Large plumbing companies with strong brands make more money than small companies. This makes them targets. They are targets for tort attorneys. They are targets for unscrupulous media stings.
Let’s be clear. No one targets the single truck operators. Tort attorneys have no incentive since small contractors have no assets. The media, on the other hand wants recognizable contractors who fit their narrative of bringing justice to “exploiters.” It’s even better if signs of their success can be easily highlighted, implying that any plumber who could live in a certain house or drive a certain car must have done something unscrupulous. Here are eight proactive steps you can take to protect yourself.
1. Sweep your cash
I love cash. Cash is not cold and hard. It is warm and soft and you can cuddle it. However, cash attracts attorneys. Sweep your business cash out of the company whenever it exceeds the amount you can comfortably use to operate the business. If necessary, you can always move funds back.
2. Protect your assets
The company you market — the company with the brand is most at risk. Move your assets into other legal entities. Create a leasing company for your vehicles and lease them to the branded entity. Do the same for your real estate. Make sure the branded entity contains nothing of value.
Follow a similar strategy for your personal assets. Spend a few thousand dollars with an estate attorney to create trusts and legal liability corporations to reduce the attraction of suing you personally. If it is hard to collect a judgment, you are less attractive. Control you assets without owning them.
3. Do not display wealth
If you want an expensive home, make it hard to photograph from the street (although, now that’s not much protection with drone photography). Or, make it your second home.
Do not drive European sports cars. At least, do not drive them as your primary vehicle. Paradoxically, it is okay to drive the most expensive truck package Ford or Chevy offers.
4. Give back to the community
Sweeping cash and protecting assets helps make you less attractive to tort attorneys. Giving back to the community helps insulate you against media stings. It builds up your reputation as one of the good guys. It helps your brand. Find visible ways to give back so that your brand is front and center. When you are seen as an altruistic company, there is less media interest in targeting you.
5. Develop local media relationships
Even better protection from the media is building personal relationships. You might need to invest in a local public relations firm to get started. These local relationships where you become the go to guy for plumbing information is gold. You become the guy to talk about weatherization steps before the cold snap. You become the guy to talk about water filtration systems. You become a “source” and sources are protected.
When you perform charitable acts, make sure you let the local media know about them. Alert them in time to get a camera crew present, especially on a slow news day.
6. Do not assist in stings
One thing you should never do, however, is provide assistance to a news station attempting a sting. Contractors have done it. In one case, a contractor directed the news crews to sting his biggest competitors.
While he may have hurt his competitors worse than himself, the contractor who helped set up the sting also hurt his own business because all the public remembers is plumbers are bad and untrustworthy. They might even remember the brand of the guy who helped set up the sting in a confused collection of the companies involved.
It is better to discourage the media from attempting a sting and redirect them towards a more positive message about what to look for and what to beware. If the media decides to go ahead with the sting, leak word to other contractors to warn their plumbers to be on their best behavior over the next few weeks.
7. Join your local trade association
When you personally get to know other plumbers in an area, you gain allies. Remember, there is plenty of business for everyone, and all of you can work together to promote the trade to the public. As long as you do a good job serving your customers, no one is going to take them from you.
When you build personal relationships with peers, you are not abstract. You are a real person, a friend whom they will defend and vice versa.
8. Network in the community
On a similar basis, your networking in the community, including the business community, will help you generate allies when your reputation is under attack. It never hurts when you are personally connected with local elected and other government officials. Join a local service club, such as Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, Optimists, or Civitan. Get involved in the Chamber of Commerce or join a leads group.