How to Grow a Plumbing Business: Do This, Not That

About the Author: Ashley Thomson
Ashley Thomson

Running a plumbing business in Australia is a challenging feat. With over 30,000 registered plumbers in the country, competition is fierce. However, you can grow a thriving plumbing operation with these six strategic do’s and don’ts. As business coaches with over 20 years of business coaching experience helping plumbers and various trades, we’ve seen what works and what doesn’t when scaling a plumbing business.

Table - Tenfold Business Coaching

DO: Find a profitable niche and build your business around it DON’T: Be a One-Size-Fits-All
DO: Work with the right clients DON’T: Get stuck with bad clients
DO: Get recruitment right DON’T: Hire fast, fire slow
DO: Prioritise your website DON’T: Jump into social media
DO: Measure the metrics that matter DON’T: Rely on rear-view mirror 
DO: Invest in quality staff training and career development DON’T: Worry about staff leaving after training

Niche focus is crucial for a profitable plumbing business

Trying to offer every plumbing service to every client is a surefire way to get lost in the shuffle. For example, sometimes you see plumbers driving down the road, and on the van, it says, ‘We’re a plumber. We can do any job. No job is too small. We do domestic work. We do commercial work. We do special work. We do industrial work.’ What this means is that these plumbers will do anything they can get, and this is not what we want to do.

The most successful plumbing businesses carve out a specific niche and own it. This could be servicing a certain client type or focusing on niche plumbing work. For example, being the go-to provider of plumbing services for domestic property managers in the Mornington Peninsula area. When your brand is known as the expert in an underserved niche, you become invaluable. Clients won’t drop you over the cheaper competition because no one else offers your focused expertise.

Just ensure you pick your niche wisely; you can’t expect to be the rough-in plumber in a small town of 100 people! Understanding the demand for the services you provide is critical to identifying a profitable niche.

Select good clients to work with

Working with the right clients can significantly impact the way your business grows.

  • First, you want to work for clients who respect your professionalism. Your professionalism includes the quality of your work, service, team members, brand and reputation.
  • Second, you want to work for clients that pay you on time.
  • Third, you want to work with clients whom your team likes working for. It’s important that your plumbing team enjoys going to work and loves (and is passionate about) the kind of work you’re doing.
  • Fourth, you want to work for clients who won’t drop you if another plumbing business comes along and offers a cheaper price for their services.

Surrounding yourself with professional, prompt-paying clients who respect your work makes business much more enjoyable and sustainable. The temptation can be strong to take any client when you’re starting, but low-quality clients can sap momentum. Don’t ever put up with ordinary clients. Be selective, and take the time to build lasting relationships with premium clients. These clients won’t leave you over a slightly cheaper quote and will provide a steady stream of word-of-mouth referrals.

Get recruitment right with a robust process

Don’t rush into hiring any plumbers to keep up with demand. For instance, when you go through the recruitment process and come up with a couple of candidates, you might think, “Well, these are the best candidates, and I have to pick one of them.” Don’t do this! Be extremely picky in your hiring process.

Many plumbing businesses don’t take the extra steps like thorough interviews, trial days, and reference checks when recruiting. This leads to sub-par plumbers that don’t meet your standards. It’s better to run multiple recruitment campaigns than settle for a bad hire that could damage your brand. Don’t immediately hire the best of the bunch. Invest the time upfront to build an A-team.

Website first, social media second

In this digital era, an appealing website tailored to your niche is mandatory to stand out. This should be your first digital marketing priority before trying to manage multiple social media platforms. According to Tenfold Business Coach Ashley Thomson, “You want a website that talks directly to your niche.”

Many plumbing businesses waste lots of precious time trying to market themselves on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and TikTok, thinking it will get them more business when they don’t even have a polished website. Don’t rush into social media. It can supplement a top-notch website but not replace one.

Track what matters: Billable Hours and Profit

When it comes to measuring your plumbing business’s growth and direction, solely relying on yearly financial documents from your accountant presents some major drawbacks. Specifically, leaning on annual profit and loss statements tells you where the business stood financially 12 or more months ago – not exactly an accurate gauge of your current performance. It doesn’t give you a good idea of what you need to think about to grow your business.

Rather than only looking at yearly financials, track real-time metrics like billable hours compared to paid hours and profit per job. This shows clearly how your team is performing right now, not 12+ months ago. Monitoring figures like this weekly or even daily allows for needed adjustments to be made at the moment.

We’ve seen time and again, working with Australian plumbing companies, that those who embrace proactive tracking are the ones who experience rapid, sustained growth year after year.

Invest in your team

Invest in both technical and soft skills training for your team. From plumbing repairs and valve manifold training to communication and conflict resolution, upskilling your staff keeps them engaged, increases their value, and ultimately benefits your business. Don’t be afraid to lose them to better-paying jobs; a well-trained, happy team is your true competitive advantage. The pros of having exceptional plumbers far outweigh the minimal risk of losing one or two plumbers here and there.

Here at Tenfold Business Coaching, we draw on our deep understanding of the Australian plumbing industry to develop tailored team retention strategies that help them lock in their teams so that they can not only train them but also retain them over the long term.

With career development plans, you can build the skills and capacity of your plumbers. Management and leading coaching can elevate your technicians to valuable senior leaders on your business.

Managing your time as your plumbing business grows

Common wisdom dictates that plumbing business owners should spend most of their days immersed in day-to-day operations – quoting jobs, managing teams in the field, purchasing equipment, and solving issues as they arise. The relentless demands of a fast-paced environment can cultivate a short-term mentality where only the present matters.

Plumbing business owners should make the commitment to allocate dedicated time solely focused on strategic initiatives: planning for big picture, whether that’s having your business run by a manager or positioning your business as an attractive acquisition target to be sold to a buyer.

As a guide, owners of plumbing companies looking to grow with around three plumbers should devote at least 10% of their hours to business development, marketing, digital optimisation, financial planning, and other scalable priorities separate from fieldwork. As your plumbing business expands to around 10 plumbers, bump up the time allocation for these key growth functions to 20%. When you have 20 plumbers on your team, you should allocate at least 50% of your hours towards your business.

What year-on-year growth can a plumbing business expect from these growth strategies?

The rate of growth your plumbing business achieves depends on various factors like your chosen niche, team efficiency, and consistent implementation of these do’s and don’ts. However, by focusing on building a strong foundation, attracting the right clients, and investing in your team, you can set yourself up for significant and sustainable growth.