This week’s Small Business Star is Sue Ralston, Director of Complete My Sale.

Sue launched Complete My Sale, a sales progression service for estate agents, in 2013 with two business partners.

Since launch the business has grown from just the three original members to 14 members of staff.

Here, Sue shares her advice to other small business owners, including to be prepared for anything, especially success, and explains how the unexpected level of demand when the business launched meant they had to stop advertising while they recruited staff to help them keep up.

1. Our network provided a ready-made customer base

Complete My Sale is a sales progression service offered to estate agents. Once a sale or purchase has been agreed Complete My Sale company will deal with the coordination and completion of the sale with all the parties involved in the chain, on behalf of the estate agent.

Sue and her two directors ran a similar successful service for letting agents and it was these agents who suggested that they provide a similar service for sales, too.

“Our letting agent network was invaluable when it came to seeking advice and feedback when setting up the new company, as well as providing a ready-made customer base.”

2. It was a great feeling to have found such a revolutionary service

“My background is in marketing in the property industry and my two business partners both worked in property before we set up the service for letting agents. So we have a good blend of skills between us.

“The lettings business has been running since 2007 and it was our agents, who asked us to set up a similar service for sales and purchasing.

“It was obvious once we started thinking about. Yet it was something that hadn’t been done before. It was a great feeling to have found a nice within our sector and to be able to offer such a revolutionary service.

“No other company has a business model quite like ours. Nobody does it on our scale or provides the efficiency levels that we provide, that help to keep the costs down. We offer a fixed fee service for any length of chain, so the estate agent knows how much they’ll be paying at the outset, which is quite unique.

“The other thing that’s unusual is that we white label the service and work on behalf of the estate agent.

“When we explain our service to estate agents they’re usually really interested and excited to find out how we work. And we’ve heard through the grapevine that we’re often talked about property events and recommended by our clients.”

3. Investing £100,000 in technology was a huge risk

“We haven’t made many mistakes. But one thing we did do wrong is to be too rigid when it came to developing the software. Our aim was to increase efficiency and be cost-effective, but put in practice, the system wasn’t flexible enough. Our focus had been on process and cost savings and we’d neglected to consider the individual needs of the estate agents. So we’ve now made the system so it suits the requirements of our agents.

“Our service was so new that this was all part of the learning curve. We had to go through that to get to where we are now and work out how best to serve our estate agents.

“Investing in technology was a huge risk. We invested around £100,000 in this, but thankfully it’s paying off. It frees us up to deal with the people and has increased our efficiency by 400%.”

4. We had to stop advertising while recruitment caught up with demand

“We were very open with our potential customers when we were developing the idea for the business. We held brainstorming sessions with our contacts to get ideas and to make sure that our own ideas were workable.

“So I would advise anyone thinking of setting up a business to talk to potential customers. We were amazed by the number of helpful and insightful comments we received, as well as the different ideas and approaches that were suggested.

“Another piece of advice I would give is to pace your growth and plan for all eventualities, even being successful. We were shocked by the level of demand when we launched. We had no idea the service was going to be so successful and it was hard to keep up with demand.

“We had to stop advertising for a short period while our recruitment caught up. This was necessary to protect our reputation, otherwise we’d have had too many clients and service levels might have suffered.

“I would also say, invest in marketing as visibility will help your business to grow. But be careful where you spend your money. Find out where your customers come from so that you can invest your future spend wisely.”

5. There’ve been times when I’ve had to bring my children into the office

“Our main goal for the coming 12 months is to increase sales. Currently we have around 500 sales a month and we want to double that in the next year. This means recruiting even more staff. We’ve grown the team from just three directors to 14, including sales people and administration staff. So far, we’ve recruited one member of staff every other month. From now on, we hope to recruit somebody each month to help us to reach our target for next year.

“It can be tough striking a good work-life balance, and there’ve been a few times when I’ve had to bring one of my children in to the office due to school closures or childcare issues, but I am lucky that I have that as an option as I realise it is not as easy for many parents.

“But it’s not all work and no play. The first year was the hardest as I had to get involved in lots of different roles. Now the roles have become more clearly defined and, as a result, I do get a bit of time off.”

To find out more about Sue’s business, visit the website at Complete My Sale. For more small business stories, visit ourSmall Business Stars hub.