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— by Nancy Chu

Does Running A Big Business Keep You Up At Night? It Does For Me…

It’s been going on 5 years since I started running a real estate sales team (3 years of its current incarnation) and #ChuBaldwinHomes @ Keller Williams NJ Metro Group in #MontclairNJ is counting its lucky stars – we feel blessed, grateful & just tickled pink by our growth trajectory, even during this COVID mess. I mean come on…it must be all champagne and steak dinners, right? Yeah…right…I guess…

Sooooooo…

Steady growth is exciting, don’t get me wrong, and my business partner (the iconic and legendary Roberta Baldwin) and I have grown steadily between 23%-49% every year since 2016. HOWEVER…if there is one thing that has become infinitely clear, I have come to the slow and terrifying realization that rampant growth WITHOUT A PLAN is just an out of control train driving way too fast down a track into pea soup fog and I can’t see if there is more track up ahead or a sheer cliff face over which we will fall. Sure, everyone on the train is dancing and drinking and yuckin’ it up, but I am about to swallow my own tongue.

Ok, I know that seems a bit dramatic, but judging by the dental bills, my nighttime jaw-grinding begs to differ. In our market area just west of NYC, broker metrics tell you that selling $10M in real estate a year is a top producing business, and my hats off to all our colleagues who put food on their table and clothes on their kids’ backs with their hard work, let me tell you! I know many of my colleagues locally and across the country have also had similar growth patterns in their business. Even COVID has produced a national migration pattern that for some agents, has helped to produce their biggest production years ever! And now you have found yourself with a business swelling a little faster and a little bigger than you can hold onto, and sometimes, you feel like it’s floating away and you are desperately clinging on so you don’t fall as it takes off skyward. I KNOW some of you know exactly the feeling I am talking about – that feeling you get when you are in bed at night…and there is nothing to keep those thoughts and fears at bay.

Thought #1:  The Bigger my Business Grows, the More I Feel I am Spending

The bigger team now, do we need to get a bigger office space?  More listings in general, do we have to spend more money on more elaborate marketing feats so we can stand out? More staging? More farming mailers? More clients, more outreach – holiday & closing gifts, and bigger client appreciation events? Yes, yes, we do digital marketing but YOU WANT YOUR HOUSE IN THE NY TIMES…what?! The list of places to spend $1 here, $50 there is starting to add up, and it can quickly feel like you are out of control. You started off just plucky you and a part-time admin – you scrimped and saved and busted your patooties and laughed as she helped you figure out how to spend $17 less on that brochure because she found a great printer a town over!  How those days are long gone because as your success grew, you stopped making those choices and said “what the heck, what’s another $10 for the glossy 125lb paper for the brochure, we’re worth it, right?” 

As part of my new quarterly business focus (yeah, yeah, I know, we’re all reading THE 12 WEEK YEAR – I’m not 100% sold, but I am finding that chunking down the business to more granular goals is a little less overwhelming…), I am looking at both business planning & my budget models now every 3 months rather than just at the end of my fiscal year. So once a quarter, I go back to the basics of cutting the fat and slimming down. Once we have set up the budget for the quarter, the cost of anything new we want to try has to be zero-ed out.  For instance, if I decide I want to try BombBomb and it costs $400 for the quarter, I have to remove $400 from my current spending. While we are doing this quarterly trimming, we scrutinize every single expense AGAIN: do I absolutely need this to run my business? Can I find a lower-priced option? Does this tool pay for itself at an ROI of at least 4x (I understand 10x is the goal but I think we all know 4x is more realistic for most tools…and I will TAKE IT!)

Thought #2:  So Many Hires, So Many Mouths to Feed

Remember that plucky admin of yours?  Well now you have a growing, hungry team of 7 – a couple of admins, a field agent, and 3 buying agents…plus you have an eye out for someone who would make a FABULOUS listing agent. You spend a lot of time worrying about their training, lead distribution, making sure they do their own lead gen & follow up, and worrying about their skill-building. Hiring people is a big responsibility and you feel the weight on your shoulders. 

 

Streamlining our training procedures and using benchmarks that have to be properly adhered to is vital when it comes to having a team – and whether or not they stay on the team has to be tied to some metric, whether it is performance or culture-based. My philosophy with Agent Hires is that it is essentially often a self-funded position with a goal of creating agents who are strong enough to be prepared for the day they are ready to LEAVE you and fly on their own. So if you give them all the tools and training, they should totally CRUSH at Lead Gen/Follow-up, long term Database Management, Buyer & Seller Transactional Skill Set, master Time Management and be an offer-writing beast. We use the same metrics for Administrative Hires as well.

Thought #3:  How Do I Manage Future Growth if I Feel Like I am Out of Control Now?

Why are we always playing catch up? Paperwork for instance – I have a lovely new admin this year who spent the first 4 weeks with me cleaning up our digital transaction files. It was a hot mess, and not because my previous admin wasn’t good – she was excellent.  But our business had grown past what we were able to handle and things were falling by the wayside – the sheer volume of work is something I had never faced before. While it is a good problem to have, it is a problem nonetheless.

Systems, Systems, Systems. Wait, hang on, one more thing…….ahhh…..SYSTEMS! You need to be adjusted for varying levels of production – and never make the mistake that I made for YEARS. Always aim to develop and improve your systems for the Business you WANT – for years, I created systems for my business of the moment.  In 2018, we finished the year at $26M in volume, and at the end of the year, we updated our systems to reflect that (boy, was I proud – we were going to have a smooth 2019). I was very, very wrong. We grew by 49% from 2019 to 2020, and once again, we found ourselves drowning in the quicksand of time management, struggling to breathe under a mountain of paperwork against our chest. And I finally had that ah-ha moment – I kept revamping our systems looking backward at our previous production, but without consideration of our forward growth. So we kept getting caught flat-footed with systems that were not strong or broad enough to take us to the NEXT LEVEL. Now I understand that if I set a goal of $100M in production for 2022, and I have to build my systems with that in mind and an eye towards the system’s capacity to accommodate our future production goals. 

So where does this leave us? Battered and bruised but UP OFF THE MAT and ready for the fight? I certainly hope this gives you some good food for thought – good luck and full systems ahead…

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