Interview with Jackie Sessford, founder of Ready Steady Sell
Jackie Sessford comes from a Romany Gypsy background. Despite little education and a lack of support from her family, she went on to college, followed by university as a mature student. She’s also built two successful businesses, and still had time to have five children!
What’s your career background?
I don’t have one! My parents brought me up in caravans; we never had a stable abode when I was a child. Traditionally in gypsy life, it is expected of a girl to grow up and become a mother and a wife. Dreams and aspirations are not something that is common place in the mind of a travelling woman.
From an early age I always felt different and wanted more for myself. Up until the point of meeting my husband David, I didn’t know which direction I was going. Seeing him study for his degree made me eager for knowledge, and I wanted to build something for myself. David is from a non-travelling background, so he encouraged me to pursue my goals.
Starting off small, I developed my skills in basic English and Maths; re-sat my GCSEs, and eventually I went on to study for a degree in Business Psychology. With many obstacles against me, my family disagreeing with my decisions to marry outside the travelling community and not having the belief in myself instilled in me to succeed, I managed to achieve a 2:1 which I was very pleased with.
By the time I had graduated, David had already set up a marketing business which was relatively successful. My passion lied in property as well as business, and together we bought a few buy-to-lets which we renovated ourselves.
My degree in psychology as well as David’s experience in marketing, we set up a website for homeowners looking to sell their houses quickly called Ready Steady Sell. With some cash funding behind us we bought some more properties ourselves to refurbish, as well as generating enquires for a cash buying fund.
How did your career change after having children?
I had my first son when I was 21, before I set up a business and was still studying. Myself and David were both students, we were living in a council house in a rundown estate in Carlisle; living next door to an alcoholic whom played music until 3am in the morning most nights.
At the time I wanted so much more for my son, and myself and David wanted to give him the life that we never had.
We now have five children in total, two boys aged 12 and 10; one girl aged 6; and twin babies aged 10 month at the time of writing this. When the boys were young it was hard for us with very little support and trying to build a business and be parents.
As time went on we have developed a good work/home balance and if anything I would saying having children made me more determined to succeed.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I honestly can say that the getting involved in property was a complete accident! We bought our first family home at auction, and snapped up a four bed end terraced property in the seaside town of South Shields for £58,000.
The property needed a lot of work, and we both had very little experience at DIY. However we learned as we went along, and after six months had the property valued by an estate agent. To our astonishment, the property valued at £125,000 after the work we put in. We pulled out our equity and bought two more properties and did the same thing again.
After having success with these properties I decided that I could develop this as a business model.
How did you move from idea to actual business?
I kept my spending down, bought at a discount, and learned as I went along. Every step of the way I kept building on my knowledge and improving my skills.
What’s your USP?
We offer a family run service, and can offer homeowners multiple options to selling their properties quickly. Most of our competitors offer very low offers for cash house sales, where as we can offer a range of services to suit an individual’s needs.
Who’s your target audience?
Anyone who is looking to sell their property and may have tried the traditional estate agency route without success, or wants a quicker than average sale.
How do you spread the word about what you do?
As well as our property business we also have our marketing company Way Of The Website. We invest heavily in search engine optimisation, pay per click and social network advertising. All of this is done in-house by David and me.
What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?
All of our marketing is done online, and by far the most successful is Google AdWords. Having said that it can be extremely expensive if you don’t get it right, and it’s been trial and error to get to the point we are at now.
We are never happy with our click through rates, conversions and performance; even if we are one of the best performing in the industry. We constantly strive to improve these metrics through testing.
We have tried other forms of marketing such as flyer drops, and newspaper ads; however, if someone is searching for a particular phrase on Google, such as ‘how to sell your house fast’, this is always going to be a much stronger lead for us than someone reading a flyer put through their door that they didn’t ask for.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
Our biggest obstacle came in 2012, when we were ranking highly in the organic (free) Google listing for many of our keywords. Google did an algorithm update which wiped out 90% of websites overnight, and we were heavily affected.
In fact, at the time we were relying solely on those listings, so we had to go back to the drawing board entirely and focus on paid advertising. We now feel this is a much safer route for us.
What are your proudest moments so far?
My proudest moments to date are seeing our business go from strength to strength. Having my family ask when my husband is going to get a proper job, and feel proud in the fact of where I have come from.
I think when you have so much negativity against you, and lack of support from those that should be there for you; it makes you stronger.
Why is work so important to you?
Work for me is my independence. It’s a chance to feel proud of something I have done myself, and gives me time away from being a mum. It’s a great feeling when something you do works and helps the business grow, and it gives you a bit of a buzz.
When I’m not working, I really appreciate my family time, and I think having that balance is very important.
Who inspires you?
My husband David is my biggest inspiration. He has an amazing work ethic, and always wanted more for himself and his family.
How do you balance your business with your family?
The business we run is very flexible, and I can get a lot done in a short period of time. David does most of the marketing, and I work closely with the customers.
The business also doesn’t require me to be in the office full time; in fact I can work from wherever I am as long as I have my laptop and an internet connection.
What are your three top pieces of advice for mums wanting to start their own business?
- Never let anyone tell you something is out of reach or unachievable. If you think you can do something and do it well, ignore the negativity around you and just go for it.
- You will have tough days! It’s inevitable with children and a business that things won’t go smoothly 100% of the time. Take the rough with the smooth and remember tomorrow is another day.
- Kids are always the priority. Nobody ever wishes they’d worked more when they are older, but they probably wished they’d spent more time with their children. Don’t let the business become your life, make it a tool to give you and the kids a better life.
You can find out more about Ready Steady Sell on their website.