Eyes on the Prize

It takes a lot of dedication and hard work to succeed in the drain cleaning business

Eyes on the Prize

Michael Williams

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I’ve been in this industry for over 40 years and wouldn’t trade it for the world. This multibillion-dollar industry requires a lot of sacrifice. It’s very physically demanding, and it’s a 24-hour grind because drains never take a day off. 

Two things I love about this industry are meeting new people and solving problems. The freedom to not be stuck in an office or cubicle, to be able to travel and hit the streets, has opened my eyes to many opportunities. When we show up, we are like detectives figuring out the why, what and how to resolve and fix the issues at hand. We never assume we know all the answers, and we are not scared to seek the advice of other professionals if it means helping the customer.

My foundation is strong because I work on being better every day. For me it’s more than drain cleaning, it’s about helping others and making sure those around me are just as successful and motivated as I am.

Five ways to stay focused in this business

1. Stay around like-minded people.
What works for me is dealing with people who are doing more and people who are dominating the industry. It’s great motivation for me.

You want to look for companies that are crushing it at every level, even if they are not in your market, to find out how they are successful. Look at who is doing business like you want to do it. At Just Drains in Philadelphia, we enjoy building up our industry and providing the leadership and tools needed to succeed. To grow, you have to deal with those who are already growing. I’ve reached out to people who are not in my state, people who are not in my country, to ask them one simple question: “What can I do to be as successful as you?” 

If you see a person or company that is successful, call and extend an olive branch to find out the keys to their success. Reach out of your comfort zone. To be successful, you have to be around and learn from people in the business who are succeeding. Talk to and get advice from them. You can’t have a billion-dollar attitude dealing with folks who have a hundred-dollar mentality.

2. Always look the part.
To look the part of a drain cleaning professional, you must always be groomed, well mannered and well versed in your trade, and always treat your customer as you want to be treated. I see companies whose technicians are not uniformed properly, they don’t have business cards, technicians don’t seem knowledgeable on the particular services the customer needs or they don’t look professional. When a customer calls you, they have a problem that needs solving. If your attitude is negative or you find yourself talking at a customer instead of talking to a customer, that really turns people off. If you don’t ask the right questions, you’ll never get the right answers. Always be transparent. If you’re running late or can’t make it on a certain day, let the customer know.

3. Stay up on industry equipment.
To stay up on industry equipment, you have to be aware of what’s happening in this industry every day — not every week, not every month, but every day. Equipment is always changing. We have just over 200 different drain machines. There’s always a different and better way to tackle a drain problem or sewer job. Staying abreast of the new technology means going to seminars and conferences like the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport Show in Indianapolis where you get to see equipment  from lots of different companies. We look at this equipment to find out what is going to help us best do our jobs. The sewer industry is like going to war in that you can never have enough equipment and ammunition. If you don’t familiarize yourself with new equipment, you’re going to be lagging behind the competition.

Another great way to meet with company reps and sales folks is to have them meet you in the field with equipment so you can try it on the job.

4. Never be afraid to better yourself in understanding this business.
You must attend industry events and education seminars at trade shows that feature the latest equipment. If you don’t, you are doing your customers and your family a grave disservice by not keeping up with modern technology. Your attendance at these events is mandatory if you want to grow your business. Searching for the next great innovation takes time and investment. In this industry, if you don’t go, you don’t know. These events are also the perfect place to meet those like-minded people I mentioned above. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions. Never pass up an opportunity to learn from others and to network and make connections in your industry.

5. Develop good business habits.
The average person who starts a business often realizes it’s a slow grind that clicks and ticks like the sound of a roller coaster going up a 100-foot hill. But in growing your business, you begin to realize not all those who believed in your vision at the beginning will be there to see you peak at the top. Many drain cleaning businesses fail within 24 months due to lack of planning, commitment, bad business relationships and habits, and not treating customers with value.

The businesses that succeed are the ones that commit 100% and never take “no” for an answer. There’s a big difference between trying and doing. To try is to fail.

Good business habits to develop include always being in business mode. Always be ready for any opportunity. If you want to be successful in this industry, you have to be ready for it. Have business cards; look the part. Does your truck define who you are? If it does, opportunities will knock on your door. When my team leaves the shop, they always have at least 500 business cards and they have to pass them out. Wherever you are, there is potential business.

I want to encourage you to set goals and dream big. Never accept “no” if you want to grow.


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