Lisa Dilts' first job out of graduate school was with Ernst & Young in their Commercial Real Estate Services Group. She was based in Atlanta, GA. It was a great position with an extremely reputable global company but, for Dilts, it wasn't the best fit. After hearing from a colleague about an open position with RCLCO, a real estate advisory firm offering Market Analysis, Financial Analysis, Geographic Deployment Strategies, Market Positioning, Portfolio Review and a host of other services for builders and developers, she applied and was hired into a new role. For the next three years, she worked for RCLCO and gained invaluable experience and knowledge in the real estate advisory industry. Dilts' next move would set the stage for her eventually plunge into small business ownership.
"I'm originally from Tampa," she said. "My husband and I wanted to get back to Florida. At the height of the market, in late 2005/2006, I was offered and accepted a position in Orlando working for Beazer Homes, a residential home builder. I was brought on to help advise the Division President with expansion strategies and opportunities for the Central Florida division. It was a great opportunity to be on the end-user side of real estate advising and to see how builders use information to make their decisions. Among many other things, I modeled out where the real estate cycle was going by county and price range.”
Meanwhile, Dilts’ former employer RCLCO reached out to see if she’d be interested in helping to start an office for them in Orlando, to create a presence in Florida. When Dilts left RCLCO, before moving to Orlando, she left on good terms. She told them that if they ever wanted to start an office in Orlando that she would be very interested. That offer became a reality and, for the next six years, Dilts helped open and lead the Orlando office and gained even more insight and experience. In 2012, with ten plus years experience on the developer side and her experience on the builder side, Dilts was ready to scratch an entrepreneurial itch that gradually increased over time.
"I've always wanted to have my own company," she said. "Being with RCLCO and with Beazer provided me such great experiences to help start my own company. It was like a crash course. At the end of 2012, the signs were there that the market was improving and would continue to improve. The time was right to go off on my own. My husband and I saved enough money to where I could afford to not have an income for a year and I took a leap. I remember thinking at the time that if I wasn't able to get enough business during that first year, I could apply for a job somewhere else."
That concern never came to fruition. In fact, Dilts built up such a stellar reputation in the industry that people were calling her for consultations before she even really started to promote her new business. Once she began to promote herself and network in the community, Dilts became highly involved in the Urban Land Institute, a professional research and education organization focused on responsible use of land and creating sustainable thriving communities worldwide. This decision opened many doors and the clients started coming in, including Beazer, her former employer. For Dilts, an early challenge wasn't landing new clients, it was managing the work load.
"I was so busy and exhausted," she said. "For the first few years, I worked every night and every weekend. I would get up at 4am and work till midnight. I also had young kids at the time. I was meeting with so many people trying to grow my business. The challenge was that when I was meeting with people, the work I needed to complete was at a standstill. I realized that I needed to hire someone."
Dilts ended up bringing on someone she hired while working at RCLCO. It was a great hire, and someone that freed up much of Dilts' time to allow her to focus on building the business, but it was temporary. The person she hired went to law school a little after a year of joining Compspring. Fortunately Dilts tapped into her connections again and was able to hire an employee from Beazer and another co-worker from her days with RCLCO. She would eventually like to hire an additional employee, but for now, she uses subcontractors as needed. This gives Dilts flexibility and allows her to keep overhead at bay.
Dilts loves finding creative solutions to clients’ problems, especially non-routine solutions. Looking ahead, she would like to expand her reach outside the state of Florida. She's also currently focused on various entrepreneurial initiatives and how she can create an economic development strategy and applying that model to different parts of the country. She's committed to staying and growing her business in Orlando, a city she's grown to love and one that offers great support for its business owners, but she would like to expand her services to a national audience.
Dilts offers up some great advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. "First of all, make sure you have a good accountant, set clear expectations and that you click with them," she said. "Make sure you have some financial cushion. Having that cushion means you won't make your decisions from a place of financial desperation. Research your idea as much as you can and talk to as many people as possible. A year before I quit my job, I started talking to people about what they did and how they made the change. Some of these people made 180 degree career changes. I asked them about what impact the change had on them, how they prepared for it, how it worked out, etc. You'd be surprised, people really enjoy sharing their stories. Take advantage of this. Whatever you do, as a small business owner, you're going to work very hard and will likely face a steep learning curve, but it's worth it. Eventually, you will find your balance. Lastly, be smart with professional organizations that you align yourself with. When you go out on your own, it's so wide open and you have so much freedom to engage in various things. Know what makes sense for you and don't get distracted. Don't just become a member, become actively involved. It's a great way to be seen and engage with people in your industry. They will come to know you as an expert in your field."