Welcome back to Leader Talk! In episode 28 we chatted to the enigmatic Steven Walker, the co-owner of Kookaburra Homes, one of the leading home builders in South Australia. He also acts as one of the board members at Regional Development Australia Murraylands and Riverland.
With over 14 years of experience in the building industry, Steven has helped 1000s of customers make their dream home become a reality. In our chat we discussed, the importance of focusing on your “why”, trusting your staff and understanding your customers.
Want to learn more? You can read or listen to our chat with Steven Walker on YouTube, Spotify, Listen Notes, or Player FM. It’s also available anywhere you listen to your favourite podcasts via Buzzsprout.
Authored by Steven Walker, the co-owner of Kookaburra Homes.
I’ve seen a lot of discourse in the business world that glamourises business owners being overwhelmingly driven and passionate about their organisation. It’s a common misconception that if your business isn’t your whole world, it won’t kick off. However, what we often don’t realise is that if you’re consumed by your passion for your business, you may not be the right person to get it off the ground.
Focusing on your ‘why’
To many, the concept seems counterproductive – how can you start a successful business without having a burning passion for your product or services? While I’m not saying you shouldn’t be passionate about your business, I believe that being dictated by this passion doesn’t guarantee success. When I co-founded Kookaburra Homes, I was passionate about our products and services, but that wasn’t my main motivation for growing the company. For me, Kookaburra Homes was a vehicle that allowed me to achieve my bigger picture and open up opportunities.
By prioritising my “why” over the products and services we sell, I am able to efficiently grow my company and lead my team with a clear head. However, if I was too emotionally invested in our organisation, my actions would be driven by the daily stress, frustration, and emotions of running a business which would affect our success. I’ve seen it happen to others; their business is their whole world, and when they face inevitable failures and setbacks, they are hit hard and struggle to recover. I don’t let those frustrations get to me and instead focus on improvement and resolution. This mindset has been key to Kookaburra Homes’ continual success.
Trying to get your business off the ground can be overwhelming, so it’s important to be sure of your purpose in order to maintain your motivation and stay on the right track. Looking at your business objectively can help you understand the direction you need to follow. If you get too caught up in an inflexible vision for your business or get disheartened when your campaigns don’t go well, it can be difficult to grow.
Trusting your staff
When your business is your whole world, it can be difficult to trust others with key tasks. What if they do things wrong? What if they don’t do things with the same care and attentiveness as you? Letting go of these fears and trusting your staff to grow your business alongside you is imperative to a sustainable business. If you want your small business to have hundreds of customers, you need to be ready to trust hundreds of employees to help you manage those customers.
Everyone has different skills and interests. There are tasks you may dislike that others would enjoy doing. You need to understand your team and work with them to effectively delegate responsibilities, so you can work together as a strong collective. Trusting your staff to help your business grow not only brings a diverse range of skills and ideas to the table, but also affords you the time to focus on the side of business you love. A good leader can get to a stage in their business where they feel comfortable stepping back to allow their team to shine. It’s your job to let people excel further than you and give them the credit they deserve.
Trusting your staff isn’t just about delegating roles and responsibilities. It’s also about creating a positive workplace culture based on mutual trust and respect. Not only will a positive workplace benefit your employees, but it also rewards your business.
A study by the International Journal of Organisational Analysis found that a positive and supportive work environment is strongly correlated with long term employee retention. As part of being supportive, we need to be allowing staff to have their ups and downs while trusting that their overall performance remains high. Everybody is human, and you can’t expect them to come to work every day with the same high energy and motivation that they had on day one.
As leaders, we need to offer our understanding and empathy to our team when they experience setbacks in their personal life. You may have heard the phrase, “leave your problems at the door” when it comes to the workplace. However, this mentality isn’t going to help your employees. At Kookaburra Homes, we invite our team to actually bring their personal problems to work where they can deal with it in a safe space. As a result, our team performs with higher energy and effort. Why? Because when businesses and managers show empathy, the job performance of the team increases.
When business owners get too caught up in their business, they can forget that their employees are human and not just part of business operations. If you don’t allow your employees to have bad days and bring their problems into the workplace, it may be because you’re too consumed by the idea that your business is your whole world.
Understanding your customers
When your products and services become your whole world, it can be easy to lose sight of genuine relationships with your customers. My customers are my number one priority, and I would never turn my back on them purely to focus on executive level tasks. When I first cofounded Kookaburra Homes years ago, we didn’t have a dedicated sales or customer service team. That was our job, on top of everything else. Without a customer service team, I developed strong relationships with our customers, spoke to them regularly to understand their needs and wants, and got to know them professionally and personally. Nothing has changed since then. Despite expanding into a large company with a dedicated sales team, I still spend most of my time building relationships with our customers.
If you’re a small or medium business, you may have had hesitations about approaching customer research due to budget concerns. We often hear about market research that includes surveys, focus groups, trials, interviews, which all require significant budgets and resources. However, when I first started Kookaburra Homes, my main source of market research simply came from having conversations with customers, opening up to them, obtaining their feedback, and learning more about who they were. These honest and open discussions became the foundations for our customer-facing marketing, sales, and advertising operations.
At Kookaburra Homes, we care about our customers just as much as we care about our business and our products. When you’re too caught up in the internal operations of your business, it can be easy to forget about building relationships with your customers and simply leave that up to the sales department. However, a successful business understands its customers from every perspective. As a result, our customers are at the forefront of every department, including teams that aren’t traditionally customer-facing, such as accounting and finance.
Being authentic and transparent
There are many sensationalised success stories out there, about entrepreneurs who were so passionate about their business that they would invest all their time and money in it and make personal sacrifices to reach success. However, for most entrepreneurs, this may not be the healthiest way to grow a business. So, what are some other strategies for growth? To me, being authentic and transparent is a key factor of a successful business. However, it is easier said than done. One way I promote authenticity and transparency at Kookaburra Homes is by embracing our mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes; the difference between us and inauthentic companies is that we are honest about them. Multiple studies have demonstrated that consumers reward brands that are transparent about their mistakes. For example, Sprout Social found that 89% of consumers will trust a brand that admits it made a mistake and is transparent about how it will resolve it.
At Kookaburra Homes, we often admit to mistakes before we even make them. When a customer comes to us with a project, we’ll be upfront about the possibility of making mistakes and allow them to fully understand our procedures. Every single other construction company makes the same mistakes, but our customers choose us time and time again because they know we’ll be honest about them and do our best to rectify them.
Another way we promote authenticity and transparency at Kookaburra Homes is by also marketing our “why” and not just finished products. While many brands focus on showing off their products, we also emphasise our processes, purpose, and values in our marketing material. This transparency allows our customers to truly understand our brand and our mission, as opposed to just purely trying to sell them our end products. By portraying an accurate reflection of who we are in our marketing material, we are rewarded with stronger customer relationships and higher customer retention. Supporting this, Label Insights found that 94% of consumers will stay loyal to a transparent brand, while 75% of consumers are willing to pay more money for transparent and genuine brands.
When scrolling through LinkedIn or flipping through a business magazine, it can be easy to get caught up in the belief that to be a successful business owner, your business must be your whole world. Take this article as a reminder that you don’t have to be consumed by your business in order to be successful. Passion is important, but so is being true to your “why”, following your personal purpose, being a good leader to your staff, and treating your customers right.