Tell us about your business
There is a misconception about Student Landlords. There are very few rogues; yet these seem to get all the attention.
Having worked in the sector we realised that there a lot of brilliant landlords and letting agents doing some amazing things. To be successful you not only have to have great properties (we are seeing en-suite bedrooms, superfast broadband, Flat screen TVs) but also the ability to manage complex relationships with tenants who are often renting for the first time.
We wanted some way to celebrate all this. So the North East Student Housing Awards were born.
The awards are only the start. We want to expand them to incorporate seminars and workshops showcasing what the best actually do and more importantly how they do it. As well as this we want to cover other areas to have a series of regional events culminating in the best across the whole country crowned at the UK final.
What did you do before setting up your business?
Ran an annual Student Housing Magazine in Newcastle. We still do.
What inspired you to set up your business?
Student landlords and the student property industry often get bad press – yet there are a lot who are brilliant landlords with fantastic properties. On top of this there are a lot of changes in the industry with lots of new private halls of residences opening. We wanted to celebrate the very best while inspiring them and others to keep improving.
What makes this business different?
There are a few smaller student property or landlord awards but these are just for an individual city and are generally low key affairs – the awards ceremony is held in a Student Union bar.
We wanted to run a region wide award which would allow a cross fertilisation of best practice across the area as opposed to just for a single city. While most people think about the student market as a homogenous mass – it is in fact made up of very disparate ‘groups’ – each city is unique. Having regional awards allows us to share best practice across the whole area sharing the nuances of each city with each other so everyone can learn.
More than this we wanted to create an event that is a huge celebration, one night a year when everyone in the industry can come together.
What inspired you to enter the If We Can You Can Challenge?
There is always something you can learn: Not just from the experts and judges but the other entrants too. Entering the awards gives us an opportunity to network and meet new people. Maybe out story will inspire others too or provide ideas and stimulus to help them grow and develop their businesses. It would be nice to win.
Where do you see your business in three years’ time?
In three years we will have launched awards in at least one new area, possibly two. The goal is to have awards across the whole of the UK. And we will have run at least one Student Housing Conference. The conference is all about knowledge sharing, best practice and networking.
What has been the most rewarding part of your journey so far?
It has been incredibly rewarding to see the reactions of the award winners and how they use that success to improve and market their business and carry the momentum forward. The awards as a whole have been very warmly welcomed by the industry in the Region too.
What has been your biggest challenge?
The first year we ran the awards we used an event company to help. Their main task was to sell sponsorship for the awards. They failed to sell any.
Six weeks before the first awards we parted company with them. At that point if we killed the awards we would have lost money but a little less than running them. We took the decision to carry on.
In the end we did manage to sell some sponsorship and sold enough tickets to the first event to make it a success. We just about broke even on the first awards.
Who/what gave you support or advice?
Alan Gowling, director business banking at NatWest Bank, North East gave some of the best advice we have ever had. It was very early on, before we had gone public with launching the awards. Alan got us to challenge our assumptions.
Ultimately Alan’s advice has given us permission to question everything and find a solution that works for us.
What advice would you give to someone looking to set up their own business?
Necessity is the mother of invention. Whenever you launch a business there can be dark days, when all seems lost. But things are never as bad as they seem. Keep on because you can do it.
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