Team Or Solo?

One of the valuable attributes of our industry is the opportunity to enter the profession at different levels of finacial and temporal commitment.  Assistant level to another licensee, part -time sales, on-site brokerage, serving on a team as a buyer agent, or general brokerage agent are the primary options to consider.  

I find that most of my readers are weighing two choices:  working as a buyer agent on a large team or building their own practice as a solo agent.  Both are great ways to work in real estate, it is simply a matter of determining what best suits your goals and temperment.  Here are a few key areas to consider: 

Ego Management: Do you struggle if you're not calling the shots?  Do you prefer for someone else to direct your work?  Think carefully about those two questions.  If you like direction, working on the team of a high volume agent provides assignments and clarity.  If you prefer to determine your own strategies, marketing, and prospecting activities, you may want to be on your won. 

Resources: As a new agent it is challenging to make all the investments in professional membership, monthly fees, and technology services.  Many high volume agents cover some or all expenses for their assistant agents.  That's a big advantage on the debit line.  If you have saved money for start up or have another revenue stream to cover the real estate nut, then you can make that investment in your self. 

Support:  Working on your own means that, well, you're working on your own.  Hello Chief  Cook and Bottle Washer.  Some of us are wired to love that challenge, but others may prefer having the simplicity of a narrow assignment.  Working on a team usually means you have a clear role such as buyer agent or contract-to-closing coordinator. 

Pay Days: Higher risk, higher reward - right?  Working on your own means you're not sharing that commission with other team members.  After your company split (that's a whole other story), you take home the bacon.  Working on a team usually means some complexities in calculations. You'll start with the company split on a sale you brokered, followed by another split to the lead agent.  It's also possible that your compensation is a flat fee with incrementals for exceeding monthly quotas.  You might even work on an hourly rate.  If you're contemplating working on a team, this is an important area to explore and document with the agent you're going to follow. 

Your Time: As a team member, you'll probably have assigned days to work and cover clients and leads for your sponsoring agent.  You'll have to work your schedule around the dictates of these assignments.  Think job.  Some of us are wired to work this way, but many people choose a career in real estate so they can dictate their own schedule.  As an independent agent, you decide when you want to work and you can always make that Yoga class on Mondays at 2 pm if that is what floats your boat. 

Short Term:  Working on a team has significant short term benefits.  You have leads - the most important survival component in our business when an agent is launching into the career.  Some or all of your expenses are covered, too.  That's a HUGE plus.  As a solo agent, you begin with no or few leads and the responsibility of all your expenses.  You eat what you kill, if you don't mind the hunting analogy. Some people are wired to take the risk and go out and reap a big time pay day all on their own. 

Long Term: no debate, there is more money in your pockets by working long term on your own.  Splits with sponsoring agents are usually significant.  Assisting agents are prone to develop a bit of resentment over time toward their lead agent.  The value of the team leader begins to decline as you grow in your ability to take care of business on your own.  In particular, you may have heart burn over sharing a commission with the lead agent when you are responsible for generating the lead and doing all the work.  Listen to Socrates, "Know thyself, " and determine if this is going to irritate you in the long run.  

Rent vs. Own:  Working as an assistant or buyer agent to a high volume agent is kind of like renting an apartment.  When it's time to leave, you have no equity. Your effort is going to the credit of another agent.  When you work solo, you're making payments into your very own practice.  Yes, you carry more expense and more risk.  Yes, you fully reap the rewards of your commissions. At the end of your career you have your book of business to sell or generate referrals.  It's a very important component to consider as you make your choice. 

Time for An Assistant? Wrapping it Up

We've covered a lot of ground in previous posts, and if you've done your home work, you are ready to interview.  Because you have a written job description or key results document, developing questions will be easy.  Here are a few tips:

  • Ask questions, then shut up.  Really.  Since we're in sales we are familiar with the talking side of a transaction.  In this case, keep your words to a ratio of 80% listening, 20% talking.  
  • Plan your questions.  Write 1 or 2 questions to represent each of your key results.  For example, you want someone to schedule inspections and post them on your calendar.  Ask the candidate about how they are with time management or past responsibilities in scheduling for others. Focus on finding actual experiences rather than what they would like to do.  
  • Follow up their answers with, "Tell me more."  Really dig in on the qualities that are most important to successfully filling the position. 
  • Write down key components to the candidates answers.  Look for repeated phrases and words.  What did you discover about the candidate? Think about it. 
  • Interview several times.  Every one's at their best in the first meeting.  Repeated visits to your office for additional interviews, visiting your sales meeting, and interviews with others in your office help you to get a sense of the candidate's normal demeanor and energy level.  

Like what you've learned?  It's time to make an offer.  Write a letter to invite your candidate to take the position. Remember, don't be boring.  Inspire them, tell them why you chose them, and what results you expect from the relationship.  For darn sure, include the job description and have them sign off on  the assignment. Spell out the hours, time off,  pay, benefits (in addition to working with you), and all the details you can muster.  Clarity here will help build a great working relationship.  

You've put a tremendous amount of time and effort into hiring this person.  You found the right candidate, and now it's time to reap the rewards ... as soon as you finish training them. Go get 'em and keep growing. 

Time for An Assistant? Steps 3 & 4

So you're in the middle of the spring market, getting up early, working very late, and weekends are all about showing appointments.  Yep, you need an assistant.  We've discussed two key preliminary steps, lets jump into what's next.  You've got lots of calls waiting for returns, right? 

Step 3: Talk to Your Accountant

This one may not have occurred to you, but talk to your accountant.  (Don' have one? Get one.)  Your assistant will be an employee - especially from the the perspective of the three most dreaded letters of the alphabet - IRS.  Yes, you will pay your assistant, but guess what? You will have some expenses that may not be familiar to you if you are new to employing others.  Withholding taxes, W2 documents, and mileage reimbursement costs are all good points of discussion for your accountant.  The key point is to be informed and understand that your cost will be more than just an hourly rate. 

Step 4: What Type of Assistant Do You Need? 

Aren't we ready to hire the person yet?!  Nope.  Great assistants usually follow careful planning.  So let's continue with the set up.  What type of service do you want from your assistant ? Consider these choices:

  • Admin: If your primary need is processing paperwork, banking, email, and postal correspondence, focus your attention and job description here. Also, consider if the person has to work in the same location as you. Could he or she work from home or remote location? There are individuals and firms that specialize in supporting real estate agents while working virtually and digitally to support you.
  • Marketing: you want help with those post cards don't you? Can't tell HTML from a PDF? Organizing your next open house just makes you want to say, "Ain't got time for that!" - if this is you, focus your effort on finding an assistant who loves to market, publicize, and write copy.
  • Agent: So tired of first time buyers? Can't return all your lead calls? Don't want to travel that far for new business? Your assistant should be licensed to sell and thrill. Get dialed in on finding an assistant who carries an officially endorsed real estate license.
  • Note limitations for non-licensees: It's important to note what non-licensed assistants can and can not do. Here's a link from our friends at the North Carolina Real Estate Commission to remind you what's what on the matter: NCREC Commission Bulletin (see page 4)

Stay tuned, we have a few more steps to take and you'll have a great candidate working for you!

Time for Assistant? Step 2

The purpose for your assistant is defined. In writing. Do not proceed to the next step until its written down. Seriously.  

Okay, so now we can move on to the second step. Nope, we're not ready to advertise to the public or talk to our favorite contact.  Step two involves more thinking.  It's all about creating a job description or the key results that you want from the position.  What are the daily skills, activities, and responsibilities needed to be successful? For example, you may want your assistant to handle processing sales contracts to turn in at the office.  What's the proper procedure? What do they do if a form is missing?  What is the deadline for turning the contract into the company admin?   Ask and answer these detail questions to get your tasks and descriptions.  

It's valuable to think in terms of measurement.  How will you know when your assistant has been successful at a task?   Define objective criteria that you will use so that both of you know whether the mark has been hit.  Not only is it important to define each task, but let's admit it, you're picky.  And a control freak.  You think its better to do everything yourself rather than take the risk of delegate.  Wrong.  Delegation is a step to your maturity as a businessperson.  Great business people don't do all the work. Get expanding results by working with and through others. So take the time to write down the task and how you want it done.  Providing detail increases the probability of your hire succeeding.  

Your written job description will soon be a powerful tool for your interviews.  It is there to insure that you hire the right person for the job, not the person you like. There's a big difference between the two.  Remember that your assistant is there to address some of your weaknesses and more than likely, she or he will not be like you in temperament.

Step 1: Define the purpose of the position
Step 2: Write a detailed job description that focuses on measurable tasks.    

Our next post in the series involves talking to someone you may not have considered. 

Time for An Assistant? Step 1

So your desk is buried, your inbox is full, and the calendar is unmanageable.  "Wasn't I supposed to send some postcards out last week?"   The checks are great, but managing all the activity is getting to be a bit much.  Maybe it's time for an assistant?

When you reach this point as an agent, celebrate!  But also note that it is time to start working differently.  In order to keep growing, it's not about stretching your self even thinner.  It is about learning to work through others, a whole new skill set.  Consider bringing an assistant on board.  

The big trap is hiring too quickly and without proper planning.  Think you're busy now?  Try adding an assistant that doesn't work well for you. That will raise the stress meter several more points.  Before posting that you're hiring, consider your purpose.  The big question is "What do I want from my assistant?"

There are six key steps to take BEFORE hiring.  Let's review the first step, defining your purpose.

One key purpose may be services.  Because you're stretched thin, your service level has fallen off standard.  You just don't have time to do the the little extras you used to do, the little extras that often lead to referrals.  A service focused assistant is one that elevates your whole client care process. 

Income:  already paddling faster than you ever thought you could?  To reach new heights of check collection, get an assistant to cover lower level tasks so that you can focus on making it rain - lead generation, prospecting, working your network.  Analyze the income you generate from essential tasks, and assign the lower ones to your assistant. 

Time: Kids see you at home and ask, "Who are you?"  Maybe you're spending a bit too much time showing property.  An assistant can help you carve down your total working hours each week, freeing time to invest with your most important people.  

More than likely you want a blend of these three areas.  The critical step is deciding why you will hire an assistant rather than just reacting to your excessive work load.  Key performance measures, after orientation and training period: your assistant should enable you to increase your revenue by a minimum of 33% and decrease your time at work by 20%.  

Next up, defining Key Results.