Chris Cullen of Lunaria joined the Brokerplan network in 2018. Lunaria Finance are Business Partners (ARs) under our Commercial Finance package.
What was your professional background before joining?
I joined the network in October 2018 although due to work commitments, I did not start trading until January 2019. Prior to engaging with Brokerplan, I worked in education. I was an Assistant Headteacher of secondary schools teaching Mathematics.
With no prior background in finance, no experience of self-employment either personally or in the family, Brokerplan was the ideal route into the financial services sector for me. I recognised that I would need training and support from the off and this enabled me to significantly change my career path safe in the knowledge that I would be given the best possible chance of success.
I took the approach that since I had no preference or prior contacts in a particular area, I would try to do as much as I could in general and then see where the business came from.
It turns out that no amount of research could reveal where the competition locally have their strengths although this has become apparent as I broke into the community.
For whatever reason, a growing stream of leads for bridging finance, commercial mortgages and development funding have found their way to me and whilst I do have other opportunities, it is these that provide the day to day income for us.
It was quite a jump to move from very secure employment, a successful career in another industry, a young family to support and a mortgage to pay, to move to a brand new field with no experience or contacts to leverage.
It sounds like madness when I write this but I’m pleased to say that business is good and all measures point to continued growth which calms the nerves somewhat. I needed to get out and get my name known locally as the point of contact for business and property developers when they need finance.
I spent the vast majority of my time networking, joining local business groups and engaging with lenders. I was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy that initial phase as that does not come naturally to me, but I’ve come to really like it and the people I have met along the way usually want nothing more than to help where they can.
Networking has been key and whilst I cannot afford to spend as much time as I did initially out of the office, it is vital to continue this and to keep up the working relationships developed, so I’ll be networking for some time to come.
Think carefully about what support you may need day 1 and ask for it. In my case, I decided to spend those initial quiet weeks networking and educating myself.
For professional development and interest only, I studied for CeMAP. Whilst this is not in any way a requirement to be successful as a commercial broker, it did give me a wider appreciation for the world of finance having had no previous experience.
I have since used this qualification to expand my offer to clients but that was never really the intention. More important is to work out what you don’t know and then go and find out, the team can support this.
Our best deal was on a small development for a client who has lots of industry experience in the construction trade but was looking to finance his first project for himself.
The client made it easy having done much of the preparatory work required to package the case for a lender – We found funding for c£1.1m to support the build of six townhouses.
We are under instruction from this client to source funding for his next much larger project and whilst these sorts of deals do not come every day, the frequency in that we receive similar opportunities is certainly increasing as our brand and local reputation grows.
Support from the team has been strong and seems to be improving all the time. The people in the office always have time to discuss a deal in detail and will take the time to explain the wider reasoning behind criteria or feedback from an underwriter.
I have been encouraged to engage with lenders and the team have provided local introductions where possible which is invaluable.
How has the support from Brokerplan developed since you joined?
The support promised at the outset was vital for me and I’m pleased to say that it has continued without being overbearing. If I want to discuss something in detail or have some time with an advisor then that is available.
Over the past two years or so, the team has changed, there are new faces and indeed more of them. I think it’s testament to the support that I have received that I don’t yet know all of those people as my need for assistance has dwindled – although they are there when I need them.
The biggest change has been the introduction of our proprietary sourcing software, linked to the Brokerplan Intranet. It is highly useful to have up to date lender information and criteria which allows us to obtain an indication of terms when a client just wants to know ‘what is possible’. It provides a great jumping off point and that combined with the ability to send enquiries into the office at the touch of a button works well.
How does Chris generate leads?
Leads are generated from a wide range of sources, but I find accountants who are always on top of their clients requirements a good source of leads along with mortgage brokers who are limited by their networks on specialist BTL or bridging opportunities. Networking is key to making these contacts and you never know who else you are going to bump into at local events.
What is your dream holiday?
Dream holiday is a month in Canada. I plan to visit family in Ontario, visit Niagara Falls, party in Toronto then fly over to BC, hire an RV and go as far north as weather permits to see the northern lights. The next big deal will pay for it!