With our two new features coming up, Plumbing Disasters – which you can read in HPM’s June issue – and Plumber Parts Pint Sized, we wanted to delve a little deeper into the mind of James Lawrence. So HPM drove to Cambridge where Plumber Parts is based for a coffee and a cracking scotch egg…oh and an interview with the man himself. Here’s what he said to say about himself (after he stopped going on about those scotch eggs!).
When did you start plumbing?
“I started plumbing when I was about 12 with my dad, doing weekend work. Even to this day, the smell of soldering reminds me of my youth. It’s a bit weird isn’t it? At least it’s not something else – the aroma of poo – yes, takes me back!”
“I did GSCEs A-Level media studies, history and geography. I was going to go to university and do a history degree, but I had six months with my dad, and he was like: ‘Why don’t you just do an apprenticeship?’ So I thought ok, I’ll do my history degree at the Open University when I have time – and I have never have.”
How did you start your YouTube channel?
“I did a four year apprenticeship. I got Apprentice of the Year a few times, and just went out to the world of work. Then this guy I was playing cricket with said you should start a website about plumbing because you’ve got the knowledge there.
“So I started this WordPress site up, slaved away at it for two years before anything happened. I found out Google ranked videos higher, and I loved media studies, so I just started making videos. If you watch the first ones, they are literally the most mundane videos…I might do some parodies of them some day. When you bring your personality through, it works better. 260 videos later, nearly 17 million views, about 60,000 subscribers – I’d say nearly the biggest plumbing channel there is.”
Do you ever worry that being silly on camera can come across as unprofessional?
“I think the unprofessional side of things is what people relate to the most. I think companies that are using video social media need to look at the human side of what they’re doing. So a boiler company for example, rather than thrashing away on a two-minute on Tweet about how amazing their products are, why not say how happy they are it’s Easter? I think people are more glad to do business with people who are people. I think the unprofessional side of it does help…but don’t get me wrong, there are times where it doesn’t…and that’s why you can delete Snapchats.”
How do you come up with new ideas?
“I was getting worried that we might be running out of subjects for videos, so we started getting ideas from people’s comments. This was also good for our audience, as it makes them feel like they’re being brought on screen and can engage with the videos more. These comments get scribbled down on a post-it note, and because there’s so many, we place them into a pot. We get 40 Facebook messages a day, the amount of YouTube comments we get daily – it’s difficult to keep up – and we try to answer each one.”
How do you make a success of YouTube?
“To be a success on YouTube you need regularity, to bring your viewers on screen ask them to subscribe, and ask them to comment on what you’re doing. Google crawls transcriptions for keywords, so it’s important to transcribe videos. Include annotations, at the end of your video, give them the option to watch more because YouTube will see that people are watching more of your videos, and rank you higher.
“Show photos of your work, your team, your van, use hashtags, and show people you are a human being.”
James has been working on his channel for a decade now, and offers a range of video services, along with instructional videos, plumbing disasters, and comment videos. Even with such a busy schedule, he still finds time to dedicate two-days to his plumbing work – oh and have a scotch egg and a coffee with HPM.