Nest In Essex
Life is 10 percent about what happens to us and 90 percent about how we react to it. We’ve all heard one version or another of this saying and wondered whether it’s really so at some point in our lives. It is certainly something that rings true to people working in the responsible finance sector. It’s why we look beyond the tick boxes that mainstream banks use to guide decisions on who to loan to. It’s why light shines from our eyes when we get a loan application from someone like Nick Cheshire. And it’s why more and more organisations and individuals with a sense of social justice and a bit of cash to spare are investing in Foundation East Community Investment Tax Relief (CITR) shares, enjoying 25 percent tax relief on their investment over five years whilst enabling us to support more local heroes like Nick.
Here’s Nick’s story. Could it be yours? …
Perhaps it was the frequent childhood moves that made Nick Cheshire a natural when he found himself age 21 working as a sales rep’ with an established local estate agent in Rayleigh, Essex. He remembers his early days in the industry with great fondness, working for a company with strong values and a positive workplace culture. He enjoyed being part of a team and, perhaps for the first time in his career, felt he loved his job.
Meanwhile, outside of work, he and his partner had a very significant reason to put everything they had into building the sort of life most people dream of sharing: they had just learnt that they were expecting triplets.
Going to work every morning was something Nick looked forward to. Coming home every night, was something he looked forward to too. His own childhood had seen many challenges and he was totally focussed on ensuring that, for his children, it would be a different story. A whizz at selling, Nick took great pride in his successes. Being recognised by others for excelling at something was a new experience. It felt good. Knowing he was providing for his family felt good too. It would remain that way for a while.
The turning point
Three years flew past before things suddenly began to change unexpectedly. It was 2014, Nick’s employer began to reshape the business. All agents, with the exception of Nick were ‘let go’. Although apprentices were brought in, that didn’t work out. They too were let go.
The businesses’ owners were at a time in their life where they wanted to live a little. Nick, a safe pair of hands, was trusted in generating all the new business and caring for the existing clients, which naturally resulted in the working hours increasing. Meanwhile, at home, his partner was having to manage three boisterous toddlers with less and less support from their doting dad.
The call to action
“I remember a mortgage broker asking me why I was breaking my back to make someone else richer when, from what he could see, I was perfectly capable of running my own business,” Nick recalls.
Though flattered by the guidance, still grateful for the start he’d been given, and loyal by nature, Nick continued putting 110 percent effort into the agency for the owners. As days, nights and weekends slipped by, he found himself thinking more and more about the mortgage broker’s advice.
Accepting the call
Nick could see so clearly how to improve the business, yet, alone in the office, running everything and with no decision-making power, it was out of his control. He began to imagine what taking control would look like. In part it would require going back to some of the old customer-focussed ways the agency did business before. In part it would require better harnessing the power of new technology, such as social media, and focussing on the entire customer journey. It would also mean adding innovative new services, such as negotiating purchases for clients, as well as sales.
As his vision became clear, Nick began to save a percentage of his income each month, with a view to amicably leaving employment to set up his own business in a year’s time.
An unexpected challenge
However, somehow his employer found out about his plans. They gave Nick an ultimatum. Would he refute the rumour and commit to staying, or would he leave?
Things got tricky. In spite of having the desire, ideas and drive to succeed, Nick found it impossible to access the finance he needed to start up. Unfortunately, during his nomadic youth he had forgotten to inform a company of a change of address. In spite of more than three years’ good credit history, this affected his credit rating. Banks were not prepared to lend to him.
Enter responsible finance
Thankfully, Nick discovered Foundation East. We read his business plan, met with him and made the decision to support his loan application.
Our business loans manager, Bob Shimmon, explains:
“As a responsible finance provider, our mission is to create and safeguard local jobs and strengthen communities. Because we’re not answerable to anonymous shareholders, we don’t have to make our lending decisions using a one size fits all tick list. We can look at the actual potential of the people who come to us for support.
“With Nick, it was a no brainer. Like many people who have experienced a less than secure start to life, Nick has more reasons to value sustaining success than most people. Like many people who, perhaps for reasons beyond their control, were unable to focus on learning at school, Nick now values learning more than most too and has a depth of drive and determination that can be neither taught nor bought.
“These personal traits all became clear during our discussion. They are not the types of traits decision-making software can pick up, yet they are the sort of traits that we know to be common to successful entrepreneurs. Nick seemed to have what it takes in terms of mindset and skills. His business plan was viable. He knew the sector and the region inside out, had the necessary contacts and a strong track record. We were more than happy to help.”
With finance in place, Nick opened Nest In Essex in November 2014. He already had a strong reputation in the town in which he operated, and this, along with launching with very favourable terms, meant he was soon winning the hearts and trust of the town. Two years in, with an established brand, the time had come to take the business to the next level.
A business coach advised him he was underselling himself and his services and needed to concentrate on propelling Nest In Essex to poll position within the local market. The answer seemed simple: maintain or improve the excellent customer experience for which Nest In Essex was known; grow the team; increase client fees; implement all of Nick’s ideas.
Further investment would be needed to catalyse this boost. However, regardless of a stronger track record, High Street banks still said no. Nick returned to Foundation East. We agreed to a second loan. We’re glad we did.
Within a year, Nick’s business has:
• Created one new full time position and two new part time positions
• Established a local community Facebook forum, sharing free advice and expert information about the property market
• Sold properties within an average of 18 days of having them on the market
• A track record of winning the business of 78 percent of the clients they meet (against an industry standard of 50 percent)
• Achieved an average of 102 percent of the original asking price for their clients properties
• Been recognised as the top estate agency in Rayleigh by the UK Property Awards 2019
• Won first place in the TMP Business Awards for Best estate Agent, East of England, 2018/19 a Second award for Best Estate Agent, UK 2018/19
• Been ‘highly rated’ in the ‘Best Estate Agent Guide 2018’, which placed Nest in Essex within the top 20% of agents in the UK. This was determined by the fact that Nest In Essex had received 22% more detail views per listing, generated 85 percent more leads per listing and secured agreed sales 20.5% faster than other agents in the region.
“I’ve a strong brand presence and brand loyalty in the area now. It’s a proven model and process that I could franchise, yet what I am proudest of is the fact that I have managed to achieve all of this whilst winning back my work life balance.
“As my own boss, it’s up to me to arrange my days so I can be there for my family. School drop off and pick up is now the norm. School sports days, parent evenings and events are no longer off-limit. This to me, is how it should be and you shouldn’t have to be a business owner to be able to benefit from such balance,” advises Nick.
“Mindful of this, my next plan is to recruit four to five really strong agents across the region and offer them the opportunity to operate under the brand. No overheads, no start-up, no branding and marketing costs. Just the chance to focus on generating business, selling properties and improving the standard of estate agency. Earning money is the by-product of success, however the opportunity will be there to allow the right people to earn the same amounts as they would running their own business, while being in complete control of their time. They’d have to be the right sort of people though. They’d need an open mindset, the desire to be better than your average estate agent, a love of learning and to be very driven,” advises Nick.
“Foundation East saw the potential in me as a person and in my business plan. They gave me the opportunity, backing me when High Street banks wouldn’t. For that I am grateful. Their loan and support gave me back control of my life. It enabled me to do more than set up my own business. It gave me self-respect and it empowered me to improve my work life balance and be there for my family. I can honestly say that my and my family’s quality of life has improved by around twenty times and I am really inspired to coach others to achieve the same, to pass on the opportunity.
“Knowing that the interest I pay on my loan is invested back into the community and that for every £1 Foundation East spends supporting businesses like mine, they create £15 of local social and economic value feels good. It fits with our business ethos and I encourage anyone with a business idea who is struggling to get banks to loan to them to contact Foundation East.
“I also encourage anyone with a bit of cash to invest and an interest in social impact investing to consider investing in Foundation East CITR shares. Without people doing so, people like me may never get the opportunity to change their lives for the better and to make positive contributions to their communities.”