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Don't Grow Too Fast

Have the right people in place so you're ready to expand, but don't bite off more than you can chew.

Teresa Vidger
Teresa Vidger

Name of company: Temporary Housing Directory Inc.
Name of woman leader: Teresa Vidger
Based in: Castle Rock, Colo.
Description: Coordinates the selection and management of short-term housing choices for individuals displaced because of an insurance claim or corporate relocation.
Started: 2001
2003 sales: $281,000
2007 sales: $20 million

What was the inspiration for your business?
Vidger had a background in the field of corporate relocations, driving people around to show them properties. But she had also developed a sideline finding temporary housing for insurance companies, which she could do over the phone.

Then Vidger's son was born nine weeks premature, at only two-and-a-half pounds. "I couldn't drive people around any longer, and I was just continuing to do my insurance business because I could do those placements over the telephone. He couldn't go into day care because he was so little. It made me re-evaluate what I was doing. I thought, I could do this on my own and carve out a niche and only do temporary housing placements, because it's mainly phone work. So I decided to get my real estate broker's license and start my own company."

How much did it cost to start the business?
"I didn't have to have a lot of cash, but I had about $100,000 that I could use. It was mainly to be able to upfront some of the costs for me--because I was used to working really hard and making money--and then to upfront the cost for the placements."

How did you grow your business so rapidly?
"You have to be really passionate about what you do, and I think that you have to have employees who are also passionate. We're really a team concept here; I listen to and I value the comments of my team. Besides all that, you have to have the right people. And you have to have the customer service. If you have great pricing and bad service, you're not going to get the business."

In Vidger's case, her company's rapid growth came about because mold claims were a big deal in Texas at the time. "There were a lot of insurance claims that needed temporary housing because everybody said they had mold. Eventually mold claims got written out of the policy, so I decided instead of just doing relocations in Texas to start doing them nationwide."

The company had to change its business model to accomplish that. Vidger's firm had been acting as coordinator for a variety of companies that provide temporary housing assistance. But those companies couldn't provide a national service with accurate invoices and great customer service. "So I changed the way that we were doing the business. Now we set up all of our own temporary housing instead of relying on other companies."

How do you balance your family and business responsibilities?
Vidger's three children are ages 2, 8 and 11. "It's nice that I'm here before they go to school. The most important thing is quality time. Even though I'm not there with them during the workday, when we're together, we play really hard. And we really do everything together as a family on the weekends."

Do you have a funny story about juggling kids and work?
"I think the funniest story is when you have an important client call and your child hasn't left for school yet. You lock yourself in the closet and you're holding the doorknob so they don't know your child is with you." Although the kids didn't scream, Vidger says, "They were just trying to get in."

How do you relax?
Vidger enjoys playing golf but, more important these days, she enjoys spending time with her children. "We love to be outside since we live in Denver and the weather's beautiful."

What's on your iPod?
Annie Lennox, B-52s, Carrie Underwood, George Michael, Michael McDonald and Whitney Houston.

What books are you reading?
"I'm reading a book right now called The Shack. It's really good, but it's more of a religious book. It was referred to me by a friend."

What's your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs who want to grow their business?
"I think the best advice is to follow your gut. If it doesn't sit right with your gut, there's something wrong with that.

"Don't grow too fast. Make sure that you have the people in place. Just make sure you're ready. You don't want to bite off more than you can chew." She acknowledges that it can be difficult advice to follow because most entrepreneurs want everybody as a customer. "You have to pick and choose who you want to be your customer. Some don't fit your business model. We've started to do some work for customers and had to let them know that it wasn't a good fit for us.

"If you're going to bring on a new account, they usually can't give you exact numbers on how much more business you're going to get. You have to be ready, have enough (employees), make sure that you can cover what you have and do a great job and cover the new business, and then add on at the appropriate time."

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