7 Tips to Grow a Septic Tank Business

Diana LamirandSeptember 21st, 2020
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When it comes to dirty—but necessary—jobs, running a septic tank business ranks near the top. Septic tank contractors not only require expertise in septic tank mechanics and the proper equipment to do the job, they also need good communication skills, efficient workflows, and a good tracking system for measuring specific field service metrics.

Whether you own a septic tank cleaning company, a septic pumping business, or offer septic tank installations, you must also pay proper attention to the administrative side of the business, such as job estimating, billing, invoicing, scheduling, dispatching, equipment purchases, inventory maintenance, marketing, and the recruiting, hiring, and training of new employees.

Over the past three years, the Septic Tanks and Portable Toilets industry in the U.S. grew by an average 5.9 percent to reach $5.3 billion in revenue, according to a 2020 U.S. Market Research Report. The EPA also reports more than one in five households depend on individual onsite or small community cluster systems (septic systems) to treat their wastewater. 

Services offered by a septic tank business may range from offering comprehensive septic system repair services to specializing in only one unit of the system, such as cleaning or pumping. Your company may also offer emergency services or specialize in cleaning grease traps for local restaurants, clearing municipal sewer lines, or maintaining portable toilets on job sites. 

No matter the season, opportunities overflow for the septic tank business industry—for both residential and commercial service companies. It’s just a matter of knowing your market and sending the right messages at the right time.

Here’s are 7 tips to grow your septic business, with helpful advice for each flushed out below.

1. Create a septic tank business plan.

  • Describe your septic business services.

  • Identify your target market.

  • Outline your specific service area.

  • Analyze market trends.

  • Know your competitors.

  • Set septic tank services pricing.

  • Establish an organizational chart.

  • Choose hourly or flat-rate labor rates.

  • Brainstorm marketing ideas.

  • Include financial projections.

A septic tank business plan establishes your company’s goals and strategies for moving forward in the industry, just like following a roadmap to reach your desired destination or carefully locating a customer’s underground septic tank by knowing which signs to look for. A solid business plan keeps your company on track for future growth.

A septic tank cleaning company or a septic tank pumping business makes money by charging customers to clean and maintain their septic systems. Most residential septic tanks need to be cleaned every two to four years, depending on the size of the tank and the number of people using it. 

A septic cleaning business plan starts by describing the services your company offers, your geographic service area, and your target market audience. Analyze market trends and find out what your competitors charge, then set base pricing for your products and services.

Before finalizing your pricing, calculate how much it costs to dump waste at disposal locations in your area, the time and distance your team needs to travel to job sites, and how much it costs to maintain your equipment. This will help you determine how many tanks you need to pump per week to cover costs.

According to HomeAdvisor, the average cost for septic tank pumping ranges from $285 to $519. Charges may vary, but most companies charge a flat fee for emptying a septic tank. Depending on local competition and market demand, some septic businesses may struggle to make a 5-percent profit margin, while others easily maintain a 20-percent margin.

A plan for starting a septic tank business also includes an organizational chart for all employees, with clearly defined job roles and expectations. A small septic business may prefer to pay employees an hourly rate, while larger companies may offer flat-rate pay

Brainstorm marketing strategy ideas for your septic business, then commit a certain percentage of revenue (10 to 20 percent is a good start) for marketing those ideas.

Finally, include financial projections for future revenue and expenses, over the short-term and long-term. Break it down by month, so you can easily see projected revenue, overhead expenses, total income, taxes, etc., and then work toward increasing your septic pumping business profits. 

Include an executive summary to summarize all of the above, along with your company’s mission statement or core company values. 

A septic tank business can also use ServiceTitan’s Service Business Valuation Calculator to estimate the current value of their business, or the Service Business Checkup tool to evaluate the health of a septic business in just 60 seconds.

2. Identify septic business startup costs.

Starting a septic tank cleaning business can be expensive, especially when buying and maintaining a fleet of large pump trucks. Experts recommend starting with at least a 3,500-gallon pump truck, which allows you to complete two or three jobs before needing to offload.

A nice, used pump truck—an essential septic business tool—may cost up to $50,000, but it’s possible to find one for as little as $20,000 to $30,000. Just keep in mind, you’ll also need to pay for insurance, permits, outfitting the truck, and more. A new pumper truck with more power and greater capacity may cost upwards of $150,000.

Disposal fees make up another important expense for your septic tank business. Fees vary in every municipality, but could range anywhere from $25 to $100 or more per load. Explore options in your community for approved waste treatment plants or private companies that specialize in sewage treatment.

Other expenses for a septic business may include:

  • Contractor licensing fees

  • Rent for office space

  • Office supplies

  • Legal services

  • Insurance

  • Vehicle maintenance and repair

  • Tank inventory

  • Installation inventory

  • Fuel for trucks

  • Labor costs

  • Software tools and digital devices

3. Hire, train, and retain septic workers.

  • Build a strong company foundation.

  • Create clear job descriptions.

  • Provide extensive training.

  • Incentivize workers with performance pay.

  • Value your employees—your company’s No. 1 asset.

The trade worker shortage, along with disruptions caused by a global pandemic, might make it difficult to find qualified septic employees in a highly competitive climate. And let’s face it, septic cleaning and pumping isn’t the most glamorous job in the trades. Just ask Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs. He got his start broadcasting at the bottom of a sewer, and now focuses much of his time promoting the skilled-trade job market.

Regardless of those difficulties, septic companies succeed by building a strong company foundation with a fully developed organizational chart and operating manuals. Create clear job descriptions and expectations for every position, provide extensive training to set up every employee for success, and use performance pay as an incentive to help employees grow with your business. 

Some companies also offer hiring bonuses to new employees or give current employees a bonus for referring a new hire. Most entry-level hourly workers make $12 to $15 per hour, but those with commercial driver’s licenses (CDL) could earn more.

Owning a septic pumping business salary varies, depending on the number of trucks in your fleet and how many jobs you do, but many septic owners say offering pumping and cleaning services often leads to higher-paying installation jobs.

Invest as much time in recruiting and training your septic workers as you do on marketing your septic tank business. An investment in your employees pays off in the end for any company working in the trades, says Chad Peterman, President of Peterman Heating, Cooling & Plumbing in Indianapolis. 

As a keynote speaker at Pantheon 2020, Peterman shared his vivid vision for changing the way society views people working in the trades. His company believes in instilling hope, care, and compassion to help employees dream again, set and accomplish goals, and then recognizes them for it. His strategy resulted in 300-percent growth for the company in just five years.

“It has been the continual investment in our people that has really been the driving force behind our growth,” Peterman says. “We have worked very, very hard to create a place where people want to come to work and grow into the best versions of themselves.”

4. Develop laser-focused marketing strategies.

  • Identify your target audience with specific demographics.

  • Send septic service flyers to reach your specific audience.

  • Automate marketing campaigns for better efficiency.

  • Save cost per lead with targeted email marketing.

As we mentioned above, a septic tank business that offers pumping and cleaning services can generate more job leads for septic system installations and repairs, which leads to more revenue for your company. The same philosophy applies to pumping restaurants’ grease traps every few months or securing higher-paying commercial pumping accounts.

No matter which audience your company markets services to, it’s important to target the right audience at the right time with the right message. Let potential customers know they can depend on your septic tank business for emergency services, and you offer a warranty on any work performed.

Another good marketing practice for septic companies involves educating customers about the importance of maintaining their septic systems. Show them how they can:

  • Save money. A malfunctioning septic system can cost $3,000 to $7,000 to repair or replace, whereas maintenance costs run $250 to $500 every two to four years.

  • Protect home value. Septic systems in need of repair drastically reduce property values and may introduce legal liability.

  • Keep drinking water pure. Proper maintenance of septic systems prevents harmful pollutants from contaminating groundwater and nearby water wells.

Other marketing ideas:

  • Sell septic service maintenance agreements to residential and commercial customers to maintain steady revenue throughout the year. Advise against letting septic tanks back up into the house or flooding the drain field before they call for service. Advocate for routine maintenance and automate with digital  reminders to notify customers when their tanks become due for service. 

  • Eat lunch at local restaurants and leave your septic pumping business cards with the manager to make them aware of your grease-trap cleaning services.

  • Optimize your septic business website with popular, locally relevant keywords people use when searching online for companies to hire, such as “Charlotte septic cleaning” or “septic pumping near me.” 

  • Claim your “Google My Business” page with a locator map so your website ranks higher when customers search for “local septic tank cleaning services.” 

  • Use branding on your tech uniforms and the company trucks as mobile billboards for your septic tank business. Be sure to include a clearly visible company logo, phone number, and website.

  • Utilize professional marketing tools, such as ServiceTitan’s Pro products, to really pump up your business profitability by tracking results and ROI, and improving efficiency.

Targeted email marketing also works as a cost-effective strategy for keeping your brand top of mind with customers, says Megan Bedford, who runs Mugyver Consulting to help small companies in the trades.

Not only is the cost cheaper for targeted email marketing—$12 or less per lead—it’s the type of communication customers prefer, as opposed to direct mail or a promotional text. 

5. Market septic tank cleaning services online.

Trade experts suggest company owners spend half of their marketing dollars on digital platforms, since today’s consumers find 70 percent of all services online through Google searches.

Some customers find your septic tank business online because they need your services today, whereas others may remember your company the next time they need septic services because they noticed a pump truck with your logo in their neighborhood or those business cards and forms for septic pumping you left with local restaurant managers.

For the best digital septic service marketing, focus on doing the following:

  • Post regular, helpful septic tank maintenance content to boost SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

  • Invest in Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising to increase brand awareness and target online leads.

  • Provide great service to encourage customers to write positive online reviews.

  • Expand your service area in conjunction with Google’s Local Services Ads

Successful septic companies also measure and track their marketing efforts with specific metrics from ServiceTitan reporting, such as:

  • Sales: Track your ratio of leads to sales.

  • Production: Track non-billable hours when you pay your employees but aren’t making any profit, such as when driving or completing paperwork, weather delays, and equipment failure.

  • Balance sheets: Track outstanding account receivables (AR = money owed). 

  • Cash flow: Track monthly or weekly cash flow, operating expenses, and profits. 

Just don’t make the rookie mistake of focusing only on digital platforms for your septic pumping business advertising. Personal relationship-building tactics—such as knocking on doors, introducing yourself to new homeowners, and leaving septic service flyers for future maintenance or repairs—still work and customers often appreciate the personalized effort in today’s digital world.

6. Use rave reviews to pump up profits.

Online reviews prove extremely important when managing your septic company’s reputation. In fact, one survey found that nearly 90 percent of customers factor reviews into their buying decisions.

To get good reviews and keep them flowing, your techs must deliver outstanding customer service by exceeding the customer’s expectations every time. Good reviews must be earned, but they’re a proven way to grow any home services business.

Does your company make it easy for customers to leave a review? Do your techs ask for feedback once they complete a job, or does your office staff make follow-up customer service calls, or send emails with a specific link to leave a review?

Are you making customers wait to schedule appointments, or can they self-schedule one through your website, Facebook, and Instagram, or reach the office through Google messaging, text, web chats, or email? Are your dispatchers using tracking technology to automatically text the client when the tech heads that way?

Septic service customers value their money and time, so don’t make them waste either. Soon, they’ll be raving about your company and you’ll be pumping up net profits.

7. Gain efficiency with septic business software.

Still wondering, ‘Is septic tank pumping a profitable business?’ Owning a septic tank business requires hard work, but digging yourself into debt doesn’t need to figure into the equation. The industry offers fantastic opportunities, with annual revenues reaching $5.3 billion in the past three years.

Work smarter, not harder with septic tank cleaning business software to flush away your company’s operating inefficiencies, increase your average tickets, and grow profitability. 

Septic business software allows clear communication with customers using automated scheduling, GPS-based dispatching and tracking, and online booking. Use customized data reporting to monitor and boost your techs’ productivity, track marketing campaigns, and understand which KPIs (key performance indicators) matter the most for growing your septic tank business.

ServiceTitan is a comprehensive Septic Business Software built specifically to help companies streamline their operations, boost revenue, and achieve growth. Our award-winning, cloud-based platform is trusted by more than 100,000+ contractors across the country.

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