How I Built Two Successful Businesses in Two Very Different Sectors

In 2001, along with three hard-working (and hard-drinking) South Africans, I set up a removal company called Wise Moves in Acton, West London.

We started in a borrowed van with a £50 job.

Three years later, we had turned over £500,000 in a calendar year and had eight vehicles of different sizes.

But I realised that the removal business wasn’t for me. So, I sold my share to the South Africans, took garden leave, and began a new career as a junior journalist, on work experience, aged 32. (Long story.)

My venture into removals was a huge, life-changing success. And without blowing my own trumpet, our Estate Agent Content Club is currently very successful. But in between those, I’ve had some wilderness years and a lack of motivation.

On the face of it, these two businesses – one moving people, one marketing estate agencies – have nothing in common. But that old cliché ‘success leaves clues’ is true – the things I did in both businesses can be applied to running an estate agency or any other type of enterprise.

Here are seven things I did that transcend industry sectors and might help you run your agency a little better.

  1. Go for it. When we set up the removal company, we went for it. We put all the money we had into it – which wasn’t much. But more importantly, we gave it 100%, seven days a week for the first 12 months. POINT – When you don’t have a Plan B, you must bring your A-game.
  2. Don’t listen to doom merchants. When I told a couple of people I was setting up a removal company, I can vividly recall one of them saying, “you’ve got no chance, have you seen how many removal companies are in the north-west London Yellow Pages?” My belief was there were loads of removal companies, but there weren’t lots of outstanding ones, which was what we were determined to be. POINT – Who you listen to matters. I have only three people I will really listen to when it comes to the business side of life.
  3. Check the comp. The very first thing I did after I shook hands on a four-way split with my Afrikaner amigos was to research our local competition. I called at least ten companies, with five of them coming around to give me a quote on a phantom move. From this, I learnt absolutely loads. Most weren’t punctual. Five to ten minutes late seemed the norm. They were either scruffy or suited – we wanted something in between with our look, smart casual but with everything branded. And the BIG thing I learnt helped us win on average 75% of quotes we gave – more on that below. POINT – What are your rivals up to? What are their weak spots you can target?
  4. Find the gap. My mystery shopping gave us one incredible insight. None of the companies who quoted got back to me quickly. This was 2001, so email was emerging, but the companies I dealt with weren’t using it well or relied on the Royal Mail. Three days was the quickest I got a quote back – we guaranteed quotes would be sent within 24 hours, but internally, our rule was 12 hours ideally. POINT – Your speed in dealing with a lead matters.
  5. Do the right thing. We gave a percentage of our moving fee to a homeless charity. This pay it forward principle is a key part of my current business, the Estate Agent Content Club. We give at least £600 a month to different charities by match funding our members’ donations to local good causes they suggest. We also recycled boxes to be environmentally friendly. At the time, that was unheard of in the removals world. A positive unintended consequence of this was that we ended up selling the recycled boxes for half price but we sold them again, and again, and again. POINT – Aim to do something positive to impact the bigger picture. Karma works in funny ways.
  6. Look after people. We had a great team. We paid good guys over the odds and quickly got rid of the wasters. We worked hard, played hard, and always aimed to ensure our people were looked after and felt appreciated and respected. This approach has been something we’ve used at the Content Club and has helped us build a great team of talented and conscientious journalists, editors, designers, member magicians (our customer service title) and accounts people. We only use freelancers now, but we guarantee they will be paid on the last Friday of every month without fail. POINT – Good people need to feel valued – because a great team is priceless.
  7. Build a network. The first 12 months of Wise Moves saw me tap up and schmooze every self-storage manager in north-west London (they were a great source of smaller jobs that kept us ticking over in between big house moves). I made it my business to know dozens of local estate agents and incentivised them to recommend our service. I worked out which other removal companies we could do mutual business with. One of those companies was owned by a brilliant guy who became a close friend, and our businesses ‘rescued’ each other on more than one (about twenty, to be honest) occasion. POINT – I quickly realised that there were certain people in the estate agency industry I wanted to get onside. This wasn’t cynical – the main criteria were: did I like them, were they honest, and could I also help them in return? Who are the people in your local patch who you could get to know and be of help to each other?

It was far from being all sunshine, flowers, and smiley customers. The stress of running the business (I was the sales and marketing guy) made me ill for a few months. It was why I sold out – because I felt burnt out.

After selling out, I spent 15 or so years just doing enough to get by. Always confident, though, that I’d replicate the success of the removal company when I was ready and up for it. Why so sure? Because evidence breeds confidence. I had learnt that by following the seven points above, I could do well in any other endeavour that seized my interest.

And that last sentence is my final point – if it doesn’t make you want to get up early or get you excited, do something else. Life’s too short to be hiding in a toilet at work looking at your watch, praying for home time to come (been there, done that).

Thanks for reading, and good luck in whatever you’re doing or want to achieve.