I Built A Health & Safety Training Business That Makes 1.8M/Year [From Australia]

Brendan Torazzi
Founder, AlertForce
$150K
revenue/mo
1
Founders
5
Employees
AlertForce
from Sydney
started October 2006
$150,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
5
Employees
821K
alexa rank
market size
$6.6B
starting costs
$22.5K
gross margin
90%
time to build
270 days
growth channels
Publicity stunts
best tools
ActiveCampaign, WordPress, Istockphoto
time investment
Full time
pros & cons
40 Pros & Cons
tips
2 Tips
Discover what tools Brendan reccommends to grow your business!
blog
stock images
Discover what books Brendan reccommends to grow your business!
Start A Health And Safety Training Business

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi, I’m Brendan Torazzi, the CEO of AlertForce. We are a health and safety compliance training business out of Sydney that delivers face to face and online training throughout Australia (and a little overseas also)

The main training we deliver tends to be license based meaning that they are permits for working. Things like Asbestos Removal, Traffic Control, Confined Space, Working at Heights, etc.

The business started in 2006 as something entirely different. I worked in the business on a day-to-day level until the end of 2016 when I started following some other business interests (more on that later). Training works in cycles depending on where the legislation falls and what the competitors are up to.

The peak was 2014-2016 where we were turning over almost $5 million per annum. Whilst we are not at that level now, the business is still highly profitable and my combined business interests mean that I’m making more profit overall than what I was back then. The other bonus of course is that I have my freedom - rich in time which is real wealth in my opinion.

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Family shot Oct 2021 from SeacliffHouse.com.au which is another family business - destination wedding venue 2 hours South of Sydney

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

So I started business as a teenager back in the 1980s. I was into music and promoted Ska bands (of which I was a member). I wasn’t very talented musically but I was good at getting gigs so I reckon that was the main reason I didn’t get kicked out of the band.

You need to have that belief in yourself that you are going to make it and go for your vision.

When I went to uni all I wanted to do was travel and become a rock star. The rock star thing didn’t work out, but in the interim, I started a small business making Japanese signs called Japoz Graphics at the time as a side hustle whilst the music career was taking off. The side hustle eventually became the main game and I ran that business (eventually called Global Village Translations) for about 10 years before selling it in 2001.

About two years later, I met a guy called Alex who had this idea about power napping in the workplace. We hit it off and I said Alex if you are serious, let’s jump on a plane to New York to explore this idea of napping. The business was called metronaps.com and they were generating a shit load of publicity out of the Empire State Building. In 2005, we returned with the Australasian rights to Metronaps.

We repeated the publicity that Metronaps in the States had done. We were media darlings to an extent and were featured in major newspapers, TV programs, and radio. Educating a new market though is hard work. We were successful to a degree in that we attracted some angel investment funding and sold a bunch of Metronaps units.

We also met the who’s who of the sleep world in Australia and one of those people we met tipped us off to some fatigue management legislation coming up that would mandate training for truck drivers. We jumped on that, built an online course, and in 2008 that was outstripping the revenue from Metronaps. We changed the name to AlertForce which was more representative of where we were heading.

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Take us through the process of building your business

I’ll focus on AlertForce. First of all, we had to find a Registered Training Organisation as a partner. We did that and agreed to split the revenue 50/50. We later found that with 2 working business partners (60%) and an angel investor (40%) and a fledgling new business there wasn’t that much to go around apart from wages and a small dividend.

That first course I built was done on autopilot - I had no idea what I was doing but somehow it all worked out. We used some e-learning software called Articulate and along with iStockPhoto pieced it all together. From my music days, I also had a fellow band member who did voiceover work, so I got him to record the script. There were a few all-nighters but the course was built in record time.

When we launched, pretty quickly we captured about 20% of the market. We captured the market by innovation. We were the first company to offer a solution online, and this suited the client base who were time-poor truck drivers working incredibly long hours. 20% of the market looked like about 2000 drivers in the first year. Our dollar investment in the course returned something like 50x on our capital. Wow, we were off to a good start.

We captured the market by good old-fashioned direct mail and follow-up phone calls. The transport companies had a problem and we had a cost-effective solution that also saved them operationally. After we got a few name companies, we were able to leverage other big names, as well as the industry, and started to talk that this was a great compliance solution.

There wasn’t one thing that happened. It was a series of feast and famine events but we knew we would eventually make it if we could hold on and be flexible.

The big lessons I learned from this first product were the power of being the first (innovation wins market share) and agility (don’t be wedded to a product that isn’t selling and be willing to change).

Describe the process of launching the business.

Things of course don’t always work out the way you planned, but often I’ve found the unwanted stuff becomes a true positive.

To get the original funding we just knocked on a lot of doors. I approached my old accountant, spoke to people in the industry, and also met with people who had seen us do public demos with the sleep pods. Eventually

Probably the biggest event was the timing of getting some angel investing. It was the eve of my first son’s birth and Alex and I had been looking for some funding for about 6 months. We finally inked a deal with a wealthy guy Mike who I had been doing his bookkeeping for as a part-time job. That was a real relief to be honest because we were running out of money and had no way of securing our first container load of napping pods.

We spent far too much money on the legal which effectively protected Mike but took a massive slug out of our funds (20%). So in hindsight, a simpler way of having an agreement would have been better.

Getting a hands-off funding partner was also critical because he let us make some mistakes but, eventually we were successful. Over time the next 12 months, I used some profits to buy Mike’s shares and became the 40% shareholder. The partnership with Alex ended and Mike and I went on to have a highly successful 10-year business partnership. There was no one single event that made the business work - it was just persistence and time and hard work which made the thing payoff. We were incredibly focused on living, breathing, and eating the business - how could we make it work? It was just time and trying new ideas and eventually, we got it moving.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

The things that we used then and still all the things I use in all my businesses now. It sounds like commonsense but here are the things we do:

  • Answer the phone and be happy to be contacted. Make every inbound call a celebration - be grateful that the phone is ringing - customers want you.
  • Free call numbers. I like using toll-free numbers so it costs your potential customers nothing to pick up the phone.
  • Make it national. Widen your outlook - don’t just make it your suburb or state - have a phone number so customers don’t necessarily know where you are. National customers have multiple locations and spend more money - they want one supplier.
  • Listen to your customers’ needs
  • Direct Marketing. Target potential clients regularly with useful information.
  • SEO. It’s made up of 3 important things - technical SEO, content, and backlinks.
  • Google ads. We use a professional ads person to get the best results.
  • Create a positive word of mouth by offering a great service
  • Reviews are hugely important. We like Google Reviews as Google is a trusted source. We ask suppliers, customers and family, and friends at the start to get lots of reviews.

i-built-a-health-safety-training-business-that-makes-1-8m-year-from-australia

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

So I would describe myself as a lifestyle entrepreneur. I tend to make decisions on what is going to improve my lifestyle for myself and my family rather than create more working hours. I also like the power of automation and leveraging technology to do the work for you. I don’t work day-to-day in any of my businesses although I do almost always have projects that I am working on to try and improve their profitability.

As I mentioned before the peak of AlertForce was almost $5 million turnovers. However, at that time my partner Mike was about a 40% shareholder. In 2016, I bought him out of the business as we hit some challenging times. From 2011 to 2016 when the business was profitable I invested all my dividends in the property. Those properties now represent passive (ish) income streams for our family. And the profits of the 4 income streams are greater than what it was when I was just slugging my guts out running AlertForce.

For example, in 2015 Seacliff House was purchased as a holiday house - it sits on 5 acres 2 hours south of Sydney. Gerringong Accommodation was not as popular as it is today. About 6 months after owning the property, we discovered that the agent had neglected to tell us that it had Council approval to do 52 weddings a year. In 2016 we had our first wedding. In 2017 we created the website and things just blew up from there on social media. Social media ended up doing most of the heavy lifting for the business. Customers were posting pics of their weddings with this incredible backdrop and then also their suppliers started posting that they had worked at Seacliff House. Without really trying a viral loop was created. It was simple maths. 100 people turned up to a wedding. A percentage of them posted socially. Then more people saw the venue and wanted to come and get married. Fast forward to today's big picture is 50 weddings a year, 100 people on average, many people posting socially. Needless to say, we don’t need to advertise because of word of mouth and social sharing.

See some examples from the Seacliff House homepage of how we use social proof. We feel it’s an irresistible combination - lots of reviews, lots of social sharing, and photos of guests having the time of their lives.

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We now are at capacity as a wedding and accommodation venue and book out typically 18 months ahead. Seacliff profit accounts for approx. 50% of the family’s income.

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Another property example is our place in Byron Bay called Bay Lane Penthouse. Again it was purchased as a lifestyle decision but also makes us money. It’s located near the beach and in the middle of town. We bought it to be close to family (my Dad and Sister live in a nearby suburb called Bangalow) and we are up there a lot. When we are not, it’s rented out to holidaymakers. It also generates fantastic returns and accounts for about 5% of our income. It’s a lifestyle asset in that it makes money and you get to enjoy it.

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AlertForce is the business with the most staff. It represents about 20-25% of the family’s income although I tend to leave it in the business at the moment for a rainy day.

The one which is coming up fast is OHS.com.au - my vision in 2022 is to turn it into a health and safety training marketplace. The strategy here is to use partnerships. I’ve teamed up with an SEO guy who specializes in marketplaces. He is working on a revenue share basis. Marketplaces take a lot of work to get going. You need the right balance of suppliers and customers. Suppliers are reluctant to come on board when there is no traffic and customers so I plan to onboard them free of charge and probably start free commission on the first few months of sales to get the site working. The more suppliers you have, the more their competitors will want to jump on. We will start focusing on a geographical area first and certain types of training. Once we have mastered that area we will move to the next.

This was another accidental business. I purchased the domain in 2014 from a guy who had started it in 1999 and was retiring. I paid $50K for it and many years I could not get it going. In 2019, I tried to have one last go and put a whole series of online courses on it using Shopify as my platform.

The SEO gods must have been smiling because the working at heights online training just seems to take off. It was just all one big accident and def, not a grand design. Today it makes as much money as AlertForce but has no direct staff and runs all off SEO pretty much. We sell about 500 courses a month. The plan is to grow this in 2022 by 5-10X and then look at selling the business by the end of 2024.

Of course, if the business sale doesn’t work out, I’ll keep it and continue to derive a healthy income from a bigger business.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I’ve always found that the best businesses for me have never been planned. They’ve just landed in my lap without too much effort. The ones I’ve tried to make happen don’t tend to work out as well.

Some examples of this are;

  • Discovering online training and getting 20% of the market despite not having any experience in training
  • The holiday house at Seacliff turned into a full-scale commercial wedding business without any plan to do so
  • OHS.com.au suddenly started to make 25% of the families income by accident after 5 years of trying to make something happen

So I tend to just let things happen business-wise. It doesn’t mean I don’t have goals and aspirations, but I tend to think about them and then try not to be too attached to the outcomes. So far it always seems to work out for the best, even when unwanted things in business often happen.,

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

AlertForce and Seacliff House are built on WordPress.

OHS.com.au is built on shopify.

We use Active Campaign for all three businesses

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I listen to podcasts quite a lot depending on what interests me at the time. I’m into meditation, travel, crypto, surfing, life stories, and business.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

When I was younger starting in the AlertForce business I had a motto on being successful. That was Success = Time + Effort. You need to have that belief in yourself that you are going to make it and go for your vision.

Things of course don’t always work out the way you planned, but often I’ve found the unwanted stuff becomes a true positive. This is especially true if you believe that everything happens for a positive learning reason.

The other thing that I would underline for success is to invest in the things that have a non-material value. Your health, your family, your friends. I would say your health is the most important thing in your life because, without it, you can’t be operating at your full potential and therefore can’t be of maximum use or benefit to those you love around you. And when I see health, I mean physical health, but also mental health.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We have just hired again for Seacliff House as our business there is full to the brim with holiday and wedding stays every day until the middle of next year.

AlertForce is looking to hire a compliance training person.

OHS.com.au is also partnering with an SEO agency to turn that business into a health and safety training marketplace.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you would like to hear the full story as a podcast click below

  • Brendan’s story with Tim Reid on the EO Podcast

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Brendan Torazzi   Founder of AlertForce
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

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