You already know how to run your plumbing business (and you’re doing great! *thumbs up*), but do you have the insight to take things further and enhance your profitability?
You may be comfortably covering costs and meeting your annual targets, but on the other hand, do you know what aspects of your business could be causing unnecessary expense? Have you considered which processes you could streamline to save money?
Thankfully, there are answers to these queries and with just a bit of insight, you can take steps to not only make your plumbing business more efficient, but also work to make it more profitable.
We’ve put together a list of five knowledge-based resources—and some practical tips—that can help you bring in the dough...dosh, cheddar, cash, or moolah (depending on your preferred slang):
- Look at the figures that really matter
- Take a holistic view
- Get a clearer picture of cash flow
- Clear your debts
- Enhance communication via automation and reviews
Like any responsible manager or business owner, you’ll be aware of your monthly, quarterly, and annual financial results. While that's great for tracking the past, they often provide too few clues about where to take your company in the future.
It’s useful to realise that the figures which really matter aren't just those tied to the £ sign. Important figures also include timings, dates, and more. They're important because altogether these figures can provide answers to questions you need to be asking about your business. Questions like (but not limited to):
- “Which job types and which engineers are the most / least profitable?”
- "How much time are we spending on admin tasks?"
- “How much time / money am I spending on travel and transportation? Is it more than it should be?”
Some of these answers may lead you to make tough decisions about your staff or customers. For instance, you might want to stop acting on jobs that take you far away from your usual service area, as realistically, they're not cost effective. However, if the latter of the questions is true, why not think about investing in “green” vehicles? With hybrid and electric cars now more viable than ever you could potentially save £1000’s over the next few years and even attract new business from the growing market of environmentally conscious consumers.
Ultimately, when thinking about profitability, your focus needs to be not just into next month, or next year, but further. You may have that friend who talks about their “five year plan”—you may even have one yourself! Whether that’s true or not, you should seriously consider having one for your plumbing business. Some of the targets above could even become part of your plan.
Whatever you decide, your goals should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely) to provide you with a well-structured plan for you and your team to follow. Of course, don’t be afraid to adjust these as you learn from the figures you're paying attention to.
Understanding profitability can be more complex than it first appears. To make sure you’re understanding your business well you need to look at it from every angle—this is what taking a holistic view means. From administration, to engineers, from stock control, to payroll, and beyond: these are all sorts of things that can and will influence your profitability.
For instance consider journey times: you may not have thought about how this metric can affect your finances. However, if it looks like engineers are taking too long to get to a job and you’re not sure why (it could be traffic, it could also be laziness) there are solutions (like GPS tracking) that can provide insight. Having this information will then allow you (or your staff) to better manage aspects like job distribution, optimising travel time, and potentially get your engineers to attend more jobs. In this instance, statistical knowledge is power: without it, you won’t be able to start making improvements and may miss out on new revenue opportunities.
Another suggestion that dives a little deeper is for you to consider the parts you’re buying. Yes, you may be buying them at a good price and make money on mark-up, but what if those parts have a high failure rate and your engineers have to go out on (unpaid) recalls to put things right? As well as costing you, it will also negatively affect you customer’s satisfaction and can negatively impact retention. What appeared at first to be a money-spinner, could actually cost you a whole lot more...
Poor cash flow can cripple an otherwise successful business. If you always seem to have less money in the bank than you think you should, it’s a good idea to ask “why?”. In all likelihood, you have an issue (or more likely, several issues) with your invoicing and credit control processes.
On top of this, poor stock control or supplier management can lead to excess funds being tied up in inventory. This might be obvious from a trip to the warehouse, but you won’t be able to take effective action to correct the situation without detailed knowledge. With better insight into parts management you will also be in a better negotiating position with your suppliers.
With that in mind, consider if your job management software allows you to easily manage as much of your plumbing business as possible (if not all of it), including invoices and payments as well as stock control. This all ties in to how you should take a holistic view of your business. Only by understanding the big picture (and seeing it clearly) will you be able to make well-informed decisions that increase your cash flow and profitability.
While yes, this is easier said than done, you’ll likely know just how much of a burden interest payments can be. Most plumbing companies (amongst other field service businesses) could do more to reduce their reliance on bank loans and other sources of credit, so here’s a few ideas to help out:
- First, get an accurate picture of your financial situation and make a sensible decision for prioritising debt repayment i.e. tackle the highest-interest debt first. Otherwise, it’s just going to pile up year-on-year. If your business is going through a tough patch (and everyone’s will), talk to your creditors, they may be able to help.
- Next, make sure you can keep your end of the bargain on any new repayment terms—if you default, that will make future loans more expensive as your credit rating suffers. At the same time, you should be looking for sensible ways to cut costs and free up cash. Most companies can identify equipment that's no longer used and sell it off: even as scrap, that’s better than leaving it in storage as useless clutter.
You’ll be far more likely to secure better repayment terms if you can demonstrate a thorough understanding of your company’s current situation and an action plan to turn things around. You can put everything we’ve covered so far into practice to give yourself the best chance of staying on top of debts.
Timely communication with your customers will boost revenue and with the right knowledge, it’s not difficult to automate some of the processes either (there are a bunch of other tools that can help as well). Service reminders are perhaps the best (and simplest) tool to help grow in this way, but you should also consider channelling other communications methods, like online reviews. We’ll consider both, briefly, below:
Unsure of how you could make use of service reminders? Well, as a plumbing business, consider how the servicing of boilers could fit in. Boilers may typically come with a standard one-year warranty, but buyers can purchase extended warranties from two to ten years—if they do that, they’re required to have the boiler serviced yearly in order to keep the warranty valid. That's where you come in: with a service reminder you can easily notify clients to book an appointment. Schedule enough of these regularly (easily automated too) and year-on-year, the results will speak for themselves.
Hearing from your customers can help in surprising ways. They’re the people who use your service after all, so gathering feedback and listening to their pain-points (or their praise!) can help you improve customer relationships and even increase retention. Encouraging feedback means more publicity for your business as well, whether it’s through word of mouth, or online with reviews.
After all, the internet’s influence in helping potential customers make buying decisions in undeniable (with 95% of consumers aged 18-34 reading reviews for local businesses online), so you should make sure you’re leveraging your reviews to attract attention, even if it’s as simple as quoting a review on your website.
Ultimately, the more people hear about your business—and from trustworthy sources—the more likely you’ll attract new business.
These are just a few ideas to help boost profitability—but the common thread here is knowledge. A workforce management solution not only puts knowledge at your fingertips but also helps you turn it into actionable business intelligence.
If you're not using this knowledge, you could be losing money without even knowing it! Fortunately, we can help. Click below to download a free tool to help calculate your fees and answer the question: "How Much Should I Charge My Customers?"
This is an updated post, originally written by Linda Formichelli back in 2017. We’re committed to building on and adding to our advice in order to give you the most up-to-date information available!
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