To be honest – our ten years in business milestone almost slipped by unnoticed! We make a point of celebrating our birthday each year, so I’m not sure how this one almost escaped us, it might have something to do with being busier than ever.
It is certainly something worth celebrating. The ABS reports that more than 60% of small businesses cease operating within the first three years of starting. That a pretty scary stat! Just by continuing to exist we have done better than the majority, however, we are pretty proud to say we didn’t just “survive” we have flourished and grown exponentially.
Starting this business when we were both aged just 24, with not a cent behind us and within the grips of the Global Financial Crisis, this is a milestone we are pretty bloody proud of. Excuse the lack of modesty!
We have always wanted to be in business to create a lifestyle for ourselves. “Design your life” is a term we have always come back to since the very beginning. We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to head or what the end goal was back in 2007, all we knew is we wanted to be in charge of our own destiny. We wanted to set ourselves up financially but do it quickly and smartly enough that we would still be young enough to enjoy it.
It’s something that ten years later, we can proudly say we have achieved. We love our lives and the people in it. I have been able to cut back to part-time hours and pursue my dreams of competing in triathlons at a professional level. Nick is able to enjoy numerous holidays every year and flexible work hours whenever he needs it. Along with a valuable asset in our business, we have also been able to build a substantial investment property portfolio which will provide us and our families financial security in the future. We have a team that, we sometimes feel, would run through brick walls for us. They make everything possible and make it an absolute joy to come to work.
Our business has been a success because we have worked hard, really hard. There were many sleepless nights and anxious moments in the early days. Wondering how we were going to pay wages and tax bills and where the next client was going to come from. But it has all been worth it.
We have not stopped learning. In more recent times, the challenge has been transitioning from a small business to a medium business. There is more compliance, more paperwork, more recruitment and HR issues, succession planning to think about and just more challenges generally to deal with than ever before. There is never a dull moment, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
One thing we have not had to worry about for the last 6-7 years are new opportunities. We have grown year on year and this year, we are settling unprecedented volumes of loans. 70% of our business is repeat clients and word of mouth referrals. I think that speaks volumes about the kind of people we are and the professional unit we are running.
We have created a brand and an environment that we are extremely proud of. We all earn a good living and more importantly are happy, healthy and forever improving ourselves as human beings.
We now get the opportunity to mentor other small business owners and contractors and share our knowledge and advice which is very special and satisfying.
If we were to give ten tips or pieces of advice to other business owners or budding entrepreneurs, they would be:
- If you are not prepared to take risks, you are not suited to being in business for yourself. There is no safety net of a wage or even money in the bank in most cases. Particularly in the early days
- If you are passionate about what you do, if you have a good work ethic, if you are mature enough to identify your weaknesses and if you treat people well (in person and behind closed doors) it is almost impossible to fail. Sounds simple enough however when you dig deep most businesses that fail lack in one of these areas.
- Never compromise on your values or your ethics in order to make money. This is very important to us. It sometimes means you will need to say no or walk away from lucrative opportunities. However, it will pay dividends tenfold in the future. A famous quote by Warren Buffet comes to mind “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 mins to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently”
- Give back by taking time to volunteer or donating a portion of profits to charity. It is the right thing to do and it is extremely satisfying
- Understand money as quickly as possible. What you need to put aside to pay bills, tax and GST. Trust us, you don’t want to learn how ruthless the ATO can be.
- Be prepared to work long hours in the early days. Those “overnight success” businesses are one in a million. There are no short cuts in the service industry
- Be patient. One of the biggest challenges for an entrepreneur is to be patient. We constantly have marketing ideas, ideas to generate new business or improve things that generally cost money. The reality is there is seldom money to pay for these things in the first three years or so. You have to be prepared to knock on doors and generate income and clients the good old-fashioned way for a while!
- Invest in people. This is one of the best things about our business. We spend a lot of money on personal development for our staff, we socialise together on a monthly basis, we spend more money than most businesses on Christmas parties and other celebrations, we have TV’s and a table tennis table and an area to relax at the office. It creates a culture of fun, respect, loyalty, and friendship and this leads to increased performance and output.
- Resolve conflict and never bag or bad mouth your staff, clients or competitors. There is an interesting diagram on this called the Customer Complaint Iceberg. We think it can be applied to customers, staff, and competitors. Basically, it states that out of every 26 people who are unhappy with your service or behaviour, only 1 will ever come forward and tell you directly. The other 25 will each, in turn, tell another 5 each and then those 5 will tell another 3 each and so on and so on. Admit fault and resolve conflict or complaints quickly. Otherwise, you only have yourself to blame for the reputation you create and potentially the decline in your business.
- Find time to work on your business strategy. This is hard to do particularly in the early days when you feel it’s not a revenue-producing activity. Working “on” the business rather than constantly “in” the business is will see you grow far quicker and avoid stagnation. Do it offsite somewhere – your creative juices flow much better when you get out of your daily environment.
Here are some stats we are very proud of:
- We have grown from a team of 3 to a team of 18
- We started another a division in the Inovayt business a few years ago so now. Inovayt encompasses Inovayt Finance (Mortgages) and Inovayt Wealth (Financial Planning)
- We have gone from having a couple of million dollars in loans under management to $550,000,000 in loans under management
- We had just a couple of clients when we first started and have around 2,500 clients today
- We now have two offices, our head office in North Melbourne and a second office in Chadstone
- We used to settle around $3,000,000 in loans per month. Now, we average $22,000,0000 in new loans settled per month, making us one of the most successful mortgage broking businesses of our size in Victoria
There are so many people to thank for contributing to our journey. Most importantly though, our clients, our staff (both past and present), our referral partners, our suppliers, our friends and our family.
Here’s to the next ten years!
Renee and Nick