Hard work, resilience and proper work ethics are some of the tools that BDS Projects Director Barclay Dixon brings with him in his entrepreneurial path. These are also the qualities that he finds useful in laying the foundation of a good business. His experiences and learnings, as well as the people around him, have moulded him to become the business owner that he is today.
But this man who has built buildings, homes and various other structures has remained down to earth. Barclay was hesitant to discuss his story, not because he didn’t want to, but because he didn’t deem it as striking enough. “First and foremost, I’m very embarrassed by this because, for me, it’s not the entrepreneurial journey. It’s just about a guy starting a business. Millions of people have done it before me. Millions of people would do it after me. It’s not a grand story,” he shyly warned. On the other hand, as you read on, you will find that it is something one can take inspiration from, especially that Barclay’s preamble to entrepreneurship is a bit off-the-beaten-path.
Growing up on a farm, he once received a sheep as a birthday gift from his father. At a young age, Barclay described how he started with that single sheep. “The sheep had twins. Then we would fatten them up and sell them to market. From there, I had money, and I bought another sheep. So, I had two, and then I had more than three lambs the next year. And so, gradually, I grew a little few sheep in the paddocks and made a bit of recurring revenue.”
Upgrading himself, he moved on to raising cattle. When he was a teenager, they bought a failing hydroponic farm, which they converted to grow only herbs and strawberries. Barclay witnessed how his family was very much hands-on on that farm. Their hard work bore fruit as they ended up supplying Coles and Woolworths.
“The family, we were always working hard. But when you’re a farmer it doesn’t feel like work. You do it because it’s what you do. So, I think the work ethic of being on a farm probably helped a lot on that sort of thing. Rather than the entrepreneurship, it was probably more of the work ethic that was instilled in me,” Barclay professed.
That childhood experience in the farm built a good work principle in Barclay that served as a seed to his figurative entrepreneurial plant.
However, when it comes to his studies, Barclay admits he wasn’t very studious at school. Instead, his interest leaned more towards sports, such as football and tennis. “Needless to say, I didn’t do very well at school. But I did okay in sports. I guess when you’re at school, you have no idea what you want to do. Farming was always of interest. When it comes to career, I wanted to choose something practical. I thought I would just try to find an industry that I’m interested in, and building something seemed practical,” he narrated. And that’s how he chose a course called Building Surveying. As he got on with the curriculum, he figured it was completely different from what he thought it was. But he found he was in an industry that he loves, so he continued with it until he finished the degree four years after.
After finishing college, he travelled and found work in the UK. “I was based in London. I got a job in sales. I was selling gas and electricity in a London winter. That was probably the hardest work mentally that I’ve done,” he committed to memory. That time, he was constantly getting knocked down. Still, he kept pushing his product. “It was a pretty boring product. But if you did well, then you could make a little bit of money from doing that. Then you could take up three months around South America. So, there were rewards at the end of it. While it was the worst thing I’ve ever done, it was probably the best thing that I’ve done as well,” he continued. That event in his life taught him about himself, people, and resilience.
Later on, Barclay went on to build a career in construction back in Australia. One day, the director of the company where he was working presented him with an opportunity. “He said, ‘I’ve got a job, can you recommend someone to do it?’ And I said yes. I flipped through a few contacts that I’ve had. I thought overnight about it and realised this was something that I should be looking at.” Eventually, he called the director the next day, grabbed the break that landed on his lap and started to do things that would keep the ball rolling. “He said the first thing I needed was a fee proposal. To get a fee proposal, I needed to get a business name, an IBN, and a domain name for a website. I looked into that stuff and just felt my way through those, I suppose,” Barclay described. And that was how BDS Projects was born.
Starting it all by himself, Barclay was fortunate to receive several jobs for his company, which was a good headstart for a new business. “Within a month I converted one job into three jobs. I got to consult back to the original company that I was working for, which was great. And then I’ve got another job on the side with a very good reputable company. I’ve had three projects that would probably give me five months of work and some good solid fees.”
Around that time, a friend of his was going to India. Encouraged by that prospect, Barclay then thought of going away for a few weeks in December. So, after he completed his job and the holidays came, he packed his bags and went to tour India. “I came back in the new year. And after going into the business for six months, there was no work. That was probably a pretty scary time. In December, I should have been catching up with people, like having beer or dinner or attending functions or building a network. I should have been out there, but I wasn’t. So, I came home to no work,” Barclay brought to mind that experience that shook him.
There was another sticking point that brought so much uneasiness, as well as major learnings, on Barclay. At one point, he had a particular client that comprised 62% of their projects and another that had about 10 to 12%. Both of them experienced setbacks that affected Barclay’s business. “One of our clients was Chinese. He couldn’t get his money out of China. The other client was a listed company. They got a new major director in that cut their spending,” Barclay explained. Overnight, he lost around 75% of his business, the biggest disruption his company ever had.
“That was the toughest time for us. We had to build the business back up, get more clients, spread our risks, and spread our clients to more sectors to keep moving forward. Good thing we managed to retain all our employees. I wouldn’t want to go through that so many times. It’s not that nice,” Barclay realised. From that incident, he learned not to rely on any one client too much. “I’d try to keep it to a maximum of 20 to 30% (of the business). That would help things,” he declared.
If there were challenges and snags, there were also boons that Barclay found helpful in running his business. When he began his company, he spoke to a few people inviting them to join him in BDS. He sensed some hesitation from one person he talked to, so he put that thought aside until he got a call from a guy named Ed Waters. Ed was also in the construction business and was looking for a like-minded person in the industry. Long story short, Barclay got Ed as a partner in BDS Projects 12 months into the business. “The best decision ever was getting Ed on board because it just enabled me to try to find the right way forward. It’s good to have someone to talk to about things and issues and decisions you have to make. You know, somebody to back me up, I guess. And we back each other up,” Barclay attested.
That is the biggest win for Barclay throughout his experience as a business owner. Another win for him is the people and culture he has built in his business. Finding the right person that could fit perfectly into his corporate culture was a challenge. But once he was able to do that, it was like hitting the jackpot. “The most important thing for us is people. It’s your employees. If you get the right person, you can shape them,” he stated. Barclay then enumerated some of the people he has employed and the good qualities they have. “We have a whole array of people from different walks of life who have done great things on their merit. All the people that we’ve got have all been a win. All our current employees have done good things. We’d be nothing without them. We wouldn’t have a business without them,” Barclay acknowledged.
“And EO Melbourne. EO would be a big part of it. I didn’t have the great business acumen, but EO taught me a lot. Like the Accelerator Program that I did in the initial 12 months, it was really good, just to get the basics right. EO is a different level. And I think of it at a personal and professional level,” he testified. With EO Melbourne, he was able to surround himself with good people with whom he can share his concerns and aspirations, as well as learn from their own experiences and learnings.
One thing that Barclay found crucial to running a business that he should have done earlier is writing a manual on how the business runs at the very beginning. But now that it is behind him, he now faces the future with hope and positivity. “In 5 or 10 years, I’d like to be sitting more at the board level. Maybe I’d be spending half a day a week or a day a week in the business. Then have some other businesses on the side, whether that would be through development or in other things completely random outside of construction and development,” he envisaged.
Beyond business and career, Barclay yearns to be a good father someday. He also maintains his fitness and finds other interests that can nurture his creativity. “I’ve just started doing some magic on the side. I want to continue with that. I don’t want to be a magician. But I want to have some few tricks on my sleeve, so to speak,” Barclay enthused.
Despite all the valuable lessons, which his experience as a business owner brings to the table, Barclay still feels embarrassed by it. “One, I am humbled. Two, I feel silly talking about myself.”
But if you look again at his story, you can see how his entrepreneurship has taken shape. Based on what he just shared, Barclay walked us through how farming has built his work ethic; how resilience and hard work helped him build his business; how he and his team built their corporate culture; and how all of these built him as a person. It’s like one brick placed on top of another. With all the tools and building blocks of lessons in his life, Barclay is making his way to fostering a solid future for him, his family, and his company.