Along with home ownership, being your own boss is one of those quintessential Australian dreams. But with Bloomberg positing that 8 out of 10 start-up businesses fail in the first 18 months, stepping out on your own can be a scary leap of faith that requires tenacity and a bucket load of heart!
Here are my top 10 tips for making it through your first year with some serious wins under your belt.
1: First things first. Take the leap!
It’s the scariest step, but change doesn’t fall into your lap. By choosing to do something that you love (and that you’re good at) the rest will flow. I believe in taking (informed) risks; in fact, we sold our house and invested every cent we had on the business. Crazy? Perhaps… but the bigger the risk, the bigger the potential reward. I would ask myself one simple question when contemplating whether or not I should take the gamble: “What is the worst thing that could happen?” As long as my family was together (and healthy and happy), then it was a risk worth taking. I honestly think that if I didn’t look at life this way then I would not be where I am today.
2: Don’t be afraid to spend on marketing and PR
Brand power is vital in every industry, none more so than real estate where you are entrusted with peoples’ largest assets—your brand needs to be reliable and engaging. A lot of local businesses fall into the trap of not being strategic in the way they market themselves, and then blame their location or a slow market for why they fail. I believe there is value in every door-knocking and leaflet-dropping moment spent, but I’m also a believer in the showstoppers—from spending $10,000 to fully vinyl wrap two cars, to a billboard, to extensive internet advertising, and investing in SEO. We’ve done it all, and it’s paid off!
3: Give back to the community
Engaging with your community is a sure-fire way to get a buzz happening around your brand—it’s such great PR and ensures you are a trusted, visible member of the community. Offer to promote local events via your social media network, or provide guidance on relevant forums or blogs. I contribute to local Facebook pages and provide advice to tenants who are renting through other agencies, which has resulted in the business getting coverage on Channel 7’s Sunrise program and other local media outlets—an unexpected bonus! We also ran a huge community campaign “Schools Matter” to give away $15,000 to three local schools. It was risky, but investing in the community provided us with brand awareness that we wouldn’t have achieved any other way—and we now have a local database that tips the 5000 mark.
4: Be kind
Empathy is key! Potential customers come from all walks of life, with varying degrees of knowledge about your industry. Every decision we make in our business comes back to the question: “What would we like if we were the consumers?” We put ourselves in our customers’ shoes to ensure we are meeting their needs.
5: Invest in your staff
Invest in educating your staff, and reward them for their successes. We have been so fortunate with our staff—we’ve got a great team dynamic and we’re all really motivated to build the business together. We have weekly team meetings and set business-wide targets, and we also provide financial incentives for when each employee contributes to growth by signing new clients.
7: Set up watertight systems and processes
Not only does this ensure you are meeting your obligations in a regulatory sense (crucial for the real estate industry), having the right policies, procedures and systems will help automate and streamline your day-today activities to avoid double-handling. As small business owners we have to wear so many different hats—why make things harder for yourself by not having the right systems in place? It’s a no-brainer.
8: Set realistic expectations
If you measure your success in terms of progress and outcomes, you’re going to have a lot more to celebrate than if you are just looking at a number in your bank account. Our main goal for the first year was just to still have our doors open after 12 months! One year in, cash flow remains our biggest struggle, but we are here and we have created a sustainable business that can now largely fund itself.
9: Create backlinks to your website
It is so important to ensure that what you do online helps with your SEO. Create backlinks from credible sources (signifying your authority in the industry to Google) by offering guest posts or sending through a few story ideas to digital publications in your area. Good content reaps long-term rewards, so it’s also crucial to be smart about building targeted SEO content to increase organic traffic to your website.
10: The power of ‘no’
This one is tricky… but once you accept that it’s okay to say no to things that don’t feel right, your time is freed up to add value where your business needs it. It is always hard to let go of a client that you worked so hard to gain and that you feel that you need financially, but if that client is not the right fit for you and your business then you will loose more time and money on them than you will ever gain.