By Sabrina Cortez

For Ashleigh Wight, canoeing next to wild hippopotamuses in Africa is just as nerve wrecking as starting out as a broker.

Returning from a recent trip to the Zambezi River, Ashleigh experienced dangerous high-waters, saw basks of wild crocodiles and lived in isolated Survivor-style camps.

On reflection, she says it was just as hair raising canoeing with hippo's as it was to start one’s broking career at a young age. 

Ashleigh’s strong sense of hard work, professional resilience and self-belief leaves her well equipped to run her own brokerage - at just 30-years-old. She has more than nine years’ industry experience, owns a Diversifi franchise in Perth and already holds more than eight industry award titles. She regularly commits time educating migrants in achieving home ownership and has built her brand as a ‘go-to’ mentor for new young brokers, currently mentoring two new industry entrants.

Learning from experience, Ashleigh tells the MFAA how young brokers can tackle professional challenges such as changing structures, long-term income generation and workload management. Ashleigh also shares how she got here, her tips to get ahead and why she urges all brokers to build relationships and to invest in their ‘brand’ as a key criterion for success.

MFAA: What are the key challenges you have faced as a young broker, and how have you overcome them? 

Ashleigh Wight (AW): A lot of young brokers worry about income when they’re first starting out. For me, it’s important to make sure you have the right structure and plans in place, so you can build your business successfully. For broking, this included having enough savings set aside for 6-12 months. Given the industry is mainly based on commissions, it was crucial to consider that prior to making the decision to become a broker. It can be really tough.

Without a safety net of savings during those tough [first] months, it would certainly have been a far more difficult challenge.

From my experience as a young broker, I also learnt that even though I knew I was capable, I felt people perceived me as inexperienced because of my age. I think I was 22 at the time.

I was conscious of the fact I wasn't the typical looking broker. Most brokers at the time were men, and an average broker was 20 years my senior! But I also knew that because I was young, I was up for the challenge and I had the tenacity and drive which a sustainable broking career required.

I overcame the fear of judgement by telling myself “you know your stuff, you know the industry”. I never doubted that I had the capability, and above all, it came down to self-confidence and inner belief. Communicating clearly with clients and referrers and explaining matters in a lot of detail proved to others that I wasn’t just a 22-year-old looking for a short term sales win.

I was very thorough, understanding and responsive when servicing my clients and through that I believe my knowledge and capability became evident. I knew I was on the right track because people started referring their friends, family and clients to me. I also received good feedback and remember thinking "You just need to get over that negative mindset of being perceived as a young and inexperienced broker. You know what you are doing and you’re doing it well!"

MFAA: What key areas do you think young brokers need more support in?

AW: What I have come to realise through mentoring is that younger brokers are fine with new platforms and keeping up with technology. That’s a given in the times we’ve grown up in. But a key area which needs work is the commitment to ongoing learning, networking and a positive mindset. But that is easier said than done.

In this industry, there isn't a quick recipe for success - it will take you time. It's about building relationships and networking, then being consistent with both. You can't go into your first meeting with a referrer and immediately expect to receive a referral. You need to be persistent, have regular meetings and not lose focus on the end goal. Being personal and delivering on what you say you're going to do speaks volumes. Be helpful, provide something of value to them, such as updating them on credit policy or a niche product or offer, and repeat the process!

I also found that the older brokers who had been around for a while had certain things that worked for them when they first started broking, such as flyer drop off's, but because the market has changed so much over the years, I found those things didn’t work for me.

What I've learnt, and what I've taught my brokers is that it is all about relationship-building. You need to be having regular meetings with accountants, real-estate agents and financial planners, then be persistent with those follow-ups.

MFAA: What is your advice for younger people wanting to become a broker?

AW: Don’t expect quick results. If you continue to work hard and be consistent, it will pay off. I have no doubt about that. Make sure you will be financially okay for a minimum of six-to-12 months, because during that time you may not be writing a lot of business, but you will need to be building relationships. While you’re busy building relationships and your brand, you are building the potential for future business, which you will benefit from later in your career.

Also, don't expect a referral after just one meeting. People need to get to know you and your business and trust you. That takes time.

Just last month I did three loans for business owners I met at a networking event in 2012/13. These individuals are no longer part of my regular networking group, but I stayed in contact and caught up with them once-or-twice a year. I never would have guessed I’d be doing loans for people I met six years ago but staying in touch and taking a genuine interest in their life and businesses made that happen.

Like anything in business, you need to expect that it will be hard work and there will be challenging times. But if you keep being honest, truthful and informative, showing the true value that you can deliver, you will get through it.  

MFAA: If you could go back in time to when you just started, would you do anything differently?

AW: I did a lot of activities that I felt were wasted time, such as randomly visiting real estate offices and doing mass mail outs. Upon reflection, there was no structure or follow-up action with those activities, so I didn't get the most out of them.

Instead, I would have focused on a couple of structured networking groups and attended those regularly. Only after realising this (about 12 months in), did my business start turning over income, and I started receiving referrals and building a network.

MFAA: How do you see the future of the industry?

AW: There's a lot going on at the moment with ASIC and the Royal Commission, so our relationships with our existing clients and referrers need to be carefully nurtured, more now than ever. We need to be educating them on the different changes that are happening within the banks and the challenges being faced; explaining to them why these new policies are being introduced and why the focus on responsible lending has shifted into a higher gear.

This has presented a great opportunity for us, because we are receiving more enquiries than ever before. Consumers can no longer rely on their 20-year relationship with a bank, or their friendly branch manager, to obtain an approval or renegotiate their loan. There is a lot more work involved, and this is about us capitalising on that opportunity.

Compliance, file notes and record keeping are all at their highest level. Adapt or move on – that’s what I believe will become the new norm. 

MFAA: How do you celebrate your business wins?

AW: Typically, on an [industry] Awards night I am with my team and we pop a bottle of champagne. That’s a given! In terms of successes, I do try to have as much balance as possible, making time for my family (and colleagues) outside of work, with celebratory lunches or special occasions. I am known to enjoy a good family holiday once a year too, whether it's just the hubby and myself or with the extended family. And I’d be lying if I said I could turn a blind eye to a great pair of stilettos!

MFAA: What is your next crazy idea?

AW: We just came back from Africa having done a ten-day canoeing trip down the Zambezi River. It was not your typical glamping trip. It was canoeing through hippos and crocs and sleeping on the banks of the river in the middle of the Zambezi. You have to cook your food on the campfire, Survivor-style. I’d say the trip was a fairly crazy experience because it's not something your ‘Average Joe’ would be doing, that's for sure. It's a very remote area and not touristy at all. Definitely a crazy holiday idea, as I am very wary of hippos and how dangerous they can be, particularly when they have their young around.