It’s the holidays and here’s my shopping list of items for real estate agents to arm themselves with in 2007 to help reduce business costs, improve time management, boost their brand and increase profitability.

Give yourself a paycheck!

While many of us are fond of saying that “I’m an independent contractor,” making the shift to being an employee may be the smartest thing you can do to build your business. A company called MyBizOffice allows you to shift from independent contractor status to being one of their employees. Why would you want to do that? First, your income becomes W-2 wages; no more tracking expenses, no more estimates, no more late filing fees, no more Schedule C, and a miniscule bill from your CPA. For a fee, they handle all of these details. Second, as one of their employees, you are eligible for medical benefits at a reduced rate. This alone can save you the cost of the fees. Third, you can also set up a profit-sharing, defined-benefit, or other retirement program. This is a gift not only to you, but to your family as well.

Free Internet advertising

Did you know that you can post your listings on up to 25 different Web sites at no charge? What better gift to give your business than having a Web marketing plan that provides your sellers with maximum exposure to the marketplace that results in maximum price for them. Better yet, it’s maximum commissions for you!

Free blogs provide free search-engine placement

There are a number of services that provide blogging solutions for free. The hot trend for 2007 is to start your own blog. While it takes some effort to write posts, the free search-engine placement is well worth the effort.

They pay you

Foreclosure.com has an affiliate program that actually pays you for the leads that you generate from your Web site. Check out http://affiliate.foreclosure.com/index.htm.

Savvy technology that gives you the best gift of all: more time!

If you’re still lugging around a laptop that weighs over seven pounds without the case and the peripherals, it’s time to upgrade to a tablet PC. Tablet PCs allow you to access MLS listings using your wireless connection. Walk through properties taking notes in your own handwriting and automatically convert them into a Word file. Since no keyboard is needed, tablet PCs are also the cure for “Blackberry thumb.” The digital signature recognition feature allows clients to sign documents directly on your tablet. E-mail the documents to the clients and avoid the costs of having to send documents via messenger. Furthermore, if you purchase a docking station, you need only your tablet rather than your bulky desktop. Combine your tablet with the “Red Tablet” software package, which is designed specifically for the real estate industry. Download listings from your local MLS, map out routes for showings, and have clients sign all required MLS and disclosure forms directly on your tablet. If you need information about a new listing while you’re out with buyers, you can use the wireless feature to check availability, features and price. In fact, you can also toss all that aggravating paper that keeps accumulating on your desk and in your file cabinet. Your tablet lets you be paperless, awes clients, and best of all, can reduce the amount of time it takes to conduct transactions by up to 70 percent.

I love my Mac

The new Macs have a dual processor that lets you run the standard Windows operating systems as well as the Mac operating system. They’re pricey, but if you love you Mac but need PC versatility for some of your programs, this computer is a good choice if you don’t opt for a tablet.

Only for the brave of heart

In early 2007, Microsoft will release its new operating system Vista. If you’re an early adopter, you still may want to wait a few months and let other users become the beta testers for this new product.

A new TREO

Unfortunately, in many people’s opinions, the 650 TREO wasn’t as user friendly as the 600 version. The folks at Palm would tell you to talk to Microsoft about your problems, and the folks at Microsoft told you to talk to the folks at Palm. Since the two companies have now decided to work together, the new 680 and 700 versions of the TREO should be free of this source of difficulty. The question users must address is whether they want to use Outlook or the Palm system. I personally prefer the Palm software. The only challenge is that I can’t use the handwriting feature on my tablet unless I’m using Outlook. The type of Palm available is also contingent on who provides your cell service. No matter whom you choose, be careful to select a data plan that includes text messaging.

The most important business gift of all

Of all the things that you can do for your business and for your clients, obtaining training is the most important. A lot of us old-timers have been through down markets and we know how to handle them. Take advantage of the wisdom in your office. On the other hand, if you’re one of the old-timers, give yourself the gift of learning from the younger agents about texting and communicating in today’s digital age. This way everyone benefits now and throughout 2007.

Happy holidays!

Bernice Ross, national speaker and CEO of Realestatecoach.com, is the author of “Waging War on Real Estate’s Discounters” and “Who’s the Best Person to Sell My House?” Both are available online. She can be reached at bernice@realestatecoach.com or visit her blog at www.LuxuryClues.com.

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