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In the last installment of the summer series on technology, Monica talks with our guest, Sam Powell,  about the virtual office. Since beginning her real estate venture, Sam has been working towards being 100% paperless and 100% virtual. In this episode, she talks with Monica about the equipment she uses, the programs and applications she uses, tips for being successful and mobile, and also a little bit about her marketing and branding strategy. If you’re looking to go virtual or paperless, this is an episode you won’t want to miss!

One of the main things to be mindful of if you’re wanting to step into the mobile/virtual office experience, it’s important to have good battery management. Charge everything every night so you can grab and go when you need to. In addition to the hardware she needs for her work, she completes the virtual office by also bringing her marketing with her. She has branded stickers and labels that fit her devices as well as branded shirts, so when she is out working in the community she is marketing and networking.

When Sam is out and about, people recognize and notice her logo and she is able to start conversations and forge connections with people she maybe wouldn’t otherwise if she kept to herself. Sam and Monica talk about how their interactions in the community enhance communication and allow REALTORS® to polish their people skills.

Sam talks about her approach to using her phone to talk live with clients versus communicating via text or email. Like many of us, Sam doesn’t like being caught off-guard and prefers when clients send a text or email about what they want to discuss so she can be prepared with the necessary information. She is prompt in getting back with her clients. Often she leaves her phone on Do Not Disturb while she’s focusing on a project. Whatever your system is, if you’re proactive to train your clients, they will know how to work with your system.

Communicating via text and email also automatically allows client communication to be documented. It can also allow some privacy if you are working on location; there are less likely to be people around that may know your client. On the reverse, having a phone conversation or meeting face-to-face can allow for more clarity and emotion, especially with any questions or issues about a deal. After you have a phone or in-person conversation, you can always follow up with an email to review and recap the issues discussed, and then the conversation is documented.

To take client notes paperlessly, Sam uses Evernote. This program allows a one-stop shop; you can upload photos along with your notes. The notes in Evernote are mostly for Sam herself, and then to share information with the clients, and it’s usually via detailed email. Sam also uses the electronic notepad that comes with computers and puts in notes that come in from the client. There are a few other applications and places where you could store this kind of information: Google Docs, OneNote/OneDrive (Microsoft), and Dropbox. Using things like Word and Excel can also help you organize client information and data as well as track trends.

One of the nice things about a mobile office and using some of these programs is that it’s easy to get set up on multiple devices. Sam tells the story about her mobile office being stolen from her car, and how quickly she was able to get back up and running after it was stolen. It also makes it easy to train additional members of your team.

When working out in the community, Sam always tries to be able to connect to the WiFi in a minimum of two ways. She uses a Verizon hotspot, and her phone can also function as a hotspot. For a backup third solution, you can use the WiFi at the location that you’re at, but you want to make sure it is a secure network, since you may be handling sensitive or secure client data. If you’re having to use data, you can conserve data by not sending attachments in email messages. You can paste the link to Dropbox or Google Docs where these files are stored and then clients can access live documents. You can also train your clients to find the information they need in these shared folders. It also provides a place for clients to leave notes too, so there is little misunderstanding. This is helpful when comparing appraisals and reports for full disclosure.

If you use a hotspot frequently to connect to the internet, there are protection devices you can use. Please don’t use public WiFi to run your business. There are lots of tools to help you, so don’t let this discourage you from pursuing the mobile office — just do it with care. 

Another big point of the virtual office is flexibility. They make battery packs so you can charge your laptop without sitting near an outlet. Being proactive about working remotely is one of the most important things in being successful in working remotely. There are also battery packs that allow you to plug into a traditional outlet.

Sam talks about the hardware she uses to run her virtual office. When she’s home, she uses a Mac cinema screen connected to a MacBook Air. When she travels, she uses the MacBook. She also carries her iPad mini; it ends up being the same configuration that she has at home, just a smaller version. Since you’re paperless, you don’t need to worry about a printer. Your computer, hotspot, and phone should do the trick!

Circling back to her marketing techniques and brand set up, Sam talks about her approach to picking a location. She likes to switch it up and feeds off the environment around her. She also likes to explore her immediate neighborhood/community. Some agents will frequent the same few places, which allows you to get to know the staff and regulars that can provide connections.

Sam’s final thoughts for the episode: It can be really beneficial to be intentional about having someone else sit across from you from time to time and work side-by-side. It can be an opportunity to learn from your peers as well. In a day, Sam likes to set up shop once in a location and stay there until she has to drive to an appointment or something. She will sometimes post on Facebook where her mobile office is for the day and that allows people the opportunity to stop by and talk.

About Sam Powell

  • 2014 President of Women's Council of REALTORS®
  • Top Producer 2012 & 2013, Awarded by the Chicago Association of REALTORS®

A real estate professional since 2002, Sam is passionate about making the industry better by educating consumers regardless of whether you work with her or not, peer-to-peer sharing no matter what company you work for, or through her volunteer work as the 2016 Women's Council of REALTORS® Illinois State President, 2014 Women's Council of REALTORS® Chicago Chapter President, Game Day Operations Manager of the Chicago Force, a Women's Semi-Professional Tackle Football Team (2013 National Champions), as well as an active member of the Chicago Association of REALTORS® Professional Standards Committee. You can follow Sam on facebook.com/askforsam to see what she's up to at any time.