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Master Plumber
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm just setting things up and I thought you guys and girls could maybe offer some insight. I've looked over quickbooks online and it seems like decent software, but I'm wondering if it will do everything I need.

Throughout my apprenticeship I've done mostly new construction on high end custom homes. One of my biggest problems is that my boss has been so good to me and the only contacts I have are HIS contacts. I will not step on his toes. I've moved my residence about 60 miles from his and will attempt to carve out some territory of my own. I'm anticipating doing service work and new construction as I make contacts with local builders/ remodelers. I intend to hire employees as things take off. I would just like to have all the systems and procedures in place from the start.

I want to use flat rate pricing for services, so I'll need a price book (can that be imported into Quickbooks?). I know there are many out there and finding a good one to fit my needs should not be too hard.

I guess what I really want to know is if I'm overlooking anything? Do I need a big expensive program like Total Office Manager from Aptora. Or is that overkill for a new startup? Thanks for any help you can offer.
 

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This comes up pretty often. I think most guys use Quickbooks - I do. But it depends a lot on the size of your company. If you're running a 50-man shop, you'd better have something more sophisticated.

As to Flat Rate - if you have experience in it you should know how to run it. A more sophisticated package would handle it.

But here's the skinny - if you're starting your own business, it may behoove you to choose one field or another. You can't run a very good service business if you're rushing to get a house or office building plumbed so you can get the money in the bank to cover your supply house. And you'll never get that bigger job finished if you have to keep pulling off to do service work.

As a one-man shop, confident in your abilities, you'll want to do everything that you know how to do, and learn the things you don't. But that may not be good for your customers.

So, what's in your area? Lots of housing? In most places, housing is cyclical - gets overbuilt and you have to wait a few years for it to pick up again. Service area over 200,000 population? I'd start with that.

If you've been working on new construction and want to try service, I'd be really careful - they're two different animals. I'll pass on something that I learned from Ellen Rohr in her book (which I recommend!) "Where Did the Money Go?" In a one-man service shop, you will be able to average no more than 3 billable hours per day. You must charge accordingly, meaning your wages, retirement, insurance, overhead, profit and on and on all must come from that three billable hours.

Some days, you'll get 8 hours. Some days the phone won't ring. Some days you'll get six or five hours. But you'll almost always lose your average on the days you have to go around collecting money or you look at a bunch of jobs and don't get them or you have to go to the bank and detail your truck and find things in the shop that you just know you have somewhere. You'll have to spend time on the phone and time on the books. If your wife is doing the books, is she getting a wage? There's always a trade-off and many marriages have gone under when the husband thinks he can get free labor and then equates that he doesn't have much overhead.

In a larger company, there are more people to share the work. Probably my best year was when I had a good helper who was able to keep working while I did the business.

For every person on a truck in a large shop, there are usually about 2 or even three support staff - guys who detail the trucks and refill them when they come in at night; dispatchers to take calls, schedule work and so on; accountants; rotating staff to take that night shift so you can answer calls 24 hours a day.

I spent a lot of years throwing my life away letting the customers keep me cheap. Don't make that mistake. Don't let the big bucks blind you, or your wife will be looking at that big check you just got while you tell her all the supply houses and tire stores you can pay with it, and she'll be asking you: "But when do we get some for US?"

Any new software you get will have a learning curve and it will take you a while to get comfortable with it. My accounting is simple - small inventory and I don't put the price book in Quickbooks - all jobs are simply "service" and since I don't do T&M I don't need to keep pricing my material out at the end of the job. I do, however, have to keep tabs on what I'm paying for material and that it's in line with the flat rate price I'm charging for the job.
 

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Quickbooks should be sufficient.

Aptora TOM would be overkill.

Pricebooks, Aptora can be imported into Quickbooks. Aptora's pricebook will most likely be overkill too.

Herk gave you excellent advice. It's near impossible to run service and new construction without employees.

As for new homes and working with builders - do you have deep pockets? From what I understand, a lot of builders are very slow to pay (especially now). The best plumbers are kept busy by the best builders. A builder who just happens to be looking for a new plumber (you) is a RED flag. Maybe they didn't pay their last plumber or maybe they beat down the price of the job so much that they put the plumber under.

If a builder doesn't pay, can you financially take the hit?

I'm not trying to discourage you, but you need to really focus on your strengths. Personally, I don't think now is a good time to strike out on your own if custom homes is your focus. Competition is fierce and they already know the players and the lay of the land so to speak.

Reread Herk's comments - he offers a lot of wisdom.
 

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Quickbooks will serve you well . As a one man shop ,,, you won't be spending TOO much time on the computer hopefully :)

Build the service business !!!! It will keep food on the table and more !! Pick up some remodeling ,, good money also . If you can --- Dump the new work

My .02
 
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Master Plumber
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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks you guys. You have reinforced what I was thinking. Being in a new area, without any contacts I'll have to do service work, there about 220,000 housing units within a 20 minute drive from my house, so the potential is there. There are 6,000 Licensed Master Plumbers in the state of NJ, about half of those work for someone else. Most of the other half are one and two man shops. Only Licensed Master Plumbers can perform plumbing work legally here with the exception of a homeowner working in their primary residence. 6 years ago, when I decided to become a plumber, if you needed a plumber in NJ you couldn't get one to even call you back. Everyone was booked up for months, too busy working to give estimates or bids, man things have changed.

So, I'll focus on doing service work, I'll buy a clean truck, turn it into a giant billboard and drive it around my area. What else can I do, without breaking the bank on advertising, to get my foot in the door? I don't want to compete on price, I can't afford to be the "cheap guy". Any ideas?

Thanks again
 

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Find the local neighborhood community newsletters and put your name in them . Door to Door hangers in those neighborhoods . Offer to join their little "auctions " and let them auction off a 1/2 days work for free from you .

Find the places YOU WANT and pound your name in there

cal
 
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Former Moderator
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Join a networking group - highly recommended, especially if you have moved to a new area. Chamber of Commerce has meet & greets, business after hours etc. Great place to meet people if you have the personality for it. Of course, everyone will be trying to sell to you to.

Introduce your company to your local community. Start with the 250 closest homes to you. These people will most likely have seen your truck and someone will need a plumber.

Park at Lowes or Home Depot so everyone can see your truck. We have never done this, but see our competitors do it. It's obvious they are desperate for work, but the average homeowner does not know that.
 

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Water Whisperer
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Pipedreamer...you got your card, all your licenses and insurances? Have you ever done service?

Nobody's spending money, kid. You will starve. There are established companies going under because of the lack of work.

Software? You worried about software? :laughing:
 

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Master Plumber
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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Pipedreamer...you got your card, all your licenses The application has been filed and the fees have been paid and insurances? Will do as soon as is necessary. Have you ever done service? Yes, I've done service, but the majority of my work has been new construction. I'm quite capable.

Nobody's spending money, kid. Everybody has to poop. You will starve. There are established companies going under because of the lack of work. There are established companies going under because of a lack of ambition and an unwillingness to chance with the times.

Software? You worried about software? :laughing:
Thanks for the advise
 

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Water Whisperer
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BWAHAHAHA!

{rant}Same thing happens every recession. New guys figure service is easy money, so they jump right in. The good thing is that the customers come running back to me right quick.

Never underestimate the other companies. In this business, experience counts 100%. I'm a old, big, bald bastard who has been doing this over 30 _ing years. You think you can out-business me? Feeling lucky?

Hey, didja see all the DIYers on the sister site? What do you think they are doing there? They're learning to do plumbing themselves because they don't want to pay a plumber. Its been 2 years since I hired anyone to work on my property. I'm doing everything myself.{/rant}

Old woman calling me to dinner...pork chops and white _ing rice. _ing pork chops....

Good luck, New Jersey.
 

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Master Plumber
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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
BWAHAHAHA!

{rant}Same thing happens every recession. New guys figure service is easy money, so they jump right in. The good thing is that the customers come running back to me right quick.

Never underestimate the other companies. In this business, experience counts 100%. I'm a old, big, bald bastard who has been doing this over 30 _ing years. You think you can out-business me? Feeling lucky?

Hey, didja see all the DIYers on the sister site? What do you think they are doing there? They're learning to do plumbing themselves because they don't want to pay a plumber. Its been 2 years since I hired anyone to work on my property. I'm doing everything myself.{/rant}

Old woman calling me to dinner...pork chops and white _ing rice. _ing pork chops....

Good luck, New Jersey.
I'm not looking for easy money. I never said, implied, or even thought service work was easy money. I haven't underestimated anyone, I only suggested a reason some established companies may fail or close shop.

I'm certain you have gained a lot of wisdom in your 30+ years in this industry, but unless you're a Licensed Master Plumber in NJ you don't have to worry about competing with me. Luck has no place in a successful business.

I do not frequent DIY websites I'm a professional tradesman. Unless you do all the work around your property because you like to, you should stick to what you do best and hire a professional for the rest. It should never look like "Daddy did it".

Plumber, what state do you live in, and what are the qualifications of a Journeyman Plumber there? Do you operate your own business? Thank you for sharing you point of view with me. I appreciate the advice and will heed your warnings. Oh, by the way, there was no recession when I decided to become a plumber, I'm not jumping right into anything. I'm also not some novice "kid". I've started, operated, and sold for a profit three other businesses before I started my apprenticeship in 2003. You may have a few years on me at plumbing, but I may have more business experience. What software do you use?

Enjoy your porkchops.
 

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Water Whisperer
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Can't say I blame guys for trying to start a construction business during the bleakest economy since the Great Depression, but I sure wouldn't do it. No other business in the entire world is like plumbing service. You could have 100 years of business experience, yet it don't mean a thing in my world.

If I were to start a business, I would be a pimp or a pot dealer. Both of those time-honored businesses are in huge demand right now.

I don't know what software we use and I don't care. This and porn is the only useful thing for a computer.

_ing pork chops suck.
 

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Yeah, I'm real _ing sensitive.
 

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QB Premier "Industry Addition". When downloading choose "professional services" and do as many tutorials as you have time for. Should you grow sooner than you think you are on the right track already? Growing companies need cash for tools & payroll. Spend the extra on startup stuff now.

2nd & can’t stress enough... Invest in notebook computer if not too late. Keep in your truck with you at all times. Get a wireless card so you can go online. Purchase whatever you need to keep it secure in truck. Spend $50-$60 on an 110V inverter & hardwire into service truck. This will save on battery life. For my home office I always used this same notebook with a regular size keyboard, monitor, just because I hate little keyboards.

QB-IA will automatically do credit card transactions for you, bank transfers, check authorizations it's amazing how much time can be saved by entering this data as it happens. You will save a lot in credit card fees if you have ability to swipe card on site instead of phone entry or online entry.

Track your truck inventory and shop inventory at the same time. QB will make your price book for you. There are thousands of advantages to using this setup and nothing will impress a banker more than a contractor that knows his financial position at the end of every day. You are no longer a plumber. You are a businessman that knows how to do plumbing.

You are going to work long hours as it is and the last the wife wants is to see you come home late and then go right into the office. A mobile office is as efficient and professional as you can imagine. And your customers will appreciate it and spread the word.
 
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