016 SME Business Surveyor Stories with Dan Knowles

Dan Knowles MRICS is a Chartered Surveyor and RICS Registered Valuer. He founded Sawyer Fielding in 2013, a company that represents homeowners affected by the threat of compulsory purchase. Last year he also set up a new brand called Websters Surveyors, which offers a range of valuation and survey services.

Understanding the importance of having a secure roof over the head, Dan and his colleagues are passionate about charity work, and regularly donate to housing related charities in the UK.

The Difficulties of Compulsory Purchase Schemes

Dan experienced first hand how it was like to live in a council estate which was undergoing regeneration, and was under compulsory purchase order (CPO). At that time he was Chair of the local residents group that fed into this process, and he was also a trainee with the local authority which had a department that did compulsory purchase. So it was a combination of personal and professional interests that led him to specialise in this delicate area of the surveyor profession.

“CPO work is difficult, because we’re going into people’s homes that they’re going to lose, and they may have lived there for the last 20 or 30 years,” starts Dan. “It’s very emotional for them and you have to be able to understand that. Some of my colleagues would approach it as a typical valuation inspection, and go into the property for 10 minutes, sketch out a quick floor plan, take a few photographs and go. Whereas I would go in, sit down with the occupiers for an hour or so, have a cup of tea, and I’d be explaining everything and then I would do the inspection. By getting to know people, I’m able to get deals a lot quicker and to demystify the process. People get scared if they’re going to lose their home, and especially If you’re wearing a suit, you either work for the Council or you’re a bailiff. So one of the first things I learned is not to go out in a suit and tie to any of the council estates anymore.”

Empathy is a Surveyor’s Superpower

Being a surveyor and a valuer is indeed an emotional job. We wanted to know how Dan has been dealing with this emotional burden of speaking to people who are going to lose their home.

“It is just about trying to be relatable,” Dan says. “I tell people that I’ve lived on the council estate that was being knocked down, I’ve been in their shoes, I know what it’s like to have your home threatened, and I spent half a year homeless. As soon as they see that you’re not just some faceless corporate, that you are genuinely there to help them, it makes the job a lot easier. And we also have to be with people for quite a long time. Typically, from the moment of instruction to the moment we get paid on the CPO case, it’s one year and five months. It’s a long process and you get to build up that rapport with homeowners. It’s really essential to have that good relationship.”

Surveyor Business Naming and Branding Tips

We were curious as to why Dan created another brand Websters Surveyors under his company Sawyer Fielding, and where those names came from.

“When I was starting Sawyer Fielding, I didn’t want to call a company after my name and add the word surveying or anything like that, because I always want to make it look bigger than it is, even if it was just me there in the beginning. So I chose Sawyer as my mother’s maiden name, and a surname you probably don’t come across too often, so I thought it sounded interesting. And Fielding was completely random,” Dan laughs.

“The first few years of the company went very, very well,” he continues. “We started getting asked by a lot of our landlord clients if we could do a survey for them, or extend their lease, or do a valuation for the capital gains tax. Sometimes we were able to say yes, but we had compulsory purchase surveys splattered all over the brand, so it didn’t look good if we did something quite different. Then I decided to launch a separate brand, and call it something completely different, so that’s where Websters Surveyors came from. I wanted something that was easy to remember, and sounded fairly modern and techie, because we are quite a techie company. We work in our case management system, we go out with iPads, everything is tech based,” Dan explains.

Creating Impact Through Charity Work

Dan is very proud of the Sawyer Fielding Gives Back service that they launched in the company.

“One of the great things about being your own boss is that you can decide that donating to charities is something that you want to do. In the last few years, I think we’ve donated up to  28,000 pounds. And I’m quite happy to promote the charity work that we do, even if I know there are some people who do it quite silently. My view is that if we can get a bit of good publicity out of it, it might not just drive some business our way, but it might also encourage other companies to do something similar. We tend to only work with businesses that have those same and similar values. And when you’ve got your team involved and that becomes part of your culture, that’s where things change and it helps people find their purpose of why they come to work,” Dan concludes.

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