Sharon Duckworth is an entrepreneur in the mortgage sector owning 3 offices in Preston, Garstang and Southport. Key Mortgage Advice specialises in giving mortgage advice to first time buyers, self-employed, buy-to-lets and holiday homes mortgages. She’s a self-starter and has been in the business for 21 years.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I set up Key Mortgage Advice in January 2001 having decided to build a business of my own. I was unhappy in a pressurised sales job but realised from this experience I had the ability to communicate really well with people and felt I could take this skill into another sector – I was keen to make a success of a business that I had nurtured and had control of the standards of service I delivered and the important business decisions that made a difference.
At the time, mortgage advice was far less regulated and it was possible to train on the job, so initially applied to join a nationwide franchise, who promised training and support. Soon after joining, the franchise owners were found to have taken all the fees paid by fledgling businesses and gone into administration – not a great start.
I could have gone back to an employed role and took the easy path out, however I had started to build the business and make contacts who were happy to refer clients to me and so I decided to continue on my own, without the support of the franchise but working hard, learning the ropes, gaining experience, taking all my exams and taking the business forward. I never looked back.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
It wasn’t so much of an idea, as a decision to choose the franchise option…..At the time, I thought that I had good communication skills and also a maths brain that might suit financial services.
How did you achieve awareness?
My first task was to make professional connections who might come across mortgage clients, some of my first referral companies still send client to us to this day – accountants and financial advisors typically. From there it was simply word of mouth – It was vital to do a good job and ensure clients recommended me.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
I haven’t had “funding” as such. It has always been vitally important to me to ensure slow, steady sustainable growth – sometimes this seems such a long game, but has paid dividends as I’ve always managed to keep the business profitable through very bad times such as the recession in 2008.
My ethos has been to offer honest professional advice, and although sometimes this doesn’t yield massive returns financially, you cannot quantify the referral that comes as a result.
What are the key successes?
Opening Southport office in 2016 and building an amazing team around me.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
Recession – mortgage products simply dried up. It was frustrating as I had clients wanting my help but no products to offer them…….Consolidation was the call of the day, cutting back on none essential outgoings to ensure the business stayed afloat during the banking crisis.
Covid – We had a robust plan in place, electronic, remote working….What could go wrong? But 2 days into lockdown valuers stopped valuing properties, solicitors and council departments shut up shop, lenders withdrew products and clients were not viewing property. We focussed on remortgages and protection products, trying to make the most of the enquiries we had but making sure we spoke to all our clients and kept in touch – we spent a lot of time chatting to clients, not about mortgages, but about the crisis and sometimes we felt like a help line. I had some of our longest standing clients ringing and genuinely asking how we were and that they would support up and recommend us – it’s truly heart-warming, we felt very supported.
What are your plans now/for the future?
Expand … open another office and another mortgage advisor. We want to be a household name in the north west.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
Trust your instincts, treat others like you would want to be treated and stay true to yourself – above all, speak to people.
Can you share you top tips for entrepreneurial success?
Communication – there is no better way to build client and referral relationships than speaking to people and getting on with them. Focus on your team – they need to be happy, trusted, feel looked after and enjoy what they do. If they do, they will look after your clients too and be a fabulous ambassador.
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
My mum – Family is the most important thing in her life and I couldn’t agree more.
Alan Sugar, his understanding of business having read his autobiography inspired me to make a significantly profitable change to our business 10 years ago.
Freddie Mercury – totally amazing at what he did and wouldn’t settle for anything other than perfection. He trod a difficult road but always stayed true to himself.
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger