Seven things I wish I’d been told when I was starting out….

Britain’s millionaire plumber to the stars shares seven tips for start-ups based on what he really wished he’d known when he started his business.

19th January 2009 at 10:36 am

1. If I could pass on one piece of advice to someone starting out in any kind of business it’d be – keep it simple!

The more complicated you make things the more there is that can go wrong.

You’ve also got to be prepared to take a chance. All sorts of people will offer you advice and try to tell you what’s best, but trust your instincts.

I’m not saying don’t take any notice, you’d be a fool not to at least listen to free advice, but at the end of the day the person who knows what’s best for your business is you.

Bankers, salespeople, and venture capitalists they’ve all told me what’s best for my company over the years, but most of them are just a bunch of crooks in suits, who are only interested in what will benefit them not you.

2. The biggest lesson I have learned over the years is you’ve got to understand that you are in business to service your customers, not just to do a good job!

This may sound obvious, but in my experience many businesses have failed, not because they were bad at what they were doing but because they failed to understand what their customers wanted. I adopt a ‘customer for life’ policy.

When one of my engineers leaves a job the customer needs to be 100% happy with the job and the experience. Nowadays we have a return rate of over 80%.

If I’d cottoned on to this simple fact earlier, that it was what the customer thought that counted, not what I thought about how the job was done, then a lot more of my customers from 30 years ago would still be with me. Some of them are of course.

3. I wish I’d realised much earlier in my business career the importance of marketing and PR in running a successful operation.

When I started out more than 30 years ago I thought all I had to do to be a success was work hard and everything else would just fall into place. How wrong was I?

Undoubtedly if you don’t put in the work you won’t get anywhere, but if nobody knows that you’re out there and what you’re offering, they’re not going to be queuing up to do business with you. Best decision I ever made was to hire my own marketing manager.

4. Trying to tackle everything myself and neglecting the parts of the business that I was qualified to handle best.

I’m a plumber by trade, I’m a fair judge of character, but I don’t know about HR, recruitment, IT and accounts. At one time I was running around trying to do it all and quite frankly I was exhausted. Working a full day and then trying deal with everything else on top was no way to go.

So, when you need outside expertise it’s better for your health (and your wallet) to get things done right first time, by people who know what they are talking about.

5. Realising that above all else my public image is easily my most valuable asset.

You’ve got to stand out from the crowd, and for all the right reasons. Customers have all sorts of preconceptions about what they are going to get in exchange for their money. I’m a plumber, I should know!
In the case of Pimlico Plumbers we have made a conscious decision to go against all the negative stereotypes that the public have about our industry. But you’ve got to understand that no matter how good you are 99% of the time, it only takes one scruffy engineer leaving a mess in a customer’s house to ruin everything.

6. Another tip I learned early on is if you want people to trust you you’ve got to be 100% transparent in your dealings with customers.

People won’t trust you if they think you’re hiding something. That’s why I make sure all my rates are published on our website and when a job is booked customers are always told what the hourly rates are. You also need to keep people informed as to what’s going on – you’ve got to keep them informed about what you are doing.

If it’s going to take longer than originally thought tell them straight away and explain why. In the long run you’ll have fewer problems getting paid.

7. Your staff are your most precious commodity, you have to look after them, make them feel like part of the business, and most importantly, make sure they are all drinking from the same teapot.

You have got to have a good team behind you – spend the money on training, especially on support staff. You can have the best product in the market place, but if your delivery is hampered by people who just don’t want to be there then you’re sunk.

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Charlie Mullins

Charlie is the archetypal entrepreneur having started his business from scratch and then building it into a multi-million pound enterprise. He left school with no qualifications, but after a four year apprenticeship had enough plumbing experience to start his business, Pimlico Plumbers, which now generates a turnover in excess of £15m and boasts many well known names among its many clients.

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