You think you have what it takes to own your own plumbing business? Every first-year apprentice dreams about it. But owning your own business someday takes hard work, perseverance and a willingness to learn. Recently, we talked with four prominent business owners about what they thought it took to go off on their own, and Read more
You think you have what it takes to own your own plumbing business? Every first-year apprentice dreams about it. But owning your own business someday takes hard work, perseverance and a willingness to learn. Recently, we talked with four prominent business owners about what they thought it took to go off on their own, and what they have learned from their experiences of ownership. Here is the advice that they shared:
Owner, LH Plumbing Services LLC
The most important things were knowing my worth as a professional and licensed plumber. So many people start a business thinking their previous boss was overcharging or “lining their pockets off my back,” in their words. Don’t undercharge. Knowing and understanding expenses is so important. Your wage is not the same as the business profit.
It’s also important to not fall for the temptation of going into business too quickly when you are not knowledgeable enough in the technicalities of you field. Being uneducated or undereducated and inexperienced in plumbing can cause major property damage and even death to yourself and your customers. I went into business still lacking some knowledge that I had to learn the hard way.
Owner, Baker Plumbing Inc.
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Cash flow is KING! You can be the best tradesperson on earth with skill and knowledge oozing from your pores! None of that matters if you ain’t getting paid. So many people start their business by market research—what’s the average hourly rate. They phone around and get some pricing and figure the average is $115 an hour so I’m going charge $105 and steal my piece of the pie through price.
Initially, it seems like a decent plan but the guy starting his business three months after you has the same plan and before you know it you’re losing those cheap clients to the cheaper guy. My suggestion is add up all your monthly expenses—rent, fuel, truck, your personal wage, etc. and determine what you need to make to meet your needs. Distill that down to an hourly rate and stick to it. If you’re good, the clients will come.
Also, the best tools don’t make you the best. It’s a hard one with all the cool tools out there these days and their splashed all over social media. Set yourself a tool budget and stick to it. The formula pertains to skills, knowledge, experience, and then tools. Expensive tools don’t make you money, your skills and knowledge do. Tools make your job easier but as I’ve told my boys, learn the hard way first so you can appreciate the easier way.
Maybe this one is too old school but I think it tracks. Your personal appearance matters! You need a uniform—you ought to wear clothes that are cleaned, pressed and smell good. You need keep your appearance neat, clean and tidy. You, your person, needs to look presentable, smell good, teeth brushed, hair combed and be well put together.
It seems obvious but I’ve seen so many people starting out looking like they slept in the back of their trucks on some random Thursday. Even in today’s wide scope of acceptance, the disheveled look is always a bad one. Personally, I carry a brand new black shirt—still in the packaging—a variety of hats and a can of deodorant in the truck for those days where the first job of day goes horrible wrong. Your first impression is of vital importance and yet so is the 10th. People notice that stuff even if it’s sub-consciously.
Owner, Mickelson Plumbing & Heating, LLC
I wish I would have known how to anticipate the time required to run the behind-the-scenes portion of our business, not sure it would change anything, but nonetheless it would have been nice to know what to expect.
I have learned that every employee has their own baggage and quirks that show up occasionally and require a special set of kid gloves to handle.
I also have learned that I need to be open minded when it comes to trusting my employees to do their best and allow them to make choices that sometimes might not completely align with what I would have done.
Owner, Lomonaco Coast Plumbing,
San Clemente, Calif.
Make sure you know business; it takes more than being a good technician and wanting to go out on your own to be successful.
Know your competition, and what separates you from your competition.
Know what your definition of success is, and where to draw the line. It’s about how much money you save, not how much money you spend. Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. To start your own business is a major commitment. It’s a lifestyle change that doesn’t stop. It is a huge toll on all aspects of life that you will have to juggle.
A Navy veteran, John Hudek served in the Naval Construction Battalion, better known as the Seabees, and part of their slogan is “Can do” and “The difficult we do now, the impossible takes a little longer.” Throughout her life growing up, watching her father work so hard and the mountains he climbed for his family Read more
A Navy veteran, John Hudek served in the Naval Construction Battalion, better known as the Seabees, and part of their slogan is “Can do” and “The difficult we do now, the impossible takes a little longer.” Throughout her life growing up, watching her father work so hard and the mountains he climbed for his family, Linda Hudek learned from his example. “He taught me that hard work, persistence and determination is key. Those character traits are even more important than natural talent, and I have taken that mantra into adulthood. I love to take on difficult projects and jobs that demand unique solutions where others have said ‘no thanks’ or ‘it can’t be done.’ I am the queen of ‘Can Do,’” says Hudek.
Celebrating nearly 10 years of self-employment, Hudek, LH Plumbing Services, Fairfield, Ohio, has an already extensive decorated resumé. In 2005, working for her dad—a self-employed Master Plumber who, at one time, employed 20 plumbers—she started out in all new construction plumbing. “I began working for him the summer before my senior year of high school just to have a job and I decided that I really loved it. Although much to his displeasure at the time, he didn’t want me in such a rough environment,” jokes Hudek. “I enjoyed the new challenges on a daily basis and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with physical, tangible work. I also loved the constantly varied workplaces and meeting new people on each and every project. I went to college at night and also obtained an Associates in Business Management degree while working for him, as well,” says Hudek.
Hudek owes much of her success and drive to her parents. With John and Herma as the driving force, “They raised me to love and serve God, and to work hard. And, they love me—they even tolerate my wild adventures. My dad also gave me my trade. I can never repay them for what they have given me.”
A one-woman shop, she started her company in late 2010, “oh how young and dumb, I was,” jokes Hudek. But she obtained her master and backflow licenses shortly thereafter. For the past two years, Hudek has been in the shop location of her dreams, and has since migrated to a majority of service work in both commercial and residential sectors with some plumbing remodeling. In addition to residential and commercial service plumbing and drain cleaning, her talents include natural gas, sewer and water line replacements, backflow testing, and plumbing projects that require scuba diving. She joined her local PHCC chapter as a board member, and is currently the Vice President of the Ohio PHCC.
Being a woman in a mostly male industry, Hudek doesn’t even think about it, really. “I am a plumber first and foremost, and the quality of my work is a testament to that,” says Hudek. “I believe that high quality, professional work speaks volumes to potential tradespeople, customers and the layman alike. I want people to remember me for being able to get shit done, and for working hard. I want to encourage anyone and everyone to join the trades; there is so much satisfaction and joy to be found as a plumber. I am thrilled that women—and men alike—are not only considering joining the trades, but doing so after seeing me and other women successfully working in the field. It helps to see someone they can relate to, whereas it might be more intimidating to consider the trades without seeing successful tradeswomen,” says Hudek.
According to Hudek, she has encountered very few stereotypes concerning her gender. There have been a few people who have said that she wouldn’t be able to accomplish what a man could accomplish, but she simply proves them wrong daily. “Everyone has an opinion; some are simply incorrect and ignorant.”
To be honest, says Hudek, the most aggravating stereotypes would be from the individuals who say that the trades are for the less intelligent or troubled individuals who couldn’t do anything else or couldn’t go to college. As in any career, the best tradespeople are hard working, determined, intelligent, strive for excellence, continue their education and are motivated. “I went to college and my master license is far more valuable to me than my college degree ever could be. You can take that to the bank. I did,” says Hudek.
The advice she’s give other women thinking of entering the trades is this: find a company offering an apprenticeship program. Ask questions constantly. Anticipate your journeyman. Work hard and leave the attitude at home. Stay off drugs and stay physically fit. Learn as much as you can—spend some time each week furthering your education by gathering as much info as you can and join in the many free classes offered by suppliers and manufacturers. When you have the opportunity to earn certifications—jump on it. “Don’t be intimidated. If you want it, the sky’s the limit in the trades.”
Yet, the trade industry faces a skilled labor shortage and it needs help in recruiting talented people. Hudek suggests having more apprenticeship offerings in the non-union companies. “Plenty of people could come into the trades, but have no experience and need a structured and planned learning environment,” says Hudek.
Because some companies only want to hire experienced plumbers, “We need to get back to legitimate apprenticeships. We need more training and flexible childcare options to attract single and working parents. Many companies think they can’t afford to attract the best help, but that’s generally because they aren’t charging enough for their services.”
Also, Hudek wants to see more youth outreach in elementary, middle and high schools. “Take a day or an afternoon and talk to a class about the trades. It’s so much fun and the best time to reach out is when they’re young!”
Speaking of youth, Hudek cherishes spending time with kids. “I love spending time with kids. So many children don’t have good role models or loving families. One of the best things you can do for a child is to simply live by example. Teach them to work hard, how to love, and show them where that hard work and love can take them. Your example is far more telling than your words.”
As for personal time, Hudek says she works, a lot, and admits it can take its toll on relationships and her sanity. “But I feel like I’m maintaining a good balance now,” says Hudek. “I make time to spend with my significant other, my family and friends—sometimes it may only be for an hour or two—other times I might get the chance to randomly take a day off and spend it with loved ones. It’s one of the perks of being independent and self-employed. Oh, and I try to never work on Sundays unless it’s an absolute emergency for a good customer.”
When she can escape, Hudek is an avid scuba diver, kayaker, hiker and lover of the outdoors. She enjoys traveling all over the world when she finds the time. In fact, Hudek swam from Alcatraz Island back to San Francisco Bay for the Sharkfest Swim. “That was wild!”
Lately, Hudek has been active on social media (@thebrunetteplumber on Instagram). According to Hudek, it has opened up a whole new world and it has allowed her to bring customers into her world—helping them understand the importance of hiring licensed professional tradespeople in ways they could have never understood before. It has also helped her network with so many plumbers and business owners alike.
“These people are my rock. They have become the best friends I could ever ask for. So many have encouraged me, taught me new tricks, been referred to me, and I’m able to listen and share about things that only plumbers are going to understand and relate to. It has been a huge blessing. It has also helped me encourage others to join the trades. I’m glad to inspire them and encourage them.”
Proud of being featured in such media outlets such as Mechanical Hub, Plumber and Cleaner magazines, in the end, Hudek loves her career—she enjoys providing services that protect the health of the nation. For her, it is supremely satisfying to routinely complete projects that affect peoples’ lives in such an extreme manner, and she loves seeing the results of her work. It is tangible and visible. “And, we will be needed to sustain the quality of life that people enjoy in modern society. Unless we go back to the stone ages, we will always be needed.”
The last time she had a great day? “I was running a new gas service outside in the sunshine on a job with no one on site to bother me—just me, the trackhoe and some Nine Inch Nails.”