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How to start a plumbing business: a guide to going self-employed

5-minute read

Sam Bromley

Sam Bromley

18 June 2018

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In surveys ranking the UK’s most satisfied workers, plumbers have often come out on top. Here’s how to become a self-employed plumber and share a piece of the happiness.

Research has revealed that plumbers are ‘very happy’ in life overall. For the self-employed plumbers out there, it could be something to do with being their own boss and being able to choose the customers they work with.

So, if you’re a plumber and wondering about starting a plumbing business, we’ve got you covered. And, if you want to know how to become a self-employed plumber but don’t have any experience, we'll give you some practical steps to get you on your way.

Becoming a self-employed plumber

As with most tradespeople, plumbers can face a huge variety of tasks. This could be one of the reasons they’re content with work, as no two days are the same.

Plumbers are also expected to be on call at evenings and weekends, heading to jobs at the last minute if a client is facing an emergency. Although this can be stressful, seeing the joy on someone’s face after you’ve fixed what’s gone wrong can be very rewarding.

As a self-employed plumber, these are just some of the tasks you’ll likely perform:

  • Installing piping and heating systems and features
  • Fixing sanitation systems
  • Emergency call-outs (like fixing leaks at evenings and weekends)

Some plumbers will also diversify their offering by taking on jobs slightly outside of their usual expertise. Keep in mind that if you're offering additional services, you should always let your insurer know. These additional services may include:

  • Installing air conditioning units
  • Fitting bathrooms
  • Fitting kitchens

Domestic vs commercial plumbers

There are similarities across both domestic and commercial jobs. However, the key difference is the size of the buildings – and the amount of people who use the plumbing systems.

In a house, the plumbing is built for just a few people. In an office building, the plumbing might service thousands, meaning greater demand on the system. There will be lots of floors, which means the plumbing is more complex, and you need to think more about things like gravity and water pressure. Similarly, the size of the contracts will be larger.

The equipment you work with will also be different – think industrial-grade pipes and boilers versus the smaller appliances in a residential building.

What do I need to become a plumber?

If you want to become a self-employed plumber from scratch, it’s good to know how to build the right skillset, in terms of qualifications and experience.

You’ll usually need an industry-recognised qualification like a Level 2 or 3 Diploma in Domestic Plumbing and Heating (gas related units at level 3 are required to work with domestic gas heating systems).

You could also try becoming an apprentice, letting you earn while you learn.

In terms of skills, the National Careers Service says you need:

  • number skills
  • the ability to follow technical drawings and plans
  • practical skills and the ability to follow safe working practices
  • customer care skills

The last point is particularly vital for self-employed plumbers, as you’ll need to manage client relationships and grow your network.

What is a self-employed plumber’s salary?

The average self-employed plumber earns £30,000-40,000 a year. But remember, self-employed plumbers set their own rates, so the amount you earn can vary. It will depend on things like location, the type of work you do (think domestic versus commercial), and what your competition is charging. Remember, you'll also have the option to expand your business and potentially hire employees.

These figures are a guide, but some self-employed plumbers can charge £90 an hour and can potentially earn £1,000 a week (or more).

A bit of research should help. Phone around, see what other self-employed plumbers are charging in your area, and set your rates accordingly.

How to start a plumbing business

If you’ve already got the qualifications, and you’ve been working as a plumber for somebody else, you might be ready to strike out on your own. This is what you need to consider:

A business plan

You shouldn’t start without a business plan. This document outlines your mission and where you see your business going. It can help you identify your niche (for example, residential new homes), and writing one requires you to develop your overall business strategy.

We have a guide to writing a business plan, so take a look if this is next on your to-do list.

The legalities

There are some legal considerations that all new companies face – a big one is deciding on a legal structure.

Are you going to set up as a sole trader or a limited company, for instance? There are benefits and drawbacks to all your options, so you should think about it carefully.

After you've decided on your legal structure, you'll need to register your business. How you do this depends on your legal structure – for example, you may need to register with HMRC as a sole-trader. If you've started a limited company, you'll register with Companies House. Have a look at our going self-employed in the UK checklist for more. It has further information on things like how you pay tax and get a mortgage as someone who's self-employed.

Running your own business could also mean that you’ll need to take more responsibility for keeping up with legislation, for example on health and safety.

If you join trade organisations like the CIPHE (The Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering) and CHAS (Construction Health & Safety Scheme), you should get some help with this. These organisations often require you to have a minimum qualification if you want to join.

What’s more, becoming a member of these organisations and displaying their logos can help with your professional image, enhancing your reputation.

Plumbing business startup costs

Starting your business will come with some initial costs – your business plan should help you identify them.

For starters, you’ll need all your plumbing equipment and tools. If you’ve already been working as a plumber, though, you may already have some of what you need.

A reliable vehicle that gets you from job to job is important, so think carefully about your choice of van. You probably don’t want one that’s going to give up the ghost after a year.

You’ll also need to factor costs in like marketing and branding your business – we have a section later on how to win customers.

Insurance for your plumbing business

Having the right insurance for your plumbing business can help cement your reputation as a reliable and trustworthy tradesperson.

Remember, accidents happen, and being covered can protect you should anything go wrong. Here’s what to think about:

  • Public liability insurance: if someone is injured or their property is damaged because of your business, this can protect you against the cost of compensation
  • Employers’ liability insurance: if you grow your business and hire staff, this is usually a legal requirement. If an employee is injured or becomes seriously ill as a result of working for you, it can cover the claim
  • Personal accident insurance: this one can cover you if you have a serious accident, resulting in you being unable to work. The money paid out could help cover your lost income and medical costs
  • Tool insurance and business equipment insurance: these covers can protect your expensive tools and business equipment if they were lost or stolen

How to market and grow your plumbing business

When getting started, it’s worth giving some thought about how win business. Here are a few pointers:

  • Consider your name and brand: this is how you can make your business stand out from the crowd. Maybe you can create a logo and a visual identity that plays on your niche? Plumbers need to be known for quality and reliability, so how you present your business to potential customers should reflect that
  • Your van: stamping your logo and visual identity on your van can be a great way to be recognised in your local area
  • Create a website: small businesses with a strong website have a better chance of winning customers. It doesn’t need to be anything flashy – people should be able to find all the essential information (like contact details, areas serviced, prices, and testimonials) easily. Also look at getting listed on online directories like Yell
  • Consider search: read up about Search Engine Optimisation, which should make your plumbing business visible to people searching for local businesses online
  • Get set up on social media: as well as getting listed on online directories like Yell, you can create business pages on social media platforms like Facebook. That platform’s recommendation feature, for instance, lets users recommend local businesses to friends
  • Expanding your business: as your business grows, you could hire employees to reach new customers. Then, you can think about whether you need a fleet of vans or a uniform that will help your business be recognised in your community

Becoming a self-employed plumber will take hard work and dedication. But this could pay off, as you get to be your own boss – and hopefully lead a happy and rewarding career.

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Sam Bromley

Written by

Sam Bromley

Sam has more than 10 years of experience in writing for financial services. He specialises in illuminating complicated topics, from IR35 to ISAs, and identifying emerging trends that audiences want to know about. Sam spent five years at Simply Business, where he was Senior Copywriter.

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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