When I launched People’s Property Shop in 2012, I intended on pursuing a vision of a ‘housing benefit friendly letting agency’.
I didn’t need market research to tell me the lettings sector was buoyant, but it really took me by surprise how few agents were offering a specialised service, particularly within Greater Manchester. I knew nothing whatsoever about business, my educational ship having sailed well before I was scheduled to sit my GCSE’s; however I was determined, focused and keen to learn. Anyway, an entrepreneurial spirit cannot be taught!
Having worked within local authority housing for most of my life, I knew homelessness was dramatically increasing. I also knew the private rented sector was experiencing its boom period. Surely there was a way to interlink the two? I had this incredible feeling I that I was onto something, even though everyone around me thought I was deluded.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, I faced my fears and pressed ahead; certain that with my knowledge and experience I could at the very least provide a service which had a real USP.
Unfortunately, as any new business owner knows, during the start-up period, your well-crafted plans and projections may as well be torn up and re-written on a daily basis. In order to thrive (and even just to survive!) it’s essential to continually evolve and meet the ever-changing needs of your customers. I learnt some very valuable lessons during this stage.
Lesson number 1. Business is tough.
Lesson number 2. Business is even tougher if you decide to open a ‘housing-benefit friendly letting agency’. Alone.
I was lucky to be entering a field where my skills were in hot demand - there weren’t yet many other council escapees doing the rounds and giving (much needed) support in the private rented sector - and so I became quite busy quite quickly, just by offering advisory-type services to landlords in distress. Combining research findings with public sector knowledge meant I found it fairly easy to design systems which greatly simplified the process of letting to vulnerable people, something which I found in-turn created a huge cost benefit to investors.
After attending many, many excruciating business and property networking events (where I would spend more time hyperventilating in the toilet than speaking to any of the other attendees) I had success – and houses on the books for the vulnerable people I so desperately wanted to house. I still had no awareness that I was running a socially focused business, genuinely thinking I was simply a ‘business owner with a heart’.
Entering the profit-driven private rented sector soon taught me this wasn't how most people did business. Wow, property is brutal for the new kid on the block. It was a mental, physical and emotional challenge like I’d never experienced before.
Although the work I was undertaking brought huge challenges, risk and responsibility, I relished the opportunity to have freedom in the way I worked. When I was unsure of something, I found the answer. When things went wrong, I took the blame. When things worked well, it gave me an enormous sense of pride and satisfaction.
Despite the hurdles and hiccups along the way – I remember the launch of C4's 'Benefits Street' being a particular highlight - I’ve somehow ended up still here and still happy (most of the time!) three years later.
Of course, there have been some truly hairy moments along the way. Stroppy transvestite teenagers, violent psychotic breakdowns, intercepted housing benefit payments and the filing of restraining orders - all in a day’s work during the start-up phase, and these were just the landlords ;) I keep telling myself that the beauty of encountering outlandish and difficult situations is that I'm totally prepared to fight fire with fire for the next time I (inevitably) run into the same problem all over again...
I now know that being a social entrepreneur is no easy task; it has taken me a few years of haemorrhaging money, countless knockbacks and a river of tears - to even find out I am one of these people! If you are one too, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
I hope we can support each other along the way.
Thanks for reading!