It’s fair to presume that when Tom Ferry was a teenager, he might have benefited from a little coaching — not that he would have tolerated anyone offering it.
"I was the worst possible kid," says Ferry. "I was stupid, obnoxious, angry. I was kicked out of four high schools. My parents were separated, and they each kicked me out of their house at 15.
"I lived on the streets — literally — for three months."
Not the most auspicious beginning for someone who today makes his living advising other people how to behave. Ferry, now 39, heads his own personal coaching and training business, and he estimates that his site, YourCoach.com, is among the largest of the dozens of such firms that specialize in the real estate industry.
Ferry personally advises about two dozen individuals who work in various arms of the real estate business, including some of the top-producing agents in the country. His company employs 26 coaches advising real estate industry clients who he says number in the thousands.
He’s a regular speaker on the real estate circuit, making about 100 appearances a year. He consults for groups and conducts retreats. Online, there’s a steady video stream of Ferry offering words of wisdom about getting organized, building a brand, meeting client expectations, avoiding business distractions, etc.
In May, Random House will publish "Life by Design," an adaptation of his coaching philosophy for the general public.
Personal coaching — sort of a mentor-for-hire business — is a field that been around in various industries for several decades, but Ferry says it emerged in real estate only a little more than a decade ago. He says he was there when it happened.
"My father, Mike, was one of the pioneers," he says. Mike Ferry, starting in the 1970s, was a leading real estate trainer. By 1992, son Tom was starting to outgrow his "obnoxious" phase and had come back to work in the family business, the Mike Ferry Organization.
"My father was onstage, and he said to the audience, ‘What if I called you once a week and asked you, "Did you make as many sales calls as you said you would, did you do this thing for your business or do that thing, like you planned?" ‘ …CONTINUED
"I know coaching was done outside (in other industries)," says Tom Ferry. "But in the real estate sector, that was the beginning. At the break (in Mike Ferry’s presentation), about 500 people came up to me and gave me their cards and said, ‘When you guys build this program, I want to sign up.’ "
So, Mike Ferry began to build the coaching program as distinct from the training services his company already offered. Though the terms sometimes are used interchangeably, training and coaching are different animals, Tom says.
"A trainer is going to give you a system, a manual, some tools and some resources, and say, I wish you well, good luck," Tom says. "A coach is going to talk with you on a regular basis, meet face to face with you a certain number of times.
"A coach says, ‘Let’s sit down and plot out a course,’ " he says. "Let’s create a plan, assess your current skills, assess your market, the strengths and weaknesses of the market, analyze your skills in relation to the market, and set up a strategy to achieve your goals."
While Mike Ferry was developing a coaching business, young Tom was getting a from-the-ground-up immersion, he recalls.
"My dad and I created a five-year plan," he says. "I spent a year learning sales and marketing for our business, then customer service, then the broker support team."
Nothing in the plan included actually selling real estate. But he says that isn’t a liability.
"I tell people all day long, ‘I’ve never sold real estate,’ yet I’m one of the most respected real estate coaches in the country," he says.
Others are skeptical — a real estate blog recently generated considerable discussion over whether Ferry could legitimately talk the talk if he hadn’t walked the walk.
He knows there are doubters. "Some people say, ‘To really understand what we do, you have to be out there prospecting, making presentations and negotiating contracts,’ " he says. "I know there’s a lot of subtlety and nuance (to real estate)."
But he gets the bigger picture, he says: "To me, it’s like a basketball coach who maybe played a little in high school and later became a coach and spent 25 years in the trenches teaching, training and developing talent." …CONTINUED
Still, he didn’t — technically — do the "played a little in high school" part, at least when it came to the nuts and bolts of real estate deals. But that five-year plan in his father’s company taught him about sales, Ferry says.
"I made 120,000 cold calls in my first year as a salesperson" for his father’s company, says Tom. "I was calling real estate companies across the United States and Canada, talking to individual agents, offering them a product or a service. We didn’t have the Internet then, and I would grab the Yellow Pages and just start calling real estate companies."
About six years ago, he left his father’s business to go out on his own. Despite the recession — and perhaps because of it — his business is growing, Ferry says.
"We’re not getting people who say, ‘I want to sign up for coaching because I’m No. 1 in my market and want to get better,’ " he says.
"No, the calls are people saying, ‘Last year, I made $500,000, but the year before, I made $1 million. This year, I’m at $30,000 and I’m suicidal.’ I talk to four or five (coaching prospects) a week personally, and that’s the story," he says.
It’s a sign of new times for the real estate industry, Ferry says.
"They know they have to change," he says. "They know what got them to where they are, but now they need a new approach.
"Real estate is one of the loneliest businesses you can be in," he says.
"People in it have incredible highs and incredible lows. It’s a very challenging marketplace now. They need emotional support and guidance and mental toughness to stay on track when sometimes it feels like the world is falling apart."
Mary Umberger is a freelance writer in Chicago.
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