Anne Timpany, founder of the ATRA Group, discusses how tradespeople can use networking to develop their businesses and unlock new opportunities.

Plumbers and heating engineers face an uphill battle marketing themselves cold to potential customers. Customers generally don’t look for plumbers through traditional methods of marketing, such as advertising in publications, leaflet drops, and cold calling.

This is mainly because customers need to trust their tradespeople, and it’s hard to trust someone you’ve never met or don’t know anything about. Trust is important because customers are letting you into their home; the place they spend most of their time and where their most precious belongings are stored. Plumbers are also on the back foot with the general public due to the perception generated in the media that tradespeople are cowboys and rogue traders. 

When we started On Tap Plumbers in 2009, we didn’t have a network to help us get started. We also got pregnant when we registered the company so, while Raff was working part time for his old boss, it was my responsibility to source new customers. 

I had just nine months to get On Tap Plumbers up and running full-time! From my previous roles working in hospitality marketing, I had used networking effectively, so that was my first thought.

By investing most of my time and effort in networking, we grew the business very fast, which allowed Raff to step away from working for his boss and work full-time for On Tap Plumbers. My efforts created a network of people that we developed strong relationships who brought us continual work opportunities. We had so much work that, within six months, we needed to get another full-time plumber to work for us.

Networking doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and it’s not good enough to just turn up to a networking breakfast in a local venue with some business cards. There is a lot more to networking than you might think and, if you invest in it with clear direction and strategy, then it can be very productive. 

The following tips I utilised are guaranteed to bring you success in networking: 

  • Listen – People love to talk about themselves and, by being genuinely interested in them, you start to develop meaningful relationships
  • Give back – Networking groups often involve participation and if you volunteer to help out then you develop a reputation as a source of support and assistance
  • Community – The best networking groups often develop into a micro-community, where everyone works hard getting leads for each other. This is a great way to maximise your sales team without having to pay for one
  • Professionalism – Tradespeople have the reputation of being unprofessional. By being presentable, tidy, and organised at networking events, you can overcome those stereotypes quickly
  • Don’t sell – Nobody likes a hard sell, where someone approaches you, talks purely about themselves, shoves a business card at you, and then walks away
  • Be memorable – If you can think of bringing or wearing something unique, or even having a clever slogan that will make you memorable, then this is a quick way for people to always think of your company when they need a plumber
  • Befriend everyone – The best clients often come from the most unlikely sources. If someone can’t give you business directly, they might be in a position to refer you to their networks, which could hold the best clients you ever had.

If you’re not sure how to get started networking, then begin by searching on the internet. Local Facebook business groups are a good source of information and most networking groups have their own websites. There are a lot of networking groups and you need to think about which ones would work best for you. 

There are groups that are held at different times in the day and different days in the month or week. It’s important to consider all of these variables to find the right group for you. I would also recommend that, once you’ve found one that works well for you, don’t invest time and effort into multiple groups. Stick with one or two and build those relationships to get the most success.