Ian and Kelly Fraser laugh when they recall the odd hours clients would call their finance broking business when it was home-based. “Probably the worst phone call I had was at 7.30am one Boxing Day,” says Ian. “It was a lady ringing up saying, ‘We’re going to go and buy a car today,’ and I was thinking, ‘You’re making this decision now?’”
The pair started their business, Fraser Financial Services, in 1998. Answering phones calls at erratic hours was part and parcel of building the business and solidifying client relationships. “I had another lady call at about the same time one Saturday morning asking me why my payments were 50 cents dearer. And I said, ‘That’s because you’re talking to me at this time!’”
But it was a valuable learning curve for the Gold Coast-based duo, who highlight that ‘switching off’ is integral to maintaining balance in a home business.
“You have to have really strong willpower and a set of guidelines and limitations to work in,” says Kelly. Ian agrees: “Because when it’s available to you 24/7, you tend to sit there and do it 24/7,” he explains. “Your customers know you’re a home-based business, so people will ring you at 8.30pm and the first line of the conversation is, ‘Oh, sorry to call you so late, but…’ So one of the hardest things is when to turn off and to learn how to let the phone go through to the answering machine.”
A family environment
Ian was no stranger to home business, with his father operating his accounting practice from the family home. “My parents were self-employed for basically their working life. My father ran a home-based office until he became too big for home, which is what ended up happening to us.”
The duo hired their first staff member within 10 months of opening their business. But it wasn’t a conscious decision, as Kelly explains. “Steve found us; we weren’t advertising or looking. We thought, ‘Well we’d rather have him working for us than against us’. And he celebrated his 10-year long service [a couple of years ago].”
Hiring staff can be daunting for first-timers, but it comes back to sharing core values according to Ian. “It’s making sure that those people fit those values first and then that will always work,” he says. And what goes around comes around. “We can’t speak highly enough of our guys, and we make a conscious effort to reward them for all the hard work they put in.”
While working as a husband and wife team with staff can present challenges, the pair work in separate areas of the business: Kelly takes care of administration, accounts, the website and marketing, while Ian is responsible for sales, networking and bringing business into the practice.
“We’ve got defined roles and we don’t cross over, we complement each other,” Kelly says emphatically. “We’re not treading on each other’s toes.”
Managing time, says Ian, is the key to working from home as a husband and wife team. “You have to be a very special type of person to be able to work together all day and then go home at night and see the kids and do all the homework and the cooking – we have a very good balance of home time, work time, me time, you time, family time. You have to find a good balance of all that in order to have everything else run smoothly.”
Circle of trust
When setting the business up, the Frasers main priority was a commitment to professionalism, particularly as they had two small toddlers. “I had to be very flexible because the kids were in the house”, says Kelly, “so keeping them quiet or getting them out when we had meetings and so forth, so you just juggle and that’s probably more challenging that anything when the kids are little.”
Ian highlights that for many home business owners it’s easy to drop in some bad habits. It wasn’t a trap he was prepared to fall in. “Every day I got up and still got dressed for work. We have a company logo shirt, so I prepared as if I was going to work.”
Preparing mentally for the working day ahead was another useful strategy. “You have to have that mindset that you’ve gone to an office. And the same at the end of the day when you leave the office and walk in the front door, so your mindset tells you that you have cut off,” he says.
It is these universal issues facing home business owners that prompted the Frasers to join a network of brokers. They participate in quarterly meetings to discuss strategies and good business practice. “We bounce ideas of each other. The more you can talk to business owners in the same industry, you find out that hey, you’re all facing the same problems,” says Ian.
But he points out it’s not about pushing their brand so to speak. “It’s not necessarily about getting out there networking and just trying to promote my brand; networking happens continuously, you build subconsciously. I’ve bought many a lead on the back of a beer coaster!”
The duo made a decision early on to become members of their industry association. “Because of the benefit that we can get when they have educational seminars, conferences and networking events,” explains Ian.
And when attending these networking events, there are some pertinent etiquette rules. “The biggest thing is to probably go out there and be yourself, and not get caught up in the sale of the moment,” says Ian. “If somebody mentions that they need something and you’ve got that particular need to fulfil, all you want to do is get their name and number and tell them you’ll call the back on a work day.”
Kelly points out that the constant sales push can be detrimental to building networking relationships: “You know the person that walks into a circle and we’re all talking about sport, and they’ll walk in an say I’m so and so from somewhere, and here’s my card.’ You need to have some sort of common topic or interests that you’re discussing and you’ve got to build in that way instead of walking into a networking environment cold and saying ‘Here, I do this, call me.’”
Outside of networking events, being community-minded too, helps build the Fraser brand. “Ian is heavily involved in the community sport-wise; his Dad was a great surfer and we basically built it by word-of-mouth from people we knew,” explains Kelly. “The more you’re out there the more you’re getting your name out there.”
As the business grew, they soon outgrew their home office. “It became more of a necessity as the business grew to service our clients,” Ian says. “And we wanted to meet our customers in an office environment, not a home environment.”
The catalyst for moving out of home, Kelly says, was “too many filing cabinets in the back room”.
But Ian recommends to other home businesses that when it’s not enjoyable anymore, that’s when it’s time to think about moving out of home. “Work was always there. When you’re the person doing it all, you soon find that you’re sitting down after dinner and all you’re thinking about is work and you know that you can go into that other room and process that file and get it all done.”
But taking that step wasn’t without its hurdles. “There was a challenge to find the right location and what was affordable and what suited our business model. And since we’ve grown to an office, the business has grown further.”
In terms of future growth, Ian says building a sustainable business is key. “With all the doom and gloom that we continually hear, I believe that’s only creating further opportunities for us. If other smaller operators are going to go out of business, well, that’s only going to create bigger market share for me,” he says. “I try and remain on the positive side of things. And our experience is going to give us that advantage.”