When Tom Yates began his real estate business in August 2013, he tried everything he could think of to get sales—sending print mailings and posting ads online, among other tactics—but to no avail. “I went through a truckload of money and thought, ‘There has got to be a better way,’” says Yates, GRI, MRP, a sales associate with Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty in Fleming Island, Fla. After retiring from a 31-year career with the U.S. Postal Service, he quickly realized that his second career in real estate required a larger time and monetary investment than he imagined, and the rewards would take longer to achieve.
Many other newcomers to real estate may also be unprepared for the cost of operating their own business. REALTORS® spent a median of $820 on promotional expenses, $750 on technology products and services, and $1,930 on vehicle expenses in 2017, according to the National Association of REALTORS®’ 2018 Member Profile. However, in the same year, REALTORS® earned a median gross income of only $39,800—a wage on which it is difficult to support both business and personal expenses.
There are, of course, real estate professionals who are making much more money, and they share what they learned about jumpstarting their careers and breaking away from the low-paying mold.
Don’t be wedded to “your way” of doing business. Yates admits he made no sales in his first year as an agent. But in his second year, he did $700,000 in sales volume, and then $4.2 million last year. This year, he expects to sell between $8 million and $10 million. His big secret: “By hiring a coach, I learned that there are better ways than just my way, and I learned to model the successful agents in the business and learn from my coach.”
Yates attended a seminar held by real estate coach Tom Ferry, which was designed to offer a step-by-step process for starting and building a business. The first thing he learned was to target sellers who are ready to sell rather than blanketing all potential sellers with a sales pitch. He began reaching out to owners of expired listings—motivated sellers who still needed real estate services—a move he says helped him to focus on building relationships and stop “throwing stuff at the wall.”
Many of the expireds Yates contacted were bitter and angry after a failed transaction, he says, but he remained calm and delivered a consistent message. “You have to explain that what happened to them last time doesn’t have to happen this time,” Yates says. For those who were reluctant to relist, Yates kept them updated with market stats and occasional greetings to stay top of mind.
Focus more on your current sphere of influence. Of course, agents hope to expand their circle and meet new potential clients. But Yates learned to focus on marketing to the people he already knows and earn referral business. At the start of his real estate career, Yates knew about 500 people from his postal job, so he focused on marketing to them rather than random addresses. Such prospecting has grown to account for 75 percent of his business.
Yates developed a plan to nurture this core group of contacts: He sends snail mail to them monthly, whether it’s a birthday card, holiday card, or a simple piece of marketing. He also sends market stats and homeowner tips twice a month. Then, he follows them on Facebook, sending them personal messages whenever something important happens in their lives. But he also goes out daily with the goal of making three to five new connections a day. “Join networking groups locally; meet people at the grocery store. You have to get out there and do it—it’s not going to come to you,” Yates advises.
Develop a system to keep track of your business activities. Chantay Bridges, SRES, a sales associate with Real Estate Professionals Allstate Marketing in Ladera Ranch, Calif., says that as a rookie agent, she had no real plan for how to conduct her business. She used to prospect mainly by door knocking and cold calling. “I practically did what everyone else did,” she says. “I did not have a system, defined goals, or strategic alliances and partnerships.”
But after gleaning tips from a business seminar, she began to institute a system for staying in contact with clients. She started using Top Producer and Boomtown, CRMs that automatically alerts her to client anniversaries, birthdays, and other important dates. She even has a system for determining the timing and target areas for her marketing campaigns.
Start delegating tasks ASAP. New agents may feel like they have to handle all their business tasks themselves until they become more established to avoid the expense of hiring help. But bringing on an assistant could help you focus more on income-generating activities and boost your business faster. “I hired a virtual assistant and interns to do smaller tasks that were taking me away from prospecting and meeting with new clients,” Bridges says.
Fifteen percent of REALTORS® employ at least one assistant, according to NAR’s 2018 Member Profile, and these assistants help with a variety of tasks, including processing new listings, managing paperwork, and sending marketing mailings. Seventy-two percent of REALTORS® with personal assistants say the assistant works for them exclusively, while 28 percent say they share an assistant with colleagues.Act like your job is in customer service, not sales. Emile L’Eplattenier, chief real estate analyst for TheClose.com in New York, says the biggest game-changer in his career was the moment he switched his mind frame from that of a salesperson to that of a customer service professional. “One of the best analogies my managing broker ever gave me was that a buyer’s agent plays an identical role to a shopping buddy,” he says. “Would you lie to your best friend and tell her the awful dress she likes looks great on her? Would you push her to make a decision and buy the most expensive dress in the store? Or would you offer your honest advice in the kindest way possible?” This approach, L’Eplattenier says, will earn more trust from clients and, thus, more business.