By Sabrina Cortez
For many, operating as sole traders, broking can be a lonely business. Others may work with a great group of colleagues. But how many work with their husband or wife?
Aaron and Bernadette Christie-David, from Atelier Wealth, are the award-winning and pioneering husband-and-wife team building a thriving business by day, and balancing home life by night.
Whilst this situation is not for the fainthearted, they have made it work.
The MFAA spoke with Aaron and Bernadette who shared how they’ve built a high-performing, yet scalable team dynamic, and how the challenges of a learning curve and industry competition could be an advantage for new brokers still finding their feet.
MFAA: Being a husband and wife team, as well as business partners, what challenges do you face?
Bernadette Christie-David (BCD): We never switch off. We will go home and we're still thinking about a particular client scenario, or a general business issue. Or, you will have a light-bulb moment at 10 o'clock when we’re going to bed and your mind keeps ticking over for the next few hours. We find that switching off is tough. For instance, taking holidays is difficult, given that we are both key people in the business, so if we both step out the business will slow.
MFAA: Tell us about how Atelier Wealth, as a husband and wife team, shares the responsibilities in the business?
Bernadette Christie-David (BCD): We have split the business in half. Aaron takes care of sales and marketing, and I take care of people, operations and finance. We have very distinct roles in the business so that we are not stepping on each other's toes. If we were both trying to do the same thing, I think we would clash. Before we start our day, we know what our priorities are, what our strengths are, and what our focus is.
Aaron Christie-David (ACD): Bernadette does a lot of self-employed and self-managed super funds, and I do a lot of investors, which means that within our client base, we are not wondering whose client it is. It's a very clear distinction about what roles we both play.
Having that diversity within our business has helped. When talking about our shared responsibilities and the challenges we face, we deal with these by sticking to what we are good at and respecting the other’s capabilities.
MFAA: What are your top two-to-three strategies for new brokers?
ACD: For the sole operators like us, firstly, it's being resilient. That's such a key attribute. You will not last long in this industry if you do not have a strong resolve and steely resilience. Embrace it. The penny dropped for me when I saw Alexander Phillips (one of the top real estate agents in Australia), who said their business did not win all the listings. I thought that if the number one real estate agent in Australia doesn't win all their listings, we're not going to convert 100%. It's being okay with that, and realising that sometimes those clients aren't for us, or sometimes we're not suited to them. So being resilient is understanding that 'rejection is okay'.
The other thing is that there are no shortcuts in this industry. You have to work hard. That doesn't mean you have to flog yourself, but you have to work hard and smart. Know that there is going to be no substitute for putting in the hours to educate yourself, knowing the process and building relationships. People often look for the magic answer in this industry and ‘hard work’ is the response that just keeps popping up, so just keep working hard.
Finally, find an outlet. Our phones are always ringing, our emails are always on, so you need a personal outlet for yourself. Whether that's downtime, going to the gym or you have a hobby, a sport, something that takes your mind off this. Otherwise, it can be all-consuming. That's going to lead to being burnt out. I don't think you will ever get to a point where you have a work-life balance, but it's just having an outlet.
BCD: I think work-life balance is a bit of a myth. Work-life integration, I find for us, works better. Especially because we are husband and wife. We are working together, and we are also spending time together, which fosters our relationship, and it's about finding better integration.
MFAA: What do you think it takes to run a successful business?
BCD: It's picking up the phone - without a doubt. Email alone doesn't cut it. Whether it's to a prospective client, your referral partners, banks, BDMs, etc. Basically, just get stuff done. It's nice to follow up with email but make that phone call first.
ACD: In any start-up, cash flow and being burnt out are the two biggest killers, so my suggestion is to have an attitude of learning. That's what you need to have when you first start out. When you're learning, you become more accountable. The self-employed path can be quite a lonely journey. Family and friends are great support, but they will often ask you how the business is going and so you get sucked back into business talk when all you want to do is talk about the footy.
Be a sponge, and get the work done. How many conferences do we go to and we hear similar content – because it's consistently true. But how many of us will actually go back to the office and implement it? That's where the top performers excel, because they go back and implement, rather than just mentally taking note and not doing anything with it.
BCD: It also takes relationships. With your BDMs, referral partners, clients, etc. You might need to call in a favour, so you need to make sure you have those strong relationships. That means not just calling them because you need something, but checking in and seeing how they are doing, saying thank you, and treating them the same way.
MFAA: What's the next crazy idea for Atelier Wealth?
BCD: Most definitely the baby!
ACD: Our crazy idea is how quickly they (the baby) can start working in the business (laughs).
Jokes aside, I think we have a real passion for helping new brokers.
The word 'mentor' gets thrown around a lot. I think it's more just about coaching - sharing more information around. It’s that old saying 'what you don't know, you don't know'; and how we can help you with those pitfalls, like going through cash-flow or the type of business that you are trying to build. That's where we would love to help out.
What we have our heart set on is how do we help new brokers come in to this industry, build the business that they want and survive. Whether that means, they need to swallow their pride for the first 12-18 months and work in a brokerage first and learn those softer skills - with the view that they get out of their ’nappies' in 12-18 months and become a standalone - that's great, and at least you've talked about that from the start.
BCD: If there’s anything we can tell new brokers - there's more than enough to go around. What we are finding is, our business and our values will speak to a certain type of client, but we may not resonate with another type of demographic, and there's a broker out there for that demographic. Finding your niche and targeting it is important. Sometimes I feel like we try to do it all, and I'm finding you don't have to. We can almost make it a little bit more tailored and really start to deliver our own message, because then you 're going to have a more natural connection and great chances of success.