Rod, tell us a little about you and your business background …
I’m very happily married with three great kids, although two of them are now young adults (hard to fathom, I know, when I’m so young myself). We moved to Coffs about ten years ago from Forster, partly as a bank transfer but also as we felt that living in Coffs provided better educational opportunities for our kids. I’m currently on the Board of Coffs Harbour Support Services and am Secretary of Coffs Harbour Baseball Association.
I’ve just had my first anniversary of business ownership with Regional Financial Solutions (Regfin). It was a challenging year, with a burst water pipe flooding the office in our first month and the loss of my father, but I have to say that the business has done all that I’ve asked of it and is in a really good position to grow further this year.
You were in banking but made the move to start your own lending business. How did this come about?
I’d been toying with the idea of going into business for myself for some time. When the opportunity to take on the licence for Regfin in this area came up, it was too good to refuse. My most recent efforts in banking had been centred on small business, and I felt that this was an area of the market that really had been underserviced by the banks. I saw this as an opportunity to apply my banking and finance expertise to help small businesses secure funding for their business and equipment as well as their own home and investment loans.
Were there elements in establishing your own business that surprised you?
I’ve been really pleased to see that my professional network, clients and even other bankers and brokers have been so willing to support the business over the past twelve months. Within a month of opening, we also had the opportunity to represent Finlease in Northern NSW. Finlease are a huge equipment finance brokerage firm and their support, network and industry reputation have helped us to open up doors to even more lenders and at better rates than we could offer on our own.
How do industry trends impact on your business?
It can often be feast or famine. There was quite a bit of disruption in the middle of last year when the banking system regulator, APRA (Australian Prudential Regulation Authority), sought to reduce the amount of investment property lending in the market. This saw some really significant changes to policy and product from our lenders, which took a lot to keep up with.
The trend in my industry is that customers are becoming increasingly aware of a broker’s ability to source the right loan from the right lender, which offers customers considerable savings on time and money.
It must feel rewarding to provide financial relief to people should they find themselves overwhelmed financially?
It’s really been a pleasure to be able to find solutions that weren’t always available to me previously. For example, I recently helped some home owners who had been through a business failure several years earlier. We helped consolidate some outstanding debts from that time and also allowed them to upgrade their car. This gave them considerable peace of mind coming into the New Year.
How do you promote your business in what must be a very competitive market?
The market is very competitive, and there are more and more brokers entering the market too, which reflects a growing consumer awareness. I rely a lot on word of mouth and have some excellent referral partners in place. Maintaining good relationships with them has been critical. I was also a member of BNI (Business Network International) for many years and the past twelve months in BNI really helped my business get off to a great start. I have also done some radio advertising, signage for my office and car as well as internet and social media. I’ve recently started more regular contact with my clients through an e-newsletter. This newsletter has only just begun, but I’m already receiving really positive feedback. It helps remind my clients that I’m there and am available – often with solutions they hadn’t previously considered.
Where do you sit on marketing and the online world?
It hasn’t been a huge source of new business; however, it adds considerable weight to our overall branding strategy and this year, as a group, we will be increasing our social media profile and making our website more user friendly and interactive. I expect that both of these actions will see more new business, as people really do shop with their fingers and eyes.
Any tips for someone considering starting up their own business?
Be sure that you have something to offer that the market wants; consider what income you will need to survive that first twelve months and what returns you want for your time and investment, then make sure you build realistic budgets around that. It helps to expect the unexpected too.
Many of us are coming off the back of big spending over Christmas and the New Year. Any handy hints to help people tighten their belts this year?
Set some goals around it. If you’re looking to make a big purchase, understand the costs involved, the deposit and repayment commitment required and then set about making it happen. If you’re looking to save, begin with the end in sight – work out your financial target and then determine what you’ll need to put aside to get there. Don’t just think, “I want to get ahead”. Set a specific goal and then work on reaching it. If you want to knock your debts down, establish a plan of attack and follow it through. Your finance professional should be able to help with all aspects of budgeting.
Where would we find you on weekends?
Over summer, you’d find me on one of our beautiful waterways usually with a kayak or SUP board holding me up. In winter, I’m generally caught up with baseball – coaching, managing or playing very badly.
What’s your work/life balance like?
A constantly evolving process! It often depends on my workload, but being self-employed has meant that I can better work around family commitments than I could previously. I also a feel a lot less stressed as I’m answerable to myself and my customers, rather than a head office.
I think the biggest struggle for anyone these days in terms of a work/life balance is that our mobile devices tend to mean that work follows us everywhere and there is a real need to switch off the 24/7 work cycle that these devices enable.
Do you have a quote you live by or try to?
To try and treat people the way I would like to be treated and to do it all with humour.