I am happy to bring you our first international small business success story, all the way from Australia. Zoe Clark, who has written several times for our blog, provided this write-up about the house flipping business her parents operate. She assists them with interior design ideas. As is often the case, their small business came about out of necessity when the great recession put them out of their jobs. I hope you enjoy this story of perseverance and success from down under.
Name: Fred and Sarah Walker
Company: Walker Home Remodeling
Location: Darlinghurst (Sydney, Australia)
Year founded: 2009
No. of employees: 2 + 1
Business description: Walker Home Remodeling is a family business that grew from my dad’s love of DIY and my mom’s bottomless patience and support.
Why did you decide to start your own company? My parents, Fred and Sarah Walker, started flipping houses back in 2009 after they were made redundant. The main reason for their venture into house flipping business was financial, but my dad’s penchant for small home improvement projects also had a hand in the endeavor. What began as an experiment gradually evolved into a lucrative family business: the first flip was a derelict weekend cottage in the neighborhood my dad purchased for slightly over $235,000 that went for $500,000 after the renovation.
Keys to your business success: My dad has a saying: “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.” Although my parents had no previous experience in marketing (or 21st century technology, for that matter), they weren’t afraid to take risks and they never hesitated to ask me or our relatives and friends for advice or assistance. I think that my dad’s stubbornness is the main reason why the family business took off and never stopped growing. A part of the credit goes to my mom for her supportiveness, and her endless faith in my dad’s DIY skills.
Best business advice you’ve ever been given: Without feigned modesty, I think the best piece of advice my parents received during their house-flipping career came from me. As I mentioned, my parents are averse to web-based sale and marketing, and it was only after my umpteenth lecture on current real estate market trends and benefits of collaboration with Realtors that they reluctantly agreed to start cooperating with a friend’s company. Had they not taken that step, they probably would’ve failed after the second flip because they had no tangible marketing strategy to help them leverage access to homebuyers outside their immediate circle of friends and acquaintances.
Worst business advice you’ve ever been given: The worst business advice my dad ever got was to “drop the entrepreneurial act and play it safe.” After the third flip, my dad got offered a job at a local diner, and his best friend and my own brother prompted him to quit house flipping and get ‘a real job that pays the bills.’ I guess my dad saw that one as a challenge and not a friendly piece of advice – and a good thing he did. From that point on, he’s grown more fervent about flipping, and he started asking me for suggestions on the best projects to carry out to increase property value. It’s funny, really: I guess that the lack of support from friends and family can sometimes be as strong a wind in an entrepreneur’s sails as their faith – especially if the entrepreneur has the tenacity of my dad.
Toughest thing you’ve ever had to do as a business owner: The toughest decision my dad made was to sell our family home to raise money for a piece of property he intended to flip and sell. The previous flip didn’t turn out as profitable as he had been hoping for, and the house he’d set his eyes on for the next project was the priciest one by that point. He had to either file for a bank loan or sell our house to get the money for the new place – and he’s as distrustful of banks as he is of online marketing, so he had to choose the lesser of two risks. Looking back, he did the right thing – the place he bought for the funds earned through the sale of our family home won him a small fortune after the flip because it was in a hot location and didn’t require extensive structural overhauls. He still talks about that one, and he often jokes that he can survive everything now that he’s survived my mom’s outrage and nagging over being forced to live in a place ‘under reconstruction.’
Have you adopted any new technology recently that has been a big help to you and that you think might help other small business owners? My parents aren’t really all that open-minded when it comes to advanced technology: they are still refusing to set up a website or join social networks. The closest they came to hi-tech and virtual world was when they allowed me to take some Before and After pics and post them on my blog a few years back. On the plus side, my dad’s recently started exploring the web for fresh DIY home improvement and remodeling ideas, and he seems to be opening up to the concept of the Internet as a source of inspiration and not just unconstructive entertainment. If you ask me, the Internet is the marketplace of the 21st century, and small businesses set on bringing high profits home shouldn’t disregard the potential of web-based networking.
What advice would you give to someone just starting a business? In my dad’s words, “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.” Small businesses need to be resourceful, open to new approaches, persistent, and ready to take risks because in the world we live in, playing it safe is the shortcut to failure. Also, I’d encourage small business owners to tap into the power of the Internet and multichannel their marketing – after all, you never know how far your business can go until you try out different routes.
Favorite all-time business book? My dad’s all-time favorites are The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz and Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi, but I’d add Purple Cow by Seth Godin to the list.
Favorite business book read in the past year? Crazy Is a Compliment by Linda Rottenberg, definitely.
Favorite online source(s) for business information/advice? My dad checks Flip2Freedom daily, and he’s also a big fan of Apartment Therapy, Today’s Homeowner, Ask Mason, The Ugly Duckling House, and Moonworks’ Home Improvement Blog. He’s new to the web, and he’s still trying it out, but I think it’s growing on him – and I’m hoping one day he’ll start his own blog and share his house flipping anecdotes and inside tips with the rest of the world.