Interview Paula Higgins
  • Home»
  • Interview Paula Higgins

All About HomeOwners Alliance – by Paula Higgins

How did you get your business idea?

Having spent 15 years reviewing and reforming housing and planning policy for the UK government and the EU, it was pretty clear the homeowner didn’t have a voice at the decision making table. I was constantly lobbied by many groups that represent industry or pressure groups but struggled to find anyone to put across the views and interests of the homeowners.

There also didn’t seem to be a voice of the homeowner in the media – I would read what mortgage brokers, landlord groups and other pressure groups thought of the latest government proposals, changes in interest rates or house prices, but nothing from those people who would be affected.

As part of my research I looked into what happens in other countries and found very active (and profitable) homeowners organisations. I called them up to understand more about their business and ended up visiting a couple of them. I’m still in regular contact with the ex-CEO of the Dutch organisation who has helped me shape and grow HOA.

What was the main drive that pushed you to start your business?

Working for government was a brilliant experience – a great way to gain a variety of skills and insight into the inner-workings of Whitehall. But the agenda was driven by Ministerial priorities and things moved and changed very slowly. Through buying and selling my own home I knew there were real problems and inequalities that needed to be addressed – but that there was a big void in independent advice.

On a personal level, I had been working in government for many years and needed a new challenge and more personal responsibility. I was so excited to take control and publish a piece of information to consumers on my site – with no red tape, no committee meetings, no approval process!

What was your biggest fear before starting up? How did you overcome it?

I was extremely aware that I had no experience at all in setting up a website and running a web-based business. I could see that I could easily blow my limited funding quickly. I decided that I should do everything I could myself as a way to understand the role. I didn’t rush into crucial decisions, such as engaging the web company to design my initial website and the branding.

I tapped into my personal networks and reached out to find other entrepreneurs and support.

How do you describe your core business activity and what’s the key value you offer to your customer?

HomeOwners Alliance is a very popular property advice website – with over 3 million visitors a year. We are committed to providing free and independent information on all aspects of homeownership. For those who need more tailored information and support, they can join as a member.

I created the HomeOwners Alliance so the homeowner has a voice. We promote the interests of the homeowner in the media and government. We campaign for policies that help homeowners, and against bad practices by the industry.

Our aim is to empower people, to encourage them to do their research and ask the right questions so they make the right choices when engaging with estate agents, mortgage lenders, builders etc. We host some price comparison tools on our site to help people along the process. Our goal is to take the stress out of buying and selling.

What’s your perception for businesses on the “web”?

The web makes it easy and cheap to start up a business and access to a wide market. But it can be difficult and expensive to drive traffic to your site unless you are unique in your offering or have money to burn. I see lots of great property tech start-ups but the initial cost of acquiring customers quickly can be high if you just rely on paid marketing. We have found success with unique content and strong partnerships with like-minded businesses. This has meant that we have never paid for advertising and just rely on our organic ranking.

What are the key strategies you use to expand your business over the web?

In the last 3 ½ years the space has become more competitive and we can’t just rely on unique content. We have invested in a revamped website to improve conversions and SEO. Our main strength is our complete understanding of the analytics behind our website.

What do you look when recruiting an employee?

Having the right people is so important for a small business. When I recruit I’m looking for someone who is a doer, who is nice, who is willing to challenge and to collaborate. I value people who are adaptable and will pitch in when needed. In return, I offer a flexible working and supportive environment where people can learn new skills and grow.

How many employees do you currently have? & how do you describe your management style?

We are currently recruiting. We have just hired our 6th employee, but will be 8 people by the end of the month if everything goes to plan. I’m very much a collaborative and people person leader – keen to find and nurture talent. I get my strength and energy from brainstorming ideas and then putting everything in practice.

How do you describe yourself with 3 keywords?

Hard working, passionate, strategic

What’s your favorite part of your business, and why?

That’s a tough one. I like working with people and helping our members to solve their home-owning issues. I also like striking up deals and partnerships with likeminded companies. I’m also very much enjoying the challenge of putting the right systems and processes in place as we move from an early start up to an established growth company.

How do you advertise your business?

I don’t. Ours is very much a web-based business and people find us through our fantastic content on google. That said, we are starting to do some remarketing and investing in PR.

How do you advertise your product/service?

We use natural PR to advertise our website – writing independent reports and giving unique comment and stories to the major newspapers. We also appear on consumer shows and programmes as experts in our field and to put forward the voice of the homeowner.

What made you choose this type of business?

When I first started, I thought we would be predominately a membership organisation. People would join to access our services or to support our campaigns. Whilst membership is still a core service, we provide lots of independent advice and information on-line. So technically we are a web company, and our income comes from introducing our visitors to services such as estate agents, mortgages, conveyancers and surveyors.

If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to do things yourself, whether it is writing and designing a promotional leaflet to advertise your business, applying for your own trademark, learning how to code your own website etc. Draw on your contacts and networks. There are so many lovely people out there who will lend a helping hand. If you don’t know the answer, just google it.