Tuesday 30 September 2014

Managing my home budget to save costs when the business first opens


I've been looking at my finances, and how I can make them a little leaner for the first few months of the Estate Agency, when the income column will be at zero, or just above.  Family outgoings are a major concern of mine in relation to the cost of setting up an estate agency.  I currently have a full-time income that covers all of these costs with a little left over at the end of every month.  I would err on the side of caution with when the income starts to flow, and I think that probably 6 months is a good estimate for the process of-

  • setting up the agency
  • gaining instructions
  • getting a sale agreed
  • avoiding any fall-throughs
  • completing the sale
On that basis, I have adapted my current spreadsheet as follows-

Date Who How much First few months of estate agency
1st Kids swimming lessons £38.00           £38.00
2nd Income Protection £21.44           £0.00
2nd TV licence £12.18           £12.18
3rd Car Insurance 1 £23.95           £20.00
3rd Water £43.28           £43.28

5th Pension £60.00           £0.00
8th Car Insurance 2 £26.04           £26.04
8th Home Insurance £15.80           £15.80
9th Critical Illness Insurance £45.15           £45.15
10th TV & Broadband Package £96.35           £50.00
15th Council Tax £137.00           £137.00
15th Gas & Electric £120.00           £100.00

25th Life Assurance £15.32           £15.32
25th Mobile Phone Bill £23.20           £28.00

  TOTAL £677.35           £530.41
Savings Account £100.00           £0.00
I S A £100.00           £0.00
Petrol £80.00           £80.00
Car account £20.00           £20.00
Sundries £50.00           £0.00
Total Extras £350.00           £100.00
New full total £1,027.35           £630.41

I can save on the extra savings I put aside, such as the pension, savings accounts and ISA, as these can be restarted when my income returns.

I can save on the TV by switching from the all-singing-all-dancing package I currently have to a more toned-down version or a cheaper supplier than Sky.  Anyway, I hopefully won't have enough time for TV!

My sundries is for snacks, drinks and meals when I'm out at work currently, but with the home office, these will all be taken at home from the food budget (the wife's department!)

The savings of £396.94 per month will provide a cushion in the first few months of the business while my attention is elsewhere, and I won't want the worry of having to focus on the day-to-day running of the house.

I don't know how I feel about laying this budget bare on the internet for all to see (should they want to) but in myself it aids the organisation of my life around the business and allows me to move forward in terms of control and understanding of where I want to be and need to be to make this business as successful as I possibly can.  It has also crystalised a discussion I had with my wife earlier today - I thought about opening the agency today, and then trying to piece it together as I went along.  I now know that I want it to be opened fully up-and-running and ready to trade from day 1.  So preparation is the key.
Budget Planners from Amazon

Monday 29 September 2014

Is it a full-time job to set up a full-time business?


I've often heard the phrase "finding a full-time job is a full-time job" but is starting a full-time business a full-time job?

I currently work 37.5 hours per week, add in lunch breaks and commutes then I'm out if the house for work just over 9 hours a day. Now regular readers will know that I'm looking at moving location with my employer and this will increase the time out of the house. Given the fact that I have a wife, 2 children and other commitments, do I leave myself enough time to go about setting up my estate agency?

These are all really rhetorical questions and are to get me thinking as much as anyone who reads this, but the point of open g an estate agency is because I believe that I'm very good at it and that I can do it far better than my competitors.

Am I doing myself and my fledgling business a disservice by not allowing enough time to be spent on setting it up properly?

I still don't know whether I think that the remaining 238 days I have set myself are a really short period of time or a really long period of time, in fact I regularly flit between the 2 states of mind.

Simple maths-

238 days /7 = 34 weeks

Every other week I have a day off in the week when the kids are ar school, and these are the best days to get anything done. This applies from 9am to 3pm.

Every week I start late on a Tuesday, so I get approximately 2.5 hours there to spend.

This is 11 hours per fortnight, so an average of 5.5 hours per week, so a rough total of 187 hours. Then take away the weeks where the kids are not at school, so it may be down to 150 hours.

It is clear to me that this isn't enough, even adding in extra for late evenings and  holiday days.

So, what's the answer? I need to pay the bills, feed the kids, etc but the long-term view is that I work for myself, work the hours I want and be happier and better off.

Monthly budgeting tomorrow. I'll show you my workings out.
Amazon Gift Certificates for business

Saturday 27 September 2014

How will I dress? How will I project myself?


have a question

What voice to use when dealing with customers?

Now I know this may seem like an odd question, but bear with me because I think it's an important consideration. I have met many, many estate agents and I think I know part of the problems that the industry faces in terms of image. We haven't found our voices yet.

It's a problem that not only estate agents face, it's a problem that occurs in many industries. There are so many estate agents that want, need, desire to be seen as estate agents. There are certain characteristics-

The suit
The tie
The language
The 'professionalism'

And all of these make estate agents seem similar, without distinction, just the same.

After reading a book called The Cluetrain Manifesto, I can see where these similarities come from. Corporate estate agents require a certain standard of dress, they impose a certain way if talking about the market, they want you to have the same customer experience if you buy from them in Aberdeen or in Brighton. It's like the McDonalds of the estate agency world.

As individual people, I need to find my individual voice at work. As an independent estate agent I will be able choose what I wear to work, yet I've been thinking about wearing a suit and tie. Is it what the customer expects? But the customer expects me to sell their house. The customer expects nothing else. Everything else is window dressing.

What you say is even more important than what you wear, but I still hear agent after agent speaking in bland, industry-expected language - most of which will make you sound like the next agent, a lot of which won't mean anything to your customers, some of which your customer won't understand. So why do we do it? 

"It's what the customer expects."

I've made a conscious decision to be smart, but not necessarily a suit, and if a suit then not necessarily a tie. A smart pair of trousers, a pressed shirt and a smart quality jumper will do some days. I will be speaking as myself, rather than trying to project an image of what I think the customer expects an estate agent to be. Oh and I'll try to cut out the jargon.
Wine offers from Amazon - including Help For Heroes charity wine cases

Don't give up the day job…yet


After a day dedicated to nothing but my day job (day 241 to go) I'm back at work a full day again today. I have spoken to my line manager and asked for a transfer to another location, to try to ease my stress at working in poor conditions here.

The established, experienced core of the team are all disgruntled, to say the least, at the structure and leadership at present and all are looking at alternatives. The replacements as people leave are generally young girls, in the mould of the manager, and have been unreliable and of a poor standard. My employer pays poorly, has a poor reputation and offers no immediate career prospects, so it can be difficult to attract quality applicants.

I await the response from other locations in the region that are looking for staff, at what can be a busy time for the retail industry.

All part of keeping my sanity and preserving my work/life balance when I need to use my 'off-work' time in the most fruitful way possible.

This leads to my next quest - a timetable of events for the next 240 days to ensure I'm ready.

The NEW Amazon Fire phone

Thursday 25 September 2014

Clearing out my garage to make way for a home office


I have taken on the task of clearing out 20 years worth of junk from my garage top make it a cleaner, safer area to set up a home office, so I can work in peace when I need to.  It did not all get cleared away today, as there was much more rubbish in there than I first feared.  eBay has found itself with the following items for sale added to it's already bulging inventory-

  • 6 used (but still working) radiators
  • 2 lampshades
  • a king-size bed
  • a wardrobe
  • a dining room table
  • countless soft toys and kids clothes
  • a car radio
  • 40 books
  • 4 louvre rails, including 1 for a bay window
If you need any of this stuff then just get in touch!

The initial idea is that I have a refuge for when the kids are at home, somewhere that I can use to send emails, make calls and be creative.  It will also be the base for any other activities that I carry out, such as the blog, any photography work I get and my other business selling books and games online via Amazon and eBay.  It won't receive clients, as my estate agency will be online, so it can be my "den" where I can surround myself with things that inspire and comfort me.

It's a single-shell brick-built garage, and I live in a wet part of the UK, so the first step is to get it empty, get the floor, walls and ceiling interior sealed and check the roof (although I think it's in a pretty good state.)  From there I will decide how much time and money I want to put towards insulating the inside and then the interior decoration will be quite minimal, based on what I already own plus anything I find at car boot sales or online.  Basic comfort, plus the ability to be able to work in peace are the important considerations.

Once all the items are sold or disposed of, then I can start on preparing the interior.

Home Office furniture options from Amazon

Field trip to practice some techniques learnt from my photography course


I've been into town to practice some of the techniques that I have been learning at my night school photography course.  I tries to create 2 types of photo based on adjusting the shutter speed on the camera.

The first is based on a quick shutter speed, to capture a split second in the movement of something quick.

I did struggle in a city to find something to get close enough to, to capture the essence of the technique, but I'm quite pleased with this effort from a distance.  Sunday will bring a trip to the seaside to try some more similar shots of the sea and the kids running through the sand.

The second photo is using a slow shutter speed to create an exposure that captures the essence of movement, rather than a split second in time.

I know it's quite derivative, and I haven't found my own style yet, but I like the ability to use the techniques I have learnt to gain the confidence in my skills before looking for my own style.  I have ordered a tripod from Amazon to ensure that all of the movement is in the subject, not in the camera.

Once I have the tripod, I will be able to take longer exposure photographs with more confidence.

Wednesday 24 September 2014

First work using learnings from my photography course


This is the first of my work on depth of view/depth of field after my first two photography classes.  The idea is that the closest flower is in complete focus and the shallow depth of field leaves the other flowers out of focus/blurred in the background.

And I've gone for the same effect when photographing my eldest, here. He appears so much closer than the sofa he is sitting on, and the rest of the background.

And my final effort with roses from the garden.

I am using this course and the grasp of basic techniques to look at how I might develop my style and how I might make the most of the marketing photos I will use when I open my estate agency.  I'm off into town tomorrow, so I'll look at using some more of this week's techniques there.

Don't forget that all of these have been taken with the Canon EOS 1200D DSLR camera.

The issue of my current employment


This is a quick post, and more of a sounding board and open question (probably to myself.)

I am struggling to motivate myself to work for someone else at the moment. In the big picture, I work for a multinational retailer. In the small picture I work for a boss who has been parachuted in from the graduate programme and doesn't know either the business or how to manage people.

I am thinking about a reduction in hours (from full-time) or a change in location (temporary relief from my manager) to maintain sanity for the next 244 days.

A full-time salary will come in useful, but not to the point where it may detriment the amount of time I can spend on settng up the estate agency.

A change of scene would keep me fresh in the run up to retail Christmas and provide a welcome distraction from the in-depth rigours of setting up my own business in my spare time.

I think I'll go and have a chat with my line manager. I'll keep you posted.
Name Your Link

Tuesday 23 September 2014

I've enrolled in a photography course to improve my marketing photos


I have started a photography course at the local college on a Monday evening, so last night was my 2nd lesson.  The reason I have taken the course is so I can learn some basic and then more advanced techniques for the marketing photos I will use when selling my clients property.

The first 2 lessons are of a rather basic nature, but it is about understanding the fundamentals of photography and learning all about my camera, so that I can take the photos I want.  It’s all about telling the camera what I can see and what I want it to capture.  I have the theory locked away, regarding the setting of shutter aped and aperture to get the right amount of light into the lens and to create the perfect exposure.  Next step is to put it into practice, where I need to attempt to produce the following effects-
  • ·        Changing the aperture to create different depth of view shots
  • ·        Trying a long shutter speed to capture movement in an exposure
  • ·        Trying a very fast shutter speed to capture a split second in time of a moving object

I’ll post the results on here, so we can monitor my progress over the 20+ weeks of the course.

The camera I have bought to create all my photographs is a Canon EOS 1200D DSLR camera and I think for the level of photography I will reach and need it is more than adequate.  It came with an 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens, which will be sufficient for all but the wide-angle lens shots that I will create both on the course, and for the agency.

It's early days, yet but if you're looking for a reasonably-priced entry-level DSLR then I can heartily recommend it.

Reading marketing books to spark my creative brain


I've taken on a lot of reading this weekend to get my brain going and start some ideas processes relating to my estate agency.

The main area I've looked at is marketing and how the business sits in the market.

I've read two books this weekend-

Brilliant Marketing by Richard Hall


The Cluetrain Manifesto by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger

Brilliant Marketing is a good starter book to get ideas about the process of marketing your business or products. It's probably meant more for someone who works in the marketing industry (particularly a marketing department of a large company or a large consultancy) but there are ideas there that will spark your interest and get your process in order.

I have taken ideas from the book regarding how I should look at the marketing of my business.

1- Setting out what makes us different
2- Deciding what my market is
3- Deciding where my market converse

I am different for many reasons, and I have decided to make a list of what I think sets me apart and to ask friends and family what they would want from an estate agent, from the list. I'm also going to look into the Survey Monkey site to see if I can set up a survey to assess the same, but with a wider audience. Twitter, Facebook and my blog will probably be the forums for this activity.

My market is firstly the town I'll be operating in, but I want to define it further. I will operate as a sales and lettings agent, but I think that with the marketing techniques I'll be using and the overwhelming emphasis I'll put on customer service, I want to be targeting the middle to top end if the market. I want to just concentrate on my town as well. I see many agents that sell in  satellite towns but I really want to establish myself as the expert in MY town.

Where my market converse is a slightly trickier one, as I won't have a High Street office - I'm going to operate as a local online agent. I'm looking into renting/borrowing window space from a retailer in the local High Street, but I feel that online has more mileage than offline in today's market. I have set up 2 online ventures today that I think will assist me in my quest to direct local online traffic to my website. I have set up a Facebook page for the town and a blog on the housing market in the town.  My intention is that the first is a conduit for local people to discuss local issues and the second to establish my voice as an authority on the housing market in the area.

I see modern marketing of a property as a partnership between the expertise of the agent and the reach via social media of the vendor.

First day done!

245 days to open an estate agency

In 245 days, I intend to open my own estate agency. I have developed ideas, formulated plans, blogged on estate agency matters and conversed on topics relating to estate agency matters but until today I've not taken any steps towards actually starting the business or the opening the agency, but today here goes…

I'll keep you updated on the different steps I take during the process, the ideas I have to make my agency different and any hints and tips I can share for anyone else interested in taking this journey.

For the sake of the anonymity of the others in my account and to not give a competitive advantage to the other agents in my town, I won't be naming the town I live in, which is the town I'll be opening in.