Aiming high: are you a ‘tradesperson’ or a ‘businessperson’?

23 August 2023

“As a business owner, it’s crucial to be open to change…”

You must give credit where credit is due. The Americans know how it turn any type of business into a large profitable business. 

The entrepreneurial skills to make a hamburger bar into an international mega-business was always there for someone to action. I am, of course, referring to McDonalds, where staff as young as 20 years of age can manage a store due to the simplistic systems that all employees must follow. The McDonalds success story even became a movie a few years back called The Founder, which is well worth the watch.

It is not just hamburger bars that the Americans morphed from simple businesses into big successful profitable operations. Some other examples, which are now household names, include Starbucks, Pizza Hut, and Dominoes, just to name a few.

The reason I mention these mega-businesses is because the same methodology has been applied to numerous plumbing, electrical, air conditioning and roller door business throughout America. As an example – Google “A1 roller doors America”, owned by Tommy Mello. Tommy turned his local garage door service business from $50,000 in debt to a $30 million business in seven years. Many savvy Australian plumbing and electrical business owners are watching and learning from examples just like Tommy. 

These ‘businesspeople’ (not really ‘plumbers’ once they’ve started a ‘business’) actually want to be in business. They want the rewards for the risk and uncertainty that plagues business owners. These plumbers/business owners want to know how to break the shackles of making just a little more than being on wages, whilst sacrificing life choices of working way beyond the 220 days of eight hours a day that they enjoyed as an employee.


The typical mindset of a plumber in business is that they possess the necessary skills to run a business. However, this is often not the case unless they have undergone some form of business training. Unfortunately, only a small number of business owners bother to pursue such training. Interestingly, those who do acquire business training and have the discipline to implement effective procedures and policies are often highly profitable and the envy of their competitors. Therefore, I strongly advise every small plumbing business owner to learn the art of running a business. It is widely acknowledged that the Business Principles covered in Cert IV are not comprehensive enough and fail to challenge the intelligence of most individuals.

To begin with, it would be wise to research successful businesses in the home service industry by browsing through online resources. Most entrepreneurs in this field love to share their success stories, so it’s worthwhile watching and listening to them. However, their stories typically don’t revolve around being the best or the cheapest plumber, as that’s not the key to success. Rather, it’s all about providing exceptional service, effective marketing, and exceeding customer expectations.

Learning how to run a modern business should be a top priority. Instead of competing with other businesses, focus on competing with yourself to continuously improve your service and exceed your customers’ expectations. Make sure to take the time to explain the issue to the customer and how you resolved it. This not only helps them understand the problem better, but also justifies their decision to hire a professional instead of attempting to fix it themselves.

As an experienced tradesperson, it may appear obvious that your main responsibility is to resolve the issue. However, it is equally crucial to offer a positive customer experience. If you successfully address the problem but fail to provide a satisfying experience, the customer may feel like you haven’t fulfilled your duty.

Maya Angelou’s quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” holds true, especially in delivering exceptional customer service.

The paragraphs above emphasise the significance of training, not only for business owners, but also for their employees. Many business owners may hesitate to invest time and money into training their staff due to the fear of employees leaving with newly acquired skills. However, it is essential to consider the cost of keeping untrained employees. As the saying goes, “it’s disheartening when a trained employee resigns, but the consequences of an untrained employee staying are much worse.”

Studies suggest that plumbing and drain cleaning companies miss out on 15% to 20% of their annual opportunities due to various inefficiencies such as unreturned calls and emails, failure to provide timely estimates, poor communication, long wait times, and internal system flaws. Unfortunately, these inefficiencies are often viewed as inevitable rather than as preventable losses. Business owners tend to focus on the cost of losing a job to a competitor instead of recognising the more significant opportunity losses they create for themselves.


As marketers, we have previously lamented the missed opportunities that arise from not reminding customers of the full range of services that we can offer. However, this problem can be easily addressed by adding a simple line at the bottom of emails or invoices, recording messages for hold music, or training customer service reps to inquire if customers are interested in additional services during their appointment. This tactic is typically low-cost but can generate significant additional revenue annually, sometimes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Consider how avoiding time-consuming office processes or manual customer communication tasks can lead to wasted time. This wasted time can result in lost productivity, increased labour costs, staff burnout, and a poor customer experience, which can cost thousands of dollars. To combat wasted time, look for opportunities to automate routine tasks, particularly customer communications. If automation can result in more consistent communication of equal or better quality, and most people would not notice or care if it was automated, then automate it. Systems like Customer-Matic can seamlessly integrate with your existing field service software.

As a business owner, it’s crucial to be open to change and avoid being resistant to new ideas, systems, and customer expectations. Even though it may be tempting to stick to what has worked in the past, refusing to adapt can be a costly mistake. In today’s world, companies that are slow to change can quickly fall behind, and not changing can seem like a non-option that results in missed opportunities. By embracing change, you can stay ahead of the curve and position your business for long-term success.

An investigation of elite athletes found that those with a mindset of dominating and defeating their competitors performed consistently worse than those who focused on personal growth and improvement. These athletes realised that focusing on their own game and striving to do progressively better in each match was the key to success, rather than placing their outcomes in the hands of their competitors. By focusing on personal improvement and enjoying the growth process, you can consistently play to win and build the business of your dreams.

Greg McElroy is a Small Business Culture & Accountability Trainer. He has been a member of the Master Plumbers Association NSW for some 40 years. He was active on the Executive Committee from early 2000 until 2009, serving as President for several of those years. He is now serving on the Executive Committee again in 2023, with a special focus on business training and knowledge.

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