As a general rule, real estate as an industry is low-tech. And while our landscape is changing (particularly with the emergence of artificial intelligence), there are basic IT skills a majority of agents have yet to embrace as part of their daily practice. While most features in this category address specific apps or services, the tips that follow below focus on generalized best practices and mindset. Here, we will take a page out of the programmer's guide to the galaxy, and share "life skills" that can help you succeed in real estate, and save your sanity along the way.
Leave yourself a trail of breadcrumbs. -- No matter what industry you are in, one of the best habits you can develop to help yourself is to document process and procedure. Depending on memory is a recipe for disaster. Tools like Evernote, OneNote, and Trello are excellent resources to capture information on the fly and create an electronically searchable personal database so you can retrieve your notes quickly and efficiently. But even a paper journal will work if that better suits your style. We would recommend a bullet-journal approach if using paper, so you can quickly access the notes you need.
In real estate, agents are inundated by software applications, websites, forms, and transaction-related processes which may be necessary, but used on an infrequent or sporadic basis. The pain of having to "re-learn" process is a deterrent to success, as we observe that agents will avoid such tasks instead. Best practice is to document steps, so you can immediately do things correctly, in spite of having a fuzzy memory. The minutes spent on documenting can save you hours of frustration later. Here's a short list of ideas to help get you started:
- A log of the systems & websites you use, including URLs to log in, usernames, passwords, hints, etc…
- Notes on how to complete infrequently used or specialized forms
- Notes regarding steps or requirements on transaction types if they aren't your primary focus (i.e., REOs, short sales, leases, listings vs buy-side, etc…)
- A list of neighborhoods in your area that won't allow Airbnb, or ones that have high HOA fees, or age-restrictions (like 55+), etc… Basically, anything specialized that you want to remember.
- How to use online marketing tools, like how to create a digital newsletter in Mailchimp (or similar app), or the steps used to create a voicemail or text blast, or turn-key postcard campaigns
- A list of real estate sites where you have established an online profile (so you know where to go to update your headshot, contact info, or listing information)
- A catalog of scripts or training materials
- Notes on everything you automate, so you will know how to fix it when it breaks
- Integrate your digital calendar. -- Digital calendar apps and paper planners are not the same animals. Using a digital calendar (i.e., Outlook, Google, iOS, or one that is bundled with your CRM) is a necessity for busy agents who juggle professional tasks and deadlines. The key to winning in business is to follow up and follow through. Paper planners don't have the luxury of automated or external input, so there's really no comparison to the efficiency a busy agent can achieve by integrating their calendar with transaction portals (such as Backagent) and prospecting portals (like FollowUp Boss). With the added bonus of being able to subscribe to virtually any calendar feed, staying in sync with your brokerage's training schedule, or your child's sports/school schedule becomes a snap, and gives you a competitive advantage on being organized as well as having awareness on overlapping time demands. For the safety-conscious, sharing your calendar (or individual appointments) in turn with a loved one or colleague can provide an extra layer of security for you as well.
- Schedule it now. -- In addition to using a digital calendar, one of the most productive habits you can develop is to kick procrastination to the curb and start time blocking. The "Schedule It Now" approach means that if you sign up for a webinar that will take place next month, you actively calendar that event now so you won't forget. (Again, having a digital calendar where you can "click to save" the event is priceless.) It means that if you have promised to set up a buyer client on a new automated search, that you set a reminder on your calendar to complete that task when you are next in the position to do so. Every goal you set should have a corresponding deadline, so for example, if you have a goal to complete 10 blog posts per month, there should be time allocated on your calendar to get that done. Adopting the "Schedule It Now" philosophy into your life will not only serve to prompt future activity, but it will also help you retrospectively analyze how you spent your time, and make necessary adjustments for better planning and return on investment. (PS - check out Voice Calendar for hands-free scheduling.)
- Outsource. -- Learn to play to your strengths. If there is a component of your business that is weak, look for strategic partners to take that off your plate. Hate paperwork? Connect with a Transaction Coordinator. Suck at photography? You should be hiring a pro for listing shoots anyway. Hate social media? Contract with an admin or media service to post and interact for you. There is a wise saying that reminds us, "the enemy of greatness is all that is good." Resist the temptation to "save money" just because you can do something, as you have no other resource more valuable than your time. The marginal job you will do on the things you hate doing will marginalize the things you love, and deter your success.
- Automate. -- Consider automation as an alternative to outsourcing. If there are redundant tasks that eat into your time, learn how you might automate them to implement "once and done" or "every once in a long while" solutions. Automatic bill pay is a generic example, but the topic is a rich mine to explore. With tools like ListReports, If This Then That (IFTTT), smart device technology apps, and syndication services like Hootsuite), you can effectively replace human labor hours with sequences that will handle marketing, advertising, promotion, and administrative tasks for your business throughout the year. (PS - if you need a lender partner for ListReports access, please private message me for referrals in your area.)
- Nix scope creep. -- OK, admittedly, that's tech jargon, but what it amounts to is setting good boundaries. Learn to say no to things that overextend your commitment and engagement. Agreeing to serve a client as their listing agent does not license or obligate you to mow their lawn, pay their bills, clean the cat box, or bring in the chickens at night when the Seller(s) leave town. Sending a Buyer documents to sign electronically does not make you "the Help Desk" when they have forgotten their email password or can't get their cable box to work. Hosting an Open House on a colleague's listing does not make you that colleague's admin. It is easy, especially for diversely talented and capable agents, to put themselves in positions where they are taken advantage of. By nature, most real estate agents want to make others happy, but there is opportunity cost (and potential liability) in each and every decision. Stick to the scope of what you were hired (or agreed) to do. If someone needs or wants more from you, then that becomes a new discussion (and accompanying written agreement) altogether.
Running a successful real estate business can feel overwhelming. Good systems and self-care can go along way toward maximizing your time, talent, and resources as an owner/practitioner.