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Running a Successful Real Estate Business Part Un: Kill Overhead

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The Series

In reading the title, you are probably thinking that I am about to go all Deepak Chopra on you and unleash some infomercial guru wisdom. But I am no guru, nor am I trying to be.  I am just an avid student of good business. While in the presence of a successful enterprise, be it a small restaurant, a Mom and Pop print shop or a multi national corporation, I often find myself wondering about what makes them tick. In between CNBC specials on Walmart, Coke or Home Depot, I ponder whether there is a  set of principles that they all follow to one degree or another. What I am about to share with you are lessons being learned as we speak in running our own real estate business. And since AgentGenius hosts some of the brightest minds in the real estate landscape, my hope is that in our discussion, my own education in the art of running a business on all cylinders can be furthered as well.

RASREB Series Part 1: It’s what you keep

Most keys to success in any business are very simple, bordering on obvious. So much so that they are often followed with the obligatory “duh”. But as simple as they are, you’d be surprised how many pros do not (can not, will not) follow them. Instead they will do everything in their power to complicate things just so they don’t ever have to cross that ever dreaded line to actually do something. The first key to running a successful real estate business goes a little something like this:

In the real estate business, it’s not what you make, it’s what you keep. Kill all the overhead that’s not necessary to run your business and you will see it flourish and last.

Overhead is the ultimate double edged sword in any business. If kept slim and under control, it gives your revenues room to breathe and grow but if not, it can become cancerous and lead to the eventual demise of the business. When business is good, revenue wise, overhead operates under the radar and goes mostly unnoticed as the business owner is concentrated on counting all the cash coming in. So all the excessive rent space, useless money pits that are some marketing campaigns, and admin employees that are working full time for Facebook are rationalized by the money windfall into the company’s coffers. But when the times get tough and business slows, the business owner gets in a cost cutting mood but it’s often too late as the business bleeds money on a monthly basis.

Get it together

Enough with the generalities – What can you specifically do in 2010 to get your overhead under control?

Rent

I know I’m going to raise some eyebrows with this one, but since that’s never stopped me before, here I go. In my opinion, 80-90% of actively practicing real estate agents pay way too much for rent to the tune of 40-50%. They say it has to do with “what their clients” expect of them but that’s pure BS. Most of the clients agents do business with don’t even see the office of the agent. You typically meet Buyers at the property you are going to show them and Sellers at their home. It’s not about the clients’ expectation – it’s about their expectation of themselves. That’s how overhead typically gets rationalized through entitlement mentality: I deserve to have a ______ or I’ve earned the right to drive a ______. The quickest way to put 5-10 grand in your pocket in 2010 is to take a long hard look at your office needs – step outside of yourself for a second and view the situation as a businessperson. Do you really need 2000 SF or could 1200 SF do the job just right? Are you really getting any walk-in traffic in that high rent area or could you move out a little farther and cut your monthly rent significantly? On the flip side, I am not a believer in swapping for a home office. The economics of it make a lot of sense but the logistics doesn’t. As you become more and more successful, you work with more and more people and your probability of running into a weirdo grows. So, keep business and home separate if you can help it.

Marketing

This is a tough one, since we are constantly bombarded with new and improved ways to market ourselves and our companies. The urge to try the latest and greatest all the time is real and quite frankly, we wouldn’t have found some of the greatest products we leverage today if we hadn’t taken a chance on them first. But that does not mean that you string nonperforming tools and services along every month just because some work and some don’t. Cutting your overhead is about eliminating waste. Give products just enough time to prove themselves but remember that you don’t owe them any loyalty if they don’t respond with performance.  One disturbing phenomenon I have noticed in real estate is what I call “defensive spending”.  When posed with the question “what do you do to earn your commission”, agents get into a defensive mode that leads to hourly employee thinking. They start offering “marketing services” to Sellers that they know damn well don’t do anything to sell a home but justify it by stating that “although it doesn’t work, Sellers like it”. Newsflash: Wide majority of Sellers, pay for results, not effort. If you spend every waking hour of your day at the Seller’s home trying to sell it but couldn’t, you’re as useless in their eyes as the agent who did nothing and didn’t sell it. Those people that don’t think you are worth the money you earn, will not change their opinion regardless of how much you do. So focus on marketing that produces tangible results and cut what does not work. Depending on what your monthly marketing budget, this could save you from $1200-$5000/year or more.

Staff

Have you ever heard a business owner very proudly state they have X number of people working for him/her? I call that headcount ego and I learned to disregard it from The Millionaire Real Estate Agent. Most of the agents featured in that book didn’t have a huge staff – they just had a very efficient one that new their role and executed it perfectly. During boom times it’s easy to get carried away and overhire. Soon, you have positions overlapping and double the amount of people doing half the work. If you are a soloprenuer and thinking about adding an assistant, do so when it’s absolutely necessary. And don’t add to your staff until both you and your assistant are up to here with work. If you already have staff in place, take a look at the structure of your business and look for ways you can have the same people do more or less people do the same amount of work.

Debt

Last but not least, whatever you do, don’t become an “If only” agent. This is the pro that constantly states: “If only, I could have enough money to do that huge Adwords or Radio or TV campaign”. What eventually follows is debt and behind the corner from there failure resides. Here’s a simple rule of thumb: If your business has not generated enough money to purchase a marketing campaign that would send it to that next level, it’s not ready to handle that next level. The only thing worse than not having any clients, is having lots of them that think  you ‘re an incompetent douche. Take my word for it – Never take on debt to further your business because it will cause the opposite effect more often than not. If you do have business debt, think about a strategy to take care of it and step off the rat wheel.

Thoughts?


Houston Real Estate Rainmaker and Uberproud Father/Husband (not necessarily in that order). When I'm not skinning cats or changing diapers you can find me on Twitter or Facebook. I blog about marketing, social media and real estate. I might not always be in agreement, but you can rest assured I'll be honest. Oh, and I can cook a mean breakfast...

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18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. BawldGuy

    December 4, 2009 at 11:10 am

    Any thoughts? Are ya kiddin’ me? You’ve essentially chronicled my professional learning curve. Though some of what you say doesn’t apply totally to the investment side of the biz, conceptually you’ve hit ground zero.

    Almost all local clients visit my office, as it should be. My office, therefore, must meet a minimum standard of what clients expect. We do that, and with a budget.

    Marketing? OMG have I ever screwed the pooch on there. Mea culpa. But gimme a pass on that one, as I was an Old Schooler doin’ his best to make the transition from 1969 to the 21st century — not to mention while trying to operate in the new virtual world. No kiddin’, I’ve sent over a quarter million over the falls for bupkis results. I speak broken internet-speak now, so I’ve learned where to spend for what results. Still sittin’ in the front of the class though, as I’m barely passin’ with a C- I think. 🙂

    Good stuff, Erion.

  2. Janie Coffey

    December 4, 2009 at 11:15 am

    Great great blog post!
    Last year we chopped our office rent by 2/3! This accomplished 1) less stress, 2) more flexibility, 2) more money for the things that really count (ie marketing and debt reduction). It was the best thing we ever did. I tell everyone I see struggling, that you need to just cut what isn’t necessary for the end result. Kill the fluff. I am glad you pointed it out so clearly! Just in time for 2010 business planning.

    Oh, and Bawldguy, you made a stunning transition!

  3. BawldGuy

    December 4, 2009 at 11:28 am

    Thanks Janie, but you only see the shiny paint and gleaming chrome. 🙂 It’s the power train I’m workin’ on now.

  4. Rob McGuirt

    December 4, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    Good points. I opened my own office, via a virtual “pay as you use” office space. Fully staffed with reception, conference rooms, break area, color copier, etc…. Cut out my former brokerage fees for office space. Went from $1000/mo to $65/mo.

  5. Josh Ferris

    December 5, 2009 at 1:34 am

    Having gone from a traditional office brokerage to a virtual one back to a traditional office again I can say that offices are a huge waste of space. I meet my clients at our office occasionally but more often than not I meet them at the sales office of my builder clients. Great article Erion!

  6. Ken Brand

    December 5, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    WISE counsel, especially the part about, analyze and act as an offense not after fit-as-hit-the-shan, gangrene has set in and it becomes a defensive amputation.

    Great stuff!

  7. JR of Sun City Real Estate

    December 6, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    “don’t become an “If only” agent” This is what greatly struck me in your post. Thanks for all the insights!

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Business Marketing

10 must-listen-to podcasts for business owners

(MARKETING) If you’re a business owner and want to learn something…anything…give one (or all) these podcasts a listen.

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headphones listen podcasts

As podcasts grow more and more popular, it has become increasingly difficult to sort through the sea of excellent options out there.

From interviews with business leaders to industry-specific advice from experts, podcasts are an incredible free and convenient way to get a small dose of inspiration and knowledge.

This short list offers just a taste of the myriad of business podcasts available. Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur looking for some tips on breaking into a new industry or a seasoned vet hoping to get some new inspiration, we hope you’ll find something here worth listening to.

How I Built This, hosted by Guy Raz.

Podcast fans will recognize Guy Raz’s name (and voice) from TED Radio Hour. While that show can be a great source of inspiration for businesses, one of the most consistently inspiring shows is his new project that shares stories and insight from some of the biggest business leaders in the world. In just four months, Guy has talked to everyone from Richard Branson and Mark Cuban to L.A. Reid and Suroosh Alvi. While there are plenty of excellent interview-driven shows with entrepreneurs, if you want to hear about the world’s best known companies, this is your best bet.

The Art of Charm, hosted by Jordan and AJ Harbinger.

The Art of Charm is a business podcast by definition, but the advice it provides will definitely help you in other parts of your day-to-day life as well. With over three million listens a month, the incredibly popular show provides advice, strategies and insight into how to network effectively and advance your career and personal life.

StartUp, hosted by Alex Blumberg and Lisa Chow.

If you’re an entrepreneur, there is no excuse not to be listening to StartUp, the award-winning business podcast from Gimlet Media. The show’s talented hosts come from incredible radio shows like Planet Money and This American Life and bring a top-notch level of storytelling to the show, which provides behind the scenes looks at what it is actually like to start a company. Now on the fourth season, StartUp is one of those business podcasts that even people not interested in business will get a kick out of.

The Whole Whale Podcast, hosted by George Weiner.

One of the best things about podcasts is the wide variety of niche shows available that go in-depth into fascinating topics. One of those shows is the Whole Whale Podcast, which shares stories about data and technology in the non-profit sector. You’ll get detailed analysis, expert knowledge and can hear from a long list of social impact leaders from Greenpeace, Change.org, Kiva, Teach For America, and more.

Social Pros Podcast, hosted by Jay Baer and Adam Brown.

Navigating the surplus of social media guides online can be a nightmare, so look no further than Social Pros. Recent episodes talk about reaching college students on social media, the rise of messaging apps, and making better video content for Facebook. Plus, there are great case-studies with companies doing social right, like Kellogg’s, Coca Cola and Lenscrafters.

Entrepreneur on Fire, hosted by John Lee Dumas.

One of the original entrepreneurship shows, Entrepreneur on Fire has logged over 1,500 episodes with successful business leaders sharing tips, lessons and advice learned from their worst entrepreneurial moments. Sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, always inspiring, this show is sure to have at least one interview with someone you can learn from.

The $100 MBA, hosted by Omar Zenhom.

Think of The $100 MBA as a full-fledged business program in snack-sized portions. The daily ten minute business lessons are based on real-world applications and cover everything from marketing to technology and more. Cue this show up on your commute to or from work and watch your knowledge grow.

This Week in Startups, hosted by Jason Calacanis.

This is your audio version of TechCrunch, Gizmodo, or dare we say The American Genius. Each week, a guest entrepreneur joins the show to talk about what is happening in tech right now. You’ll get news about companies with buzz, updates on big tech news and even some insider gossip.

The Side Hustle Show, hosted by Nick Loper.

This is the show if you want answers for the big question so many entrepreneurs face. How do I turn my part-time hustle into a real job? Featuring topics such as passive income ideas, niche sites, and self-publishing, host Nick Loper is upfront and honest about the tough world of side hustles. The show features actionable tips and an engaging energy, and may just be that final push you need to grow your gig.

Back To Work, hosted by Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin.
Focused on the basics that you don’t think about, Back To Work looks deep into our working lives by analyzing things like workflow, email habits and personal motivation. Somewhere between self-help, and business advice, Back To Work takes on a new topic relating to productivity each week.

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Business Marketing

Why your coworkers are not your ‘family’ [unpopular opinion]

(MARKETING) “I just want you to think of us as family,” they say. If this were true, I could fire my uncle for always bringing up “that” topic on Thanksgiving…

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family coworkers

The well-known season 10 opener of “Undercover Boss” featured Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar. Brandon Landry, owner, went to the Lafayette location where he worked undercover with Jessica Comeaux, an assistant manager. Comeaux came across as a dedicated employee of the company, and she was given a well-deserved reward for her work. But I rolled my eyes as the show described the team as a “family.” I take offense at combining business and family, unless you’re really family. Why shouldn’t this work dynamic be used?

Employers don’t have loyalty to employees.

One of the biggest reasons work isn’t family is that loyalty doesn’t go both ways. Employers who act as though employees are family wouldn’t hesitate to fire someone if it came down to it. In most families, you support each other during tough times, but that wouldn’t be the case in a business. If you’ve ever thought that you can’t ask for a raise or vacation, you’ve probably bought into the theory that “work is a family.” No, work is a contract.

Would the roles be okay if the genders were reversed?

At Walks-Ons, Comeaux is referred to as “Mama Jess,” by “some of the girls.” I have to wonder how that would come across if Comeaux were a man being called “Daddy Jess” by younger team members? See any problem with that? What happens when the boss is a 30-year-old and the employee is senior? Using family terminology to describe work relationships is just wrong.

Families’ roles are complex.

You’ll spend over 2,000 hours with your co-workers every year. It’s human nature to want to belong. But when you think of your job like a family, you may bring dysfunction into the workplace.

What if you never had a mom, or if your dad was abusive? Professional relationships don’t need the added complexity of “family” norms. Seeing your boss as “mom” or “dad” completely skews the roles of boss/employee. When your mom asks you to do more, it’s hard to say no. If your “work mom or dad” wants you to stay late, it’s going to be hard to set boundaries when you buy into the bogus theory that work is family. Stop thinking of work this way.

Check your business culture to make sure that your team has healthy boundaries and teamwork. Having a great work culture doesn’t have to mean you think of your team as family. It means that you appreciate your team, let them have good work-life balance and understand professionalism.

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Business Marketing

Market your side hustle with these 6 tips

(BUSINESS MARKETING) It can be hard to stand out from the crowd when you’re starting a new side hustle. Here are some easy ways to make your marketing efforts more effective.

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side hustle paperwork and technology

Side hustles have become the name of the game, and especially during these turbulent times, we have to get extra creative when it comes to making money. With so many of us making moves and so much noise, it can be hard to get the word out and stand out when sharing your side hustle.

Reuben Jackson of Big Think shared five ways that you can market your side hustle (we added a sixth tip for good measure), and comment with your thoughts and ideas on the subject:

  1. Referrals: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask!
    If you’re going to make a splash, you have to be willing to ask for favors. Reach out to your network and ask them to help spread the word on your new venture. This can be as simple as asking your friends to share a Facebook post with information that refers them to your page or website. Word of mouth is still important and incredibly effective.
  2. Start Where You Are
    Immediately running an expensive ad right out of the gate may not be the most effective use of your (likely) limited funds. Use the resources you do have to your advantage – especially if you’re just testing things out to see how the side hustle goes in the real world. You can do this by creating a simple, informational landing page for a small fee. Or, if you’re not looking to put any money into it right away, create an enticing email signature that explains what you do in a concise and eye-catching way. Check out these tools to create a kickin’ email signature.
  3. Gather Positive Reviews
    If you’ve performed a service or sold a product, ask your customers to write a review on the experience. Never underestimate how many potential customers read reviews before choosing where to spend their money, so this is an incredibly important asset. Once a service is completed or a product is sold, send a thank you note to your customer and kindly ask them to write a review. Be sure to provide them with links to easily drop a line on Yelp or your company’s Facebook page.
  4. Be Strategic With Social
    It’s common to think that you have to have a presence on all channels right away. Start smaller. Think about your demographic and do some research on which platforms reach that demographic most effectively. From there, put your time and energy into building a presence on one or two channels. Post consistently and engage with followers. After you’ve developed a solid following, you can then expand to other platforms.
  5. Give Paid Marketing A Shot
    Once you’ve made a dollar or two, try experimenting with some Facebook or Twitter ads. They’re relatively cheap to run and can attract people you may not have otherwise had a chance to reach out to. Again, the key is to start small and don’t get discouraged if these don’t have people knocking your door down; it may take trial and error to create the perfect ad for your hustle.
  6. Go Local
    Local newspapers and magazines are always looking for news on what local residents are doing. Send an email to your town/city’s journal or local Patch affiliate. Let them know what you’re up to, offer yourself for an interview, and give enticing information. The key is doing this in a way that your hustle is seen as beneficial to the public, and is not just an ad.

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