Just over a year ago, Gerard Smith bought his first property franchise; within eight months he’d acquired another two, covering King Williams Town and Buffalo City (East London). So how did he turn a new business into a success story in one year, during a pandemic?
Gerard Smith fell in love with the property industry after experiencing the significance it has on people. “We are in the business of opening doors whilst providing peace of mind along the process,” he says. “A house is a basic need and the single biggest investment most people make in their lives. Being part of that is an honour and privilege.”
His experience as an estate agent had given him a clear idea of how he thought an agency should be run. Unable to implement this in someone else’s agency, the only solution was to go out on his own. These are Smith’s secrets of success:
1. Work out what your values are and live them
Smith firmly believes that if you put your clients and the service you give them ahead of everything else, the rest will fall into place. But he also had a vision which his new business has allowed him to realise: “My model is built on developing previously disadvantaged individuals in real estate. We trained in the region of 20 agents from underprivileged backgrounds in our first year. This makes me tremendously proud and gives me a lot of satisfaction.”
2. Do your research and make sure the parent brand matches your needs
Smith was looking for a local brand that was innovative, exciting, technology-driven and had a proven track record in the market. He did his research and found that Just Property met his criteria. “It’s a company with an upward trajectory and with a solid rental foundation. It gives you the platform and foundation to excel. Systems and networks are in place, so it allows for faster growth,” he says.
A year later, Smith confirms that that early research paid dividends:
“The support was amazing, especially considering that we started our business during a lockdown. Just Property wasn’t taken by surprise - they already had an amazing online learning platform that gives you all the tools needed to succeed. And the technology, marketing and training divisions are second to none. I think it’s the only brand where you have a direct line to your CEO who is always there to support and guide you.”
3. Have faith and work hard
Smith took a leap of faith and used an emergency fund, “which wasn’t much”, to part-finance buying the business. “The rest we built up within the business by giving our clients the best service and working extremely hard,” he says. While the new agents grew into their roles, Smith had to spend a lot of time doing the deals and making the sales to keep the business running. Another focus is sourcing new developments to add to the four his team are marketing currently.
“There is no substitute for hard work,” he stresses. “Get stuck in and know the workings of your business. No one will have the same passion for it as you. You must lead from the front.”
4. You need to be goal-driven
Without targets, there will be no way to measure your performance, he explains. “Our plan was clear and that was to dominate our immediate area where we started trading.” He admits to a very aggressive marketing strategy: “As the new kids on the block, we had to let people know we meant business. Marketing was part of the formula for success, which allowed us to acquire our second and third franchises within six months of starting our first.” Smith’s future goals are to become the biggest property player in his area of responsibility and to grow his network to other markets and provinces.
5. Be adaptable when things don’t go as planned
Smith says given the choice, he’d do it all again, applying the lessons learnt from his first year in business. “My own ambition is sometimes my biggest challenge; three franchises within eight months, coupled with three offices takes its toll on a business without huge reserves or start-up capital. I had to work very hard as the main sales agent in the business. But I can now see the fruits as more and more of our rookie agents are starting to perform well and reducing the reliance on my sales.”
6. Do it for the right reasons
Smith is building a legacy for his children. “One day they will be able to take this business to even greater heights. I did not have the opportunities they will have. It is very important for me to give them all the tools to be whatever they want to be in life. This business will put me in that position.”
Writer : Deirdre Moore