If there is one thing I hear consistently from plumbers, it’s that they are busy, busy, busy. Too busy. But what I also know from visiting with plumbers is that many of them are spending a significant amount of time and resources on the wrong job, with the wrong customers.
It’s an easy trap for any small business to fall into. When you first start out, you take any and all business to keep the business running. But then one day you wake up and you realize that your business is doing great – except for that segment of your client base that is driving down your profitability.
Most of the plumbers that share this frustration with me talk about wanting to get out of the emergency, “clogged drain, over-flowing toilet” business.
So how can plumbers get the RIGHT customers and retire early?
Business structure and alliance
If you’ve been a plumber for a few years and you want to move out of the type of work that exhausts your resources, threatens morale, and compromises profitability, consider tweaking your business model.
Is it feasible to form an alliance with a new plumber or new plumbing business that you can refer your less desirable work to (while they get started out and build their business) and they can refer more sophisticated work (that they may not be quite ready to take on) to you?
If this doesn’t seem doable, does it make sense to dedicate new staff or rotate your existing staff through the types of jobs that you want to phase out? Your latest recruit can start out in emergency plumbing and/or you can rotate your existing staff through emergency plumbing so each plumber is only doing that work one day a week. Maybe the latter is not feasible if you have a mature staff whose hourly rate is greater than the revenue generated from the work. The idea here is to have limited resources dedicated to the type of work you are no longer interested in, so that when customers are calling they are receiving a “I’m sorry, we do not have any availability for that type of work today.” If this happens enough, chances are those calls are going to die down on their own.
Here is the most definitive way to get away from the work you don’t want to do – stop doing it. This is incredibly scary for some plumbers, because they worry about lean times, and they know that the emergency-type plumbing jobs are low-hanging fruit. But what is scarier? Continuing to do work you don’t want to do? Continuing to lose staff over jobs THEY don’t want to do? Driving down your profitability with time spent on less lucrative work?
It can be very difficult for some businesses to move into that “not a fit” mindset. A “not a fit” mindset means that you acknowledge and accept that your services are not a fit for everyone, and you are OK with that. You can turn some business away because you have determined the type of services that are the best fit for you, your business, your staff, and your bottom line. You may experience a short fall-off in business, but in the long run you will be building a business comprised of the type of work that you and your staff can do sustainably and profitably.
If you’ve been in the plumbing business for a few years and you’re tired of having your staff and profitability dragged down with certain kinds of plumbing work, is it time to move into highly focused and/or focused areas? Is it time to consider strictly commercial, strictly residential, strictly new construction? Often times, having a handful of solid contracts from new construction builders or architects can be far more profitable and enjoyable work than scattering your services across all plumbing areas.
To help get you in the headspace of considering a specialty, here is a sample business plan for a plumbing company that has chosen new residential as their area of focus: Sample business plan.
Regardless of what you decide to do, the days of thinking you don’t need digital marketing are over. It’s just not an option to skip having a web presence while everyone is walking around with a smart device in their hand. At a bare minimum, a dedicated website that spells out what you do and how you do it can…
1. Generate the right client base
2. Recruit new talent
3. Make sure you are getting the right phone calls
To speak to that last point, I’ve chatted with several plumbers who say, “I don’t need a website (or I don’t need to update my existing website) because I just have a half dozen contractors that I work with.\” That’s great, but if your existing website doesn’t say that, you are going to get phone calls for residential and emergency jobs regardless. Again, answering phone calls that don’t speak to your services is also a waste of time and resources.
If you are too busy to take on new customers, or you are just starting out with a one or two-person crew, you need a website that tells that story. Otherwise, you will be answering phone calls all day for jobs you can’t do and don’t want.
A plumbing website is the first place a potential customer will go before calling you – so no matter how small or big your plumbing company is, no matter how general or specialized you are – you HAVE to get that messaging across on your website. If you don’t, you will either be answering unnecessary phone calls while you’re coiled up under a sink or in a crawl space, or your office manager will be wasting time fielding calls all day for things you don’t do and/or don’t have time for.
Revisit your business plan. Do you want to sell your plumbing business eventually, and if so, when? When would you like to retire? What services are you currently offering that are “watering down” (heh heh) your staff and profitability? Is it time to specialize? Once you can answer these questions for your business, you need a dedicated website designed specifically for the plumbing industry that answers these questions for your would-be customers.