What I Learned: Outsource what you can to get your time back
Tess Dwyer started her business to spend more time with her kids.
Tess Dwyer, owner of Upstaged Home Staging, started her business in Whanganui because she thought it would give her more time to spend with her kids.
It was more difficult than she had expected.
But two years later, her business is a success and Dwyer is much more comfortable as an SME owner. She shares what she learned along the way.
How did you start your company?
I started the business boldly when I recently got divorced and had two young children aged one and five. Coming out of a great career where I worked long hours and traveled a lot, I thought, ‘I didn’t want to work that hard, I want to control my own hours and have a work-life balance, so I’m going to have my own Establish company.”
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I went into it with a rosy prospect that I would be able to pick and choose my priorities. I guess I had no idea how hard it was to do everything in one company, accounting, sales, marketing, operations…
I founded Upstage in early 2019. Back then there was a real niche in the market in Whanganui, nobody was really doing home staging. So I spoke to some real estate agents and they were really positive and we went.
We now feature 20% of homes sold in the Whanganui area, an average of about four homes per week.
What were the challenges in the early days?
In the early days we only did one or two houses at a time. My partner helped me move large items over the weekend and when I needed help I asked friends. But as we started to get busier, the challenge was to scale and get other people on board.
My biggest learning during this time was that I was so limited to paying myself because I was so focused on growing the business. During that time, I was working 30 hours a week, but was only paying myself $150 a week. In that first year I only paid myself $7,000.
Those challenges when you’re trying to run the business and be the business and any excess money pouring back into the business can be very tight so you need to be prepared for that.
What was a moment when you felt like you were on the right track?
After the first Covid-19 lockdown, the real estate market recovered very quickly and I was able to hire more staff. By October 2020 we had become a team of five. I employ women like me, we are all mothers and work 9am to 3pm. The work is casual, which allows my team to attend to children, studies, or other commitments.
When I realized that I could give these four other women and myself enough work and that everyone could get as much as they wanted, it felt really good.
What are the key lessons you learned while running an SME?
Outsource, outsource, outsource. For example, it took me a long time to snag a payroll system because I only saw it as an additional cost. But it ended up taking me an hour to process people’s pay and it became a real headache. I quickly realized that I should outsource this task and use the time better for the business.
Invest in available support networks like Xero, an accountant. Yes you have to pay for them but they save you so much time. The only reason I started the company was to have more time for myself and my kids, so I’m happy to support anything that can help.