Kelly Forrester – The Woman Behind the Business…
Written by Tracey Duke – an interview with Kelly Forrester
Confident, secure and oozing with a genuine love of her work and of those around her, Kelly Forrester; founder of Clear Property, has plenty to teach us about running a values driven business, in the heart of Exeter.
I caught up with one of the city’s most dynamic, forward thinking & heart led business women, to talk work, life and making time for the ones who matter.
On doing a job you love
I’ve been an Estate Agent in Exeter, for 21 years and, honestly, I couldn’t imagine a better city in which to have built my career. It’s an incredible city and we’ve got some really fabulous people. That makes my job really easy and it’s why, 21 years on, I still love it. I absolutely love what I do!
I literally started at the bottom. I worked my way up through the different departments and grew with the job. I’ve had tough times, but I’ve honestly loved the entire journey; learning step by step and developing my team along the way. I am happy to undertake any task now and lead by setting examples.
It’s an amazing feeling to love getting into the office every day and seeing both my business and staff grow. When your staff start out with you, with no experience, and you teach them everything you know; empowering them, trusting them completely and watching them grow, it feels incredible. My staff are a hugely important part of my business; it’s so important that they know this and feel valued.
On getting through the tough times
There’s been times where I’ve pulled my hair out; I’d be lying if I said otherwise. But when you do hit challenging times, especially in the early days of a new business, it’s good to treat those challenges as opportunities to grow. Sometimes you just have to step up to it and get on with it.
Whilst the business is now well established and I don’t need to worry about that side of things, there are always other areas to deal with. Now, for example, we’re in the middle of the school holidays and we’re in one of our busiest times. I’m also a mum of five boys, so it does feel as though I’m spending a lot of time juggling. There are many nights when I’ll get the younger ones to bed and then stay up until 2 am working. It is tough, but spending time with them during the holidays is important and I need to give them the quality mum time that they deserve.
On finding down time
To be honest, I love what I do and I know this may sound a little weird but, for me, it doesn’t really feel like a job. Everything feels very natural; I enjoy going back into my office and being with the team.
On Juggling Balls
I’d be with Andrew, my partner 24/7. I’d be with my children 24/7 and I’d be at my business 24/7. But I can’t be – So I am a master Juggler!
Sometimes the business will take 85% of my time, in any one day and then the children take the rest of the time. That dynamic will change, week on week, so I simply modify myself to be whomever I have to be, at that time.
I think that’s one of the key things; you just need to be able, at times, to pull more of yourself into the business and to not feel guilty about it. In the same light, there are times when you need to deal with a poorly child, so you’ll need to leave the office, go home and put your mum hat on. Then, at other times, you need to spend more time with your partner and so you’ll make the time.
“There’s no such thing as busy; if it matters, you’ll make time for it”
Whatever happens during the week, weekends are family time when I let someone else make the decisions and I just run with it.
On Valuing your Staff
Estate Agency can be very focused on new business, with pay being based on performance; that’s a role I played for eleven years prior to Clear.
I have a team of six staff now; I value them and trust each one 100%. It’s also really important that they know I’m 100% committed to being 100% behind them.
That starts with making sure that, before any commissions are taken into account, their basic salary is enough for them to live comfortably, but at the same time enough to enjoy a great quality of life and do the things they are passionate about; whether that be travel, sports events or eating out.
But it goes beyond pay. Every month I’ll meet individually with each of my team, to talk about our success in the previous month, and what we are working towards in the month ahead. Yes, we’ll look at our figures and what we’ve done this year, compared to last but, more importantly, that’s their time away from the team, where they can talk to me and let me know if there’s anything going on in their personal lives that I can help with.
I’m not a boss who’s unapproachable. My door is always open to my team and we can always work through any personal or work issues.
On celebrating the small wins
We also have this reward box in the office which might include wine, chocolates or ale. Yes, it’s amazing to get to your targets each year, but it’s not just about reaching that final figure. You have to embrace the journey and recognise small achievements along the way.
On time management
Something that I personally struggle with is time. There are many jobs in which you can effectively manage your time; ones which don’t have any external distractions. But with technology and my open door policy, it can get a little tricky.
The key is prioritising. Whilst I can get upwards of 60 emails a day, with each sender expecting an immediate response, I do tend to get back to people to acknowledge the email and explain that I’ll respond, in the next day or two. That way I can get back to whatever needs doing in the moment, there and then.
On the morning routine
It’s usually spent madly getting the boys out to school! I think most parents turn up at school and they’re pulling their hair out. For me, the priority it’s getting them to school feeling happy after having breakfast with them. Once they are in school, I’ll head into work.
Generally I know what I’m doing the night before; I always like to plan the day in advance. At times I have three lists on the go, with a long line of items to do. That said, something will always pop up and I’ll need to react quickly.
I always say that there’s no point in being in business unless you spend one hour a day, proactively trying to gain new business; whether that’s trying to book viewings or valuations or working on our rebrand as I’ve been doing recently. We should be spending an hour, every day, concentrating on proactively pushing for new business. I am always looking ahead, with great enthusiasm and passion and wanting to deliver to my clients the best possible service. I look to business growth and challenging on how you can implement systems to make you work smarter.
In my industry there tends to be a bit of a stigma with people thinking we’re only in it for the money. For me, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m 100% heart driven, emphatic to my customers & staff; I genuinely care.
When the children were very young, I bought a house that needed complete renovation. At the time of purchase, it wasn’t habitable so I needed somewhere to rent for up to a year whilst we did it up.
I remember walking into three different estate agents, in Exeter, with my two young children, looking for a suitable property to rent. Now something I had, and still have, is a small tattoo which is visible on my arm. When I walked into the agencies, the tattoo on show, I was told by each of them that they didn’t deal with those on benefits or DSS. I was treated so badly & was left feeling completely humiliated, that I vowed never to assume, or to treat my customers with anything other than utmost respect. I vowed that in my business, whether it was in sales, lettings or students, that I would treat everyone walking through my door with the same respect and that I would never allow anyone to be treated with the disdain that I was, all those years ago. They didn’t know that, but they assumed because I was a young lady on my own, with a tattoo and young children, that I was on benefits.
This is the exact reason I set up Clear, and why my company culture is about being completely transparent and empathetic to all our clients.
On Women In Business
I think that women, in business, do tend to bring another, emphatic, angle to business, whichever industry they’re in. They tend to have a natural, emotional, response to clients; understanding difficult circumstances that clients may be going through. We should be encouraged to embrace that and not feel the need to pretend to be someone we’re not.
There is no rule that to survive in a competitive business world you have to be tough and cut throat. It’s absolutely not about that; it’s about being authentically true to yourself and embracing your deep rooted values and integrity.
We all think intuitively and I think women, in particular, are very good at it. From my experience, your gut feeling will never let you down, so don’t be afraid to listen to it; it’ll stand you in great stead.
Kelly Forrester is the founder of Exeter based Clear Property. Follow her on Twitter @clear_property