A lot has happened since that day in 2009 when Brendan (the BR in BREL) and I (the EL in BREL) decided to join forces:
- We’ve grown the team, from husband-and-wife duo to a powerhouse team of 15 people
- We launched a website and blog that today gets 3,000+ visitors a day (2012)
- We added professional staging as a core and included service for our Sellers and hired full-time staging and design staff (2015)
- We moved into BREL HQ, our very own office (2015)
- We filled a huge staging warehouse with furniture and accessories (2017)
- We were named the 83rd Fastest Growing Companies in Canada (2018)
- We spun off our staging and design services into its own company, UPstaging (2019)
- We started our own brokerage! (2019)
So what have we learned along the way? A lot.
10 Years Later: 10 Lessons for Toronto REALTORS
1. The brokerage you work for matters. Surround yourself with the best: the best colleagues who will share and push you to be better; the best leadership who will create a culture of true integrity and service; the best training and mentorship opportunities that will propel your business forward; and the best in-house services that will free up your time to focus on your core business.
Don’t base your brokerage decision on commission splits – the right brokerage will more than pay for itself in how it helps you grow.
2. Branding isn’t what you think it is. Somewhere, long ago, REALTORS were taught that “branding” meant putting their smiling faces and tagline on everything: business cards, signs, their car, the garbage can on the corner, client gifts, Christmas cards and social media posts. That isn’t branding – unless you’re a farmer with cattle and using a branding iron.
Truth: Branding is the culmination of all the things you do to project a certain image to your clients. It’s your logo, colours and font; it’s the language you use to speak to your customers; it’s how you dress when you’re with them; it’s how you position your services vs the competition and your prices; it’s the car you drive; it’s all the visual elements you use to market yourself and your listings; it’s how you treat people. Your brand is the experience your clients have when they’re working with you. Jeff Bezos said it best: “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
3. Just because the #1 REALTOR in your office does something, it doesn’t mean you should do it too. So many agents fall into the trap of copying a successful agent’s marketing in the hopes of getting the same results. Truth: a lot of those #1 agents are #1 because they’ve been in the business for 25 years – not because they spend $25K a month in postcards. Being inspired by successful agents is great – but make sure they are getting real results from their marketing and not just doing it because it worked for them 15 years ago and they’ve just continued doing it. And always take an idea and make it your own.
4. It’s a lonely business – but it doesn’t have to be. While most real estate agents are ‘solo-preneurs’ and spend much of their working day alone, there are plenty of opportunities to network and learn from your colleagues. Whether that’s collaborating with your peers within your brokerage, attending industry events or participating in realtor Facebook groups, we all have something to share. Don’t just watch and listen.
Participate. Share. Collaborate.
5. There are lots of ways to meet potential Buyers and Sellers – the key is consistency. Whether you decide to build your profile in a particular neighbourhood or use digital content marketing, door-knocking, cold calling, postcards or host open houses to meet clients, the most important thing is to hustle consistently. Find what works for you – what you enjoy doing and what gets results – and keep doing it. Every single day. Even when you’re busy. Even if you’re bored of doing it. Do it until it stops working.
6. Resist the Magic Pill. There are SO many companies out there promising to fix the things that keep you up at night. Truth? There is no magic pill. Real estate agents are an easy target – we have endless to-do lists and limited expertise in marketing and technology, and it’s tempting just to hire someone because it lets you check something off your to-do list. Resist the urge to hire that Facebook ads expert or a templated website provider or someone who tells you they’ll get you on the first page of Google. Delete those emails asking you “if you have time to take on another 10-15 clients this month”.
There’s a reason it seems too good to be true.
7. The sooner you accept that you’re running a business, the better. Successful agents run businesses – they don’t just sell some houses to make some commission to pay their bills. Businesses have strategic goals and plans, they invest in branding and systems, they have monthly financial statements, they hire staff, they have professional marketing materials, and they seek out opportunities to learn and grow.
8. If you’re trying to do it all yourself, you’re doing it wrong. I’ll never forget the day someone pointed out my ‘equivalent hourly rate’ – my annual commissions divided by the number of hours I worked – and the opportunities I was missing by not outsourcing. If you’re making $100,000 a year, that’s $50 an hour – could you outsource some of what you spend your time doing for less than $50 an hour? Could you spend those hours on revenue-generating activities that would help your business grow faster? Whether that’s using a courier company to deliver a cheque or partnering with a virtual assistant, there are SO MANY opportunities to leverage your time and resources.
9. Lead a team or be on a team – it’s hard to succeed as a solo agent. Unless you’ve been in the business for 20+ years, it’s tough to succeed as a solo agent. It’s near-impossible for one person to have all of the skills we need as agents: marketing, selling, admin, staging, lead generation, technology, systems, client service, relationship-building, pricing, problem-solving, copywriting, accounting, conflict resolution, negotiating, photography, videography, etc.
With 54,000+ agents in the GTA competing for 100,000 annual transactions, the competition is fierce.
10. The future is here – embrace it instead of hiding from it. The last ten years have brought much change to the real estate industry, from technological efficiencies to new marketing media and techniques to changes in how we connect and communicate with clients and how we share data. I predict that the next few years will be witness to even more radical change as new models and technology test the old-school brokerage model and our consumers demand a level of service and transparency that more closely resembles their experiences in other parts of their lives. We have an opportunity to evolve and be part of the future – or we can pretend it isn’t happening and risk extinction. I cringe every time I see an agent respond to the threat of change with ‘just put your head down and keep doing what you’re doing’ – that hasn’t worked for any other industry and it’s not likely to work for real estate either. Real estate agents will always play an important role in our clients’ lives – IF we listen and respond to what they want and need from us.
Want more lessons we’ve learned along the way? Check out this blog we wrote last year: 10 Lessons Learned on the Way to Being Named One of Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies.