Business Planning Strategies for Real Estate Teams


Vanessa: All right it's the middle of January, so if you're a real estate agent there's a good chance that you have completed your business plan for the year and you know what your goals are. However, if you have an assistant, do they know what your goals are and do they know what steps they need to take in order to help you reach your goals? Hi, I’m Vanessa Rosenblum, I’m the president of Pro REA Staffing and with me here today is my friend and colleague Kathleen Metcalf. Kathleen is the founder of Inspired for Results and we work together to help real estate professionals hire and train the support people on their teams. My company helps agents hire and then Kathleen takes over and provides training and coaching support to real estate teams. Okay, Kathleen, how are you doing today?

Kathleen: I'm great. It's so wonderful to be with you.

Vanessa: Thank you so much.

Kathleen: Thank you for the invitation and for setting this up. I hope that we will provide great value to everyone listening.

Vanessa: Well, I have no doubt because every time we get together it feels like a mastermind session and that's why I wanted to have this conversation recorded because I feel like when you and I talk about the issues that come up with our clients, we have so many AHA moments and so many little gems that I think other people would could really learn and benefit from. So, I’m excited to hopefully do that today and share some of this with our clients. So, you know today's topic is business planning and how does successfully articulate your business plan to your team and how to make sure that plan gets implemented. So, to start can you tell me a couple examples of best practices that you've seen with teams that you coached? Who's doing this really well and what are they doing differently from the agents who aren't articulating a plan to their team?

Kathleen: Absolutely. In fact, I’ve had a number of those conversations this week since it's early January and I have already talked with a number of agents who it really didn't even occur to them to share some of their business plan with their team because they didn't really know why, but what it would mean to them in terms of breaking it down. And, so if an agent does have a structured business plan then what I say to them is that your business plan then works into work load for your team. So, five listings turn into how many packets and how many photographer appointments and all kinds of other tasks that are a part of their roles depending on the role that they play on the team which then means that the agents can begin to set goals that are performance-based for each member of the team which are things that they can control. Not just things because they don't sell so they can't bring in the sale but they can control a number of factors once the business goals have been determined.

Vanessa: Yes, and I find that assistants want to know what their job is and they really love this. I mean, I even know in my own team when I say this is the goal for the year and these are the benchmarks to get there, my assistant jumps on it. She's got it on the calendar, she has it scheduled in our weekly accountability meeting. She's all over it because it’s satisfying to her. She knows exactly what she needs to do to make me happy and to help us win as a team and I see that all the time with top assistants like they want this information.

Kathleen: Yes, and so if agents have not put together a very big business plan yet, I have also offered a structure to my clients with ‘how are you even going to come up with that?’ and ‘how can you get the team engaged in that?’ and so some people do this in December but it's totally okay to do it in January, it's just the beginning of the new year. So, how do you want to create team goals and team engagement for that? So, one is to look back on the year and if you do this regularly it's really easy to put this part together, but what were the wins that happened throughout the year? So, what are things that people do well on the team that make a difference to the clients? And what are some things maybe that didn't go really well that we really want to remember and learn from that potentially change the process of how the business is run? And then also in categories of what do we do in listings, what do we do with buyers, what do we do in the escrow or pending process, are there any special events that we want to have for clients or certain ways we want to celebrate or appreciate them, what works well on the team and how do we want to celebrate being a team? And, you know, that we are working so hard together periodically throughout the year how was that important to them?

Is there any training that the team wants to get involved in? Whether that's new software or whether that is something that's happening in their community, if they really want to get better at a new contract or the new tax laws, you know, or any of the things that are happening? So that's a meeting that the team can have together it usually takes three hours which sometimes sounds like an enormous amount of time we're never going to be able to find that time. So, okay even an hour at a time is better than not doing it at all. But some teams really do take a morning or take an afternoon, they go off-site, they go in a conference room they order lunch and it's a chance to brainstorm. This is not really about the agent lecturing on what they want just in their business.

A part of the value of being on a team is that you have collective wisdom. You have everyone on the team has their own perspective and their own way of contributing and so this is how a lead agent can really maximize all this talent you've hired. Is to give them a chance to have a voice and to brainstorm and I also mentioned in brainstorming there are no bad ideas, there are no bad comments so it's called no fire hosing. So, you cannot be critical at this place, like oh that'll never work or that only happen one time it really needs to be a time where people can put things up on a whiteboard or put things up on flipchart paper and you can have different members of the team that are facilitating these different sections so that everyone is really participating in okay, how can we really make this year terrific and what kind of benchmarks do we want to hit?

Vanessa: I think that's so key, I hear when I’m talking to agents who want to hire staff, often times they say I want someone who's going to take ownership in my business and who wants to win with me and who isn't just interested in the money if they're passionate about what we're doing here and I think going through that process with your team goes a long way to making that happen. People don't just walk into a job and feel passionately committed to this entrepreneur’s vision necessarily they're looking for a job, but having them participate in the planning process and taking ownership of their role in a win for their team helps somebody demonstrate that and really own their role and hold themselves on the team accountable to keeping those goals I think.

Kathleen: Well you probably hear this too in the hiring process. When you ask a candidate, because this was true in my years of hiring, when you ask someone, “Well, what's most important to you about this next phase of your career?” or something like that and they say, “I want to keep learning. I want to always be growing.” And when you're in a position in a small team where the organization is kind of flat I mean, it's not like they're going to become the manager and the director and the vice president like were in regular corporate America, but this is how they can stay engaged in having more responsibility and having more input of always learning something new that's involved in the business. So, this is how you gather retention of that talent that you spent so much time, energy and resources hiring this is one of those ways that exactly you get them engaged in the business and in their role which retains them for more time. So that they are really involved.

Vanessa: Yeah, absolutely. And the other thing I hear all the time and I actually got a call from a candidate he works for a campaign this past week people want to feel valued and valuable. They want to peel away the work that they do matters and that they're contributing in a meaningful way and what better way to do that than giving them a role in the business planning process.

Kathleen: And it was true for me when I was an assistant both for a real estate agent and for the business coach I worked for. I had had a corporate career so that was a big change for me, but I always was included in ‘what do you think we ought to do?’ or ‘what's an idea that you have about this area?’ or ‘how do you think we could do this better?’ and so I always felt as though I was able to make a difference and that my intellect and my experience was valued even though in that particular position. Maybe I hadn't been there very long, but that made a big difference and so I, you know, I stayed.

Vanessa: Yeah, people will stay at a job that pays a little less when they feel valued and valuable and they enjoy working with their boss.

Kathleen: Mm-hmm.

Vanessa: Absolutely hands down.

Kathleen: Yeah.

Vanessa: So, let's talk about tracking. I want to talk about this both in terms of the just like they're the practical, how do teams track their goals and then I want to talk about how does an assistant hold the team accountable? We hear that a lot. You want somebody who's holding everyone accountable though, but what does that really look like and how does somebody put that into practice?

Kathleen: Yeah, that's quite a bit of variety in there and I made some notes about this question on that we wanted to talk about because I do think that this can make a difference for the team and there's lots of different ways to get it accomplished. So, if you're using checklists in your business whether they're paper or electronic, if people are keeping track and writing down when something happened, who did something then you have a method of going back to see, well ‘how long does it take us to have a listing go live or from the time, you know, we asked for disclosures when did we really get them back?’ You know, there's just a way not to make it analysis paralysis but...just to be able to see some of those statistics for 'Are we really hitting the benchmarks?' If no one's tracking that, then what's an easy way to do that in everyday business? So, checklist is one.

If you have customer service and quality experience as a goal in your business then how are you measuring that?

So, client surveys is one way of doing that which is different than asking a client for testimonials. A testimonial is one way of gathering that feedback but otherwise throughout the transaction, even in a weekly phone call a few times through the transaction saying, “So, how are we doing?” you know, “are you satisfied with the service that we're providing?” or you send them a SurveyMonkey, you know, a survey to fill out or you just ask them to answer a couple of questions in an email. But, client surveys throughout the transaction and afterwards are a way of gathering some information to hold that accountable.

And if you have leads and lead management, getting to leads quickly, converting leads then that also becomes how are you tracking your leads? Even if you have them on index cards then if you date when it came in and when you talk to them and when they wrote a contract or saw property you can go back and look at your index cards.

If you use Follow-up Boss or Boomtown or your database then if you're also keeping track there you can see how are people processing? And for a lead agent that brings on buyer agents this is one of the places where I see in my work that lead agents just hope that, you know, they'll just keep producing and it'll be great and that's possible, but everyone really does need some form of management. And so, as a lead agent, bringing in buyers agents, tracking their conversion rates and the methods that they're using to go through can really make a difference in increasing their productivity over time.

Some offices like a visual tracking method. So, I have some teams that decide how many properties they want to sell in the year and they cut out pictures of houses, you know, a little cutout of a house and every time they sell a property they put a paper house up on the bulletin board.

Vanessa: I love that. It’s fantastic. Our job can sometimes feel so intangible because we're not producing a product so to physically see the houses on a wall instead of just a number I think that's fantastic.

Kathleen: I had a team this week or last week say to me they were going to make a giant key chalkboard. So, they were going to cut out a big old-fashioned key and then paint it with chalkboard paint and make a chart where they would just x off every time they sold a house so that over the time I think their goal was sixty properties that year. So, they're going to make sixty boxes on a chalkboard so that was a really fun idea and, you know, it really depends on your area and what's you know what sort of hip, cool, fun and inspiring to you.

Vanessa: Sure.

Kathleen: And the other way of accountability is a recap or a debrief after transactions. So, what went well? Once again, what are the lessons that we learned? So, there's an accountability of when do we need to keep doing business the way we've been doing it and throughout the year and when do we need to change something?

One of the examples I love to give about this was a client in Texas who noticed a trend in the pending to closing process where they kept having to extend their inspection period because the gas company couldn't get to the house on time to turn on the gas particularly in properties that weren't occupied and so they had to change the way they were doing business and when they got a new listing they had to have the seller make sure all the utilities were on from the very beginning so that they didn't have these little snafu later on where they had deals that were potentially at risk. So, they would not have had that if they hadn't had a brainstorming session of “there's a pattern here,” what's going on and how can we prevent it how can we bring be proactive about it.

Vanessa: Let's talk about the lead gen part of the business plan. So, an agent says “I need to take 15 listing appointments” or “my goal is 50 calls a week,” break that down to the assistant’s responsibilities and how you're seeing assistants support their agents and there'll be generations at work.

Kathleen: So, there's a few choices in that. If the assistant or the person in a support role is also doing research, so that sometimes means that they're actually researching phone numbers that go along with addresses and they need lead time to get ready for lead generation they may actually need to upload those into an automatic dialer if the agent is using that or they may need to fill that out on an excel spreadsheet if they're using a process that's a little more manual or if there are things that are automatically downloaded and entered into a system, then the assistant may have to make sure that it's categorized by day by week to make sure that the agent doesn't run out of numbers. Because that's one of the number one excuses of getting out of doing your lead generation or prospecting is, I don't know how to call I ran out of numbers, and so if that's a facet of it.

And then depending on the agent system, what are the notes that come out of lead generation? It's really great if an agent is able to take notes while they do lead gen and then be able to have their own lead follow-up system. If they don't then they have notes that they are putting down on paper or they're recording then the assistant needs to have time to enter those notes into whatever the lead generation system is and then set them up for when are they going to follow up. So, sometimes that's electronic calendars. Sometimes that's an accordion file folder of 1 through 31 in a month or January through December of a year and they take an index card or the lead gen you know lists from an expired or a FSBOs and they put it in the 17th, you know, day of the month or they put it in the next month of the year where they're supposed to call back. But, there has to be some kind of organization and there are assistants that participate in that so that the agent is able to easily make sure they maximize every lead that comes in.

Vanessa: Perfect. So, one challenge that I’ve heard or one complaint that I’ve heard from assistants who call us looking for new opportunities is, “My boss isn't doing their job and I’m afraid I’m not going to hit my financial goals this year. So, I know my boss needs to make 50 calls a week but they're not doing it or they're doing 20 calls a week and I can see the writing on the wall, we're not getting the business that we need.” They don't really need the money, maybe they're slowing down, maybe there's other stuff going on in their life. So, talk to me about what's appropriate and where the line is in most offices for the assistant to take on an accountability role with their agent and say, “Hey, you committed to doing 50 calls a week [or whatever it is] you're not doing it what's going on?”

Kathleen: Yeah, that's, that gets to be sticky for a number of assistants. So, first it is entirely possible for an admin or an assistant on a team to be the business manager who helps to lead the team to accomplish their tasks which then help them achieve their goals. That has to be very clearly stated that, “I want you to be my business manager,” and then the assistant has to agree and sign up for that like okay, I’m willing. That cannot be an assumption because in most realms of administrative support work that is that activity that behavior is actually considered rude and inappropriate. So that can't be something that's assumed or that you just ask for that lightly that really has to be defined and it can be something that the team agrees on what that looks like and how can we make this fun.

So, if it is “Yes, I’m supposed to make 50 calls a day and then all of the numbers are available” and it's a scheduling issue then sometimes an assistant has the ability to influence the schedule. So, no inspections, no buyer, a showing appointment or we have to re-allocate if you're going to do that in the morning then, “I’m going to section this off in the afternoon so you can still get your calls done.” So, sometimes an assistant can protect a schedule and that helps.

Sometimes to make it a little more entertaining we can also get a little skin in the game so there are some games that agents and assistants can play. So, some agents have a clothesline in their prospecting area and they attach money for every contact they have to make. Could be a dollar bill, could be a ten-dollar bill could be a hundred-dollar bill and for every contact they don't make the assistant gets that money. For some it is, Kathy Anderson, my old boss when she had her own brokerage firm they had water pistols outside her prospects and if she came out of her prospecting room at times that was she was not authorized they were to shoot her in the head with a water pistol.

Vanessa: I have never heard of that, that's fantastic.

Kathleen: Yes, Kathy sold 200 homes a year.

Vanessa: Yeah there you go.

Kathleen: So, she was very successful in selling and she's a very disciplined person and so that just made it fun for the office it made it fun for her, you know, and she really didn’t want to get shot in the head with a water pistol. So, she went in and to do her contacts and you know part of this is also a rhythm and a habit and this lead generation of doing you know contacts in a row is definitely something that salespeople struggle with. So, it's also important that the admin team has some compassion for the fact that this is a muscle, it does require stamina. So, do they need a water break? Do they need a granola bar? Do they need to come out and do jumping jacks? do we need a music break? do we need something that's uplifting for them?

So, there are different ways to support them based on where the agent is in their own learning curve for doing consistent essentially volume lead generation. First, we’ve got to walk around the block before we run the marathon, you know, so there's also that aspect to it and to be realistic with the agent. If it's not working five days a week, could it work three days a week? Can we do it two days a week just so that they keep their word to themselves about what they're going to do? And that sometimes is a bit of a confrontation, but it's sort of an “Alright, let's talk about this. This is what you said and this is what's happening. How can I support you? you know, how can I make this better here's some ideas and bring some solutions?

Vanessa: I love that! Those are really great ideas and I love the idea of making it fun and light and not punitive. And trying to keep it keep it positive. So, speaking of that… so, when we get to about June or July and teams look at their numbers and they realize they're not on track to hit their goals that they had set for themselves what are some of the things you see teams do to retool or get back on track so that they can finish the year strong?

Kathleen: So, I advise for the teams that I work with that they have a weekly team meeting and in a weekly team meeting or like a strategy meeting of there really is sort of dealing with life on life's terms, you know, and just being upfront with “Alright, here's what we said, here's that the habit of what we've been doing here the results that we have so now let's re-calibrate. Can we still make it up and if we were going to make it up what would we really need to do?” So, it's almost like a mini strategy session just like you might have in December or in January but then really looking at where are we without any blame without any, you know, it's my fault, you know, so we don't want to really go down that rabbit hole of blame and lack of responsibility and people get shamed into things. It's okay, it’s just where we are and then what's realistic.

And, if you have to readjust the goal, you know, this happened last year there were wildfires and there were hurricanes in three different regions of the country maybe even four or five if you really sort of spread out how far the storm went and how extensive it was and so some of these teams had to readjust because there was a natural disaster and then for some even after that occurrence happened the business got even busier than they had anticipated, they actually had an opposite effect of what you might think, so then they had to get prepared for a holy mackerel! How are we going to handle all of this you know need so quickly and be able to take care of our own families. So, there are lots of different reasons why you might have to recalibrate but then it's about how does this impact the process that we're doing, how does this impact each person's goals that are in the different role on the team and how can we pull together to support each other on the team to really see what we can still achieve.

Vanessa: Fantastic. This is great I feel like we could go on and on and on we only have so much time and you're you have a busy day ahead of you. So, is there anything that we haven't touched on that you think we really should talk about before we wrap up our call?

Kathleen: Well, I wanted to offer a sample weekly team meeting agenda that people could have from listening to this. So, we can have that be available to people and so, and also to include if we want in any of messages for this is the sample for their brainstorming sessions so that they can have a way to follow along and not have to take copious notes for all of this but I do think that you know being able to come together and strategize is really a way that teams can really maximize their talent together.

Vanessa: Fantastic. Thank you so much. It's so great to see you we always talked on the phone but nice to see you face-to-face and thank you if you are the people listening. If you would like more information on our hiring services or training and coaching check the links below and stay tuned we plan to do more of these videos this year.

Kathleen Metcalf