6 things to consider when starting your estate and letting agency

7 September 2022

Chris Toynbee, Director and co-founder at Gray & Toynbee, breaks down six of the top things that agents should know when starting their own lettings business.

I used to work for myself before falling into a role at an estate agency. Going back to being an employee is a tricky transition. You're already used to making your own decisions and being the master of your own destiny - so I always knew I'd end up running my own business again in the future.

My business partner and I were starting completely fresh when we set up our new lettings agency, Gray & Toynbee. All in all, it took us around four to five months, from conception to launch day. Here are just a few of the challenges we overcame and hoops we had to jump through to get our business off the ground.

1. Define your Unique Selling Point

First, we wanted to establish how we'd stand out - what would be our unique selling point, or USP? Selling or letting a home is the same process, by and large, for everyone. So, how could we come across differently to our competitors?

There's a danger, particularly in the local market that we work in, to make lettings sound like a really complicated and grandiose profession when, actually, it's not anymore. Yes, there are processes that you go through and there are boxes to tick, but what we do isn't particularly complex.

We decided that we wanted to demystify it and remove that layer of smoke and mirrors, simplify it for all of our clients. That would be what makes us stand out.

2. Establish your branding

Armed with our USP, we were faced with a lot of questions that needed answers. What did we want to call ourselves? What did we want our brand to look like? Who are we as a business?

Distilling that down into a paragraph or two to sit on the website was quite tricky, but it helped us to define what we wanted to achieve as a business and how we wanted to portray ourselves.

We needed to make sure that our brand and website reflect who we are, as our digital shop front, so we used a marketing agency to help us with the branding, how we come across, and then the words to convey all of that.

3. Invest in office space

We did ask ourselves initially if we needed a physical office. We decided that having that presence was really important as a new business.

It took us a long time to find our premises, negotiate the lease term, and to then do a lot of work to make it how we wanted it to look. We're on a corner, on a junction. People often stop in their cars at the lights and they look in so it's the best advertising because we have a permanent presence with our name on it, on a busy road.

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4. Plan for future growth

As a new business, we had the opportunity to handpick each piece of software to help us do our jobs in the best way. This is key for any business, but it becomes even more essential when just starting out. Making wise decisions can help a two-man team do the work of four or five.

We chose software packages that could help us scale pretty quickly, such as Goodlord and our property management software. We have a pretty solid roadmap for the business in our first 12 months. We hope we can achieve it.

5. Gain exposure and landlords

Once we launched the business, a challenge we encountered was getting people through the door to give us a chance to speak to potential new clients, as a brand new brand.

The more you have on the market, the more boards you get up and the more exposure you have - but getting those first properties is the difficult part. We spent what budget we had on marketing in the right manner, so that we could increase our exposure. Thankfully, we started off with a small portfolio of properties from day one.

We also invested fairly heavily in property portals, so that, even if we didn't have listings on there from the outset, we had a presence. Getting that initial visibility is a challenge for any new business, but particularly in a crowded marketplace.

6. Expect the unexpected

We discovered that you need to ensure you plan well to avoid surprises - but you should always expect surprises, regardless.

The market took us by surprise when we started. Cambridge is renowned for being pretty busy, but when we put our first property on the market, we couldn't believe the volume of phone calls.

We were expecting a fairly slow start, since we were a new business. The processes and systems we had in place were tested and we had to build our team faster than anticipated, to deal with what the market was throwing at us.

We learned to not be too disheartened when things didn't go exactly to plan because more often than not, another opportunity was waiting just around the corner.

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