Like many businesses, every aspect of the property industry has been severely impacted by this unprecedented time. By late 2019 I was, in all honestly, a little battle weary by the sector. I’d ridden the wave of 2010 until 2017 and then the perfect storm of landlord tax changes, stamp duty increases and the Brexit vote had taken its toll on my property strategy. Of course I was also suffering a loss on some of my earlier gains, on paper anyway.
I run a boutique property developer building out 105 homes across nine sites in central, east and west London. Following the election in December house prices were experiencing something of a “Boris-bounce” and I’d started to feel optimistic about securing some much-needed property sales. And then the coronavirus spread and brought the whole industry to a screeching halt. In my view the COVID19 pandemic provided a neat bookend to what was a challenging economic period for the property industry.
There isn’t a single part of the property sector that hasn’t been hit hard by the lockdown. Whole estate agencies, law firms, construction companies and more have furloughed whole teams. People can’t move home, bank valuations can’t be undertaken and construction sites remain closed.
Like most people, the first two weeks of lockdown were spent coming to grips with this new normal. Much like the process of grieving, I was stuck in the denial stage unsure what was required from me and, more importantly, what was acceptable. Many were blasted publicly for their insensitivity in continuing to market their businesses-as-usual at a time when it was anything but.
The new normal and new winners
As I reflected on what was going on and how businesses were reacting to the economic meltdown there were clear winners shining through the wreckage – those with a viable online offering. We all heard about the big companies booming like Netflix and Zoom, but individuals like Joe Wicks (PE classes for school children), Cat Meffan (online yoga and meditation), Sháá Wasmund, MBE (entrepreneur training and support) – those who already had solid online video training offerings are also winning. It’s no fluke that ads for online training are flashing up on your phone, these often solo-preneurs are winning right now too.
The big question was how could I apply these strategies to what I was doing? A couple of days of auditing my business, my goals and, most importantly, my passions allowed me to work out some areas I could work on to add a viable online offering to my business. I also reflected on my longer term goals. While I am passionate about building beautiful homes in London and the south east, it doesn’t fit with my five year goal of living aboard a yacht with my partner and sailing the south Pacific.
While some are calling time on the era of the influencer what the influencer economy has taught us is that it’s no longer enough to be just an accountant, or just an estate agent or just a makeup artist. Those who really won over the last decade are those who build their personal brand. I’m not talking about the Kardashians here but regular people like Antony Slumbers (commercial real estate consultant), Henry Pryor (home buying agent) and Katie Smith (award winning bricklayer).
I’ve been banging the personal branding drum since 2016 and thankfully have built up somewhat of a following across social media; nearly 46,000 followers on Instagram, 34,000 on LinkedIn, 13,000 on Twitter and just under 8,000 on Facebook. However my strategy for posting on these platforms had been haphazard and lacking intent and purpose – two factors I need to add if I too am going to be relevant in the new economy.
One of the good things to come out of this lockdown is that we’re all realising something I’ve known for a long time – we have too many meetings! I despise (most) meetings and find them inefficient. I have to do my hair and makeup and leave the house for a start. Now I’ve moved to the countryside (which is fantastic during a lockdown) it takes me at least an hour and half to get anywhere. Video meetings are also quicker and more succinct. We get through all we want to get through in at least half the time of a face to face. Another efficiency saving! Now we’re not meeting, commuting (or putting on our makeup and doing our hair) we have time to be productive.
The next thing I did was look at the parts of my business that I enjoy the most. They include writing, podcasting and speaking. Writing is an easy one to do remotely, it can be done from anywhere with space and power for my laptop. Podcasting just requires a good WiFi signal (which might prove a problem on a boat but not for the next few years). The public speaking conundrum was interesting to consider.
I’d interviewed public speaker, sports psychologist and corporate trainer Jamil Qureshi in late March. Prior to February he was boarding a plane a couple of times a week for destinations across the globe to deliver training for large multinationals. Overnight planes were grounded and his business dried up. Jamil was quick to contact his clients and offer them video content which they paid for once and were free to repurpose as often as they pleased. While it did impact his revenues, it has now opened up a whole new business for him where one previously didn’t exist. One he can continue alongside his “in-person” speaking when it is again possible.
I’ve also been working on my speaking business over the last month and have secured speaking opportunities in Dubai and Toronto later this year. What’s needed to secure these often lucrative gigs is a clear message of what you will be delivering to the attendees and what they will get from your talk. Previously my talks had all been on property and my property journey. Now that I am moving away from the built environment to something more virtual my topic or theme also needs to evolve. That’s where #reboundfromsetback came about.
I’ve had the trifecta of problems over the last few years, personally with divorce and a big city move, and then professionally with big loss resulting from fraudulent activity in my investment portfolio combined with dwindling asset values.
The good thing about telling the stories of setback is that they are followed by stories of success. It became clear to me over recent weeks is that this was the topic and theme I was qualified and passionate about sharing. It doesn’t have to define me forever, but it accurately sums up where I am now. It also rings true for so many others right now. Our world is going through a huge economic setback but, we will rebound! Just look at any investment chart of stock market indices or property cycles – they recover.
Now I had homed in on my goals, explored my passions and found my theme I needed to know how to implement it. That’s where I am now. I am using this period of time while my children are busy attending school via remote learning to do the same. I’m exploring developing online courses, hosting webinars, membership groups, email lists and growing my social media followings. I’ve even used this time to learn how to edit videos for a (near) professional finish and launched a new YouTube channel, SailingSavvy, following my family’s sailing adventures aboard my partner’s boat, Savvy of London.
After a six month hiatus I’ve relaunched my podcast as the #ReboundFromSetback podcast and am exploring new collaborations with other top podcasters (Look out for Two Women and a Mic with me and Sháá Wasmund soon). Now I’ve experienced also property fraud and misappropriation of funds within my companies I’m well qualified to launch an exciting new podcast warning others on all the ways you can lose money in property at the hands of those less scrupulous.
On the writing side I have regular columns with Modern Woman and Development Finance Today magazines. Following the success of my first book in 2017, Bricking It, I have at least two more books in me and one nearly completed manuscript ready for publication later this year.
All this is a lot of work, granted, and I’m not sure what is going to gain traction and what will fail spectacularly. What I do know is that they’re all areas I’m deeply passionate about so I’ll have a great time working on them alongside my traditional property business. The important thing here is that I believe it will go a long way towards futureproofing my career. Once I have proven what works and, more importantly, what doesn’t, I hope I can work with others to help them implement these futureproofing strategies into their own careers.
This will be the fourth time I’ve pivoted in my career. I started out in banking as an associate analyst, a role I was completely unsuited for. I then tried my hand at online fashion before stopping to have children and briefly returning to banking. It was between children that the idea of property development came to the fore. This now is my next iteration and one that I’m incredibly excited about. Not only does it allow me to grow a business around times that suit, it gives me the flexibility to grow it as big or small as I want it to be. And hopefully from aboard a yacht somewhere very warm and very blue.
My point here is that yes, change can be a frightening prospect. But if you remain open minded and flexible and listen to what you really want, there is an online business in us all. I’m looking forward to hearing from you what you have decided to pursue and what lessons you have learned from what really are unprecedented times.