)
- Replacing a bath: £185 ($230)
- Replacing a washer in a leaky tap: £50 ($60)
As we mentioned above, these are only suggested prices, but they will vary for you based on your location, experience, etc.
However, it is a good idea to take into account what your competitors charge. That way, you can set your prices for your plumbing business at a competitive level.
IV. Getting your plumbing business customers
Now we’ll get to the nitty gritty: how to get your customers. We’ll break these down into three different ways: with a website, through traditional marketing, and using social media.
1. Get your plumbing business website
This may not seem obvious at first, but every single business needs a website. Just as everyone needed to be listed in the Yellow Pages, you need a website nowadays to be found.
When a customer wants to find a good plumber, he will most probably go online to find the plumber.
If your plumbing business is not listed online, there’s no way for that customer to find you. You’ve essentially lost a client, and many clients as the number builds up.
Your website doesn’t have to be amazing, and you can even use free website services. The primary purpose is for others to find you online.
Beyond that, your website should include:
- A clear list of your products or services
- What makes you special compared to the other plumbers
- Your location and where (how far) you’re willing to work
- A list of your prices (or a quote/estimate page)
- Your contact information
For personalization reasons, you should also include your photo and have a professional ‘About’ section that has some personal information. People love to connect to people, and presenting your human side will go far in impressing your new customers.
While you’re at it, you should also list your business on Google Places to increase visibility. For more information about local SEO (getting found on search engines through local searches), check out our article here.
2. Traditional Marketing
No matter what anyone says, traditional marketing is not dead. In fact, it is very well alive and can be very lucrative for your plumbing business.
The #1 old school marketing method is the champ of all marketing: word-of-mouth. This is the treasure that all businesses are looking for, and you can only get it through high-quality, timely hard work.
One important thing to do is to approach the right type of people. There are businesses related to the plumbing industry that don’t actually do your type of plumbing. If you can network with them, they can send you referrals as they get them.
For example, you can connect with:
- New Construction Plumbers: these companies focus only on new construction, and when they get repair requests, they can send those requests to you
- Restaurants: the owners tend to talk to each other, so if you can offer a referral incentive, you can get into the restaurant circle
- Leak detection and similar companies: these companies only do detection, but not fixing, which is where you come in.
Offer these referrers a percentage or a vice-versa, and you’ll have consistent business.
3. Social Media Marketing
If you haven’t heard, it’s a social media world now. Anything and everything that is important is on social media, and you’ll have to get on there as well.
It’s been shown that before people make a purchase, they go online to do research first. This means that your having a website or social media page is of utmost important.
It’s also very important that your website or page showcases the glowing reviews that your quality services are producing.
Choosing your social media platform can be a task, but it will pay off immensely.
However, the most popular page (and one that you should be on regardless) is Facebook. It is the most popular social media network, and is both visual and textual. Almost everyone, one and old, is one there, so you can use that as a free marketing tool.
On your social media, you should show off your satisfied customers and some impressive jobs you’ve completed (skip the boring jobs). When you feature your happy customers on Facebook in pictures or text, they’ll be happy to share it with their friends and family.
Social media is a powerful marketing tool. With the right strategy and guidance, you’ll be able to use it to your plumbing business advantage.
For more in-depth information, check out our free ebook The Ultimate Guide to Social Media for Small Businesses & Freelancers.
To sum up:
The plumbing business is ripe for new entrants to the market. There are many advantages to it, including:
- increased freedom
- potentially great income
- lots of work opportunities
- low start-up costs for smaller, simpler jobs
Of course, you have to be aware of the disadvantages:
- the stress that comes with self-employment
- long, irregular hours
- you’ll need to get licensed in order to advance
- lots of hard physical work
With that information, you should go ahead to complete your business fundamentals, which include:
- your well-thought out, strategic business plan
- the licenses you need depending on level (apprentice, journeyman, or master)
- the necessary insurance
- the software that will make your job easier
Then you should consider how you’ll create your competitive price list:
- determine how much you’ll charge per hour
- decide how you’ll charge your flat rate
After that, you’ll finally need to consider how you’re going to get your customers:
- you’ll need a plumbing business website so customers can find you online
- you should use traditional marketing practices
- choose your social media platform
By following these steps, you’ll be well on your way to not only having your plumbing business survive, but thrive.