I launched Art Division in 2001 with my business partner Natalie. Our office was a shed, our furniture came from a car boot sale and we had very little experience. What we did have were big ambitions and a passion for digital.
We began offering design and websites to local businesses. It’s extraordinary to think how basic sites were then. But this is a time before Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, when Google was in its infancy and the first smartphones were almost a decade away.
We built Art Division by word of mouth – and frantic face-to-face networking, showing up at every local business meeting going. LinkedIn launched shortly after us in 2002 but took a while to embed – now it’s where we do the majority of our networking.
To start with we worked for a range of clients. Then came 2008, a year of difficulties. There was the small matter of a recession, plus I had serious health problems. We needed a big rethink. Google was revolutionising the way people researched things online and, with it, the relationship between businesses and customers – by 2018 it would have a 70% market share. In 2009 we tapped into that, making digital marketing our focus.
That year we also found our first property client. As a landlord, investor and property makeover show addict, it was an obvious move for me. Twelve years and several industry awards later we’ve never looked back.
The nuts and bolts of how people buy and sell houses haven’t changed much since we launched Art Division, but technology has impacted on the sector, massively. Property marketing used to be about adverts in the local papers, pages and pages of them. The launch of Rightmove and then Zoopla shifted how properties are sold, particularly with the appearance of the Rightmove app in 2009. The majority of property searches now start online. Three years later, online agent, PurpleBricks was founded, presenting real challenges to high street agents in how they connect with customers and present their offer.
But change in the industry hasn’t just been technological. Since we started working in property, we’ve seen rafts of legislation, affecting both sales and lettings. From 2012’s regulation of the residential sales process through the Consumer Protection Regulations to the tenant fees ban in 2019, there has been a lot for the industry to take in. That’s not to mention the right to rent checks, licensing of HMOs, stricter energy performance certificate rules and 2015’s introduction of a 3% Stamp Duty levy on second homes, with huge implications for the buy to let sector.
Taking on the challenges
One of the biggest changes during my time in the industry has been the most recent one. The first coronavirus lockdown brought unprecedented challenges as the property industry effectively shut down in March 2020. This was followed by the introduction of the Chancellor’s Stamp Duty holiday, sparking the busiest boost for sales in recent memory.
Covid meant we had to change a lot and so did our clients. For us it meant going home and rethinking all our systems and processes, so we could work remotely and do everything online. For agents it meant doing a whole lot more digitally too, from virtual viewings to customer meetings via Zoom.
When you have an established business with a good track record, you can still see change as an opportunity…”
The pandemic has shown that even after 20 years, when you have an established business with a good track record, you can still see change as an opportunity. We didn’t lose a single client during the lockdown periods. In fact, almost all of them have reported a massive increase in revenue. We too have seen our biggest growth in website traffic and enquiries, an indication that the sector is currently in good shape.
The key to our success is the people we’ve worked with over the decades. Each member of our team, and every client, has left an imprint on the company, teaching us something new or helping the business grow. One thing I’ve learned is when choosing your employees always look for people who share your passion for the business.
The other thing that’s kept us going is never standing still. Digital marketing moves quickly, so my advice to agents is keep up with the trends and don’t be afraid to try new things – not in a gimmicky way but with an awareness of who your customers will be five or ten years from now.
The UK property market is a vibrant, fast-paced and exciting industry. We feel lucky to be part of it and look forward to helping our clients grow for many years to come.