For a man that has been in business for twenty years this month, Josh Rayner looks like he must have started work at the age of ten. But despite his youthful looks, he’s a man that has led the property recruitment sector for years and has some scars to prove it.
In recognition of his two decades placing the sector’s square pegs in square holes, I sat down with him for a working breakfast at London’s Ned to delve into his career and to find out what makes him tick – legend to legend so to speak.
Russell:Josh, you’re seen as a huge success as founder and boss of Rayner Personnel, but tell me what your greatest challenge has been? Open up to me on what’s been the scariest moment for you in your 20 year career.
Josh:Covid. I was petrified. As soon as it became clear that the pandemic was going to have serious implications on our health and on how Britain worked, I thought it was all over for our business.
As the country locked down and, initially, the property market was shut down with it, the phones stopped ringing yet I had a business to fund. I’d just committed to a bigger office, I’d hired Russell Jervis as a key member of the senior team and had just bought out my business partner and so the timing was horrendous. More money going out with, potentially, no one wanting or being able to move job roles. It was scary.
Russell:Yet, you came through it.
Josh:Yes, I pivoted the business. It wasn’t the first time I’d faced failure and so I knew that I had to dig deep and to innovate in order to survive the worst of the covid crisis.
That challenge became an opportunity as I re-invented Rayner Personnel as a platform for recruiters to sit under to run their own recruitment businesses. Now we have 24 partner associates and they’re all smashing it as their own bosses but with me, Russell J and a great team to support them. One of our guys earned close to six figures last year and that makes me immensely proud. Honestly, I haven’t looked back since we re-set in 2020.
Russell:You say it’s not the first time you’ve faced failure. Can we explore that? Such as what?
Josh:(Pause). Ok. My career hasn’t all been upside. Rejection has actually been something I’ve had to deal with a lot.
My rugby career ended through injury and I had to accept that my dream of playing professionally and for my country wasn’t going to happen.
A broken relationship several years back. Moving miles away from my first child. That stuff hurts.
I failed as an estate agent. I don’t mind admitting that. Whilst I love the industry, I wasn’t good at the detail side. Relationships, selling and all that yes, that’s very me. But admin and compliance – they are what made me realise that the job wasn’t for me.
Russell:That’s pretty ironic.
Josh:I suppose it is. But it taught me to play to my strengths and to acknowledge my weaknesses and to surround myself with people that supported what I wasn’t good at.
Russell:What has changed in the industry in your 20 year stint so far – and what hasn’t?
Josh:The biggest thing that hasn’t improved at all is agent salaries. The basics are the same now as two decades ago. Incredible really.
Yes, commissions have increased in cash terms as house prices have increased but basics? They remain too low in my opinion.
Also, agency companies’ habit of micro-managing staff seems to be as alive and well as it was when I started. Bosses need to get out of the way of good people sometimes, especially to ensure a strong line of succession for the industry.
The thing that has changed is the rise of the disruptors. Every few years you see someone come in and make a play to disrupt or to own the sector. Plus the rise of some very strong independent agencies that have certainly given the corporates a run for their money, unless the corporate is running like an independent. There are so many well established local names out there now and I see the savvy PLCs really using that to their advantage.
Independents have become larger and more sophisticated and definitely have more sway with candidates versus those corporates who bog down their teams in red tape. They simply have much more sway than they did ten years ago.
Russell:On the question of salaries, why are UK estate agents so under-valued compared to say, the USA or Europe? Are we just not very good here?
Josh:Far from it. I don’t think agents and agencies here shout loudly enough about their value to sellers and buyers. Especially given that it takes so long to steer a sale through here compared to other countries. Agents are deal makers but they’re also problem solvers and agony-aunts yet you never see that articulated in agents’ social media or in their comms generally.
If the industry doesn’t shout about how good most of them are, then no wonder they’re not seen as having the value that they undoubtedly do? I hope that changes.
Self employed. A fad?
Russell:Self employed estate agency. Fad or future?
Josh:The future, 100%. It’s around 2% of all agents now but given the money that can be earned and the freedom the model gives, I can see it exploding and getting to 10% or more. In the US and Europe everyone is self employed and it’s also the same in financial services here so why not in agency? For that matter, recruitment too. I can see a day when Rayner has 100+ self employed recruiters under the mentorship of a lead recruiter for better rewards but whilst having support from an experienced platform and team.
Winging it. Be careful
Russell:What would your advice be now to a 21 year old Josh Rayner?
Josh:Honestly, don’t just wing it. Have a plan. And be disciplined about sticking to it. Also, choose a mentor and engage with them properly but make sure that they are there to help you and not just to get something out of it financially for themselves.
Russell:Care to elaborate? Have you had a bad experience of people pretending to support you but not?
Josh:Not as such. I just think there are a lot of people out for themselves that may manipulate young entrepreneurs. Just be careful.
Russell:OK, so looking back, what would you do differently or are you someone that thinks they’ve done everything right?
Josh:Not at all, I mess up like everyone does but the difference is that I keep plugging away until things come good. Taking risks and persevering is all part of being your own boss. Own your f*** ups and learn from them.
But, I would probably consider biting my tongue sometimes. Being straight talking with clients has sometimes cost me, but on the other hand I try to just be authentic and to have a clear conscience. So actually, no, I wouldn’t change that side of me.
Clowns to the left of me
Russell:What are you scared of?
Josh:Clowns and the pub running out of beer? No seriously, I worry that the phone might stop ringing. It came close to that during covid and we got through it. But failure is something that plays on every boss’s mind, not just for selfish, financial reasons but because if you fail you let a lot of other people down – team, family, clients. That’s real fear right there.
Russell:Finally, here’s the bit you get to do a ‘Rayner ad’. What are you planning or hoping for in 2024?
Josh:This is the year that me and Jervis turn ‘Making Mondays Matter’ from a phrase on Linkedin about not having that Monday morning work feeling, into a bona fide force for good. It’s about to become a charity organisation to raise money for mental health in the property industry.
We’ll be announcing a bunch of events and money raising exploits soon and Russ and I are really committed to it being a significant help to people. Actually, especially those, mainly blokes, that won’t talk about their mental health. Let’s change that.
Russell:Are you aiming that at me? Ok, I think this is a great point to say thank you for talking to me and to wish you continued success as you continue to expand Rayner Personnel in whatever form it takes over the next 20 years.
Russell Quirk was in conversation with Josh Rayner celebrating Josh’s 20 years in the property recruitment industry. Josh points out that he had to pay for breakfast again.