Tracey Benson has been at it for ten years now and is living proof that entrepreneurs who work hard and have a great idea can be very successful.
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She is the founder of the National Association of Independent Landlords. With more than 100,000 members renting to tenants in all 50 states, her organization is the largest provider of landlord services in the country.
We spent some time with Tracey to learn more about her entrepreneurial experiences in starting this venture.
Tracey, it seems you have had great success with your business. Tell us a little bit more about what your company does.
We collect rent electronically for landlords, apartment complex owners, commercial landlords and property managers.
We also monitor rent payments, provide credit reports, criminal reports, and eviction searches on prospective tenants.
I see you have offices in Houston, Texas and Los Angeles, California and that you started the business in April 1998. Was this your first business? What were you doing before this?
I was in graduate school studying Organic Chemistry. This is my first business, although I had been active in real estate before starting the National Association of Independent Landlords.
Where did you get the startup money?
I had some saved from a sale on a home that I bought as a foreclosure and fixed it up and sold it for double what I bought it for. My father also helped support me and my two children because I was a single mother.
Who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?
I did not know I had any competitors at that time. I later found out that there were a few other tenant screening companies, but I was the first to start reporting monthly rent payment histories to the credit bureau and the first to start electronic rent collections.
Now, I do compete against many companies that screen tenants. Some of the owners were even my members at one time. I am not particularly competitive, but I am trying to get a better placement in the organic ads on Google. Previously, I was referred by the credit bureau and this was my biggest source of new business.
Has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
Absolutely. Success didn't come nearly as easily as I had anticipated.
I started out making $50 a day and everyone in my family begged me to quit.
They told me I was wasting my time. When I finally made it, it felt good to have worked so hard and succeeded.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I wish I would have networked more in the beginning.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
Spreading the word about our service through the media, being honest to customers by not trying to hide prices, etc. and being genuine -- because I started this company to help landlords. I had a bad tenant and I wanted to help other people avoid the problems I had.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
The bureaus are the monopoly. They can take it at any time.
It's tough to compete in that kind of environment, I imaging. But it seems like you are doing just fine. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us.