Our, ’Ten Minutes With,’ series of interviews gives businesses the opportunity to tell us how they’ve adapted in response to the Covid-19 crisis, what their experiences have been and as we carry on living alongside the virus, what their business plans are for 2021.
This week we’re talking to former solicitor and ethical gift company owner, Ramona Hirschi, who owns the Stoke-on-Trent franchise of estate and lettings agents Belvoir. Here she tells us what her children have learnt to do during lockdown and how despite this year’s challenges she’s given herself time to relax.
Give us five words that describe yourself
Tell us about yourself
I own the Belvoir franchise in Stoke-on-Trent and live in Newcastle. I’m a lawyer, business owner, and property developer by background and am married to Raphael, who is a Professor in Astrophysics at Keele University. We have two beautiful children – 16-year-old Ezra and 14-year-old Alayna so striking the perfect work-life balance is an ongoing juggling act, especially as we continue to live alongside Covid-19. I’m also on the board at the Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce and am an Enterprise Advisor because I think it’s important to give something back.
Talk us through your career so far
I have a legal background and began my career in litigation. I’ve worked for the United Nations in Geneva where I helped Palestinians get compensation for the losses they suffered because of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. I’ve also worked as a solicitor in Hanley, specialising in contractual issues and dispute resolution. I got frustrated working for other people though and decided to set up my own company Little Trove which specialised in Fairtrade giftware.
I’ve always had a real passion for property and as well as running that business I started renovating and renting out my own properties too.
It was at that point that I decided I wanted my passion for property to become my full-time career, which my legal background really helps with. The Belvoir franchise was perfect – it’s got a fantastically strong brand and I’ve been growing it since I took over three years ago. We are an estate and lettings agency, have six staff and cover Stoke-on-Trent expanding into the Leek and Biddulph areas.
How has COVID-19 affected business?
Professionally during lockdown, we were able to adapt quickly so there was no downtime. We’d already got all the technology in place to be able to work from home, so we didn’t have to furlough anyone. It was quiet at first but unbelievably June and July were the best June and July the franchise had had in ten years. I think that’s because COVID-19 pushed back our usual busy time in Spring to the summer months.
Statistically, the market for us has also been far more buoyant in October and November than it has in any of the previous years I’ve been here which is really positive.
Personally, I felt like I have thrived throughout lockdown. I was able to work and knew that the company and my staffs’ jobs were secure so that took the pressure off. I had more time to relax and actually enjoy hobbies. We spent time with the children helping them study and learn vital life skills, like cooking and cleaning so they know what to do when they leave home. I even sewed 16 sets of curtains – something I would never have thought of doing pre-lockdown.
Have you learnt anything about yourself?
I think I got a bit frustrated with those who didn’t try to adapt to the situation although I appreciate it wasn’t easy. I’ve definitely learnt that I do need to relax more and make more time for me.
Are you going to do anything differently as a result?
Yes – relax!
What are your plans for the future?
I’ve already doubled the franchise since I took over in 2017 despite the lockdown months and I want to build on that success. It’s important for the economy and the region to help support business, growth and create jobs and I want Belvoir to be an important part of that.
I hope the economy isn’t going to suffer as much as is predicted. There will still be work out there, but it’ll be a case of wanting a bigger slice of what essentially will be a smaller pie.
Personally, I definitely want to be able to take the family holidays next year that we couldn’t take in 2020.
And finally, what was your dream job at school?
I wanted to be a lawyer from the age of 10 so I did that until I caught the property bug in Stoke on Trent! Now I want to focus on the property industry and be as successful as I can in that, not just for me but to help the local economy too.