Why The Plumber Always Wins

I was born and raised in a country house. My grandparents had a farm and I spent my childhood playing in the fields. But when I turned 16, I got my first modem and my internet adventure started. When my father married my mother, he built the house we were supposed to live in. He tore down the old stables and built a great family house, right next to where my grandparents lived.

Just when I was turning 22, my grandfather passed away and my parents divorced. So my mom, my grandmother and I moved to the city because it was way more convenient for all of us.

We were used to a big country house, so instead of looking for a small and modern apartment for the three of us, we preferred to buy a fairly large one. The tradeoff was that it was a real fixer-upper and would require renovations. 

I spent almost 6 months working on renovating that house. We had the heating, water pipes, a few walls, and tiling to fix. It was quite a challenge for a 22- year-old nerd, way more expert in writing code than using power tools.

Of course I didn’t do it all alone. I hired three different companies to do the job and I was there all the time, making sure all was going in the right direction and helping with the easy tasks to speed things up. I hired a plumbing company, an electrician, and a carpenter to work around the clock to get things done by moving day. 

One day, I was shoveling debris into a wheelbarrow, completely covered in dust, when one of the workers asked me if I could help fix a power plug that was hanging loose from the wall. I told him to ask the electrician and so he did. A little while later, he came back and asked me if I could help fix the new pipes in the kitchen. I told him to ask the plumber and so he did. Again, a little while later he came back to ask me to take care of the tiles in the bathroom. So I told him to ask the tile contractor. 

At that point, he lost it on me and asked me very rudely: “So, if you’re not a plumber, not a carpenter and not an electrician, who the heck are you?”

I replied: “I’m the owner of the house”.
He was petrified.

Working in that environment, I realized that all of those people were getting things done because they were all good at their own trade. There is no plumber that paints the walls, no electrician that fixes pipes and no tiler that does electric wiring.

A few weeks ago, I needed to fix a water pipe in my apartment in Vienna. I went online looking for a plumber and besides the horrible yellow pages, I couldn’t find a single usable website. They were all bad-looking sites, straight from the 90s. Plumbers have really bad websites. They usually have horrible logos and typography. They don’t even have a Facebook page or a Linkedin account. They should be all out of business by now, shouldn’t they?

That’s what we all tell each other in our industry. You need a great website to improve your personal branding. You need a spotless Linkedin account with great endorsements to attract new business. You need 100,000 followers on Twitter to be considered a thought leader, sky-rocket your reputation and get incredible clients!

So, if the plumber does not have any of those, how can they still be still in business? “Oh, well plumbing is manual labor, we cannot compare it with our digital industry.”

Hmm… are you sure about it? Maybe there are a few things we can learn from plumbers…

The plumbers know they are plumbers

Do you know who and what you are?
Plumbers don’t take painting jobs. When people call a plumber they don’t require them to build a wall. And you know why? Because they won’t do it.

How about you? Do you know what your true specialization is? Which type of jobs do you turn down? Once someone told me that professionalism is not defined by the clients you take, but by the client you don’t take.

How many times have you found yourself performing a job you were not an expert at? “I’m a developer, but I was asked to design a UX,”… I’ve heard this story so many times!

Take a step back, try to find something you are really good at – possibly something you like to do. Completely focus on that. Compensate for the areas you don’t cover with a network of other professionals. Plumbers always know a builder to call on, if needed. So should you! 

Plumbers have the right tools for plumbing

If you go to Home Depot, you will find the same power tool in multiple versions. From the entry-level for a $100 to the full-featured one that goes for a couple of grand. Have you ever seen a plumber using one of the cheap ones? Very unlikely. The entry-level power tools are not reliable enough.

A plumber uses heavy-duty power tools. These are their working tools. They consider their tools as their investment and they don’t make any compromises.

How about you? Do you use the heavy-duty power tools? Of course not, you don’t drill holes in solid concrete! I’m not referring to the same type of tools obviously. I’m referring to two specific tools. The power tools of digital professionals are knowledge and network.

How do you care for your knowledge? Do you invest part of your potentially billable time in education? How much of your annual turnover is dedicated to learning new skills? Not necessarily skills strictly tied to your trade. How about learning to code if you are a designer? How about learning basic accounting, math, logic or getting better at writing?

Consider improving your public speaking skills or even better, your negotiation skills?

Plumbers are masters of negotiation

Speaking of negotiation skills, this is something we totally have to learn from plumbers. Have you ever tried to pay a plumber in visibility? Or asked them to work for free with a promise that “when I eventually sell the building…”

Nope, that doesn’t fly.

The reason is simple: plumbers know that you won’t ask your 13 year-old cousin to fix the pipes. You don’t care if he’s good with a wrench.

Plumbers charge extra money on Sundays and on holidays. If your pipes are leaking on Christmas, you’ll have a hard time finding a plumber and when you find one, he will charge extra.

And when the job is done, it’s done. Ask him to come over and fix the heater he installed three years ago for free. Nope, forget it.

How about you? Do you have an emergency rate? Do you prioritize by the urgency of the call? I know that according to your clients, they are all emergencies, but you should be able to recognize the real emergencies from the important-but-not-so-urgent matters. Maybe you can charge accordingly.

To wrap up, plumbers know they are plumbers and stick to their job. They present themselves as plumbers and plumbing they do. They use heavy duty power tools to accomplish their task and look professional while they do it.

Plumbers charge according to the urgency of the matter. They solve the problem and make sure you know the difference between having a leaking pipe and not having a leaking pipe.


So remember: You are a pro or you are not, invest in knowledge and be solid with your rates.

Picture courtesy: Laura Lee Moreau





3 responses to “Why The Plumber Always Wins”

  1. drewmathers Avatar

    At WordCamp Seattle, Eric Amundsen said that being specialists allowed his firm to win larger clients because those clients understood the value of specialization. It was the small clients with small budgets that wanted generalists who do everything.

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