Karl Brown is the founder and Chief Executive at Instyle Solar, the leading solar company in Queensland. He also recently founded a performance marketing company Rokkit PM that helps other businesses establish a digital presence, generate leads and increase sales opportunities.
As a talented leader with experience in running a multi-million dollar business, Karl was awarded the Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2017 in the Retail & Services category, as well as having been announced as a nominee for the Award in 2018. The name of the winner will be unveiled during the gala dinner on September 7th at Riverlife.
Instyle Solar's over 90 employees will be cheering Karl on! You're an inspiration boss!
In commemoration of Karl's recent successes and generally hard-working attitude, we wanted to share some lessons we've learnt from our Founder and CEO. So if you're on your own way to building a successful business empire or have just started making steps towards an entrepreneurial journey, keep in mind these simple rules.
1. Being Different is More Important Than Being Better
It might sound counterintuitive to what you've learned in business management books. But when Karl started Instyle Solar, he felt that being different was more important than being better.
While other companies were trying to sell solar on the tech specs and complicated data tables alone, his team simply focused on selling a financial solution that made sense. They understood that people buy solar not because of their technical properties or how panels look, but because they wanted a lower electricity bill.
Often he has found that most companies overcomplicate things, that's why Instyle's motto is 'Making Solar Simple'.
Instyle Solar was first to suggest a financial-focused sales approach in the solar business. They started educating their customers on how to read electricity bills and then provided the solution to reducing them significantly. Now everyone is trying to use the same approach.
2. Your Customer Knows Much More Than You Think
Today, customers are much better educated than they were in the past and you, as a business owner, should respect that. Even before meeting you, chances are high that your potential customer has already made a decision on how they will proceed and have researched into your products (and your competitor's products too).
This means that business integrity and ethics are everything and need to be at the heart of what you do at all times.
There are many ways to show that you respect your customer. The most important is to make it overwhelmingly simple for your customer to get in touch! It helps the customer to feel they are being looked after. Instyle Solar use a lot of new technologies for that, from live chats with solar experts through customers’ favourite social media channels to offering lots of free educational content on their website, and easy to use financial calculators.
That doesn’t mean they don’t get negative feedback once in a while - it can happen to any business for a variety of reasons. But they listen to their customers, solve the problems, and learn from the feedback.
No need to mention that a huge percentage of their sales comes from customer referrals.
3. Being Happy Shouldn’t Just Be Saved For Weekends
Commitment leads to results, we all know that. After all, a leader who’s inspired by what he does spreads the right vibe to the rest of the team.
Now, having a multi-million business doesn't mean you should bury yourself in work until you forget what's it like to have fun.
As Karl says, if you wake up on Monday and dread the week ahead, find something else to do! To be truly successful you have to love what you do. Being happy shouldn’t just be saved for weeknights and weekends.
4. It’s Never Too Early or Too Late To Start Your Own Business
A few years ago Karl was set back in his career and had a decision to make: go back to the corporate sales life or start his own business.
He decided the only way forward was to tread his own path, so he chose to look for solar opportunities to pursue. He had been interested in solar for many years simply due to seeing a number of installations around Brisbane and wanted to build a company around a product that was great for the environment but also sold itself.
Karl started his business with $2,600 in his pocket at the age of 34. Fast forward 4 years and Instyle Solar is a successful company with an annual turnover of more than $26 million. And Karl’s leadership skills gained him two nominations in a row as the best entrepreneur under 40.
5. Courage is More Important Than Confidence
Karl always had an entrepreneurial spirit, knowing that he could do something different or be better in every position he found himself in.
In the past, Karl had changed jobs a lot and tried his own ventures. At the time he began Instyle Solar he worked on it himself for a few months. In June 2014 he asked his wife Melanie to quit her full-time job because he needed her to be the Admin Manager at Instyle. She said, ”Are you crazy! What if it doesn't work?”
‘But he said, “Trust me it will work,” says Melanie. ‘I was still sceptical and I didn't want to give up my job, I loved working there and it was good money for us, but I trusted him and the rest is history!’
Having confidence in oneself is definitely important, but not as important as having the courage to step out of your comfort zone and believing in your own abilities to achieve anything you set your mind to.
Now ‘Team Instyle’ has more than 90 employees and is growing!
6. Work Stress Is The Result Of Poor Preparation
Anything can happen in business, but the end result always depends on a teamwork rather than on the achievements of individuals. Common advice for working under pressure is to try to keep calm and stay positive no matter what. But that never helps.
A much better way to avoid stress is make sure you’re better prepared for possible problems. For example, rather than stressing out every day and waiting for leads to come to Instyle Solar, Karl’s team started actively seeking out their own sales.
‘Now we have our own outbound call centre and inbound marketing team, so we hunt our own leads and have complete control of our own destiny. By doing this we don't need to compete on a lot of sales,' says Karl.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Go Into Business With Family
It is never an easy thing to mix business with family, but over the years of working together, Karl and Melanie Brown have learnt to mutually respect one another in the roles they carry out on a day to day basis.
They are husband and wife, yes. But during business hours they are also colleagues. Keeping that in mind and making sure they support each other as life partners, as well as business partners, is the key to a successful business - and marriage.
Melanie’s advice: always communicate with each other no matter what, respect each other and try to show empathy where needed. It’s never going to be perfect, but it’s worth it!
Karl and Melanie show the same balance to their son Jayden who is also working in the business. ‘Some days can be harder than others but we do all love working together! We look forward to welcoming our youngest son Jeremy also, when he finishes high school’, says Mel.
Not to mention, four of Karl's brothers and his stepfather Rory also work at Instyle Solar!
8. Don't Rely On Yourself Alone, A Great Team Is A Businesses Biggest Asset
Karl grew up in South Western Sydney, mainly in the Liverpool and Campbelltown areas. Growing up in these areas provided the mental toughness and desire to succeed.
‘It also taught me there were consequences for actions taken, so in that regard, I believe it’s made me a better businessman,’ says Karl.
He wasn’t afraid to start a business on his own, but he understood that a solid team is the most valuable asset of any company. This is how the second employee of the company - Jonah Hicks - joined the business. Jonah was a young sales gun at the time they met but Karl could see his potential. Karl talked Jonah, a Canadian, into leaving secure employment where he was sponsored to being an employee #2 at Instyle and Karl’s first business partner.
‘I appreciate Jonah for all he has done to support me,’ says Karl. ‘He is like a brother to me.’
Karl always makes himself accessible and available for the team, from weekly meetings in the call centre to posting video updates on internal chat from his home or business trips. Being in contact is important, as well as investing time and resources into education and motivation of the team.
He also likes to help young people achieve great successes because no one helped him at a young age.
9. Learn How to Focus And Learn How to Zone Out
With the volume of work a business owner has, it's important to pace yourself. With hundreds of emails and messages and many phone calls a day coming in, if you tried to answer them all immediately, you would never get anything else done.
The best way to work under pressure is by not trying to do everything for everyone at the same time. If you’re receiving multiple emails make sure you don’t answer them right away but take one task at a time.
Trying to do too much at once makes the stress worse!
Sometimes it’s hard to get work off your mind when you’re a business owner: there are always tasks to do, calls to return and spreadsheets to fix.
However, allowing time to relax is crucial. Karl loves getting out on the jet ski and going for a ride over to Moreton Island or up the coast to Bribie Island or Caloundra.
‘It’s awesome and it doesn’t take long out on the ocean for the mind to reset and provide the clarity you need. Also, a round of golf without my phone does the job, too’ says Karl.
10. Think Outside The Box
Karl always liked to do things differently to everyone else. From shopping to business decisions, he wants it all to have an element of ‘difference’ about it.
Many years ago he saw an ad in the Sunday paper that read ‘No Experience Necessary, Earn $900+ Per Week!’ This is how he started - as a door to door salesperson for a telecommunications company.
This is when he began experimenting with developing ‘different’ sales strategies for other companies and now his own.
‘I'm always pushing for change, without it, I find I get bored very easily. I need to be constantly moving forward and working towards something’, says Karl Brown.
Photo credit: Style Magazine