With over 20 years’ experience under her belt delivering successful housing and regeneration schemes in the public and private sector, Sara Holmes had a track record of hitting targets, fuelling business growth and enhancing the profitability of businesses before she took up the franchise opportunity with Aspray and became a loss assessor. So how has her impressive CV helped her fledgling franchise business and who is the person behind Aspray Sunderland? We made it our mission to find out!
Q. Sara, please tell us a little bit about Aspray Sunderland. When did you start your franchise business?
A. I set up the company on April the 20th 2018, but I didn’t start trading until after my training finished on the 22nd June. The first day on which I sat at my desk and logged on to my CRM system was June the 28th and my very first Aspray appointment was on the Friday of that week.
Q. What was it about the Aspray opportunity that attracted you?
A. I felt that the role of loss assessor would suit me, as I could utilise many of the skills that I had mastered during 20 years of working in the housing sector, and in land buying and business development. The time was also right for me to explore the opportunity.
Q. Your CV suggests that you have a huge amount of experience in project management. Is that a fair assessment?
A. Absolutely. I’ve provided strategic direction for many projects, which I have grown and monitored, adapting them where necessary. I am also used to co-ordinating and leading teams. The scope of my work has focused heavily on customer service delivery and has entailed overseeing the work of various sub-contractors. I’ve been a project director, a head of business development and a development director during my career.
Q. What would you describe as your best qualities?
A. Credibility and tenacity.
Q. And your three key skills?
A. Leadership, strategic approach and commercial thinking.
Q. And how would you describe your personality in three words?
A. Enthusiastic, talkative and resourceful.
Q. OK. So now we know you a little better, why do you think these qualities and skills, coupled with your personality, will be useful in your Aspray franchise business?
A. The Aspray business model relies on the correct application and delivery of several diverse operations. Each element needs to be done correctly, in order to deliver the successful outcomes for the business. My ability to plan, organise, negotiate, lead and manage teams of people, whilst also being abreast of various situations, suit the role well and dovetail with my credibility as an individual.
Q. What has been the biggest challenge, work-related or personal, that you’ve faced in your career to date?
A. A total change in career. I have followed the same career path for 20 years, moving up from assistant level to a role as a director. However, I became disillusioned working in a PLC and could not see myself staying long-term in the next logical position on my career ladder, which would have been as MD. I took a break from my career to review my future options and to reassess my priorities and decided that what I actually wanted was much better life balance and not another promotion. That is why I decided to take up the Aspray franchise opportunity, to fit my work around the rest of my life.
Q. Do you have a favourite quote that inspires you? If so, what is it?
A. Yes. “Nothing changes, if nothing changes.”
Q. So who do you admire in business, and why?
A. I admire anyone who can articulate their thought process and ultimately explain the reason why they made a decision, whatever that decision may relate to.
Q. Describe ‘the dream’ for you.
A. When I evaluated my life, I realised that I was living life backwards. I was working 18 hours a day, pretty much 7 days a week and around 50 weeks of the year. I was 100% focused on being successful and I was earning a lot of money, but was unhappy. I just didn’t see enough of my family and I lost touch with good friends. I had actually become emotionally poor. I am not a materialistic person, I’ve never been big on fashion or needed the latest gadgets and trinkets in my life, but I was buying these things because they made it look like I had everything. Everyone around me was doing exactly the same. What I need to do is enjoy life and embrace the opportunities I have. I want to be able to fit my job around my life and earn enough money to do the things I want to do, whilst contributing positively to my family. I want to build a comfortable future for us and I want to enjoy life.
Q. What is your horoscope sign? Are you a typical example of someone born under your sign, or have you never bothered with such things?
A. Taurus, but I’m not really into horoscopes.
Q. A lot of loss assessing could be said to revolve around fate. Are you superstitious and, if so, what’s your biggest superstition?
A. I wouldn’t describe myself as superstitious, but I do ponder on coincidence a lot and wonder if things are sometimes meant to be. I think that you have to be out there doing things, to attract business and that, if you say something a lot, to enough people, at some point you will find a claim not related to weather!
Q. What are your hobbies?
A. Cooking, gardening, reading, cycling, walking and crafting.
Q. Describe your pre-work power breakfast.
A. Porridge 90% of the time. If it’s really hot outside, cornflakes with ice cold milk.
Q. Who has helped you most in your career and how?
A. This is difficult to answer, as I have taken inspiration and guidance from so many people over the years that it’s hard to name just one person. I guess my parents, for spending as much as they did on my education and letting me leave university debt-free. This ultimately allowed me to be open about my choices, without having to rush into any decisions.
Q. Do you have a family?
A. Yes, a husband (Ben) and 6-year-old daughter (Anya)
Q. Do you have any pets?
A. Yes, two goldfish – Bob and Lily
Q. Where in the world would you most like to visit and why?
A. India. I would love to experience the smells, colours and the taste of real Indian food.
Q. How have you found the first few weeks in your business?
A. During the first few weeks, I was up and down, wondering if I had made the right decision. I clunked my way through my first pitch and felt a bit awkward about everything, but then everything suddenly clicked into place. People seemed to start to understand what a loss assessor does and started to ask me questions, enquiring how they could help me. My confidence returned and I haven’t looked back.
Q. How has it felt to be helping other people through their property insurance claim and what can be a distressing situation?
A. I started to handle my first claim in week 3. It feels great to call the claimant and just give them an update on progress, hearing them say, each time I talk to them, “I’m so pleased that you are doing this. I wouldn’t know where to start.”
Q. Has anything particularly interesting happened so far?
A. I won the 60-second pitch trophy in week three of attending my networking BNI group. This is awarded to the member who gives the most inspiring presentation. Mine was a case study of how I have helped a contractor progress his insurance claim. I started to assist him after his insurer had talked him out of making a claim against his policy, even though it was his entitlement, under the terms of his policy, to claim.
Q. And finally … what is your ringtone and what does it say about you?
A. Orchestral, which doesn’t really say anything. It’s just about audible within my handbag and different to all the other ringtones around me!