In April this year, I received an invitation. It was for a meeting (virtual of course, given the surreal state of lockdown we all found ourselves in at the time.) The topic up for discussion was the creation of an estate agency charity: Agents Together.
Our ambition is to help you, to support our industry and together change minds and perceptions to bring about a brighter future for everyone.
Now here we are, almost six months on. The charity is up and running at pace. And I’ve been truly humbled by the response it’s received from people right across our industry. It’s wonderful to have this opportunity to talk about what we’re trying to achieve (and our progress so far) here in The Negotiator Magazine.
The start we all hoped for
Agents Together launched on 11th June, just over three months ago. Since then, we’ve arranged an extraordinary 126 mentorships (that’s over 250 individuals matched up to learn from and support each other), over 1000 minutes of speedy mentoring sessions, produced tonnes of helpful content on the topic of healthy mind and healthy business. I hope, also, that it’s raised awareness about the need for a source of support for the hardworking and dedicated people in our industry. But before I describe the work Agents Together has been doing, I should briefly explain how it all came about.
Why a charity? And why now?
Estate agency will always be close to my heart. Since my early days working for Fine & Country, The Guild and latterly The Allstars Group, I’ve long had a desire to help the industry. So when I was approached by Michael and Kenny Bruce (the brothers who founded Purplebricks) to take the helm as CEO of a new charity – whose mission was to support estate agency and its many wonderful people – how could I possibly say no?
Michael described how, when we went into lockdown, instead of the normal “competition politics”, estate agents were supporting and engaging with each other like never before. We all had a new common enemy: COVID-19. His unwavering vision was that now is the time to try and change the narrative and bring about a brighter future for the industry.
The aim was pretty straightforward, to get a group of people together whose backgrounds, knowledge and expertise could really make a difference. We were united around the realisation that challenging times were ahead, with the potential to spell disaster for many in the industry.
In a world that moves faster and faster and fights harder than ever for our time and input, having someone who can slow things down, put things into context and provide some valuable insight to help you make those all-important decisions, is priceless. Will Whitehorn, Mentor and Trustee.
So, this fairly unlikely group, which includes Samatha Jones, Christopher Watkin, Stephen Brown, Michael Day and James Kydd, began to meet virtually at least twice a week to discuss what, collectively, we could do to help our industry.
Left to right: Samatha Jones, Christopher Watkin, Stephen Brown and Michael Day.
Working out the details
The one thing we kept coming back to was mental health. With Covid not going away and emergency furlough schemes put in place by the Government, so many people were facing unprecedented challenges and uncertainty; some experiencing feelings of loneliness and even despair. And even without the pandemic, there’s a broader issue around mental health in estate agency and a need to address the stigma that’s still very much associated with it.
After reading about Agents Together, I filled out a form telling them what I was looking for and what type of mentor I was looking for. A few days later I spoke to Sam Offley, who has been nothing but helpful and positive. We spoke about my form in depth so he could understand my needs and set me up with an appropriate mentor. Ann Skelley, Senior Property Manager at Nock Deighton Estate Agents.
The collective conclusion was that good mental health equips us to tackle challenges much more effectively. Therefore, a healthy mind equals a healthy business. We decided we could use the expertise of the founding members to deliver an ambitious programme of mentoring, tutorials and webinars designed to support the minds and businesses of everyone in the industry.
Since launch, our mentoring initiatives seemed to capture most people’s interest particularly. Agents Together offers two different types of mentoring: a one-off, 30-minute ‘speedy’ session and a longer-term programme which lasts for 6 or 12 months. They’ve been, as we’ll see a little later, one of the most successful and powerful aspects of the charity’s work to date.
Going from being mentored by Ben to now being a mentor myself is very rewarding and I’ve found another level at which I can operate. Thanks for the opportunity, the confidence you’ve instilled in me and the chance to help improve other agencies around the country. Jonathan Morgan, partner at Peter Morgan Estate Agents.
The level of interest we received in the first few days alone after launch (especially in mentoring) told me we’d need some support; someone to work full time to keep the machinery behind our ambitions moving. The tricky part wouldn’t be finding someone to do the hours and keep up managing these important relationships. But finding the right person? That would be critical. They’d need to be knowledgeable and relentlessly passionate about the industry but also have the emotional intelligence to know what makes people tick… That’s a tough list for any recruiter and employee to satisfy. Step in, Josh Rayner who found us the very wonderful Sam Offley!
What goes into matching mentors and mentees?
Sam Offley’s official title is Relationship Manager. In our mentorship application process, we ask people to identify areas they’re interested in learning about or that they need help with. But we don’t leave it at that. Sam has taken the role to a whole new level – he talks to hundreds of people each and every week, getting to know them, finding out all he can to make sure we pair them with the right mentor or mentee. When it comes to matching mentors and mentees, we don’t just pull people’s names out of a hat. Our aim is to build fruitful relationships and do all we can to make the Agents Together mentorship experience as rewarding as possible – for everyone involved.
The individuals who sign up to our mentorships have incredibly diverse backgrounds and needs and represent the whole spectrum of our industry. That means not everyone would necessarily benefit being matched, at least initially, with an incredibly experienced industry heavyweight. For a Junior Negotiator, the perfect mentor match might be someone who’s just a few years ahead of them, whose memories of that role are still fresh. This is the work we do behind the scenes to ensure that the mentor-mentee partnerships complement each other as much as possible.
So, if you decide to apply for an Agents Together mentorship, you can be confident that a great deal of time and careful thought has gone into finding you the best match.
After this encouraging start, we’re more committed than ever to supporting people in the industry, especially during this challenging time. As well as continuing our mentorship schemes, we’ll be introducing several more initiatives.
Whatever role you’re in in agency, it’s a tough time at the moment. But don’t think you have to go through it on your own. Now there’s an option that you’ve never had before to speak to somebody completely impartial, with no benefit for them, to help you. Why would you not take that as an opportunity? Cameron Carter, Estate Agency Owner and Agents Together mentee.
First, we’ve commissioned a detailed mental health survey to take the psychological temperature of the industry and make sure our plans for 2021 are responding effectively to your needs. There continues to be a stigma around mental health and we’ll work tirelessly to change this, creating a positive conversation about how it’s just as important as physical health.
Next, we’re running a Redundancy Bounceback series aiming to help anyone who’s found themselves in the unfortunate position to lose their job in recent months, or who’s anxious that it could happen in the near future. From CV and interview skills workshops to specialist advice clinics on rebuilding confidence after a redundancy knockback, we’re hoping it will provide lots of people with the support they need in these most uncertain of times.
To be able to share your own knowledge and experience with equally passionate estate agents who are eager to learn is a great feeling and extremely rewarding. It’s a part of my schedule that I really look forward to and also contributes greatly towards my own motivation and drive! I’d highly recommend getting involved with the foundation regardless of your experience, mentor or mentee. Ben Brain, Director at Hannells Estate Agents, Mentor.
Finally, we have an extensive roster of content contributors lined up for the rest of the year as we work towards providing lots of useful information focused on helping estate agents achieve a healthy mind and a healthy business. Among these is football legend Sam Allardyce, sharing his insight into people management.
At the end of the day, we want everyone in the industry to know that Agents Together is here for you. And when we act together, we really can achieve anything.