Five Bad Habits That Will Haunt Your Plumbing Business

Don’t get caught up in these counterproductive practices that will hurt your company in the long term

Five Bad Habits That Will Haunt Your Plumbing Business

Anja Smith

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Service plumbers see, touch, and smell plenty of frightful things all year long. We’ve got creepy crawl spaces, chilling attics, hair-raising sewer clogs, and blood curdling under-sink messes. Seriously, why is the space under the kitchen sink always so gross?

But the things that truly haunt service plumbers are the skeletons they can build up from business mischief. The fewer skeletons you have in your closet, the more opportunities you may have to thrive in your plumbing business. So in the spirit of the Halloween season, let this wisdom help prevent your own scary story:

1. Poor bookkeeping habits

Plenty of small businesses faced their financial skeletons this year when they went to apply for COVID-19 grant relief. Poor bookkeeping habits — whether it is lazy invoicing, chaotic expense tracking, pitiful payroll, or delinquent taxes — will lead to spine-chilling financial effects down the road.

Accounting is a critical area that too many small-business owners underestimate. A bookkeeper and CPA should be the very first hires of any small business. Keep your bookkeeping and taxes up to date. Build good daily habits that prioritize invoicing and expense tracking. 

2. Losing your temper with customers

Nightmare customers are inevitable in service plumbing. While most people are good, others are Hannibal Lecter. When you work with the public, you meet all kinds. 

For your first few years in business, a critical review or angry customer feels like the end of the world. That’s because their attacks, accusations, and irrational expectations feel personal. It’s easy to lose your temper and become argumentative with these customers.

A single angry or irrational person will not usually ruin your company. But your inappropriate reaction (especially if caught on the internet) may come back to haunt you. Remember, if someone is already angry or upset, an emotional reaction from you is only fueling their fire. It gives them a more satisfying end to the outrage story they will repeatedly tell.

If you are level-headed, reasonable, and accommodating, that makes you the adult of the story. It becomes a boring or embarrassing story for them, and everyone moves on with their lives.

3. Competition trash talking

We’ve all been to jobs behind a competitor and wondered what they were thinking. It’s easy to assume they are incompetent, lazy, and negligent. Yet even when work is inexcusably bad, it is never a good idea to criticize another company's work, prices, or employees. You can think whatever you want, but don’t discuss it with customers, supply houses, or employees.

It is especially tempting to jump in when a customer is bad-mouthing an experience they had with “the other guys,” since you are the hero of their story. There is something very cathartic about piling on to other people’s mistakes, bad days, or rogue employees. But it really is best to avoid the temptation. Eventually, you’ll have a bad day, rogue employee, or make a mistake. Someone will go to a job behind you and wonder what you were thinking. 

Even if you know the work isn’t defensible, it shows powerful strength of character and ethics to resist bashing competitors. Customers will respect restraint. When we all go around bashing each other's work, it reflects badly on the profession and undermines trust in the industry. Sowing division, hatefulness, and disrespect isn’t a good look, and it will come back to haunt you.

4. Underpricing your work

Even if your overhead is low and you can afford to charge less than the bigger company down the street, charge market rate. There are a few ways underpricing comes back to haunt you.

First, you’ll regret the lost margin when you are ready to grow. Running a new business is very expensive. Startup expenses, capital investments, and inefficiencies are costly. Then, when you realize you need to raise your prices, it will frustrate your customers.

Second, when you work below market rate, it sets a false impression with people about what the true cost of plumbing services are. We all deserve to make a good living — especially for performing some more unpleasant services. When our work is undervalued, it makes it that much harder for the industry to charge correctly and pay living wages, buy and maintain safe and effective equipment, and run profitable businesses.

5. Quality shortcuts

You are only as good as your reputation, and your reputation is only as good as your worst job. I like to think we all want to take pride in our work. No one likes to feel like they are failing.

It may be tempting to cut corners when the days are long, you’ve already run to the supply house three times, and nothing is going right. Maybe the project is over budget and your margin is being squeezed. So often no one is looking, and we can bury the body. It’s tempting to rubber band, duct tape, and leave it for the next guy. 

But shortcuts hurt your recall rates, your warranty expenses, your reputation, and customer confidence in the industry.

New customers are much more expensive to get than recurring customers. Stay aware of the behaviors toxic to the health of your company but that also “churn and burn” customers. 

About the Author

Anja Smith is managing partner for All Clear Plumbing in Greenville, South Carolina. She can be reached at


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