Liz & James Ferguson
In 2016, Liz and James Ferguson scooped the top accolade of Franchisees of the Year in X-Press Legal Services’ annual awards. The franchise specialises in providing property searches and reports – a vital part of the property buying process in the UK – for solicitors and conveyancing professionals.
Former New Franchisees of the Year award winners, they have also been finalists in the Business Development and Brand Builder award categories.
The couple, based in Looe, have been franchisees for almost 10 years, providing a service across the whole of Cornwall and Devon. Their business has been built – and grown – on exemplary customer service, solid hard work and continuous marketing.
But it was Liz’s brainwave last year to start a networking group, exclusively for professionals working in conveyancing, that enabled their business to really soar.
She explains: “Over the years we have been franchisees, the search sector has expanded and changed greatly with the introduction of many new specialist and niche searches covering a wide range of eventualities that might adversely affect a property. We can research all these risks – including, for example, flooding, contaminated land, proposed new standard rights of way, new sustainable drainage proposals, tin mining, Japanese knotweed and other invasive species.
“It is very time consuming for property sector professionals to keep up to date, especially when there are often changes in legislation, but it is essential that they do so. We have created a specialist advisory service to help fill this ‘information black hole’ in the form of a networking group specifically for solicitors, conveyancers, paralegals and legal secretaries.”
Now there are local groups all across the two counties, meeting once a month regularly to hear presentations on specific search-related topics – both potential threats and solutions – from senior industry specialists, environmentalists, council heads of department and local Chambers of Commerce. Liz and James provide the breakfast for delegates and there is no charge to attend.
“We realised that solicitors and conveyancers don’t often meet each other and that they might welcome the opportunity to talk to others, swap ideas and share best practice,” said James. “It has proved to be very popular, especially combined with the value of a talk by a well-known and knowledgeable speaker about a specific problem. Now the groups decide which topics they would like covered and often choose the speaker as well.”
Liz and James changed their promotional strategy when they decided to launch The Tamar Conveyancers Group, as it is now called. Instead of selling their service directly, they set out to attract new clients by being recognised as an authoritative voice in the local property and search sectors, with a wealth of knowledge and experience. They handle routine searches and can also offer advice, information and guidance on which specific searches to choose to address specific problems.
The new approach has been successful: their business almost quadrupled in a year as breakfast group delegates recognised Liz and James’ expertise and appointed them to handle property searches. Investment in time, effort and money has been well rewarded by this impressive growth of their business, creating a much larger client base and significantly more awareness of X-Press and their service in the West Country.
The couple became X-Press franchisees after they moved to Cornwall to escape the south-east rat race, a decision which enabled them to realise their dream of working for themselves. James commented: “We wanted a business that would excite us and bring the passion back into our working lives.”
Before joining X-Press, Liz and James worked for major corporations, in senior and demanding roles in supply chain management and in warehousing and distribution. They worked long hours and were frequently on call.
James commented: “We felt increasingly frustrated. We considered various possibilities and continued to look for new ideas until we discovered franchising. We recognised its many advantages and benefits, including training and ongoing support.”
Encouraged by seeing the number of proven and established franchises in a wide range of market sectors, Liz and James took a closer look at X-Press Legal Services. “We were very pleased to have found a franchise with so much potential and one in which we could work together to build a substantial business, with plenty of promise for the future.”
Announcing their new award at the company’s recent annual conference, X-Press director, Dave Lister, said: “I am delighted to make this announcement and praise their initiative. Liz and James have not allowed anything to put them off reaching their goal. They have shown dogged determination, maintained consistent effort and standards and, overall, been totally committed to their business.”