Small business: SMEs hiring staff - Chris Caldwell

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Chris Caldwell, owner of the master franchise for Homesell New Zealand

Chris Caldwell of Homesell.
Chris Caldwell of Homesell.

Since 2002, Homesell has helped Kiwi homeowners sell their property without the use of a real estate agent or paying commission.

Homesell provides customers with professional property photography, print and website advertising, street signage, open home tools such as directional signs and flags, promotional flyers, free phone support and a system of selling which makes it simple and easy for both the buyer and seller.

Caldwell purchased a Homesell franchise for the Auckland region in 2004, owning the Homesell license for the Auckland and Northland area. In April 2012 he purchased the master franchise for Homesell New Zealand.

Describe your staffing approach like since you started.

We grew fairly rapidly over 2004-2007, then experienced the property downturn in 2008 which forced me to reduce costs and staffing, re-focus our marketing budget and do most of the sales work myself, with the help of a great sales support person.

Once again, we started to grow our numbers, achieving excellent results during a period where the general volume of properties being listed was quite low.

For me personally 2010, 2011 and 2012 have been extremely busy years as I have kept up the sales work myself, making for some long hours. When I bought the master franchise for Homesell New Zealand it meant taking on some administrative and design staff. Now we are again at the point of looking at taking on more sales staff to achieve great growth.

How did you go about hiring someone in the early days of the business?

When I originally took on staff, I was fairly naive in many respects. I didn't think too much about the extra costs -vehicles, mobiles, uniforms, ACC etc and really just looked to keep growing and the costs would take care of themselves. I didn't think enough about how to best structure the roles and what type of person would be a good fit for our organisation.

What did you learn over the years?

We took on administration staff and a sales team in order to keep growing. The timing was right, however in hindsight, I would have limited the number of sales people in order to provide them with better support and remuneration plus build a smaller but more focused team.

As they were largely commission based, it became fairly obvious that there wasn't enough work when the market slowed down, so most of them left of their own accord and I didn't replace them.

What would you do now?

Spend time on getting the right people, sort out a clear structure for their remuneration, set out clear objectives on what is expected of them in order to make the role sustainable and not gloss over potential problem areas at the interview stage.

Over the past year, the business has been re-structured with a much more stable team in place and we have been investing a lot of time and money in re-branding.

Now that we are ready to go, I am once again considering where I should be focusing my time and whether to take on some staff to cover in-house marketing or sales. This time around, I'll take more time to ensure we get people who fit with our organisation and are passionate about helping the business grow. Over the years, we've helped thousands of people achieve a successful property sale. Many of these people have relevant experience and have shown an interest in working for Homesell, so I'll be checking in with them as the best advocates for the business are those that have used our system before.

What tips would you have for other small businesses trying to get the timing right for hiring

1. Carefully consider what you are trying to achieve by taking someone on, for example, sales growth, creating more time for yourself/other employees, bringing a new skill set into the mix.

2. Work out all the costs of taking someone on, including all the associated costs of training, vehicles, phones, office space and so on, then look at whether a) you can afford it and b) it is sustainable.

3. Consider other options such as outsourcing, contractors and freelancers before making a decision. Also remember that in-house staff can bring some intangible benefits and company understanding, that out-sourcing can sometimes lack.

4. Be up-front when talking to potential employees about what you are trying to achieve with the new role and what targets need to be met in order to make it sustainable.

5. Think about starting with part time roles with a view to increasing to full time if or when the timing is right.

6. Don't be shy about seeking advice. Speak to your accountant or business advisor, as they will likely have been through this process with other businesses.

Next week: You would think that any company which has fast growth has nothing to complain about. But sometimes very fast growth can bring a business to its knee if they don't have the systems in place and the advisers on hand. Tell us if you have had the good fortune to be in this situation and survive.

- NZ Herald

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