As a broker, what activities do you enjoy doing the most? Is it meetings? Researching property? Cold calling? <–(FAT CHANCE).
Beyond enjoying, what activities tend to get you the most business or make you the most money? I’m sure we have many activities that we enjoy doing far more than others. I have many of them. For example, I absolutely hate collecting all of the minute information related to a new listing. Tax info, parcel numbers, future land use, water, sewer, etc. It is certainly important for me to know all of that information. But the process of collecting it is time-consuming and tedious. On the other hand, what I enjoy more than anything is riding property with a client. Not only does it teach me the finer points of the land itself, but it fosters the client relationship in a unique way. This also takes time. You can’t be in a hurry when getting to know your client. For me, it’s one of the most important things to focus on for current and future business. When considering the resources that you put towards your business every day, time is both the most demanded and the most precious. It is your most valuable and least available resource.
This is not the first time I have written about protecting your time. Visit What is Your Time Worth? Part 1 & Part 2 for some background. For this article, I will focus more specifically on saving time when doing one of the most important things in the business: PROSPECTING.
I’ve learned a lot about prospecting over the years. I’ve utilized many resources and heard from or read many different experienced brokers on the topic. A website and blog authored by Bo Barron was particularly helpful in my early days of brokerage. Most recently, I heard Michael Bull, CCIM, speak at the REALTORS® Land Institute National Land Conference. Michael led an incredible session on broker success strategies and gave me one of the best tips I’ve ever heard about prospecting in commercial real estate: “Prospecting is not part of the business. It IS the business.” With this idea as the backdrop behind spending your time wisely, let’s look at how to maximize your available time for true, focused prospecting.
Here’s a quick real world look at the aim and process of my prospecting system. I look primarily for high-quality farmland. If I can find willing and reasonable sellers who own irrigated farmland, I can usually sell it pretty quickly. Below is a rough breakdown of my process. When I first started, I did all of this myself.
Step 1. Find high-quality properties located in certain agricultural areas
- Search aerial imagery visually
- Look for crop circles, irrigation
Step 2. Match likely properties from imagery with tax parcel info
- Find property on tax assessor website
- Collect owner’s name and address
Step 3. Search public information websites to find phone numbers for owner
- Google owners name
- White Pages, Intellus, etc.
Step 4. Enter information into Client Relationship Management (CRM) database
- Click, type, copy/paste, repeat
- Ensure accuracy, categorize new prospect
- Log task for follow up call to prospect
Step 5. Prepare form letter to mail
- Enter address info on form letter, fold, and insert
- Address envelope, lick stamp
Step 6. Follow up call
- Pick up phone, dial number
- Make money
That’s a lot of steps. And all of that work took time. Time, time, time! And on the days I had meetings or other obligations, I got further and further behind. I felt like I was always playing catch up with my property research and other administrative tasks – and the phone calls often left undone. Then came the MOMENTOUS day I discovered the world of Virtual Assistants (VAs).
VAs are real people who will undertake just about any task that can be completed with the use of a computer and phone. They work remotely from anywhere in the world. They can’t pickup your dry cleaning or drive you to an appointment. But when it comes to administrative and electronic tasks, they are some of the best in the business. With a little training and direction, they will amaze you with their ability to complete tasks quickly with great attention to detail. A quick Google search of “Virtual Assistant” provides many different clearinghouses to choose from or you can hire a freelancing VA directly. Hourly rates vary depending on experience and skill level, as well as whether they are US-based or overseas. However, you can get solid virtual support for between $8-$20/hour. It may take some trial and error to find a good fit, however, once you get comfortable with the process you will wonder how you ever lived without it.
The one thing I will admit is that it was difficult at first to hand things off. I had a certain way I wanted tasks done and was hesitant to just let someone else do it for me. Yet before long my VA was churning out info and products for me faster than I could keep up with the important things. So now, my process looks like this:
Step 1. Open CRM and see all the wonderful work my VA has done for me.
- Properties researched
- Owners name, address, and phone number, already in database
- Tasks for follow-up calls already entered
- Letters ready to print
Step 2. Give letters to in-house assistant to collate, address envelopes, and mail
Step 3. Same as Step 7 above
The process that once took me about 30 minutes per prospect/property now takes about 30 seconds. I skip straight to the most important step of getting on the phone with people to build relationships and get busy listing and selling property.
I will also note that the combination of a VA with an in-house Executive Assistant (EA) or Administrative Assistant (AA) is an incredibly valuable combination. Whatever the EA can’t do because it requires a physical presence (such as mailing letters) the EA or AA can do. My preference is to map out the vision and set expectations for the in-house assistant and then let them use their own skills while leveraging the VA as necessary to get the job done. My focus is on the output, and I do my best not to get too involved in the process.
As with anything you introduce into your business, all of this takes time: setup, training, direction, etc. And of course, none of this is free. A certain cost is associated with outsourcing of all kinds. You will need to make a determination on what is an appropriate level of outsourcing and cost for yourself and your business. However, in the long run, the time saved and the additional revenue generated is more than worth the time spent up front. As a suggestion, if you’re new to Virtual Assistants, start small. Outsource some non-time critical tasks on a pay-as-you-go basis, assess the results, and gradually increase. You will likely have to make yourself uncomfortable (like I did) with letting go of certain things, but once you reap the benefits, I’m certain you won’t be disappointed.
Ultimately, the buck stops with you. As a licensed real estate agent you have both a capability and a skill set that you cannot outsource. There are very specific things about your job that only you can do. Yet there are hundreds and thousands of other things that someone else can do for you at a fraction of the cost of your time. I encourage you to really asses yourself and your business to see where you can leverage other people and divert your most precious resource to the most important of tasks.
This post is part of the 2018 Future Leaders Committee content generation initiative. The initiative is directed at further establishing RLI as “The Voice of Land” in the land real estate industry for land professionals and landowners.
About the author: Caleb McDow, ALC, is a land specialist and vice president for Crosby & Associates in Winter Haven, FL. He holds a Master of Science in Real Estate (MSRE), the CCIM Designation, and is a licensed private pilot and drone operator. McDow joined RLI in 2014 as a Military Transition Program (MTP) member. He is an active member of RLI, serving on the 2017-2018 RLI Board of Directors and as Chair of the 2018 Future Leaders Committee. He also regularly shares his expertise on real estate issues for various industry blogs.