Leanne Johnstone - Mortgage Choice’s 2020 Single Operator of the Year
It’s common to hear in the lending sector that change is the only constant thing we can rely on. But for the franchisee of Mortgage Choice in Lane Cove, Leanne Johnstone, the constant has always been building and nurturing relationships.
It’s that personal approach that saw Leanne recognised as Mortgage Choice 2020 National and NSW Franchisee of the Year for the highest business growth across criteria including settlement growth, diversified sales and customer experience.
Leanne’s award-winning franchise has been built from her genuine love for people.
“It’s always personal with me. I rarely walk away from somebody without exchanging phone numbers,” Leanne laughs.
“Then when you need a mortgage broker in the future, there I am.”
The bus ride that changed it all
Joining as a franchisee in 2002, she was confident in her accounting and HR background. But her first training session left her devastated when she forgot some of the 20-something loan providers.
“I’ll never forget sitting on the bus home, coming up with an acronym to remember them all,” she says.
“I promised myself in that moment, that even without mortgage experience, I would take this on completely and show people my enthusiasm and excitement is for real.”
Building the business
As a high achiever in the corporate world, the success of the franchise felt personal. With a 3-month old baby and another on the way in the first year of business, Leanne was nervous about what being self-employed was going to look like.
“My biggest fear was failure,” she says.
“My first employee was part admin and part nanny. She walked around with screaming babies as I’d talk to clients, but it worked.”
Leanne’s communication, HR and finance skill set was perfectly matched to connecting borrowers with a home loan product to suit their needs. She became intrigued by what she was learning and absorbed in mortgage problem solving.
Even as she built her business, Leanne had some non-negotiables in her schedule; prioritising her children and managing her own wellbeing to juggle and not struggle with the work life balance.
“Flexibility as a broker is key, but it works for you as well. For years my standing appointment at 4pm was with my kids, no questions asked,” she says.
“I’d drop the kids at school and pick them up, and in between I’d squish in so much work - especially when they were much younger. I was absolutely engaged at work because every minute needed to count.”
Inspiring women franchisees
Leanne inspired the audience as a panellist at the inaugural Mortgage Choice ASPIRE event in Sydney. Mortgage Choice’s ASPIRE program targets the growth and development of its female mortgage brokers, advisers and franchise owners. She shared her experience of running a business through the anxiety of a marriage breakup, and encouraged women to instill boundaries and self care to sustain mental health as business grows.
Research shows women are less confident than men to stretch for a promotion — but women can step up to lead, and you don’t need to be part of a husband and wife team to do it.
“My franchise is my business; I’m the one responsible for the good and the bad results,” she says.
“That’s scary sometimes, but success takes practice.”
Staying accountable and human
It’s no surprise Leanne encourages open communication and close working relationships.
“Bringing your whole self to work means the good and the bad. In hard times, I'd arrive and let the team know it wasn’t a great day for me — and I’d encourage them to do the same,” she says.
She also advocates being completely accountable to yourself with some humanity thrown in.
“If you're having a bad month of settlements or approvals, you want to know you've done everything you possibly could to change that result. Look back long enough to learn, then remember you are human and keep going,” she says.
Leanne’s award-winning franchise performance
Leanne’s annual settlement growth was around 30%, fuelled by a referral network that sings her praises.
“Mortgages are our main game, but only one part of a person’s financial jigsaw. So, I talk to people about managing different scenarios — what if interest rates change, fixed versus variable — all the loan basics that can get overlooked at the bank,” she says.
“Even after approval, I often end up chatting to borrowers about how to buy at auction, dealing with agents, and conveyancing.”
Leanne shows that it’s possible to be sales driven and still put customer needs first, even if that means patience to find the right product.
“I laugh that I may have talked more people out of loans than into them, because it’s personal to me that you get the best deal and have the best experience you can.”
Leanne prides herself on staying the primary point of contact for clients even after 18 years. She stays in touch to offer home loan health checks and keep up with changing loan needs.
“That’s the real difference in what I offer — you can get me on the phone,” she says.
“I’m in this business long-term and my phone number doesn’t change if you’re thinking about a mortgage refresh.”
Doing what she loves
It’s not the straightforward loans that come to mind when she thinks about success.
“Some clients have had a bad experience with a broker in the past — they come in ready to battle, so I have a battle plan of my own to win them over,” she says.
“I had a loan held up for several weeks because of COVID-19 issues, with the client on the phone for an hour every day. When that settlement finally went through, there was a sense of achievement in seeing it through to the end and the apology from the grumpy client!”
Leanne is proud of the award recognition and customer feedback, but is driven by something more.
“It's knowing I can look back at the day and be proud of what I've achieved,” she says.
“I get to help people find their perfect loan. And I still learn something every day.”
“Embrace change & know that it provides many opportunities. Reach out, pick up the phone & don’t be scared. Aspire to learn every day. Most importantly, do something for you. Find a passion outside of work & family that will help you switch off & smile”.