002 Surveyor Hub Live: SME Surveyor Business Discussion Panel

BlueBox Partners held their The Surveyor Hub Live! roadshow at the inspiring National Coal Mining Museum near Wakefield. We discussed what it’s been like to be an SME surveyor, and what some of the challenges have been when running our own businesses.

The participants at the panel were Larry Russen, John Brownlow, Alan Appleby, and Marion Ellis.

Larry Russen is a Chartered Building Surveyor, Chartered Building Engineer and Party Wall Surveyor. He is a member of the RICS, Allied Surveyors & Valuers, and a trainer with the SAVA Assessment Centre. Larry is also a Director of BlueBox Partners where he regularly teaches and trains qualified and trainee surveyors to degree level, and founded Russen & Turner in 1981.

John Brownlow is a Director in the practice of Edwards Genesis, Chartered Surveyors. He is also a Director of Brownlow Associates Ltd and a Partner in Hampson Moore. He has been a Member of RICS since 1983, and is also an RICS Registered Valuer and a Member of the Residential Property Surveyors Association.

Alan Appleby has over 40 years of experience in the property sector, and today he leads Appleby Smith Chartered Surveyors, a small family practice in Staffordshire, focusing on residential survey and valuation matters with a particular interest in Listed and historic properties. He delivers presentations and training modules through Bluebox Partners, as well as RICS and Sava.

With 20 years’ experience in the residential property sector, and having qualified as a chartered surveyor in 2004, Marion Ellis is the founder of The Surveyor Hub, the Women in Surveying initiative and is a qualified customer experience specialist. In 2019 she was appointed a member of the RICS Global Governing Council.

Why Would You Work For Yourself

Larry Russen starts by sharing his reasoning for starting his own practice:

“I started my own business because I wanted to, and I thought I could. I had two years in central government, a year with a local authority, and two years with a firm of surveyors and estate agents. And I just thought, having worked in central local government and private practice, that I wanted to be in private practice, and I’d rather paddle my own canoe and say. I then learnt along the way the bits that I couldn’t do, and which I would therefore need to get better at. And after 40 years, I know more about what is it that I can’t do than what I can.”

Are Surveyors Entrepreneurs?

Alan Appleby considers himself an entrepreneur and he explains why:

“There are those surveyors who are great technicians but not so good at interaction, they don’t want to go chasing business. They do their job incredibly well, but you need to have a different mindset and can’t be risk averse if you’re going to be involved in your own practice, otherwise you fall apart with stress after two months. You can be okay doing your cash flow forecast, your profit and loss forecast or arranging loans, but then life happens and those things go wrong. Even now all those years later, you’re moaning about too much work all the time, and then when there are no new inquiries for two weeks, you think the world’s gonna end. It’s very difficult. If you are driven instinctively, then you suit having your own business. If you are not driven, don’t go there unless you can be part of a team where perhaps you are a great expert or a technician. I’ve worked in teams with other organizations where there’s been the inspiring, creative person, and I’ve been the technician running around, sweeping up their mess behind, making sure the compliance is all in place. But when you’re on your own, you can be both and that’s great.”

How to Integrate Work And Life As A SME Surveyor

John Brownlow enjoys working and over the years he learnt how to balance that with family life.

“I think the key is that if you don’t enjoy working hard, you’re not going to work hard. I enjoy what I do. If I didn’t, I would certainly be a poor business person. I’m not claiming to be a good one, I do a lot of it by flying by the seat of my pants, I’ve never had any formal business training. My children are grown up now, but in the days when they were young, I had to make time for them, otherwise I would have shot myself in the foot. If you have a family, you’ve got to dedicate some time to them. Maybe I should be thinking about retiring but in my case I just seem to do more! But I also do a lot of time off. I’m not a great fan of holidays anyway, to be honest. So I get enough sleep, eat healthy and with exercise I don’t bother, with climbing up and down ladders all day.”

“Very often I have not had a beautifully structured life, and family life has suffered,” adds Alan. “But I’ve stepped back from working five, six days a week, and dropping that Friday was brilliant, because that enabled me to have the time. You never ever get time back. I would really recommend to all professionals that they do find some time just to sit back, because “a poor life this if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”


The Highs And Lows of Working For Yourself

“The worst of times was having to fold the business and making people redundant,” says John. “That was horrendous, and I never ever want to go through that again. Now we’re very cautious about employing people on any sort of basis where we might have to say we’re sorry, there’s not enough work for you. So we outsource quite a lot of stuff, like typing and accounting.”

Our panelists agree that nurturing and maintaining good relationships and support from your team and family is what makes us resilient through recessions and any kind of crisis.

“If there’s one thing that I have learned, it is that we are the sum of many parts, and nobody can do everything,” Larry concludes. “Choosing good people to work with is absolutely vital. It is a skill I wouldn’t pretend that I’ve got to a tee. But if you get good people to work with, that makes a massive difference.”

You can watch the video recording here or listen in it the podcast




The Surveyor Hub is a proud partner of  Lionheart, the benevolent fund which supports RICS members and their families.