The Systemisation of My Letting Agency – The Early Years

by | Mar 17, 2016 | Tech

When I started my first letting agency in 1990, some 26 years ago, I thought all I needed was a tenancy agreement and a few to let boards and I was off. A couple of adverts in the paper and the business started to flow in. 

How simple things were. But even then, in a world of little regulation compared to now – of no internet, email or websites – I was still in for a shock, and boy, did it hit hard!

It was in 1993 when I attended my interview to join ARLA that I realised what I didn’t know, and it was HUGE eye-opener for me.

I embarked on a journey of learning, courses, self-educating, in all matters relating to letting and that’s when the pain came… I realised everything I was doing wrong! I had had no idea at all, but now that I knew about it, I could make changes.

It was around this time that more regulation started to take effect, with the original gas regulation in 1994, furniture regulations in 1993 and the arrival of computers with internet shortly afterwards. Life in general was getting more complex anyway and my letting agency journey was no different.

We needed more staff, more systems to manage the staff, bigger premises (we moved in 1995) and a training program to make sure the staff did what we needed them to do as a legal requirement.

I’ll be honest, I was operating in blind fear at one point, terrified of getting anything wrong!

The devil is in the detail

As my business grew, I realised that the devil is in the detail. The sheer volume of what needed to be done, and the complexity that came with the extreme minutiae of managing tenants, landlords, landlord’s contractors and hundreds of property was overwhelming, and I was in the middle…


I can remember being 6 months pregnant and working till 11pm every night, after I had discovered that my files did not have checklists in and as a result some paperwork was missing out of some of them.

I was mortified.

I could not believe that my staff members had not done what I had asked and trusted them to do, despite being trained. It was after going through hundreds of files, that I implemented 3 monthly file sort audits, to keep us safe.

A real turning point

In 2003, we moved to a fully automated computerised system and that was a real turning point for my business. I foolishly thought that bringing in a computer system would make the job easier and make us quicker and more efficient…

…the result was in fact we just identified a load more things we were not doing that now needed to be done, around record keeping, marketing, ledgers and systems.

For the next 2 years, I fine-tuned my business and my team of 12 staff, and it was at the 15 year point that I regarded my business as fully established, mature and equipped with all it needed to run without me.

That was around 2005.

At this point I had process sheets for everything, we were Investors In People accredited, I had management structures, checklists, computerised data and reports for everything. In fact, my business didn’t need me anymore,

I was out of my business (but still turning up every day out of loss of something to do), which is why I decided to launch a franchise in 2010, to have a whole new focus and to help other people launch their letting agency, by passing on the knowledge I acquired during my years of struggle in formalising my business.

I now love helping struggling agents embed the systems that they need to succeed, as well as assisting new agents with launch. It’s very therapeutic and really rewarding… I love every minute.

If I could advise a new starter or struggling agent of one thing, it would be this:

DON’T try to re-invent the wheel – it WILL take you years.

Get help, buy a system, training or employ someone to help you that has done it themselves, as soon as you can, preferably right from the start.

Don’t kid yourself that you will figure it out. It could take you literally years and really set you back.  It took me 15!

Be like Richard Branson when he launches a new business –  he brings in the best help he can, right from the planning stage. He’s done alright, hasn’t he?…