Tommy-Lee Zmuda, installer and founder of The Boiler Business, explains why it’s important for tradespeople to take control of their own marketing.

Are you busy? Or as Northerners say, ‘Ar’ tha’ busy’? This greeting is probably the most common phrase a plumber will say to another plumber. I guess it emphasises what plumbers fear the most, which is not having regular incoming work and too much space on the calendar. ‘Are you busy?’ also points towards possibly the most significant knowledge gap in our industry – marketing.

‘Feast or famine’ and ‘grabbing’ are other phrases often used. In a rush to avoid famine, we ‘grab’ as much as possible, while it is available, and find ourselves leaving little time for the long term development of our business. The idea of investing months and months of our time into learning and improving the marketing side of our business seems insane when we are so busy, and there are so many other businesses available to help us find more customers. 

Stop and ask yourself why it is that we, as an industry, always want more work, yet we are always telling people that we are too busy for X, Y, and Z?

For most people in our game, the problem is not a lack of work available. It is more likely to be the type of work we allow ourselves to take on without knowledge and understanding of what a clear marketing strategy would do for our business. With no clear strategy of how to attract our best ‘five-star’ customers, we fill our week with less profitable high-risk work. Taking the rough with the smooth, we say yes too often rather than saying no and give too much time away to customers we ‘might’ win.

Marketing strategy vs advertising

The first thing you need to understand is that there is a distinct difference between advertising and marketing. Advertising can be part of your marketing strategy, but often will not give the best long-term ROI as you usually will be renting somebody else’s space to attract new customers.

Marketing is a much broader spectrum of activities. Communication with potential new clients throughout the customer journey, from start to finish, while understanding the importance of continued contact and service to your existing customers. Your marketing strategy should involve building your own ‘space’ and attracting customers to visit this ‘space’, such as your website or social media page. By owning your own space, you have full control over what content a customer sees, reads, or watches without details and links to your local competition.

Sounds like a lot of effort, yeah? Ok. So let’s look at the alternative and the ugly truth that keeps us all busy with little profit. You see, most plumbers are chasing the golden egg, happy to pay with cash for quick results, but with little ‘time and effort’ invested. Then a salesman sells them some ‘space’ for a fixed amount of time, i.e. one, three, six, or twelve-month periods.

Advertising for plumbers

John the plumber wants more work, so contacts the sales team who are happy to ‘rent’ some of their space to him. John then fills his space with a message of some kind and business contact details. John has just paid for advertising to attract customers to his business through a third party. The salesman then sells the next space available, and then another and then another. More plumbers come into the same ‘space’ because it’s quick and easy.

Meanwhile, somebody else at the salesman’s company is using ‘content’ to attract homeowners to the same ‘space’. The homeowners arrive to find many plumbers in the same space with not much apparent difference between them. They all have the same amount of limited space, with information laid out in a standard, similar fashion. 

Marketing for plumbers

Now let’s look at the long term approach. Paul the plumber invests time into gaining knowledge. Paul finds a web professional with history and recommendations from others in the plumbing industry. Paul is happy to spend a considerable amount of time planning, writing, and creating the content for his own space. Working alongside the web professional, they build this space and populate with unique, informative content.

Potential customers find this space, searching Google or social media, a recommendation from friend or family, or perhaps they found other interesting content elsewhere that lead them to this space.
Customers check out the information that they are looking for, but find other interesting articles and videos that explain in layman’s terms other areas of the subject. Customers are happy with what they read/watch and contact Paul.

Paul the plumber has much more chance to impress the customers that visit his website/social page. Because of this, the perceived value of his business will increase, and Paul can charge more per job while not paying the salesman and his company to find new customers. Paul also has data showing that he wins a far higher percentage of his quotes from customers that have used his website before contacting him. 

Not only is he making more money, but also saving time at the quotation stage, allowing him to spend more time at home with his family.

But it gets better. As his ‘space’ improves over time, more customers start finding his business and asking for quotations for his most profitable product or service. Having more earning opportunities now allows Paul to choose who he wants to serve and inform the least desirable requests that he sadly cannot help them. He focuses on the most profitable work, with the smallest time requirement.

Yes, Paul had to invest in knowledge and had to invest in building his own space but, once completed, it will continue to attract customers for years to come. A little maintenance will be required from time to time to keep it looking fresh. If required, Paul can always build an extension on his space to attract, different types of customers, more of the same or better customers.

Taking control

Every plumbing business in the UK is unique with its owners and staff possessing different skillsets. Yes, John and Paul are not real characters, but what their story shows is that one plumber focuses on being a plumber and doing the spanner work while the other is being a businessman and open to new knowledge and improving his skillset. Once Paul has the knowledge, he has choices and is in a better position to choose a team that can help move his business forward.