If you don't mind, I'd love to hear some input and perspective from you. I have a number of decisions on my mind with our company, and I would welcome any helpful advice/direction. Please note that I said "helpful". :) I'm editing this opening paragraph now that I've finished writing the rest of the post and I realize that some of the stuff I wrote below seems a little disjointed. Hang in there if you can.
Here's the thing: I've been selling homes full-time in Austin for 15 years as of this month. I started my own brokerage just over 7 years ago. We've had some very good years (thankfully, 2011 was one of them) and a couple of very lean years, too. As we begin another year, my business partner and I are evaluating things to try to determine the best direction for ourselves and our company. I find myself going back and forth between two extremes: big-time company growth vs. streamlining, saving money, and focusing on my own sales.
We're paying way too much for office space, so we're likely moving down the hall to a smaller, much less expensive space. Most of our agents work from home, so it seems silly to pay for a large space with lots of barely-used desks. This downsize in physical office space will save us $1700/month, so that's a no-brainer. We will be moving.
I could use some of the savings for additional marketing/branding, I suppose. Again, I'd have to think about the most effective use of these dollars. I've used just about every type of print and internet marketing technique over the years, and it seems that the internet is the only one that makes much sense, outside of handwritten notes (not a joke). Again, I welcome your input.
We have a nice system in place for the leads from our website, and a relatively substantial number of new prospective buyers sign up every day. I would love to increase our conversion rate for these leads, since I worked so hard to get the traffic in the first place. It seems that this would probably entail more accountability, and a different system, although I have no idea how much this might cost to design and implement. I could focus on SEO, but since we're getting ample traffic, perhaps the site needs a re-design to maximize its effectiveness? Here's our primary website: http://www.austintexashomes.com
I DO offer something that seems to be in short supply based on my conversations with agents: I care. I genuinely care about the people who work for us, and I am available pretty much any time to answer questions or provide advice. I've never been involved in a lawsuit or mediation of any kind, because we really try to head off problems before they grow into full-fledged legal issues. I value honesty and integrity, which might be a hindrance to substantial growth, although I'd like to think otherwise. Maybe I'm not cut-throat enough, and I'm okay with that.
There's no easy way to say this next part, so I guess I'll just be blunt. I promise it's not sour grapes, just an observation. I have seen other local companies grow to 50 agents and beyond with seemingly less to offer, other than possibly bravado and aggressiveness on the part of the managing broker/owner. I don't begrudge them their success, and I'm sure I could learn something from their recruiting efforts. Having interviewed a few agents who went to work elsewhere, only to be disillusioned, I just can't bring myself to over-promise to agents. Yes, we have leads. No, I can't tell you how many to expect, nor do I want agents who are dependent on me or the company to produce all or most of their business.
I haven't instituted minimum production standards for our agents, partly because it struck me as disingenous, since I wouldn't have been given a chance with my original mentor/broker if these were in place, but I think I was a great addition to his team for 8 years. It reminds me of the classified ads I used to see for Dell Computers that required a college degree and 2-4 years of experience, when the CEO was a college dropout. That being said, I don't think I want very many brand-new agents, partly because of the time commitment involved in training. What are your thoughts on minimum standards for sales production?
I've managed up to 20 agents in the past, and I think I could handle a lot more (40-50+), under the right circumstances. Namely, if I weren't so dependent on my own sales to provide the vast majority of my income, and if the agents were at least somewhat self-sufficient. I recognize that this sounds obvious.
I guess the bottom line is that I am torn between building an actual business that can provide income for me on its own vs. continuing to grow my personal sales. I am now 41 years old. I don't think I want to drive people around showing houses (even if they're nice houses) when I am 60 or 70.
I need a plan.
Feel free to chime in below with ideas. I'm all ears.
Thanks for reading!
Photo credit:Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr.com Creative Commons license