Monty Invest: Ian Lamont

Ian Lamont gave up working in a factory to launch his own global property business.

Ian Lamont was interested in buying a holiday home but found that most brokers only had properties in Spain and none in more exotic locations. He realised that property purchasers looking to buy abroad had few options and therfore would be a great untapped market for him to exploit. So he launched Monty Invest. Name: Ian Lamont Age: 26 Business: Monty Invest Type of business: overseas property specialists Start date: May 2005 

When did you first decide you wanted to start your own business? I’ve always wanted to run my own business ever since I can remember and finally took the plunge after many years of working dead end jobs.

Tell us about your business  Monty Invest is an overseas property specialist that helps holiday homebuyers and investors purchase property abroad. We arrange everything from viewing to finance, making the daunting process of buying overseas easy. We sell properties from over 20 countries and not just in the more traditional places. We like to offer properties further afield. We do sell properties in Spain, Italy, and France but find a lot more buyers are looking for something different.

Was it your first business idea and where did it come from? I’ve had many ideas over the years but never acted on any. I’d been into buy to let like many people and I did okay out of it, so I decided it was time to buy a holiday home in the sun but didn’t want the usual Spanish villa. I searched UK brokers but couldn’t find what I wanted, local property brokers didn’t have anything except Spain. I attended a few property exhibitions and still found nothing I wanted. Then when I started searching for agents in other countries and I found a number of properties I liked. I thought how good it would be to view information and talk to someone about these type of properties on the high street. From this thought Monty Invest was born.

Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals? My decision was inspired by your readers, I followed the startup profiles for some time. Hearing how other people from similar backgrounds as me had taken the leap and started their own businesses gave me the incentive I needed to do it myself and I haven’t looked back since.

What makes you think there’s a market for your business?All my research showed there was a marked increase in second home buyers with many of these being abroad and this meant that there was a market for me to tap into. With TV programmes such as a ‘Place in the Sun’ encouraging people to buy abroad, I thought ‘now’s the time’. Cheap air travel and low cost mortgages means more and more people are considering purchasing property abroad. Add to this the slowing buy to let market in the UK, and investors with money to invest in property abroad looked like the ideal market.

Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first?I did a lot of research. The first 18 months was spent learning how the buying process worked in the different countries I wanted to sell in. With over 20 countries to research this took a lot of time. I then wrote a business plan and arranged to sell one of my buy to let properties to fund the startup.

What research did you do?A lot of my research was done online and I spoke to a lot of relevant people such as: existing property agents to see what services they offered and holiday homebuyers to get their feedback on the whole process. I took their advice to offer an improved service to my clients. I also researched the marketing of the business, as there are lots of different ways and this is one of the most important things.

What advice did you seek?I spoke to Business Link and they sent me a very useful guide that answered all my questions. I still use it today, I didn’t speak to any other agencies.

What other help did you get?The main help came from my best friend he designed the site and the logo. He also offered me a lot of advice in the early stages.

Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business? I think the government does a good job, there’s lots of advice out there. If you look you can find what you are looking for. I didn’t need that much help but at least I knew that if I do there is help is available.

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan. Writing the plan was quite easy. I used planning software and it talked me through stage by stage and the plan only took me a couple of hours to write. To be totally honest the plan hasn’t been that much use to me – I don’t think I’ve looked at it more than twice. It’s a good tool at the beginning to help you put everything on paper and helps you think about every aspect of the business. But it hasn’t really helped me.

How much did it cost to start the business?£10,000

How did you fund this? I funded the business through the sale of an investment property and savings. I’m using savings to fund the business but at the moment business is close to giving me a small salary.

Have you made any provisions for business not being as prosperous as expected? If the business isn’t profitable within a year then I will have to consider other ways of making money from the business. I can afford to keep the business running through savings.

When did you stop working? I was working in a factory and I quit my job too soon and spent a lot of time at home waiting for website design to be finished and with very little to do. In hindsight I would have worked for another two months before quitting. The transition was very strange, at first working from home was difficult to get used too.

Are you working from home or from premises? I started working from home but found this difficult as every day life was distracting. We have now opened our first high street office in a local high street shop. It has a large display window and I used it as an office, it’s a bit like an estate agents. I’m happy with the premises as it gives us a presence in the city which means people feel happier working with a business they know how to contact. In the future we’d like to expand the number of offices but would like a slightly larger offices than we have now.

How many hours are you working at the moment? I’m currently working 70 hours a week.

How are you managing your day and what steps have you taking to ensure you’re able to get everything done without working around the clock? I found out early on that you have to manage your day or lose track of your business. I now only answer email twice a day, as before I was constantly breaking off from other jobs to do check them. In my business, in fact in any business, you have to be organised. Once you organise your day everything else falls into place.

What about staff, is it just you? At the moment it’s just me but I do intend to take on staff in the future.

Is the amount of red tape that comes with taking on an employee something that concerns you? The paperwork involved in taking on staff is very daunting and time consuming but I suppose its something every business has to deal with in order to expand.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far? So far, our marketing has included online promotions and local mail drops. We find pay per click promotion very good and online property listings sites work well and many are free.

Where do you hope to be in 12 months time? In 12 months I want to have a self-sustaining business and be on the way to opening a second office. I also want to have expanded our overseas mortgage business, which we predict will be a big growth area for us. I then want to start franchising the business.

What are the main obstacles to growth? I can’t see any major obstacles to expansion, the most challenging aspect will be financing. As I’d prefer not to borrow to fund the expansion this means the business needs to be self-funding.

Tell us about your website. The website is one of our most important marketing tools and the window of our business. It allows us to reach a far wider audience and without it our business would not be possible. A close friend designed the website saving me money. The design had to be changed a few times but I’m happy with it now

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do? I will not lie – I’m in this for the money. But I’m lucky that I enjoy what I’m doing. It is what I live for, every day is different and I’m in charge. If the day ever came when I stopped enjoying it then I would consider selling the business and start doing something else.

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently? I’ve found a lot of things hard such as working long hours and being responsible for everything. If I ever started again I would have never worked from home as it just didn’t work for me.

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business? You have to be an organised person.

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business? Believe in what your doing, research your market and know your business inside out – if you don’t your competitors will.

www.montyinvest.com

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