In the first of three articles on scaling up your business, Anne Timpany, Director of On Tap Plumbers, discusses breaking down the barriers that are stopping you from expanding your company.

If you ask most plumbers if they want to be ‘on the tools’ at 50, you’d probably get a resounding ‘no’. While plumbing can be a lucrative career choice, it’s also a physical, mental, and often emotional challenge. Running your own business, as well as doing all of the hard graft, just adds to the stress.

When I set up On Tap Plumbers in 2010 with my husband Raff, a plumber by trade, we started from scratch. We never envisaged that our small domestic plumbing firm with big ambitions would, eight years later, have a multi-million pound turnover with a team of 70 plumbers. If you run a company but don’t want to be on the tools forever, then I would like to share my tips and experience on scaling up your business.

Play to your strengths

Many tradespeople can’t scale up because they are too busy doing the work and not spending enough time on developing the business. It’s impossible for one person to do everything and do it well.

While my husband plays to his strengths and runs the operations, part of my role is to market On Tap Plumbers. At the beginning, I believed that to stand out from everyone we needed to look professional and bigger than we actually were. I had a vision and wanted On Tap Plumbers to be a brand aligned with professionalism, reliability, and a modern approach to business.

We branded our van, had uniforms in place, and I focused on networking, flyer dropping, and online marketing. If you don’t have a partner who can work with you, there are a lot of freelancers looking for work and the costs are very competitive. You can find people through your local network or you can search on the internet.

Choosing customers

Once we were up and running, we realised that some markets were better for us to focus on. By identifying and targeting your ideal market, you will be able to grow faster. When I realised how much time, effort, and cost it took to get one client who paid us £70 for a callout, compared to one client who gave us consistent work at higher rate, it was a no-brainer.

Repeat customers and referrals are lifeblood for your business. Four years into our business, we realised that commercial plumbing contracts gave us greater volumes of work for longer durations. We started getting small contracts that would give us work for up to six months and now we have contracts that give us work for up to three years.

As the owner of your business you are the best salesperson you have. You are selling yourself and, if you aren’t confident in your ability, why would the customers be confident in you? You are also the face of the business, and you should take every opportunity to sell your services when you are with the customer.

If you can increase business coming from every customer then you can potentially double your turnover. It took a while for my husband to realise that he wasn’t just a plumber but could also increase sales just by talking to customers and upselling our services. He was brilliant at it.

Put yourself out there

Customers are now far more reliant on the internet and do all of their researching online. If you don’t have a website, it’s important that you get one. Websites can also be cheap and easy to set up, options like Wordpress are simple to use and easy to maintain.

Everyone now checks out suppliers and services through their websites, and having even a simple one can add an important perception of professionalism to your business. Your website can also get a lot of visitors by promoting your business on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. If you are not social media savvy, but have teenage children, ask them for help!

Although running your own business can be tough at times, the freedom and rewards you can gain from continuing to expand could be enormous.

In part two of this series on scaling up your business, we’ll talk about making the most of the opportunities you have created and how to proceed if you want to get bigger and more successful. Look out for it in September’s issue of HVP.