Immaculately presented and with a firm handshake, Sydney-based Clint Ballard of Ballard Property stands in his office on Woollahra’s well-to-do Queen Street, the smell of fresh paint lingering in the air.
Ballard, in his thirties, started in property management straight out of school before moving into sales. For several years, he held a partnership in a three-office strong, Eastern Suburbs-based franchise. Despite the success of the franchise, Ballard decided to go it alone, frustrated by the constraints associated with the business model.
“It pushed me to a point where you either back your ability and go for it yourself, or you should ‘put up and shut up’.”
He saw this move as inevitable, as it is for anyone who is “truly driven”.
“You need some ambition and you need to have a clear vision,” says Ballard of starting a business. No matter the industry, you need to go in with your eyes wide open and have a firm point of difference. Ballard Property is unique in their approach – in a heavily franchised market that often offers store-bought cookie-cutter solutions, Ballard believes that no property, no owner, no buyer is the same.
“I came from a franchise where they made you wear a gold jacket. Back in the early 80s, maybe that was acceptable, but in the Eastern Suburbs in the 2000s it didn’t cut the mustard,” laughs Ballard.
In an effort to cut said mustard, Ballard did his homework – and a lot of it. While this made the start-up phase easier it did not by any stretch of the imagination make it easy.
The end game
After three years, it felt like 10, Ballard says of his start-up years.
Time-poor, there have been many lessons learned on his feet.
“You have to make a lot of quick decisions because you’re trying to cover so much ground. You’re out there as the face of the company – you’re listing, you’re selling, you’re trying to recruit – you’re wearing so many different hats.
“Quick decisions aren’t always the best decisions. I’ve probably gone the long way around the park, but I’m sitting here today with the right product.”
The product, or the Ballard brand, is his main focus.
His passion instead lies in the marketing and brand strategies of his business.
After have a friend do his initial marketing and branding collateral, he eventually sought help elsewhere. In an industry that is so heavily reliant on printed media, this proved a wise move. As tempting as ‘mates rates’ are when getting started, they are often a false economy.
“The hardest thing is to get over that financial factor,” says Ballard of getting started.
He admits it was tough – his accountant can attest to the fact that the profit was a long time coming.
“I think that is something that, realistically, you have to be able to accept,” says Ballard. “On a personal level, I have gone without all of the spoils that someone of my capacity as an agent [should have enjoyed].
“I hear a lot of people say it’s not about the money. While the money is a driving factor, I’m a big believer that, at the end of the day, if you’re doing your job correctly, if you’re putting your company out there, if the clients are coming in and they’re leaving happy, then the money will follow.”
He says that anyone starting in business must have goals, financial goals among them. As the owner of a business he says it’s important to consider these goals in all decisions made and to remain objective in order to achieve them.
Ballard acknowledges the need for a support system, particularly in the early, and often difficult, start up years.
“I think you’re unrealistic if you think you can do it all on your own,” he says. “I’ve been lucky in that fact that I’ve had good people around me who are prepared to tell me the truth, and to be honest with me.”
A sporting chance
When it comes to sales, honesty is always the best policy.
“I always want to be as professional as possible; to do everything by the rule book, to be as transparent as possible,” says Ballard. “If something happens, then you’ve just got to learn, to move on and take that lesson with you. I think that’s the great thing about what we do.”
Mistakes are often inevitable, and they should serve as lessons learned.
“If you’re not making mistakes, I don’t think you’re trying hard enough. I don’t think anyone goes out purposefully to make a mistake. Put if you’re going out there and you’re trying to push the envelope, you’re bound to make mistakes. You’ve just got to be able to correct it quickly if you do. That’s the main thing.”
Just like business, Ballard warns that sales is not an easy game.
“Sales is hard,” he says. “It’s an endurance sport. You have to very, very strict on yourself. You’re like an athlete.”
As the Ballard in Ballard Property, he takes his obligation to train his staff very seriously. When he started the business, he set his staff’s sales targets off the back of his own – he didn’t want a large team of underperformers, instead a small team of professionals who were more than capable.
“You’ve got to lead from the front – from your grooming, to how you conduct yourself verbally with people. If you want your staff turning up on time, you have to turn up on time. You’re the one that’s creating your culture. There’s no book written on it.”
But what is the difference between a good sale and a great one?
A good sale, Ballard laughs, covers the cost of your advertising. A great sale lies in customer service, he explains, because all sales are emotion transactions.
“There’s a lot of underlying factors that make up a successful sale. People always focus on the money and on the fees but through all my experiences – and I’ve sold a lot of properties – I’ve found that once you connect to people on a personal level, and you build up a level of trust, all the rest slots back in to place.
“A great sale to me is when the buyer and the owner are happy,” he says. “I like the buyer and the seller to meet. They can pass on the histories and the stories. People that we’re selling for have been in their house for 30, 40 years and the people that are buying have scrimped and saved the money to get their first place.”
Keep the pressure up
Not only does he need to offer incentives to his sales staff, but he needs to offer them to himself. The expansion to Woollahra was a new challenge.
“I could have sat there for another five years,” he says of his original office in South Coogee, just a few streets up from the cliffs of Maroubra beach, citing the low overheads of maintaining a sole office. “I had everything running on the smell of an oily rag. From an accountant’s point of view, it was a golden situation.”
Defying his accountant once again, Ballard made the move.
“If you can’t grow your business, then what’s the point? Until you go into business you don’t quite understand about positioning your business to your marketplace,” says Ballard of the new location. This is not to say he has abandoned the hold he’s had in the South Coogee area for the last three years – instead he points out the synergy the two offices can now offer his clients.
Of opening the Woollahra office, Ballard is obviously proud.
“It put a lot more wind in my sails than a big commission cheque can,” he smiles. “Time goes very, very quickly, and the years get mixed in all together, but it’s nice when you’re sitting in your new venture and it’s part of the cog in the wheel to get to where you really want to be. It’s a very nice feeling to have.”