Ditch the ‘Monkey Bars Approach’ to thrive in real estate sales

Swinging from deal to deal means agents often ignore key business practices

Viewers tuning in to CBS to watch “I Love Lucy” on a September evening 62 years ago might not have known that they were about to witness one of the most iconic scenes in sitcom history. Thanks to reruns, countless viewers around the globe have since watched Ricky challenge Lucy to get a job for a week, leading her and her best friend, Ethel, to get a job in a candy factory as candy wrappers.

I love Lucy

Things start fine enough; however, soon the conveyer belt begins moving faster and faster. In a panic, Lucy and Ethel begin stuffing chocolates into their blouses, hats and, of course, mouths, and hilarity ensues. Our heroines found themselves in a conundrum many new agents (and not-so-new agents) face: dealing with the ramifications of life hurling an increasing number of tasks at you while you have no plan for success in place.

In this second in my series, “The Tyranny of the Urgent,” we are going to get back to basics with a few of the major reasons that effective time management and real estate agents are often strangers: lack of focus, shiny objects, and the trap of the transactional mindset.

Step One: “Hey, baby, what’s your value proposition?”

Launching headfirst into any new career is exciting, particularly one that has the freedom and income potential that working as a real estate agent offers. After surviving their prelicensing course (gigantic textbook and all) and writing the licensing exam, these fresh faces are then treated like the belle of the ball by local brokerages eager to entice them to join forces. An office is chosen and they’re off the races with an active real estate license and a world of opportunities. However, once the excitement wanes and the business cards arrive, these agents typically have one question on their mind: “Now what?”

 New career image via Shutterstock

New career image via Shutterstock.

As I discussed in my series on agent specialization, the majority of real estate agents take a generalist approach to their business instead of focusing on one or two specialized markets. There are hundreds of thousands of agents for whom either choice works quite well; however, as a new agent (or any agent to be more accurate) no matter which you way you head, a business plan at this stage is essential.

This plan should begin with answering a common inquiry that agents face: “Why should I choose you?” Write down your response and see what you come up with. Now cross out the words “honest(y),” “trustworthy,” “dependable” and anything similar. You might very well be all of these; however, they’re incredibly overused in agent biographies, and, frankly, it is up to your clients to determine that you have these traits.

Your value proposition shouldn’t resemble the real estate biography version of “Mad Libs,” filled with clichés and slogans. Craft this answer, editing and re-editing with information that actually explains why you are unique, what you have to offer that others do not, and why my real estate transaction will be a success if I team up with you.

With this proposition in place, the next step is to lay out your goals and what you hope to achieve. These goals should feature a combination of long-term and short-term time frames, and can relate to income, quality of life, market share, sales goals — you name it. The only caveat is that the goal must be measurable.

Once you set the goals, then you can begin to plan how you will achieve them. You know what you want to do from both a philosophical and business standpoint at this point, so develop a series of action items to achieve these goals. Networking, marketing focus, contests, opens, education … the variables are numerous. Choose the combination that you feel will best play to your strengths while hopefully allowing you to refine your weaknesses.

The shiny object pitfall

One of the first traps newly licensed agents fall into is succumbing to shiny object syndrome (SOS, if you will). As soon as the agent passes their exam, they are instantly swept away in a sea of emails offering the newest website technologies, sales systems, etc. Websites and social media, in particular, seem to dominate many agents’ consciousness when entering the industry or as experienced agents look to increase their business. While these are incredibly important tools, the issue is that so many agents don’t understand their purpose.

Worrying about your social media presence before you’ve developed a business plan, value proposition analysis or strategy is the equivalent of trying to take on Amazon.com without any books. Social media is used to distribute your message, your content and, well, you to the masses, and if you don’t know what you want to say — or more importantly why you’re saying it — you’re grasping at straws.

 Shiny object image  via Shutterstock

Shiny object image via Shutterstock.

Similarly, I cannot tell you how many agent websites I visit that are clearly templated, which in and of itself isn’t a sin. However, what is a sin is that agent not taking any time to customize that website … in some cases not even a bio or photo. Websites can be terrific lead generators, but at their core they are your business card online; you wouldn’t hand out a business card with nothing printed on it so why would you allow a website to be up and running that does not at least tell me something about who you are? Certainly pay attention to tech, and do your research as to the type of website or social media presence you’d like to have, but you must have a plan in place before you move forward.

“Do you have the time?”

William Penn famously said, “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” As an agent, time is your most valuable resource and it is an easy resource to squander. That quick email or Facebook check can turn into hours, and while you might have great intentions as to what you wish to accomplish today, those intentions can often go sideways without a plan in place to manage your time.

Too often, agents in the face of stress adopt the transactional mindset, leaving behind their plans as the tyranny of the urgent takes over. It begins within the deal as the agent takes on tasks as they come, actioning item after item that fills their inbox relating to that transaction. Finally the closing occurs and instead of recalibrating back to their plan, they begin to fall victim to what I call “The Monkey Bars Approach,” swinging from deal to deal just trying to keep that momentum going. It’s hard to schedule a workweek once this begins, which is why agents at this point tend to ignore basic business practices like following up with past clients, prospecting and the like.

At the recent Real Estate Connect event in San Francisco, it was shared that the average real estate agent spends less than 15 minutes per day prospecting and that only 17 percent of homeowners actually use their real estate agent again due in part to the lack of follow-up after the sale. It’s much easier to retain one’s trust and business than it is to earn it from square one, which is partially why in the recent NAR survey 53 percent of buyers and 63 percent of sellers used either an agent referred to them by friends and family or one that they’d done business with prior.

Creating measurable goals, scheduling the action items to achieve them and then maintaining that schedule is not an easy task —  however, no one (hopefully) promised you that real estate is an easy industry to be in. If you’ve fallen victim to this transactional mindset, it’s not too late to change the course. The slower summer months may be coming to an end soon but there is still time to develop a game plan for the balance of the year. Seize back your time from the jaws of the urgent by taking a good hard look at where that time is going. It’s the clearest way to ensure that you’re running your business and that your business isn’t running you instead.

Bret Calltharp works as business development specialist for Metro Vancouver Properties, a multioffice Re/Max franchise group in Vancouver, British Columbia. You can connect with him on Google Plus, Twitter (@remaxjedi) or by email at bret@metrovp.ca.


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