Case study – Plumber

Self Employed Plumber

Kate Churchill has been a plumber for about twenty years. Considering this length of career and the level of her expertise, it’s maybe surprising to find it’s a job that she “fell into accidentally“.

“I finished university, I didnt know what to do. I had a small job in the office of a plumbing company, doing admin in the mornings“. But Kate soon found herself doing more than paperwork for the company. When the plumbers working out on a job were really busy, “they’d phone up mid-morning and say ‘We need this stuff, but were too busy to go and get it…go to the plumbers’ merchants, bring it to where we are’.“

Delivering materials gave her the opportunity to find out what the job was all about – “I’d hang around for a bit, cos I was quite interested in what was going on. And I just got gradually sort of sucked in a bit – but willingly!“

Getting to know the company in this way made it easier for Kate to take advantage of an exciting new opportunity when it came up. “When they were looking to take on a trainee I said ‘Ooh can I be it?!’. It was really quite unusual in those days, but they were happy with that because they sort of knew me“. With the support of her company, she did a six month Training Opportunities course.

Kate later had a few years out of the trade to have her children. After this, going into plumbing for a second time was a more deliberate decision than it had been when she first fell into it. She decided to try setting up a small business, doing “all those little jobs that nobody else can be bothered with“. After a year in business she chose to refresh her qualifications, and did an NVQ at the College of North West London.

Kate’s top tip for a self-employed plumber is ‘Always trust your instincts’. “If you think a job’s going to be awkward because it’s technically too difficult and you can’t manage it, don’t feel you have to take it. Just be completely up-front with the customer, and say ‘I don’t feel experienced enough to tackle this’. And they’re absolutely fine with it“.

She also suggests that self-employed tradeswomen need to be “really really strict about charging“, and be highly organised in their approach to paperwork – “If you can’t be organised enough, then you won’t succeed.“

If you can be organised enough to run your own business, the work is out there – Kate suggests, “customers trust women more, from the point of view of honesty, and not ripping them off.” And the rewards of the job go beyond the financial, too. “What I love about plumbing is that I’m problem-solving. I love just going in there and just fixing problems. Especially when theyve had a couple of plumbers round and theyve said ‘Ooh thats really difficult’, and I go and say ‘No it isn’t, that’s really easy – I can fix that in an hour!“