022 SME Surveyor Business Stories With Emma and Aaron McCluskey

Emma and Aaron McCluskey are a husband and wife team of surveyors who have their own practice in South Hams, Devon, called McCluskey Chartered Surveyors. They offer a range of services, from building surveys and inspections, to architectural services and project management.

Marion talked to them about their different backgrounds, and their journey to becoming surveyors and setting up their own company.

Being A Married Couple In The Surveying Industry

Emma and Aaron met at the age of 16, and started their own business over two years ago. Both of them got qualified as surveyors, with Emma’s background in HR and Aaron’s background in the construction industry. Emma shares her experience from the beginning of their working together:

“I didn’t start out as a surveyor when we started this venture. My background is in HR, I’m a Chartered Member of the CIPD. But very much if we were out on site, people would talk to Aaron, as though he brought his secretary along. That was very much the opinion. While both of us were studying, I was the main breadwinner for probably the first 15 years of our relationship. And to then come into a business where I wasn’t fee earning felt very strange to me. Even though I was enjoying working with our clients, I wanted to have the technical knowledge and to make sure that the clients had confidence when they were working with me. That led me to want to do a bit of what Aaron was doing, so I went on, got my technical certificates, and then got my AssocRICS earlier this year, with a view to hopefully do my Chartered status once I’ve got a few more years behind me.”

A Lesson in Resilience

Aaron’s journey from doing carpentry as a sort of family tradition, through studying part-time and into qualifying as a Chartered Surveyor had many setbacks, as he was starting out after the recession years. However, he knew what he wanted to do and made sure he kept his skill up until an opportunity came along.

“I was looking for a surveying job from 2009 to 2015, and just no one locally would take us on. It was hard to keep the motivation up. There was a short stint with a local firm in 2013, while I was a self-employed carpenter with loads of work lined up, and I dropped all of that to become a surveyor. Then after only four months, I was made redundant, two weeks before our honeymoon. In 2015, I was lucky enough to get a job on property maintenance with a local authority, and two and a half years into that job, I passed my APC.”

Aaron showed an incredible resilience during that time, and here’s what he says about it:

“Just don’t ever stop if you’ve got a goal. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of course correction, it wasn’t plain sailing. I’d like to think that I was flexible, because I never saw myself working with the local authority. But I learned a lot about myself in the nearly five years that I was there.”

Setting Up A Brand In A Rural Area

Emma’s and Aaron’s business serves the Torbay, Teignbridge, Exeter and Plymouth areas. We wanted to know how they’ve made the decision to start their own business in a more rural area.

“Oddly enough, there are more small building surveyors than you would think in that area, when you do your research” says Aaron. “I was spending my lunch breaks ringing up a state agent saying we’re setting up in the next few months, and asking whom they use and whether there is capacity for anyone to come in and pick up the scraps. I would say 90% of them said they had some surveyors retire recently, or the relationship with them didn’t go well. And yet they were absolutely inundated with instructions. So there was definitely scope for work, and that was enough for us to say, you know what, despite the amount of competition there is out there, let’s go for it.”

“We got to a point where we were working every Saturday, and then we were taking any leave to fit one survey in the weekday,” Emma adds. “We were very fortunate that our workload grew organically. That gave us confidence that even when we left our jobs and went full time, even if it was one survey a week, it would cover the bills, and anything more was a bonus.”

One Tree Promise

As part of their business, Emma set up something called “One Tree Promise.”

“You want a business that has an impact, regardless of what industry you’re in. Knowing that we were in the construction industry, which obviously is responsible for the highest carbon emissions globally, it may sound a little trivial, but planting a tree for every client that we work with is one small step to contributing to that impact. Personally I’ve always been really passionate about conservation and sustainability. We use all chemical-free, plant-based cleaning products, we don’t use plastics. If that is important to us personally, how do we then reflect that into making an impact? One Tree Promise was the first step of what we hope is to come to support restoration and help turn the shift of the construction industry into something that’s more positive, reducing its negative impact,” Emma concludes.

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Connect with Emma and Aaron McCluskey


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