Charlie Mullins – Ask the Expert Interview
I first came into contact with Charlie, when my friends John and Debbie, the owners of John Williams Plumbing and Heating Services, were selected in the Small Businesses Saturday, Small Biz 100 in 2015. As a “boy done good” in the same industry, Charlie is John’s hero and I thought it would be a nice gesture to get him a signed copy of Charlie’s book – Bog Standard Business. Pimlico plumbers are huge advocates of Small Business Saturday and Apprenticeships and sent me a signed copy to help support John and Debbie’s entrepreneurial journey.
It was at an event in London when I finally met Charlie in person. He was on the panel speaking about how he came from nothing to become a millionaire plumber and straight away I warmed to his story. There are probably tens of thousands of plumbers in the UK, some of them are scraping to make ends meet, so what did Charlie do that was different?
Here are his top tips to becoming a successful entrepreneur.
What was your biggest challenge around sales when you started your business?
My biggest sales related problem back in the early days was getting my name out there. I’d done my apprenticeship and had been working for a big company for years. There was always somewhere to go in the morning, that was just the way things were. Thinking about why there was always a job to go to everyday wasn’t something I ever considered. I was a plumber and plumbers fixed plumbing and heating . . . . . that was the deal, right?
Well, as it turns out when you set up your own company you’re no longer a plumber. an electrician or a freelance journalist, you’re a business person, and that’s quite a different job description, which is something that doesn’t necessarily dawn on you until the first day when you don’t have somewhere to go.
How did you overcome this?
For me the answer was getting my name out there, and every time I did a good job for someone, hopefully they would tell someone else, maybe 5 or 10 of their friends. Things snowballed, and getting into an unofficial partnership with Pimlico Properties wasn’t a bad marketing decision either, even though I didn’t know what a marketing decision was back then!
Many entrepreneur’s in the start-up phase feel like their product/services aren’t good enough, what advice would you give to help them overcome this?
Call me arrogant if you like . . . I prefer confident, but that was never a problem. I’d seen a load of crappy work while I was an apprentice, and some of the service was sometimes verging on criminal, so I always knew once I had my tools out that doing what I do was the easy part. Doing all the paperwork, accounts and all was something I needed to learn.
I do however run into loads of people who do seem to be struggling with what I’ve heard called ‘imposter syndrome’, which is when you get it into your head that what you’re doing, the thing your business is selling, or the service it’s providing isn’t much cop. Even successful people get themselves into this place, and it’s more of a mental exercise to get out of this negative thought process than anything that needs to be done with the commercial offering.
The best advice I can give is, if you find it difficult to believe all the positive things your colleagues and family are telling you about how good what you’re doing is because you suspect they might be being too kind to save your feelings . . . . listen to your customers! They know.
What is your top sales tip for people starting a business?
Give people what they want, not what you think they want. And if you’re unclear . . . . ask them, it’s just common sense! But as I always say . . . it ain’t that common!
What advice would you give to start-ups when price setting?
Don’t go broke by undervaluing your product or service. You need to stay in business, and business is about making a profit, otherwise there’s no point. Price too low and you’ll have loads of orders for a very short time, get it right and you’ll have many, many more, for as long as you want to be trading.
Watch Charlie tonight on Channel 4 at 10pm where he features on, How’d you get so rich? with Katherine Ryan.