Jumping the gun with clients – StartupSmart

Negotiating with real estate agents isn’t most people’s idea of fun, but one business found out the hard way how to deal with the industry in a profitable way.


For Beth O’Brien, dealing with agents proved to be major challenge when she started The Ad Network, which taps into the niche of real estate online advertising.


In partnership with her brother Ben Pullicin, O’Brien started The Ad Network based on her passion for online media. But it wasn’t long before the business faced its first setback.


“Everyone warned me but I had to learn for myself – a contract means nothing, even if it cost $15,000 to get a fancy law firm to draft it,” O’Brien tells StartupSmart.


“It’s all about the relationship and trust, based on gut instinct. The guy that signs the contract can be there one day and gone the next.”


“If there’s no relationship between the businesses and its people, it means nothing. If your business is not operational in their business, it isn’t real.”


O’Brien and Pullicin believe some clients chose to leave The Ad Network as a result of this oversight. But rather than let it cripple the business, the founders learnt a valuable lesson.


“We responded by slowing down a bit. In business, you often get caught up in excessive motivation and hard work but sometimes you can try too hard,” they say.


“People in business will not necessarily always comply with the obligations in a contract, no matter how tight that contract is, if you have a superficial business relationship.”


“It’s taken us over two years to really solidify our business relationships with our real estate agents and advertising partners… Taking the time and effort to focus on business relationships is critical.”


Since starting up in Sydney three years ago, The Ad Network has opened a second office in New York. Last year, the business took in $600,000 in revenue.


“We have built a business as a brother-and-sister team that competes every day with NewsCorp and Fairfax,” O’Brien and Pullicin say.


“We have a powerful advertising network, which targets over one million people every month in real estate, which is the number one things Australians search online every month.”


“We are a real estate-obsessed nation – we monetise this traffic and we’re the first company in the world to do this for real estate agents. Hence launching in the US.”


O’Brien and Pullicin say start-ups should treat every business relationship the same way they treat their personal relationships.


“Our advice would be just because you have a contract signed, don’t expect that everything will just fall into place,” the duo says.


“Be prepared to put a lot more time in over an extended period to develop trust with your clients.”


“Add value at every step of the process [and] make each conversation one that the client feels they have real benefit from, which will make them want to spend more time with you and hear more about other products and services you have.”


“We suggest having a dedicated business relationship strategy as part of your business plan. Also, set aside time each week to think: how can I make my business relationships better?”

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