5 Words Every Plumbing Contractor Should Know

Developing a solid understanding of a few key concepts and actively practicing them can help you feel happy and successful with your business

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I remember sitting in my dad’s truck watching him frantically try to find a pay phone while his pager continued to go off. It was 1998. By the time we made it to the pay phone and wrote down the info for the next three calls, two more calls were coming in.

It was at that moment that I thought, “There has to be a better way.” The local sub shop owner would ask my dad how things were, and the answer was always “busy, busy.” What amazes me to this day is that we still measure our daily lives in the same manner. Someone walks up to you and says, “Staying busy?” To which you respond, “Yup.”

We tend to measure our business — or busyness — by how many times per day our phone rings instead of our level of happiness. The following five words have helped me change the way I see my business:


The word “sustain” means simply to strengthen and support. Your business is a living and breathing organism, which requires constant support. And if you plan on growing it at any pace, you need a ton of support.

Most people think about a sustainable business as one that recycles a lot or uses rainwater to flush toilets. While those are respectable practices, I’m talking about sustainability in a different way. A sustainable business is one that is supported by the owner, but run by the staff — not the other way around.

The problem with a lot of business owners I talk to is that once they build a company to five to 10 employees, they micromanage every aspect of the business and do not allow the staff to be empowered. Overmanaging your operation is the quickest way to it never becoming sustainable. The best way to change this is to start delegating tasks. Leave the office number on your voicemail instead of a personal number. Every time a fire presents itself, pick a different person within your organization to put that fire out, instead of simply grabbing the hose yourself.

Sustainability should be measured by what happens within your business while you’re gone, not while you’re present. Start measuring your success by how little your personal phone rings, not by how much. If you ever plan on retiring, selling, or just living a life of joy and freedom, you will need to start working on your sustainability.


Business success depends on empathetic leaders who are able to adapt and build on strengths around them. Empathy in its simplest form is caring about the people in your organization. I am not talking about caring that they help you make money and keep your organization running, but really caring. Caring about their well-being, their families, and their happiness.

The first step in becoming an empathetic leader is actually knowing your staff outside of work. Know their kids’ names, what they like to do on the weekends, their favorite TV shows, etc. Caring is one thing, but understanding what makes them tick is another. When you truly get to know your staff, then you become more aware of their feelings and thoughts. If you can’t identify when an employee is having an off day, you will never be able to prevent an unproductive day or a rogue employee who brings down the culture. Having empathy is your ability to really listen to and understand the people who are helping you build your business.

Emotional Intelligence

In 1995, psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman published a book introducing most of the world to the concept of “emotional intelligence” or EQ. The idea that an ability to understand and manage emotions greatly increases our chances of success   quickly took off, and it went on to greatly influence the way people think about emotions and human behavior.

Very similar to empathy, but also very different, EQ is your ability to understand your own feelings, not just those of others. As a leader with high EQ, you should be focused on praising your employees as well as learning how to take the blame and apologize when things go south. I practice EQ daily, simply by being nice to random strangers. When you practice EQ in your daily life, it will tend to become a habit in the workplace. Many plumbing contractors all too often bring their short tempers into the office, which adversely affects the culture. An owner that is easily upset is a sign of weakness, instead of strength. Your ability to curb your anger, control your temper, and take back control of every sticky situation will take your leadership skills to another level.


I remember when I started my business in 2009, everyone said, “Once you make it past three years, you will be fine.” Nine years later, it’s still an everyday grind.

Patience has become the root of all my decision making. That mindset is paying off. Being patient in business means making every decision for the long term. Your customer service ambitions should be to keep clients for 20 years, not one. Your employee management decisions like how much you pay someone or what kind of benefits they have should be based on a 20-year tenure, not two. Your investments back into the company should reflect long-term goals, instead of short-term personal wants. Do I really want a boat right now? Sure I do. Do I know that investing in my business instead of a boat will bring me a better return on that investment? Yes, so I bought a box truck with a liftgate instead of a boat. This is a decision based on a high level of patience.

I remember when we had four total employees, including myself, and I was the second-lowest-paid person on payroll. That is the definition of patience and a perfect example of playing the long game to win the war. It’s about micro losses for a macro win. Sometimes you have to lose the battle in order to win the war.


I remember thinking that once my business “made it” I would be buying a big house, driving nice cars, etc. My perspective was skewed. I was also single, so the perspective of my future was one that was blurred. Now with a successful company, two kids, and a mortgage, that perspective has changed. Every day that I drive to work and the doors are open, is a good day. I believe that at my business, we are playing a never-ending game. Whether we win that day (make money) or lose that day (lose money), I am simply happy to be playing the game. That is perspective. The game of business will outlast us. There is no winning because there are no rules. So many leaders are playing a game against their competition, instead of playing the game against themselves. Your perspective should be to be a better leader and a have a better company every day. Play to outlast the competition instead of beat them.

These are words that have helped me become a better business owner, leader, father, and person. I implore you to spend a little time understanding and implementing them into your daily routine. I promise that it will be time well spent.

About the Author

James Terry is founder and CEO of GreenTeam Service Corp., Blue Collar Business Solutions, and SRO Software.


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