Ten tips for running a successful plumbing business

My dad has recently fully retired from plumbing. Where that leaves me with work is best to be explained in another blog post. But for now, I wanted to share this article with you that I wrote a year ago and never posted.


This post came about because a former plumber who worked for us in our commercial fit-out days wanted to be mentored about going out in business on his own.  The plumber asked my dad, what was the secret to running a successful plumbing business?


Unfortunately I think he was expecting a formula or some money spinning trick that would make him rich quick.


The truth is, there is no secret for creating a successful plumbing business, but there are things that need to be done in order to head into a prosperous direction. The secret to success is hard work, determination and passion. The following list is what a plumber in the commercial world can do to become profitable and successful. These tips can also be used for other businesses too.

Ten tips for running a successful plumbing business

1.  Find and develop your niche. As a plumber, the field is open as to what area of plumbing you want to focus on. For my dad, his niche was inner city tenancy fit out works. And then when I started a family and dad wanted to slow down, we changed our niche to small commercial or domestic maintenance jobs. For various other plumbing firms, their niches may be domestic maintenance, commercial maintenance, new houses, bathroom or kitchen renovations, nursing homes, hospitals, townhouses or even large scale construction projects like new buildings and warehouses. Once you find out what niche you are going to target, you need to find builders, architects and hydraulic consultants/engineers that manage and design these types of projects so you can be on their tender list.


2. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket – meaning don’t just work for one builder and expect to get all their work. It doesn’t happen. Sadly there is very little loyalty in the construction industry at the moment because everything is based on price and the plumber that wins the job is usually the cheapest one despite if they have a history of bad workmanship. This will change once the market picks up.


3. Price EVERYTHING. Plans are now emailed to you or they are electronically lodged to a website where all plans are available for pricing. This is why it is important to call all the clients in your niche so that you know when projects are open for tender. Make sure your tenders are lodged on time. Late quotes are disregarded.


4. Visit a site before the tender closes to see if the job can be installed a cheaper way than how it has been drawn by the engineer. Some sites may not be accessible, but it’s worth the try. You can always organise a site visit with the builder and often site visits are arranged prior to the tender closing. When onsite, check that the nearest waste or water pipe is in the location the engineer      has drawn on the plan. If you find a closer one to what is drawn, base your quote on your findings. Your price will be cheaper than other plumbers quoting because they would have priced to what was on the plan.  Just ensure that the waste pipe you are pricing on is actually sewer and not storm water!


5. Qualify EVERYTHING on your letter when doing quotes including – not allowing security guard fees or  alarms if work needs to be done out of hours to not being held responsible to damaging other services if you cut into walls or floors without having been told about their location.


6. When you win a tender, ring the project manager or builder for the project and find out when you are needed onsite. It also pays to visit the site to see what the progress is.  The project manager may say that you can start next week, but if you visit site and the onsite construction manager is happy for you to start, then do so. Project Managers like proactive workers.


7. Be up to date with all paperwork including council inspection forms and fees lodged and paid in full and safety paperwork (that is now mandatory on all commercial jobs) to be handed to the project safety supervisor before any works are started.


8. Follow up on plumbing clearance certificates when a plumbing job has been cleared and email the certificate to the builder as soon as you receive it. Builders hate paperwork and even worse, they hate nagging you to give it to them. If you submit the necessary forms, plumbing certificates, as built plans and manuals to the builder on time or before they nag they will put you on their list of preferred plumbers. Builders will call you and negotiate your price if they prefer to use you than the price they received from a cheaper plumber.


9. Keep your overheads to a minimum. Husband and wife plumbing firms are popular because why pay a girl to do your paperwork when you can pay your wife? Having a home office doesn’t mean you have to pay to have a lease on an office too. There are tax benefits on setting up a home office. Check with your accountant on what can and can’t be claimed. I will write another article soon on how to keep your overheads to a minimum so that you can create positive cash flow in your business.


10. Have a website. So many plumbing firms still don’t have a website but plumbers need to get with the times and have a website. Potential clients want to see what jobs have been done by your firm and who your clients are. Sending a brochure or profile about your business when you start tendering with a new client is also beneficial. If creating a website is a cost that you can’t afford, set up a Facebook and Twitter account. They are both free. A blog is easy to set up too because you can easily update it as new work comes through. You can get clients to follow your page and it can be regularly updated with pictures of projects that you have finished.


Most of these tips can be applied to any business in the trade industry. All these tips were taught to me by my dad, and some I have added myself having worked in the industry in the last couple of years. If they are consistently followed, new work will continue to come through.

I’d love to hear your tips if you run a business? Can you add anything to what I’ve written above?

  • Lucy @ Bake Play Smile

    I think being organised and keeping up to date with paperwork etc is essential. Also from my experience, using a program such as Quickbooks or MYOB is so super helpful! Great tips and ideas! xx Lucy #TeamIBOT

    • The Plumbette

      Lucy, I totally agree. I mainly focused my article on the nitty gritty of working with project managers but paperwork and having a good accountant is so crucial.

  • Lisa

    Great tips Bec…I would also say try to network with similar people in your niche, stay on top of paperwork, keep up to date with the trends or education. Also, try to set aside time to work on your business not always work day-to-day in your business.

    • The Plumbette

      Lisa, those are brilliant tips too. I totally agree. 🙂

  • AParentingLife

    They are great tips and also good for all business starters not just pluming. Thanks for sharing and can’t wait to read about where this change leaves you. Leaving some fairy wishes and butterfly kisses from #teamIBOT

    • The Plumbette

      Thanks lovely. It will all be revealed in a future blog post. x

  • Maxabella

    This is great advice for ANY business starting out! I’ll look forward to reading more about your dad’s retirement and your… going solo? x

    • The Plumbette

      Thank you for your kind comment. I will reveal what I’m doing in a future blog post. So pleased that my dad can retire at 53. But he’s worked bloody hard to get there.

  • Wow that is big news for you hey that your dad has retired, I am interested to see where that leaves you. I’m sure you’ve got is t sorted. Great business tips there lovely 🙂

    • The Plumbette

      Thanks Emily. I will write about what I’m doing in a future blog post. x

  • Excellent! I will be able to star my plumbing business within the fortnight!!! 😉
    Serious though, great tips for those in the biz. Excited to hear what’s next for you work wise. xx

    • The Plumbette

      HAHA Jess. Boatman could be on the tools and you on the paperwork or tools? Will reveal what I’m doing soon on a blog post. I read on Facebook that the FIFO has been hard in the early stages… praying you will be able to speak or Skype Boatman soon. Can’t imagine how hard it is. x

  • 26 Years & Counting

    Yes, I would love it if people like plumbers had websites. Or heck, I’d settle for a voicemail I could understand and maybe that states the company name!

    • How did I miss this comment a year ago? I agree, a voicemail and website is so important. Especially nowadays.

  • Great article, Rebecca. It seems most plumbers, especially small operators, spend more time working in their business than on it. I hope this article inspires many to do a bit more of the latter.

    I work with a start-up that is trying to take business owners in all industries – especially the blue collar sector – out of that too-small-to-matter mindset. Kindred Mentoring is the name, and it will be a marketplace for mentors and mentees. We want owners / managers of damn-good plumbing businesses, for example, to help new plumbers build damn-good new businesses.

    Check it out if you like: http://www.kindredmentor.com

    • Hey Paul, thank you for your comment. It’s hard for a lot of plumbers because they are a one man show and have to do everything – I should also include female plumbers that run their own businesses too. We definitely need good plumbing businesses so that we have plumbers in the future. Thanks for leaving your site here too. I will check it out.

  • FD West

    Great tips and interesting read, thank you!

    As the owner of a business which primarily started as a standard plumbing business, focusing and competing mainly on domestic plumbing, we have managed to grow substantially in a short space of time and now service other plumbing firms which were once our competition based on a few simple principals:

    – Never run or speak badly about another subcontractor (Word gets around and will always bite you in the back.)
    – Be punctual (If you say you will be on site at a certain time, be there! As it is very difficult to always run on schedule due to the nature of the work and factors to consider as traffic and the job at hand not always going according to plan, contact the client and inform them you will be late. No one enjoys sitting around waiting for a contractor wondering if they will arrive or not.)
    – Communication (This is most likely one of the most vital aspects to running a successful operation. This needs to be fluid with in the company as well as between the company and external parties. If communication is good, this builds a bond of trust over time which is invaluable, resulting in a heathy relationship being established with customers and staff, thus becoming a preferred contractor i.e repeat business.)
    – Service, Service, Service! (Majority of contractors are stereotyped as often providing less than palatable service. I am confident if you enter the market place as a start up, or if you are in the market and want to grow your business, make it primary goal to improve your customer service. People seem to have forgotten how powerful the word of mouth is.
    – Honesty (This one should speak for itself. If you make a mistake own up and take the corrective action, respect can be won, depending on how humble you are and how each situation is handled.)
    – Get the paperwork done before the day is over! (Invoicing and quoting are the arteries of any business, make sure you give them the attention they require.)

    These are the basic principals i have used to build my business from a one man show to a now fully structured business with different teams focusing on different niches in the market place including domestic and commercial plumbing, leak detection and utility locating, CIPP (cured in place pipe)/pipe relining, as well as a distribution side of the business supplying plumbing companies with drain cleaning equipment, accessories and training on pipe rehabilitation using CIPP.

    Thank you for the great blogs!

    • FD thank you for sharing these tips and well done on the quick success of your business. I hope it continues to flourish for you. Your tips have definitely helped you and will my community too, so thank you for sharing them. 🙂

  • Rebecca,

    I can relate to tip number ten on having a website. Once we got online, things really took off. I was fortunate to find a great step by step video tutorial on making your own mobile friendly plumber website that walked me through the process of making a logo and adding my pictures etc. If you are looking at getting a plumber website on the cheap, you could use this free video tutorial. https://youtu.be/tkHZrn7aATU

    • Thanks so much for sharing this Tom. It’s getting easier for plumbers to have a website presence online. 🙂