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News & opinion

11 APR 2022

Jennifer Swanson MRICS and Ruth Brown MRICS, of Ruth Brown & Co Ltd

In this member spotlight we hear from two chartered surveyors who share how they got into the industry, what advice they’d give to women interested in starting a career in surveying, and the pros and cons of starting your own firm.

Read on as we hear from Jennifer Swanson MRICS and Ruth Brown MRICS, Director of Ruth Brown & Co Ltd, working in residential valuation.

How long have you been a surveyor, and what attracted you to the profession?

Ruth: I joined the surveying profession relatively late in life and have now been working as a surveyor for twelve years. I retrained after fifteen years teaching Engineering in the Further Education sector, swapping the confines of the classroom for the freedom of fieldwork in the Highlands.

My initial interest in surveying stems from my dad. As a general practice rural surveyor, he had a wide and varied workload and still has a passion for all things surveying-related. From a young age, I really enjoyed helping him measure boundaries - holding the end of the tape and occasionally having to climb under or through gorse bushes.

Jennifer: I have been a qualified MRICS Surveyor for over 2 years now, having worked with Ruth Brown & Co Ltd for over 6 years. I was attracted to the profession by opportunity.

I vividly recall as a teenager, on work experience at a solicitor/estate agents, being mesmerised by the digital measuring device they had (back in circa 1995). But I was drawn into law at university and enjoyed a career in contracts and commercial management within the oil & gas sector for 8 years, before relocating with my young family for a better work/life balance. I was lucky to be employed and offered the chance to re-train, and now I get to use own DISTO ​measuring device, so I feel I've come full circle.

Ruth, what made you want to start your own firm?

Ruth: I joined my father’s business initially as part of succession planning, then as he neared retirement age, I branched out on my own. It was a natural progression as opposed to seeking it out. I had gained a certain amount of knowledge about running a business from working with my father and have continued to learn much more since then

Ruth Brown MRICS and Jennifer Swanson MRICS
Ruth Brown MRICS and Jennifer Swanson MRICS

What are the pros and cons of starting your own small firm?

Ruth:​ I feel that operating as a small firm we are able to offer a much more personable service than larger organisations. We are closer to our customers in so far as they deal with us directly. We carry out our own admin, so we take the calls, answer all the questions, carry out the survey and deliver their service/report. I feel we are also in a better position to offer flexibility where required as we can quickly make decisions.

The best advantage to operating as a small firm is that communication and teamwork is attained easily with fewer employees, and we have so much fun.

In terms of disadvantages, there is always the concern of how the market will affect workload. However, I find it forces me to constantly review where we are at and where we can focus our attention to attract more work in quieter times. This is often then tied into making use of that time for CPD, so we can expand on our skillset and offer additional services to our customers.

There is also the burden of costs involved in this sector, which are ever rising, with Professional Indemnity Insurance an obvious concern. Again, taking a negative and turning it into a positive has forced me to get involved and participate in a PII RICS working group, looking at the issues and proposing ways to improve things.

Ruth Brown MRICS
Ruth Brown MRICS

What advice would you give other women or young girls interested in pursuing careers as surveyors?

Ruth: My advice would focus around assuring young girls and other women not to be put off by the current male dominance within the profession. Within the relatively short time I have been in the profession I have seen the progression to a more equal representation, although I appreciate there's still to work to be done. Social media and virtual networking communities, such as 'Women in Surveying' on Facebook and ‘Women in Residential Property’ on LinkedIn provide an encouraging and nurturing environment for any female seeking to join the profession.

Jennifer: My advice would be that it is a rewarding and highly varied career. No two days are ever the same, and there is so much opportunity to continually improve and add to your skillset within the sector that you have little excuse for ever being bored. The advice is always to "do what you love" and I definitely love my job. I get to meet and connect with new people daily and provide a very valued service. A valuation is usually required at milestone points in people's lives, and we get to be part of that. We also work in one of the most beautiful areas in the UK and get to bring our four-legged friends with us, so that's a bonus!