How to escape a corporate environment: Rowan Waller
“You don't have to do very well to do very well”
Whether it’s through the fear of failure, entrenched comfort in a high-paying role, or a lack of self-belief, I’d guess that the vast majority of fantastic small businesses remain in the minds of their creator. Whilst nerves get the better of most of us at times, there are some people that seem like they were born ready to break away from their positions in a large corporation and start their own name from scratch.
Rowan Waller talks with unwavering confidence. As an independent estate agent with over a decade’s experience in the industry, I wasn’t exactly expecting a nervous wreck, but when he explains his outlook it’s clear that I’m speaking to a man who knows what he’s talking about.
“When your customer signs up to an estate agent, they want to see their sale go through smoothly, be looked after, and feel like they've been fairly treated and that someone has actually acted in their interests to get the job done. That's what people want when they sign up with the estate agent but usually it's not what people get.”
It wasn’t always this straightforward, though, as before establishing Wallers of Oxford in September 2014, Rowan worked at odds with the practices at one of the UK’s leading high-street chains, leaving him exasperated with the attitude and sales practices that can come with large corporations.
“To me it had come to feel less like a traditional estate agency and more like a telesales operation, which was effectively what it was. Although my title may have been 'manager', I didn't really feel like I was managing anything as I was being told what to do from above, which often meant having to do things that I disliked or disagreed with. Despite that title of ‘manager’ I didn’t have the power to deviate from a strict company line, which didn’t sit well with someone who had their own ideas. For example, putting good staff on probation simply because of the figures in one month, without looking at the bigger picture; or the fact that the most important target had become a specific number of phone calls per day per person, but rather than targeting those to book viewings on properties for sale, it was: ‘here's 10,000 people who have ever registered with the company that have got a property that they own, give them a call and see if they want to have a valuation carried out’. What I mean is, always about the next new instruction, and I felt the focus was missing from selling the properties that we were already entrusted with, which I believe has to be the top priority for any estate agency.”
Lots, perhaps most, people who work in large-structured organisations become frustrated with the faceless numbers-based perspective that many of them adopt. But taking the plunge into launching your own business can be an incredibly nerve-wracking experience. Was it the same for Rowan?
“No, it was absolutely liberating. There's nothing better. The best thing about what I've done is that I don't have to go and sit in an office for the sake of it at 8:00 in the morning and not leave until six in the evening. Now, perhaps I'm sometimes instead working until midnight or even beyond, but equally, it's under my control, and I can choose what I do, how I do it, what time of day I do it. I can choose to do what needs to be done, which means that I can be much more flexible. So if someone needs me to go out at 8 o’ clock at night and do a valuation then of course I'm willing to because it's my business. If someone needs a viewing on a Sunday afternoon, that's my business. It matters as much to me, in a way, as it does to the customer selling.”
So why was it such a simple decision? There’s an old cliché that “successful people start before they are ready”, and if you spend too long covering every single angle then you often don’t take the risks required to succeed. It seems like in this case, if not in his lack of nerves, that Rowan fits the typical mould of a prosperous entrepreneur.
“It was a total accident. It was a sudden cataclysmic epiphany that I no longer wanted to work for ‘A.N. Other’ company any more, and the only solution was to go and do something by myself. I had to very, very quickly think about what model to take, what route to go down. For example, do I launch a high street branch, which is the model I knew very well, or do I do something that's much more modern and go virtual? I'm effectively offering a traditional high street service, but on a virtual level to a local marketplace. I had to think about it and I had to think about it quickly, but being experienced and knowing estate agency inside-out made that planning process a lot easier.”
Almost all articles about launching a business will highlight the stress and perseverance required to make your start-up succeed. Corporate environments guarantee a paycheck at the end of the month, whereas when you work for yourself, your income completely depends on your sales revenue. What naysayers will look over, though, is how you have none of the running costs that large businesses have so, in Rowan’s words, “you don't have to do very well to do very well”. Knowing your market and what your customers want will take the uncertainty out of the process.
“I know that when I sit in front of people I can explain the model and what I do. Even from a standing start, I was able to get myself in front of people, whose curiosity had been pricked by this different option of Wallers being available, and particularly in light of our fee which is very competitive. People would say "you do use Rightmove don't you?", and I’d say "yes of course, and not only will I put your property on Rightmove, I'll give you a premium listing and professional photography on top". And people started to give me a shot, and hey, it worked. That was enough, quickly enough, to get me through the first six months and then the second six months I've flown away with it, basically.”
If you’re a consistent high-performer in a large corporation and feel like you’ve got the skills do it better on your own, you’re probably right. If Rowan’s reputation as one of the best independent agents in the county (after just one year in business) is anything to go by, then it’s clear that you can reap the rewards of gaining industry knowledge whilst working in a large business by pushing forward on your own.
Interested in using Rowan’s services? Visit wallersofoxford.co.uk
- Jack Rayner
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