Small Business Success Q&A #9: Massachusetts 4 Sale By Owner

Being a professional in the up-and-down residential real estate market requires a certain degree of fearlessness. Bringing a new concept to this highly competitive market requires even more courage. Yet, Liz Provo did just that and eight years later is going strong. In her case, she was offering people in Western MA a fresh take on the for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) concept, one that is focused on actually selling houses instead of on generating mortgage leads.

Read Liz’s story below. She is a case study in how perseverance can pay off when you have something of real value to offer customers.

Name: Liz Provo

Company: Massachusetts 4 Sale By Owner

Location: Easthampton, MA


Twitter name: ma4salebyowner

Year founded: 2002

No. of employees: just me

Business description: Massachusetts 4 Sale By Owner is a regional advertising and marketing service dedicated to expanding the use of alternative real estate services.  We offer a state-of-the-art website listing service combined with extensive social networking as well as partnering opportunities for businesses associated with home buying and selling. We empower consumers to take back control of the real estate transaction through articles, self-help guides, and individual marketing coaching.

Keys to business success: We brought the for-sale-by-owner concept to Western Mass in 2002, realizing that we would face an intense backlash from the established real estate community and even mainstream advertising media. At the same time, we faced stiff competition from other FSBO services whose agenda was to capture leads for mortgages, not sell houses. Our magazines (Picket Fence Preview) were defaced, buried and removed countless times. We charged for advertising when our “competition” offered free ads. Our distribution costs were astronomical due to the high quality of the pub in comparison with the “competition.” We could have failed or given up so many times. How have we succeeded and continued to grow and evolve? I think it is due to remaining true to our vision of what a real for sale by owner service should be. We have kept our product unique and transparent for consumers. We continue to reinvest in our business whenever possible and continue to look for innovative ways to serve customers by staying current with technology.

Best business advice you’ve ever been given: Don’t bend to the competition, just keep getting your own message out.

Worst business advice you’ve ever been given: Luckily I’ve been fortunate to have very good advisors. Probably the worst advice I have been given was that the first year would be the hardest. We did very well for a new business in our first two years. In our third year, however, we faced our toughest challenges. Pressure from traditional real estate sources just wouldn’t quit and as a family business we found it difficult to have the resources to combat larger FSBO services that were funded by investors. I don’t think I was prepared psychologically to have that happen when we had made it past not only year one, but survived the dreaded two year hurdle.

Toughest thing you’ve ever had to do as a business owner: Maintaining a healthy balance between work and home life has always been difficult for me. Learning how to shut the office door and walk away is a constant challenge. I have had to pull myself up short upon occasion and ask, “Am I doing this for me and my own personal gratification, or is this best for my family?” Self-employed individuals share a passion and a drive that is sometimes hard to keep in check. It’s what keeps us going during the bad times, but that same passion can also blind us to the needs of others

What advice would you give to someone just starting a business: Many businesses built on great ideas fail within the first couple of years. I would recommend that any new business make sure that they are well capitalized and able to withstand lean times.

Favorite business book read in the past year: One day I had nothing to read and picked up a book that my husband was reading: Leading With The Heart, by Coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke Univ. I didn’t expect to get into it, but ended up reading it cover to cover. His advice is simple—believe. Believe in yourself and believe in your players. He reminds us that making adjustments to a game plan along the way is normal and shouldn’t be feared.

Favorite online source(s) for business information/advice: Beyond being a compulsive newspaper clipper, I use a few online sources for real estate information to help me in my day-to-day business., and are a few sites that I check regularly along with local and area online news sources.  I also have found some good information on Twitter occasionally and LinkedIn discussions are always valuable.

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