This week’s small business star is David Gibson of Ascot Mortgages. The Warrington-based mortgage and insurance broker firm was founded by David and his son Kevin Gibson in 2008.

David explains how his desire to do something different following a serious illness prompted him to set up his business. Due to careful planning the company has grown out of his son’s bedroom to an 15 staff, via an appearance on Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis’ show.

1. We initially decided my son would set up the business by himself

I was recovering from cancer and decided I wanted to leave my corporate role and do something different. Initially, my son and I thought we’d set up an internet-based business doing IT or web design. I asked my company to release me due to my illness, but they weren’t keen for me to leave, so we decided that I would stay on for a while and my son would set up the business by himself.

As he was a mortgage adviser, it made sense to start up a mortgage business. He ran that side of the business and I worked on strategy and planning. I bided my time until I could leave my job and then joined the company, along with my wife, Alison Gibson, in December 2009.

2. We decided the recession provided us with a good opportunity to rebuild trust in the sector

People thought we were mad launching a mortgage advice service in the middle of a recession, which was partly caused by mortgage debts. Lots of brokers were going out of business at the time, too. But we decided that this provided us with a good opportunity to rebuild trust in the sector.

We wanted to offer something different and our unique selling point became our strong customer focus, and delivering on our promises is what sets up apart from some larger competitors. That’s paid off as the business is growing and we now have a staff of 15, including the three directors.

We’re careful about who we choose to employ. The people we have working for us are very passionate about what they do and have a strong belief in good customer service.

3. We’ve built the business from the ground upwards without taking on any loans

We’re available to our customers whenever they want, which makes us unique. Many of our customers want flexibility and the option to contact us once the working day is over. We take a very different approach to larger companies.

We’ve also got integrity. We want our customers to get the best deal possible, so this could mean turning away business if a better deal is available elsewhere.
And we’ve built the business from the ground upwards without taking on any loans.

4. Mistakes have made us tighten our processes

We’ve made mistakes, but I don’t like to dwell on them. Each time it’s happened we’ve tightened up our practices and put processes in place to prevent the mistake from happening again.

One mistake that I can think of was recruiting the wrong person. Recruitment is costly, so there was that cost to the business, plus the loss of revenue that resulted in us employing the wrong person.

5. We increased costs when moved out of my son’s bedroom in offices but it paid off

It was risky when we moved from being a one man band. We moved out of my son’s bedroom to new offices and took on staff. This meant increased costs, but it certainly paid off as our staff delivered great results.

We have approximately 15,000 customers and 75% of our business is repeat business or customer referrals. In the first year we wrote over £100,000 worth of business and that grew by 700% in three years.

I was always confident that we’d do well, but that kind of success does give us a buzz and motivates us to grow the business.

6. I’m sure none of our staff would go back to working for big corporations

It’s very exciting time for us and the staff who work with us. Many of them came from large banks and building societies. I’m sure none of them would go back if asked. They’re now working at the coal-face, making decisions and that’s very empowering. If we have a problem we discuss it and solve it. There’s no lengthy corporate process to follow.

My wife was chosen to appear on the Martin Lewis show (Money Saving Expert) helping first-time buyers to get their first mortgages. When we were approached, I thought it was a joke at first. But Martin is a fan of whole of market brokers, as we help our clients to get the best whole of market deals. His team did their research of brokers in the area and chose us.

We’re going from strength to strength with plans to set up an online estate agency. We’ve just recruited a business development manager and are working on our website and marketing before we recruit more staff. We plan to launch locally in the summer and nationally within the next 12 months.

7. You can’t do everything in your first year

I’d advise anyone setting up a business to carry out due diligence. You need to be sure that your business idea will work. And get good advice too. Talk to experts such as accountants so you’re clear about tax and the legal issues involved in running a business. Also speak to other business experts with experience of your sector.

And have a plan in place. I find this helps to keep us focused. Many start-ups have a wish list and try to shoehorn everything into the first year. But you can’t do everything at once. A phased approached will help you to grow steadily and achieve your goals.

To find out more about Ascot Mortgages and their services, visit their website at Ascot Mortgages. For more small business stories, visit our Small Business Stars hub.