Bill Collins of B.C. Plumbing worked as a nursing assistant in a busy A&E department before switching to plumbing. With a growing list of satisfied customers, he tells us why he made the jump, and shares some of the lessons he’s learned along the way.

For me, it all started with a botched plumbing job. Three years ago, while I was working as an A&E Nursing Assistant, I’d paid a plumber a lot of money to move a radiator in my house. When I got back from work, I found they’d put it in the wrong place so I decided to do it myself. I emptied the system, moved the radiator to the correct place, and then moved three more while I was at it.

As you might have guessed, I’ve always been pretty practical, but at that moment I was ready for a more fulfilling job away from the high pressure that comes with putting people back together. So, I decided to retrain. 

It’s been almost a year now since I started plumbing full-time and my old surgeon friends joke that I should go and work with them in theatre because it’s not that different. The last 12 months have taught me a lot of valuable lessons.

Don’t rush into it

Before setting up, I spent a year-and-a-half doing my Level Two plumbing qualifications at college during evenings and weekends. This was expensive – more than £5,500 – but it was worth it. Even though I had a lot of practical common sense already, learning the technical side was the right thing to do.

I studied around my day job while doing plumbing work on the side for hospital colleagues. After that, I set up the business, exchanged my car for a van and started to advertise locally.

Get the right van

I certainly didn’t get this right to start with – I started working out of my estate car but it wasn’t big enough so I bought a small van. To my surprise, that was even smaller. I’ve finally gone for a bigger van on lease, now that the business can absorb the cost.

Tool up

This was the hardest thing to get right in the early days, but I had to accept that my tools would improve over time. 

There were some things I didn’t buy which meant I had to turn work away later on, but other things have been invaluable. The single best thing I bought was my wet vac hoover – everyone should buy one.

Stay calm

After four-and-a-half years working in A&E you learn how to stay calm in stressful situations. That has helped in this line of work too. 

Since retraining, I’ve been out to houses with burst pipes and floating floors and I can stay outwardly calm on the surface, even if I’m burning up inside! 
If you can be a calm, safe pair of hands for your customers during their worst moments then they’ll really value what you do.

Communicate

The single most important part of my successful switch to plumbing has been communication. My hospital background taught me the importance of being honest with people and letting them know what’s happening all the way through. 

Talk to your customers, don’t leave them in the dark and don’t let them down. And if something goes wrong with a job after you’ve finished, go back and sort it, don’t fob them off. 

Diversify

I’ve managed to line up a few different places where I get my leads from now. Checkatrade works really well, and I’ve got a small stand in a bathroom showroom in Andover that brings in customers too. 

I’ve also diversified from basic plumbing into demonstrating and installing water softeners with Dualflo. Water softeners have proved to be a great extra source of revenue for me in the first year. I always end up talking to my customers about them and, because I’ve got my demo kit in the van, it’s easy to show them the benefits.

Why plumbing?

You’ve got to want to do it. So, before changing careers, be sure to ask yourself, why? 

I’m 54, and in a few years’ time I plan to either be living in France near Lake Annecy with my wife, who’s helped through it all, or be back at college, teaching other people how to get their start in the profession.