Every new year comes with fresh expectations. It’s a time to reflect on the previous year’s accomplishments and disappointments. There’s a desire to make changes that will lead to greater personal or career success in the year ahead.
For agents, it’s a great opportunity to set goals and develop strategies intended to help them grow their businesses. At the beginning of her year, residential consultant Susan Nice of Dream Town Realty chose to aim for contacting more of her past clients and reaching out to more people to discuss real estate. “I work every day to talk with 20 people about real estate to see how I can help sellers, buyers and investors with their real estate needs,” she said, adding that she also made a commitment to achieving certain sales figures. “I like to look not only at volume but also at transactions. My goal is to do 40 transactions this year and kind of split them up, maybe 50-50 or 65-35 on the listing-to-buy side.”
Nice and others who set goals and establish business plans have concrete targets to reach and strategies for achieving their goals. They may have monthly sales numbers in mind, or an idea of where they want to be at the end of each quarter or at the year’s mid-point. Their goals might be oriented toward making new connections, reaching out to more leads or making important updates in how they carry out their business.
We’re now halfway through the year, and it’s time to check up on how agents have fared with meeting their goals and executing their business plans.
Understanding the need for a plan
Some agents learn from the time they start out in real estate that forming a business plan and setting goals is a great way to achieve success. Others come to the realization later. But it’s never too early or too late to begin laying the groundwork for a strong business through planning and goal-setting.
Kyle Markham of Coldwell Banker in Wheaton didn’t make it very far into his career before realizing he needed to get organized, but he wishes he would have started out with the details right away. “It probably took me three or four months to realize that I needed a business plan,” Markham said. Without concrete goals in mind, he struggled with knowing what to do and when to do it and with the pressure of working for commission. “I ended up feeling this extreme anxiety because you get lost and feel directionless when you don’t have a daily checklist, you don’t have a monthly goal and you don’t have an annual goal.”
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Markham enjoyed great success with the business plan he developed in his first full year as an agent in 2018 and followed through with a new one at the beginning of 2019. But he noted that the tendency to put off this task is a common one for small business owners, and particularly real estate pros. “I think every agent and every entrepreneur thinks that they can just get started without a plan,” he said. “They have a vision in their head and they’re like, ‘I know what I need to do every day; I’m going to do it and it’ll be fine.’”
Something simple and ever-present
A business plan means different things to different agents. In its simplest form, it may be setting out sales and volume goals for the year. Agents might aim to hit certain numbers at certain points in the year.
More complex plans go beyond that simple outline and set out how to achieve them, or at least define actions the agent can take toward reaching those goals. But Vittoria Logli of @properties in Glenview advocates for keeping one’s business plan simple and clear.
“It doesn’t have to be a 10-page document and be completely overwhelming,” Logli said. “Take a piece of paper and write down the number of houses you want to close on this year, if it’s 12 or 15 or whatever, and then go, ‘Okay, how many buyers am I going to do and how many sellers am I going to do?’ And that’s it.”
Logli also suggested agents ensure they have a constant visual representation of the goals or business plan, too. “And that piece of paper is sitting in front of you every single day, on your mirror, at your office, wherever it is, and then put little tally marks next to it,” she said.
Breaking it down
A daily or weekly goal helps to put a business plan into perspective. Closing one more sale per month than the previous year may be a challenge, but a series of smaller steps enables real estate professionals to see their progress throughout the week or for the month.
Coming up with a goal in the first place can seem daunting, but it helps to look at where you ended last year with a mindset toward growth. Nice looks at her previous year’s numbers to see where she’s having success and adjusts accordingly. Her goal for this year represents a 10 percent to 20 percent increase in business.
Another key is looking at where the action is coming from. Logli breaks her business plan down so that she can see where she needs to do more work to reach her goals. “I write down my transaction goals — the number of transactions I want to do,” Logli said. “Then there’s a breakdown between buyers and sellers. And then I also break it down further into where I think these transactions will come from, whether it’s past clients, future clients, Zillow, postcard marketing or other marketing I’m doing.”
Developing and revising strategies
Agents and brokers might also want to consider using a business plan to figure out how to incorporate new tools into their day-to-day work. Nice’s strategy for achieving her goals includes utilizing new technology, such as a Matterport 3D camera and virtual tour platform.
“I’m looking into things that other agents may be doing and doing marketing comparisons,” Nice said. “I’m looking at technology tools and home tour videos. We have Matterport, which is a great way to maximize those kinds of things and post them to social media.”
Business planning can also help agents evaluate what’s working and what’s not, which is why it’s important to tie investments to goals. Logli’s changes for 2019 include a move away from mailers to a fully digitized marketing strategy and a renewed focus on her past clients. The transactions she tracks showed that most of her business is coming from referrals.
“Past clients are the ones who are mostly driving my business,” Logli said. “It’s frustrating because everyone wants all the online leads from Zillow and all that, but those take a really long time to turn. I find a lot of them aren’t loyal. … It’s really those personal connections that make a huge difference.”
Nice has had similar experiences in the past. After checking her tracked data, she found she was failing to see a return in her investment in paying for online leads, so she dropped the practice and reinvested elsewhere.
The importance of regular evaluation
A common temptation for agents is to set goals in January and then not think about them again until December, but those who take that path will be missing out on some important opportunities to self-correct.
It’s not always easy to see when something is not working, but that’s one of the benefits of not only tracking progress, but also checking in at this halfway point in the year. By tracking his progress and seeing where he wasn’t measuring up, Markham was able to make changes that he hopes will allow him to meet his lofty 2019 goals.
“After probably a month or two I started to realize I wasn’t prospecting as much as I should,” he said. After falling behind on his goals for reaching out to leads, he hired an assistant. “The only way to move forward was to hire a new person. That was a game-changer.”
The change was so instrumental that Markham also brought on a driver to help him cover the suburbs in his market so he can work while traveling from property to property. He said in the fast-paced world of real estate, it’s important for agents to stay in touch with their core goals.
“You get consumed by those whirlwind deals, or phone calls or showings or whatever you have,” Markham said. “Once you get hung up on those things, you stop prospecting. It falls to the wayside.”
Short-term and long-term go hand in hand
Watching the numbers over time also gives agents a chance to determine if the business practices they’re employing are worth the cost in the long run. One way to do this is by comparing last year’s figures with the present and then looking at factors that may have resulted in a change. Due to the seasonal, cyclical nature of real estate in Chicago, Nice noted that it’s vital to compare numbers year-over-year and be patient on payoffs.
“It’s important not to pull the plug too quickly,” Nice said. “If I’m paying for leads, is it worth the return in two years even if there’s a lot of out-of-pocket expense initially?”
Nice noted that deciding whether or not to reevaluate the use of a product or marketing campaign may depend on setting reasonable goals for that particular tool. Low-cost or slow-burning campaigns shouldn’t be jettisoned right away and may require a longer-term perspective. “It’s interesting that we know there’s not a lot of return on mailing campaigns, but we all tend to still do it because there is the 1 percent or 2 percent return,” she said. “If you’re sharing with a lending partner, it becomes valuable because that client becomes someone in your sphere and then hopefully refers business to you.”
Tracking performance in a changing market
As much as it is cyclical, real estate is also closely tied to economic factors. Chicago’s market this year started slowly and has been uneven in many respects. Agents who are disappointed in their sales numbers thus far may be reassured by putting them in a larger perspective.
The combination of a hard winter and a wet, chilly spring made house-hunting in Chicago unappealing to some prospective buyers. Illinois Realtors reports that the number of homes sold in the Chicago area has been down every month of the year through April when compared year-over-year. This April, sales were down 12 percent compared to April 2018.
Not that those numbers are completely unexpected: Last November, realtor.com predicted that the number of homes sold in the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin area would fall by 7.4 percent and the average price would drop by 1.9 percent.
Agents can also use their business plan to show that they’re doing what they set out to, regardless of a difficult market. Markham worked with a coach to set an ambitious target of hitting $10 million in volume or closing 100 transactions for the year, while also establishing smaller, actionable goals to reach daily. These include getting his inbox down to zero and prospecting at least 10 leads every day. He initially felt anxious when the first quarter of 2019 started slowly for him, but he could see that he had put in the work and then look back on the previous year to see that 2018 was similarly slow to start.
“Even though I was making my phone calls, getting my inbox to zero and following through with my voicemails at the end of every day, no business was coming through,” Markham said. He noted that because real estate is not only competitive but also collaborative, it’s important to recognize the role other agents play in one’s overall plan. “You have to realize that there are things that are out of your control. … What other new agents or even seasoned agents that are having that sort of self-doubt need to realize is that it’s the other person’s decision to respond to you. That’s not up to you.”