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4 ways to break free from sole trader status

21 April 2015

Many plumbing and heating contractors set out with grand ambitions, if not for world domination, then at least to make an impression on their local community. They dream of seeing billboards advertising their business, large newspaper adverts, a fleet of vans on the road with a team of staff and everyone talking about their business.

However, the usual outcome is that not many of these dreams manifest into reality. 80% of plumbing and heating businesses are reported to have less than three employees and many find it either too difficult or too risky to grow and expand. The time never seems to be 'right' for most people. Some are worried that workload is too inconsistent to take the risk and often claim "If only I knew there would be work then I would take on more staff". Others become worried that staff won't live up to their expectations and fear they won't be able to trust them to do the job as well as them.

Owning a successful plumbing business that is capable of growing and that is profitable and importantly not just dependent on one person (the owner), requires staff, there's no other way. But it doesn't have to be as risky or difficult as many may find. Here are four things that you'll need to do in order to start taking the right steps:

1. Have consistent and effective marketing programmes

Most contractors shy away from taking on staff because they find demand is always too inconsistent. They're too busy and need more staff one week and then not busy enough to even keep themselves busy the next.

Consistent demand can only be achieved through consistent marketing. Marketing isn't something that should be done to generate customers only when work dries up. It's something that should be done consistently. By devising and implementing a consistent marketing programme, you will begin to see a consistent flow of new customers. Only then will the time ever be 'right' to think about taking on new staff.

2. Stay on top of the finances to know when the right time is

So many sole traders or small independent tradespeople never really have a grip of their finances. Whatever cash is in the bank is usually the measure of how things are doing financially and accounting may involve nothing more than handing over a carrier bag of receipts to an accountant once a year.

You have to have a better handle on your finances before you can make important decisions like taking on staff. It's a big commitment and you cannot afford to make a decision based on anything but facts. At the very least you need to be able to review performance indicators and a profit and loss each month.

3. Nurture client loyalty

Most agree that taking on staff is risky and is made more comfortable when you know there is a certain level of demand from clients. We've already said you need a consistent marketing programme. But you need more than that. You need a client nurturing programme to keep your customers loyal.

If you don't, your marketing programme is doing nothing more than filling up a bucket that has holes in it. Devise a programme for nurturing client relationships so that they remain loyal and keep coming back for more and you'll ensure you keep enough work for your new staff.

4. Ensure you have a system for managing the business

Taking on staff and serving more customers is a great start to expanding the business. But be careful, if not managed well, your new found demand could overwhelm you and actually begin to erode your reputation and customer loyalty because suddenly you're too busy to give them the service that they expect.

Therefore it's essential that you have a well-organised system for managing every aspect and process of the business to ensure that your quality of service remains the same whether you have one or one thousand customers. Customers just may not forgive you for forgetting to call them back or to turn up to their job simply because you've become 'too busy'.

Your Plumber franchisees benefit from support in achieving all of these. Marketing programmes are planned, with client nurturing schemes in place to ensure clients remain loyal. Our bespoke IT system enables franchisees not just to manage the service easily to ensure that it is always provided at the required standard but to access a whole range of reports and Key Performance Indicators that tell them how the business is performing and to enable them to make informed decisions, with the support and guidance of our Head Office.

If you have the ambition to expand your plumbing business, or want to start one that has the potential to grow successfully, then get in touch on 01202 230070 or email

Questions? Call 01202 230070
or email YourPlumber here