Business planning — winning strategies for 2021

by Melanie Kalmar

If you have yet to put together a business plan for the new year, don’t fret. With unstoppable entrepreneurial spirit, the high-performing brokers we turned to for advice revealed how they kept up their numbers while the nation was shut down by COVID-19. Universally, low interest rates and high demand contributed to their success. But they say sticking to a business plan, revisiting it regularly and modifying it as needed, was instrumental to reaching their goals during the most devastating economic crisis since the Great Depression.

These brokers cover it all, from developing a thorough market analysis to creating a marketing plan, budgeting for the year ahead and organizing each workday. Their thoughts may motivate you to tweak your own business plan or confirm that you are right on track.

Also in this issue 

What’s your business plan for 2021? See what readers had to say.

Education: A simple — but vital — investment in your career

Perfecting a business plan like a boss



Structuring a plan

Larysa Domino, a real estate broker with @properties, considers her one-year goal for volume and income and her average sales price when calculating how many deals she needs to close in the new year. “I can put a target for listings versus buy-side deals and from there, based on my history, determine what marketing I need to reach those goals,” she says. “It’s a formula.” However, she cautions it’s important to set realistic goals: “If you cannot follow through on it, don’t even start with that type of goal. Execution is key in our business.”

To make sure she spends time and money on efforts that are worthwhile and ditches those that aren’t, Domino revisits her business plan on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. “If you can figure out where your deals are coming from, you can evaluate that and make adjustments,” she says. “That’s why you’re constantly reevaluating the plan.”

By late September or early October, Lyn Harvie, a broker with Baird & Warner, begins planning for the new year. She advises agents who put it off until December to just buckle down and get it done. “Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress,” she urges. “You can finesse it along the way.” It helps that Baird & Warner provides her with a business planning book that’s updated every year. The template guides agents to structure their plans based on what worked in the past and inspires them to add new layers to their marketing initiatives. “An awesome section is ‘Reflecting on what motivates you,’” Harvie says. “It’s so important to understand your why; why you get up every day and do this. Mine has changed many times over the years, and during the years my why was not clearly defined, I struggled.”

Without a doubt, structuring her days helped Harvie stay the course during the pandemic. “I still got up, did my gratitude, my affirmations, read the word, worked out, did property searching, email tracking, sent emails,” she says. “Think about how you are structuring your day, and set yourself up for success.”

Dan Kieres, managing broker of Northwest Real Estate Group, focuses his plan on “staying top of mind.” In order to do it effectively, he says, understand where your business is coming from, who you’re speaking to and the message you’d like to get across to brand properly. “A lot of agents go around saying, ‘I just sold 10 houses, look at me. I’m the best.’ Do you want someone to say ‘He’s obnoxious’ and give off the impression you don’t have time for them because you’re too busy closing other people’s deals? Or do you want to be perceived as, ‘I just helped 10 families this month move into the home of their dreams, here’s a review someone just wrote about me.’” He believes it’s important to figure out who you are as a person, as well as an agent, along with what differentiates you from the competition — and lead with that.

Elements of a thorough market analysis

Domino views the real estate market and economy on macro and micro levels and plans accordingly. “There are specific things I look at: stock market, real estate supply and demand, and any outside factors impacting the economy, like COVID-19,” she says. “You can set your plan with the time and focus based on what the market holds.” For instance, COVID-19 shifted buyer demand to a “more is more” type of outlook in housing, with buyers craving larger homes, basement and yard space and dual offices, Domino says. She considered this shift in must-have lists, along with the challenges of a low-inventory/high-demand marketplace, and centered her business plan on conquering those obstacles. “One strategy to overcome low inventory is to focus marketing campaigns on sellers and listings, ensuring we capture more inventory, especially at the beginning of this year,” she says.

Harvie takes a micro-level look at the city, because every neighborhood product and price point is behaving very differently. “The media puts out broad, sweeping statements about the market, and it’s frustrating for sellers when they hear inventory is low, sales are up, and units and volume are up — but their home is not selling,” she says. “You have to dig into the details of the data: a two-bedroom, two-bath home in River North is not selling like it is in Lincoln Park,” she says. “The pandemic and rioting had different impacts on different parts of the city. If agents aren’t drilling down into those details, they’re missing the mark.” To keep on top of it, she tracks the data day to day, taking note of how many units come on the market and the number that go under contract.

Budgeting for the New Year

Domino’s rule of thumb is to reinvest 10% of her gross income in the business. If she’s experiencing a year of significant growth, she’ll up it to 15%. “I take that budget and allocate it to my marketing plan,” she explains. “I’m looking at historically what worked for me in the past and focusing my energy on those marketing initiatives.”

Harvie admits budgeting is an area in which she could do better. Still, she does track expenses in QuickBooks and chats with an accountant and financial advisor every quarter, budgeting money into investment accounts and saving for taxes. Kieres has a different view altogether. “The point of business is to turn a profit,” he says. “However, I don’t necessarily agree with a budget, as long as we invest in quality lead generation opportunities that can potentially yield results down the line.” He prefers tracking lead conversion rates — making appropriate changes and shifting gears when necessary — to budgeting for marketing initiatives.

Developing an effective marketing plan

Every year, after attending various conferences and learning new marketing strategies and tools, Harvie chooses to add one new marketing initiative to her business plan, rather than become overwhelmed by all the information she’s received and not implement anything. In early December, she actually spent a week preparing marketing pieces that will automatically go out in intervals over the entire year. As such, once she becomes busy again after the holidays and in springtime, she can focus solely on her clients.

Kieres automates all of the baseline marketing activities, too. “Just listed, just sold” mailers go out the first of every month. Email marketing hits on the 15th, and “farming” mailers — advertising listings and the prices of properties that sold — reach all the residents of a specific ZIP code each month. Automating these activities frees up time for Kieres to devise creative marketing strategies to expand his business. For Halloween, he filmed a levitation skit at the office that went viral on Facebook. “It looked like I was floating,” Kieres says. The message was, “We cover so much ground, people think we have superpowers.”

Still, there’s something to be said for a personal touch. Kieres also sends direct messages to clients via email, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram, four touches per year, with one through each platform. Taking it old school, he sends a total of 700 birthday cards containing instant lottery tickets to clients annually, as well as notes of congratulations on closing anniversaries, along with a bottle of wine. They always call to thank him or let him know how much money they won from the lottery ticket. Invariably, they will share their excitement about it with friends and family, and that is the point.

During quarantine, Kieres got creative and offered to deliver groceries to clients, but also hosted virtual walk-throughs of properties and virtual tours of open houses. “Our goal was to sell $25 million as a company, and we sold $33 million this year,” Kieres says. He owes it all to keeping his business plan intact and staying top of mind with his sphere of influence.

“There’s a saying: ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else,’” Domino says. “I think just sitting down, writing the plan and making sure you follow through with it is most important.”

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