Adelaide entrepreneur Sue McKay was more than happy to operate as a soloist from home when she launched her administration service Kick It To Me in 2005.
However, after spotting a number of different gaps in the market, McKay added a second, third, fourth and, finally, fifth business, all while working from her home in the suburb of Glenelg.
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Earlier this year, she realised that her rapidly growing empire was beginning to completely swamp her home life and she made the transition into a commercial premises.
So how did she end up running five businesses from her spare bedroom and what tips does she have for other home-based start-ups that face the dilemma of whether to grow and move out or stay put?
McKay spoke to StartupSmart about how she has graduated her business out of her house and managed to improve her work/life balance in the process.
How did this growth kick off, so to speak?
The business almost took on a life of its own. I initially saw a gap in the market for administration services, where all I needed was a workstation, printer and filing space at home.
I was doing that when I was asked to do work outside that area. I have worked in marketing and events before, so I decided to move into the events space.
I would colour code the filing between admin work and events work. But then I realised that we could turn one of our apartments into accommodation.
It was a light bulb moment – the apartment was in the tourist area of Glenelg, near the beach and ideal for a holiday stay. I decided we would turn it into a furnished, serviced apartment.
Of course, this meant that we had to have somewhere to store all of the linen and so on, so we had to store that at home. We had cleaners for the apartment coming into the house to get the linen, so we had contractors coming in and out.
This activity increased as we grew the number of properties – we now manage the rental of four properties on behalf of others.
That’s very different from how you envisioned the business to start with, I imagine?
Yes, I thought I’d just be at home printing off and filing a few things. I was on a standard kind of wage, around $50,000 a year, from this business before I decided to expand it.
I always thought that the day would come when I’d grow the business, I just didn’t plan it to happen so quickly.
What happened then?
My husband, Dave, wanted to start-up another business after walking away from his previous venture, so I said it made sense for him to start Kick It To Me Trade, which is a property maintenance and trade division we started in 2009.
By now I thought I would run out of colours for my colour coding! But Dave could see that I was doing well and that the Kick It To Me brand could lend itself to almost everything.
I was getting the clients in and he could take it from there, he didn’t have to worry about the admin or back-end support, I could cover that. It made sense.
This new business took up even more room in the house – Dave kept his tools in the garage and the house in general was becoming more and more crowded.
But you decided to keep expanding the business?
Yes. Last year, I had a fire in my belly that needed quenching, which initially was a shopping service for people who wanted to put an outfit together or didn’t know the dress for a certain type of event.
But I then took it further than that and started an online op shop. I sourced the clothing, which was then sitting around the house, ready to be sold.
It started as a personal, sentimental thing – my mum and dad came over from Italy and all our clothes were always hand-me-downs. My mum didn’t speak any English, so I named the business Le Babe, which translates to ‘trash and treasure’ in Italian.
Although it was sentimental, there was certainly a gap in the market for it. People wanted the op-shop experience, but online. There’s been a real growth in that market in recent years.
You now employ people – how has that transition been?
I now have staff to work on different areas of the business while I try to manage from above. I have three staff and a further three contractors, which we took on in 2011.
It was a little scary initially as I knew nothing about superannuation, work cover, payment withholding and all the other obligations you have as an employer.
I think the core to the business overall has been the help I’ve had from others. I’ve never persisted with contacts that don’t deliver – so I found the right accountant, the right bookkeeper and the right IP attorney, to protect our brand.