7 ways to make business planning easier and more effective

by Meg White

7 ways to make business planning easier and more effective

The first time Joe Tyler Gerber sat down to create a business plan in 2018, the only goal that came to mind immediately was, “I want to do more.” It was six months into his real estate career, and he was just leaving the team he’d been serving on to strike out on his own. He’d sat down with a colleague and his managing broker to plan out his next year and they pushed back: “Ok, but what does that mean?”

 Gerber had been doing mostly rentals and was looking to expand beyond the few hundred thousand in transaction volume he’d racked up the year before. So he set a somewhat intimidating goal to do $2 million in volume in 2019. He recalled that even at the time, he’d thought,”I’m not going to make it.” While he hasn’t gotten there yet, “I’m pretty darn close to it… and that’s still an accomplishment compared to where I was the year before.”

So if you’re ready to take the plunge and set some audacious goals for 2020, here are a few dos and don’ts to keep in mind.

1. Schedule regular checkups before next year even begins

One major flaw in business planning is the idea that it only happens once a year. It’s important to take time once a year to reflect on your business and set goals, but it may be even more important to set aside time throughout the year to check in on your progress.

At a recent Coldwell Banker Wealth Builder event, Adrian Scurtu, a CPA and tax strategist with Manning Silverman & Company, asked brokers, “How much more productive do we think we could be … if we took one day a month and worked on your business instead of in it?”

While once a month might be more often than possible during busy times, Scurtu implored the audience to at least undertake a quarterly profit-and-loss analysis. He also shared a way to use a tax deduction under IRS Section 280A to pay yourself back for thinking ahead. Read more about that here.   

2. Check in, but don’t obsess

Gerber looks at his progress toward his goals every couple of months, but he’s careful to keep the big picture in mind. “I revisit them a lot,” he said. “I don’t obsess about them.”

For example, Gerber recently had two buyers and one seller who decided to wait until next year to work with him on a real estate transaction. While their actions, which he can’t control, might result in him not making his 2019 goals, Gerber is careful to separate those two facts. “They don’t know that, and they don’t care,” he said. Still, he noted that he’s going to shift his strategy and reach out to all three of them in 2020 — and said that in the grand scheme of his business, it doesn’t really matter if the deals close in this calendar year or the next. “If I keep calling them like I do with everyone else … it’s still going to happen.”

Gerber also had to learn early on to build in more fluidity with his budget. When he first started out, he looked back on his $1,000 marketing budget and realized that he’d more than blown through it before the year was over.  “I was sort of freaking out,” he said. “That was the moment when I realized that all of your goals are helpful, but they have to be flexible.”

3. Measure what matters

Before you can set goals, it’s important to know what you want from your career and personal life over the next year. It may seem natural to constantly be scaling up transaction volume or moving up in the ranks of your office, but if that’s not reflective of your true desires, it should definitely not be the basis for your business plan.

While Gerber does set a business budget and goals for transaction volume, he said it’s equally important to have a business plan for your daily activities. “A lot of people look at how many postcards am I going to send out or how many transactions am I going to do,” Gerber said. “What I think about most is day-to-day.”

 Gerber spends time planning out what he feels will make the greatest impact on clients’ lives and tries to incorporate those actions in his plan. “I really focus on my interactions,” he said, noting the pies he orders for clients around Thanksgiving and the orchids he sends on Mother’s Day offer more bang for the buck to his burgeoning business at his career stage than other, more common real estate branding techniques. “People respond better to those little things than they will to postcards or your face on a shopping cart.”

4. Breaking out of the same old evaluation techniques

Often real estate professionals ask themselves the same questions about their business year after year, which means the process can become stale and less thoughtful than it would be if it were the first time you were looking at them. If this is your fourth year conducting a SWOT analysis — looking at your business’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats — for example, maybe it’s time to try something else.

New York-based business consultant Mike Cardus proposed businesses focus on NOISE (Needs, Opportunities, Improvements, Strengths and Exceptions) as an alternative to SWOT, which he finds “lacks focus on improvements an organization can make.”

And though the theory was published some four decades ago, economist Michael E. Porter’s “five competitive forces” remains a potent force in strategic planning. He suggested companies examine competition, customers, suppliers, potential entrants and substitute products for their particular industries.

“We’ve got to start with industry analysis,” he said in a video with Harvard Business Review. “It helps you avoid getting trapped or tricked by the latest trend or technological sensation.”

5. Seek help to get started

It can be hard to know where to begin, especially if you’re new to the business. Gerber said he counts on his accountability partner at the office to help him stay focused and figure out where to set his next goals. Managing brokers can be a good source of guidance and support in goal setting, too. 

Those looking for a more self-guided approach might consider following a template. AgentEDU, an educational platform created by Agent Publishing, has a customizable worksheet agents and brokers can use to evaluate their business and set goals for the coming year. The business plan template is available for free download here

6. Get one step ahead in your marketing

If you want your marketing materials to fall in line with where your potential clients are in any given season, you need to have your assets together well before that season begins. For example, summer is too late to start marketing to buyers looking to move before the school year. Map out the highs and lows of the previous year, as well as any holidays that might make for helpful touchpoints, and use those to help you compose your marketing plan for the next year so you can always be ahead of trends and the desires of your clients.

It’s not just the calendar that you need to think of, however. The economic and housing cycles are important — if less predictable — touchstones that will impact your marketing approach. As we shift toward a buyer’s market, for example, you’ll want to have materials on negotiation and price adjustments ready for sellers. Conversely, if the situation is one that favors sellers,  you’ll need to prepare market reports for homeowners in your sphere to help them understand and showcase the value of their home.

Your clients likely look to you to keep them knowledgeable about economic conditions, and many would appreciate regular check-ins to ensure they’re aware of market trends. One helpful way to manage these campaigns is by segmenting your CRM into “buyer” and “seller” buckets, so that you can send targeted messages to each group.

7. Let goals guide your mindset

Even though he’s behind on his transaction goal for 2019, Gerber isn’t letting that get him down. In fact, for 2020 he’s planning to double his production goal of $2 million from 2019, not his actual production numbers for the year, whatever they turn out to be.

This attitude of positivity impacts more than just his business plan. Gerber noted that the mood in his Bannockburn office hasn’t had the highest of energies recently, with the softness that some sectors of the suburban Chicagoland market are seeing. But he tries to surround himself with optimism.  

“There’s this mindset, once Thanksgiving comes around, that we don’t have a lot of business. But I would say I’m busier now than I was in the spring,” he said. “It’s just so important that we challenge the narratives that are around us because we are the messengers of our industry. … It’s really about language and what we train ourselves to think.”

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