On forging a successful business in uncertain times

January 2019 : Prime

When Knight Frank recruited VanHan founders Thomas van Straubenzee and Rory Penn to its Global Wealth Advisory team last year, Hannah Aykroyd decided to team up with fellow alumnus Sophie Bonsor and launch Aykroyd & Co, an acquisition firm focused on the PCL market. In the fifth part of our mini-series looking at new firms making their mark under challenging conditions, Aykroyd explains which industry figure she most admires, and her best business decision so far…

You launched your business at a time of great economic and political uncertainty, in a rather muted prime property market. What prompted you to launch when you did, and did the economic/market landscape affect your decision?

‘I’m delighted I didn’t hesitate in spite of the muted PCL market’ I was a Director at the highly regarded property firm VanHan, until the company was wound down early in 2018 after our MDs were poached by another agency. I’ve never backed away from a challenge, so I set up Aykroyd & Co in spite of the unsettled market and political landscape. Sophie Bonsor, my former colleague at VanHan, and Edward Towers, MRICS, have also come onboard – and we’ve had a cracking first year! I’d always dreamt of setting up my own business, and I’m delighted I didn’t hesitate in spite of the muted PCL market.

Which other business or entrepreneurs do you most admire?

Within the property industry I most admire Henry Pryor. He has so much energy and has been incredibly supportive of me and the business I’ve created right from the outset, which has been hugely appreciated. He is a big advocate and public voice for buying agents as a profession, and he works hard to spread the wider message that every property buyer should have an advisor when making such an important decision.

What has been the biggest challenge of starting the business so far?

Delegating, as I want to do everything myself! I have strong views on how best to communicate and also on providing the very highest levels of client care at all times. However, I have created a team with vast amounts of experience and strong technical capabilities. Sophie Bonsor and I had worked together previously at VanHan and share the same ethos and values. And I was excited to have Edward Towers join us at the end of the summer – he is MRICS and takes great pride in advising clients in a wholly professional manner, which is why I thought he would be an excellent addition to our small, tight-knit team.

And what has been the biggest triumph?

Against all odds in this tricky market, I am very proud that we have transacted on c. £60m of residential property in the first eight months of trading. Having expanded the team further we now have even more leverage to support our clients within Prime Central London, so hopefully we can duplicate this and more in 2019.

Is there anything you would do differently?

I discovered very quickly that outsourcing is key, which is why I hired our brilliant PA after only a month – my best decision throughout this journey. My only regret is not hiring her sooner!

What’s the most valuable piece of business advice that you have been given?

‘You have to be extremely careful with your time when you’re running your own business’
The most valuable piece of advice I’ve been given this year is to ruthlessly prioritise. Diary management is vital, and every single meeting in the first couple of months must either be a client meeting or a business development meeting heavily weighted towards your interests. You have to be extremely careful with your time when you’re running your own business as you’re suddenly responsible for every aspect, on top of doing your ‘day job’. I get brilliant support from my PA and make a point of never allowing the demands of running the business to get in the way of superb client care, which is at the heart of what we do.

Has launching a business been what you expected it to be?

When you sit on the other side of the fence as an employee, setting up a business appears to be this large and impossible hurdle to climb. However, once you have gone through this process the feeling of empowerment it gives you and the ability to have full control over where to guide the business is just phenomenally exciting. Although I work much harder now and never really switch off, I haven’t looked back once.

What’s next?

The long-established buying firms seem to cap out at three or four fee earners in their London teams, so we are already on a par with this. We want to remain a discreet, boutique firm but I will probably look to hire one more buying agent in late 2019. We’re also keen to expand into property management in order to widen our offering. Most importantly, we want to continue to provide our clients with a superb service, including exceptional after care.