How taking a leap during the pandemic turned into a thriving business
Before the pandemic completely shut off the world in March 2020, Leah Musana had been secretly working on a passion project whilst juggling her job as an IP Paralegal and taking care of her disabled son, Raphael. Although she enjoyed her job, she was unfulfilled: struggling to find the right work / life balance; juggling frequent hospital appointments for Raphael; and, understandably, barely coping with the unpredictability of it all. At the back of her mind, she knew that even though her employers were extremely accommodating, the current working set up was not sustainable. This left her trying to figure out her next move that would fit into her new reality.…
Big decision: Now or later
After Raphael was born, and in search of a slower pace of life, she moved from London to the serene suburban life in Buckinghamshire. She rented out her flat in London to buy the house, thus, becoming an instant landlord! It was in the midst of refurbishing the tired new house that a passion project was born. This whole process opened her eyes. “It was clear that done right, there was money to be made in properties and, in 2017, I enrolled into a 2-year property investment course. My experience of working in property law years back meant that I understood it and it became apparent that being self-employed would offer me the flexibility I was craving.”
Whilst on the course, she purchased two properties in nearby Northamptonshire with the help of a mentor. At this point she was doing less hours at work and the additional income enabled her to attend property training to learn the different strategies involved. By the end of the training, she had homed in on two main strategies: Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) and Serviced Accommodation*.
A Steep learning Curve: 100 % of bookings cancelled
In November 2019 having slowly built up two years’ worth of experience in property business as a Buy to Let and HMO landlady, and with all the excitement and the promise of a new venture into Serviced Accommodation, Premier Short Term Rentals was born! Then in March 2020 before the first lockdown, Leah made a major decision to quit her full-time job so that she could focus on running her businesses.
“That was scary! I remember the week after I handed my notice, 100% of our bookings were cancelled as the pandemic started to take hold globally. Then the week after, we went into a national lockdown! I remember thinking, what I have done?! I don’t have a job and my business is literally falling apart in front of my eyes!”. This was very stressful time thinking that she had made a big mistake. She started researching ways she could make the new business successful because giving up was not an option and there was no going back!
A Pleasant Surprise: Accommodation for Key workers
During the research, it transpired that the lockdown had created an opportunity to provide emergency accommodation to key workers. “There was a huge demand to house doctors and nurses working on the front line who needed to stay away from home. This created a win-win situation for all: we offered our accommodation at break-even prices which allowed them to afford much needed accommodation at huge discounts. This in turn allowed the business to stay afloat and ride the wave while creating a solution for the key workers. As we gradually started easing out of lockdown, more Key workers such as contractors went back to work and we started making a slow but sure recovery.”
The company has continued to experience considerable growth despite the challenges it faced and, suffice to say, it has been a challenging year for the hospitality industry and businesses as a whole. “We went from two units in one location to seven units in three locations and are currently actively looking for additional units in more locations. We have a small, dedicated team and we are excited about the future!”
As the business celebrates its two-year anniversary, it is without doubt one of the most exciting chapters for Leah as she embarks on her journey to become a property mogul.
Interview with the Woman
behind it All
What motivates you?
My greatest motivation is time with family. My goal was to achieve time-freedom so that I could spend it with loved ones. Being around to watch my son growing and achieving milestones no one thought he would has been my biggest win so far. Raphael was born with a disability and I wanted to be around to care for him and give him the best quality of life. He is the happiest little boy, and he inspires me every day. Since leaving my corporate job, I have been around my family more than ever before and for that I am truly grateful.
What is the main lesson you have learnt so far …?
Running a business can become all-consuming and the time freedom I referred to above can easily become compromised. I remember at the beginning I worked all hours and even though I was physically present at home, I had never been more ‘absent’. I had to remind myself why I went into business in the first place then become intentional about my ‘why’. I have achieved this by surrounding myself with a great team; having the right systems in place; and setting boundaries then sticking to them. I make decisions based on value because I know it is an investment in the long run.
What challenges have you faced as a woman and a Black woman?
This is a real issue in the property industry, which is male dominated. I have faced gender microaggressions especially from builders and tradesmen. I have tried different approaches such as being friendly and laid back, but this has been perceived as weakness, I have tried being assertive but then it comes across as if I am not approachable, and to be honest, I still haven’t nailed it yet! In this business, trades people are key, so this is a real challenge for me.
I have also had to wear many hats; one day I am pitching for new business or meeting potential investors; the next I’m on site at the projects covered in dust; other days I’m simply buried in paperwork in the office. This is a people business, and it requires managing personalities and finding a balance in keeping everyone feeling valued. It has been a real balancing act.
Being a Black woman, the microaggressions have been subtle, and difficult to pinpoint. But I don’t let any of this deter me because we all face different challenges. If anything it makes me even more determined to own my space!
What would you advise an entrepreneur wanting to go into the property journey?
In any business, passion is the greatest ingredient. Once you have that, you have the drive that is necessary to get started and the tenacity to keep going when things get tough – because they will. Have a plan, set clear goals and then JUST DO IT! Silence that little voice of doubt, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway**.
Finally, it’s crucial that you surround yourself with the right people such as mentors, trainers and peers in the same business. Get involved in networking and engage a qualified team of professionals, then keep building on that. You need support so get all the help you can. Nobody can do it alone!
*(Serviced Accommodation is a fully furnished apartment, house or single room within a house that is available for short-term or long-term stay, providing hotel-like amenities.)
**’Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’ – a great book by Susan Jeffers