It is the ambition of a large percentage of the journeymen plumbers to engage in business for themselves, but most of them are unfortunate in possessing no business training or experience. For their benefit some of the principles underlying the successful conduct of a busi-ness are here given.
The first qualification for a successful business career is a thorough knowledge of the plumbing business. It is not so necessary to be a good workman, for the contractor will not be called upon to install the work he contracts for. He should, though, be well versed in the principles and practice of the calling, so he will be quite capable of intelligently estimating on and laying out the work for his journeymen to install. The theoretical part of plumbing can be acquired by a thorough study of the subject, and there are plenty of good books on the market, so the prospective business man can teach himself with their aid No one book should be considered sufficient for the student, but he should read everything printed pertaining to his calling, so he will know the views of the conflicting authorities. The main thing to impress on his mind is that he should study, and through study make himself proficient in his calling.
Not only should the young business man have a good library of plumbing books, but he will find it to his business interest to subscribe for one or more of the trade papers. New fittings, fixtures and devices are constantly being put on the market, and as soon as they are offered to the trade the devices are advertised in the trade papers. In addition to this, most of the manufacturers of plumbers' specialties list and illustrate their goods there, so that trade papers are almost as good as a plumbing supply directory. Furthermore, the papers contain in each issue one or more technical articles which will repay the reading.
When fully proficient in the technical branch of the calling it would be decidedly to the student's interest to take a night course in some good business college, taking up bookkeeping, commercial law and business forms. One winter of close application will qualify him sufficiently so he can keep a fair set of books and will not be wholly ignorant of business usages. It is necessary for the successful conducting of a business that a set of books be kept, for without it no business man can tell how he stands with relation to his business, nor can he tell where his business leaks.
In addition to these facts, the bankruptcy laws of the United States require that books be kept, showing all the petitioner's business transactions, if he is to be extended the privilege of the bankruptcy laws; and, while the young business man does not look forward to an unsuccessful business career ending in the bankruptcy court, still he must be prepared for that emergency should it arise.
If he does not take a course in a business college, either for lack of time or for other reasons, he should, at least, provide himself with a copy of "Bookkeeping for the Plumber," by George W. Ryan, and study as well as apply the text.
In the new venture the journeyman plumber is about to lay down the tools of trade and enter into a new calling - that of a business man - where he will be pitted against men trained to commercial pursuits from childhood. In order that he be able to hold his own with them the young business man should study not only the technical part of his calling and bookkeeping, but he should also interest himself in business law, particularly the law of contracts and banking, and likewise should study advertising and salesmanship, for on his knowledge of these subjects, either natural or acquired, will depend to a great extent, the success or failure of his business. The journeyman who enters business must be prepared for hard knocks. Starting a business is not all it looks to the uninitiated, and many a heartache will be experienced before the business is finally established on a firm footing or meets with disaster. In order to succeed the journeyman must have courage, and courage of a high order, not the common physical courage of combat. He must have confidence in himself, a firm determination to succeed, and combined with these qualities he must possess the continuity to remain in business at least one year, even at a loss.
The percentage of businesses that make a profit during the first year of their existence is so very small that the statement may be broadly made that the business which pays expenses the first year is in a prosperous condition. This is what must be expected. Unless the young business man possesses a large acquaintance among architects who have confidence in his ability and integrity it will be a long and tedious pull getting the entree to their offices, with the privilege of estimating on work for them. So many "skin" contractors are at large these days that people who have the letting of work are not wholly satisfied that one is financially responsible, but want further to know whether he is inclined to do good work and live up to the terms of his contract, and, as the young business man has no references to offer when starting in business, his greatest task will be to secure recognition. If this much is accomplished during the first year suitable progress has been attained. In the meanwhile, overhead expenses are eating out his capital, so that in the majority of cases the little work secured by the young business man is not enough to keep his books from showing a loss at the end of the year.