5 things every agent must do to reach the next level

The experts weigh in on what skills agents to master at every level of their career

Whether it’s successfully getting through your first year of real estate, finally raking in $1 million in transaction volume or becoming a team leader, every real estate agent wants to know the steps to reaching the next level.

Five experts on real estate lead generation, social media, content creation and leadership sat down with Inman to share the five skills every agent needs to succeed.

Learn to proactively generate leads

Tim and Julie Harris

When Tim and Julie Harris began their real estate careers nearly 30 years ago in Cincinnati, Ohio, the couple sold more than 100 homes during their first year by targeting sellers with expired and for-sale-by-owner listings (FSBOs).

“There’s no such thing as a buyer that’s truly motivated to buy because they can just rent or stay in their current home,” Tim said of their strategy. “But, there’s lots and lots of reasons why a seller has to sell.”

In the 21 years since they began coaching, the Harris’ have taught agents their tactics, which rely on what the coaching couple calls proactive lead generation. For Tim, proactive lead generation involves shunning lead generation programs offered by companies such as Zillow or realtor.com, and resisting the urge to invest in pricey customer relationship management (CRM) tools or expansive paid ad campaigns on social media.

“Most agents have a CRM that they don’t know how to use but they spend $300 to 400 per month on it,” he told Inman. “Most agents will be told to buy leads or how to do Facebook ads or do pay-per-click.”

“But when they get a lead, they don’t know how to pre-qualify a lead, and it doesn’t translate to business,” Tim added. “They don’t know how to do the job of being an effective real estate salesperson.”

The first 90 days of the Harris’ coaching sessions revolve around learning how to find and pre-qualify leads, which includes building a sphere of influence around the people you already know (childhood friends, former coworkers, neighbors, etc.), how to effectively ask for referrals, and hosting open houses that draw attention and yield new clients.

“Find out which buyers have a house to sell,” said Tim of his open house strategy. “That’s the more valuable conversation.”

Tim said new agents should first master these tactics instead of investing in elaborate tools, platforms or marketing campaigns. This rule even applies to more seasoned agents, he said, who probably have racked up some debt chasing the next big thing.

In this scenario, Tim helps seasoned agents get reacquainted with basic lead generations tactics, create a viable financial plan that includes debt payoff and add more “spokes” to their lead generation wheel.

“The more spokes you have on a wheel, the stronger the wheel is going to be,” he said. “The ultimate goal is to have seven spokes on your wheel that generate business.”

Those spokes could include contacting business managers, probate leads, working directly with banks or anything that requires an agent to talk to someone. And, no, social media conversations don’t count.

“We tell agents unless they’re putting themselves in the position to hear ‘no,’ at least five times a day, they’re not doing their job,” Tim said.

Use social media to build and expand your footprint

Katie Lance

Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. LinkedIn. Reddit? In a landscape where social media platforms are consistently being created, updated or shuttering (Vine), it can be hard for real estate agents to decide where to build their digital footprint.

Although Facebook might seem like the obvious starting point, social media expert Katie Lance said agents, especially new ones, need to turn their focus to LinkedIn.

“LinkedIn is very important, and it’s ignored because there can be a lot of spam on there,” Lance said. “We connect with people we don’t know, and we don’t know what to do with it, and it’s not as fun as Facebook or Instagram. So, it gets shoved aside.”

“But, LinkedIn is important because when you get googled, it’s often one of the first three things that shows up,” she added. “LinkedIn gives you credibility.”

Lance said a good LinkedIn profile includes a current photo, a concise explanation of what you do, what courses you’ve taken, what certifications you’ve earned and what awards you’ve been given. In other words, Lance said LinkedIn is the perfect platform “to brag about yourself.”

Beyond having a profile that appropriately summarizes your professional history, Lance said it’s important to connect with fellow agents and real estate professionals by posting industry-related content and leaving thoughtful comments on others’ posts.

These two actions are essential in building a profile that will get noticed by executives, prominent industry leaders and potential future professional partners.

“Executives are more active on LinkedIn,” Lance said. “If you’re engaged on LinkedIn, they’re more apt to notice and connect with you.”

For agents who have been in the industry for a few years or more, Lance said it’s time to stop haphazardly posting and create a system to intentionally connect with current and past clients on social media.

“Agents who’ve been in the business five, 10 or 15 years, they’ve probably amassed a pretty good size client base,” she said. “So often, a client will say, ‘Of course I’ll work with you again,’ but when it comes to buy or sell a house, they find a new Realtor. You need to stay in touch, and social media is a great way to do that.”

Lance said agents should comment on five past clients’ posts each week. The comments don’t have to be about real estate — you can simply wish someone a happy birthday or leave a few suggestions when they ask about what restaurant they should try next. These simple comments help you stay top-of-mind without being too pushy, she said.

Beyond creating pristine profiles and engaging comments, Lance said agents must invest in creating stellar video content.

“Don’t be afraid to get in front of the camera,” she said. “You’ll start to attract people who like your vibe and who want to work with you. That’s the difference between chasing leads and attracting clients.”

Lance said video content should cover the common questions you’re asked by clients and colleagues alike like “How do I prepare my home to go on the market?” or “How do I help my seller sort through offers?”

Agents can also use videos to show how well they know their market by doing monthly market updates or highlighting cool hangout spots for new residents.

Veteran agents who have been in the industry for a decade or more and who likely have a larger budget should invest in improving their production quality, Lance said.

“For someone who is a veteran agent, they might have the opportunity to take that to the next level by working with a local videographer or video editor to create some really nice, quality pieces of content that are going to last,” she noted.

At the end of the day, Lance said consistency and quality are the keys to building a social media footprint that will endure.

“It’s not about posting 20 times a day,” she said. “It’s all about quality.”

Defeat your fears about content creation

Christy Murdock Edgar

As a former English teacher, real estate writer and marketing mastermind Christy Murdock Edgar understands how intimidating the writing process can be, especially for agents who have lingering anxiety from their school days.

“One of the things that I think is difficult for a lot of people is dealing with the hangover from whatever they were told in school about themselves as a writer,” she said. “They were told they were a bad writer, or they had a lot of red marks [on their papers]. So, they come to writing with a lot of  fears and insecurities.”

Murdock Edgar helps agents get over their writing fears by emphasizing that content creation isn’t optional — it’s essential to growing your reputation and your business.

“I think for many people in the industry at all levels think about content as something that would be nice to do or nice to have, but not as something they have to do,” she said. “But, real estate is the last industry to think about content as optional. It’s necessary. You’ve got to put yourself out there. You have to create content.”

The writing wizard said new agents must focus on social media and free blogging platforms as hubs for their content because they likely don’t have the budget for a customized website yet. When it comes to content for newbies, Murdock Edgar said it’s important to determine the niche you can effectively serve and reliably create content for that audience.

“You can’t create content for everybody, you have to have somebody in mind,” she said. “If you’re a brand new agent, you may not feel comfortable talking to a luxury homebuyer who has lots of experience in buying and selling homes.”

”But, you may feel very confident talking to homebuyers who are young, who need a lot of guidance and that you can really serve,” Murdock Edgar added.

Once agents have firmly planted themselves in the industry with at least five years of experience, she said it’s time to pull in a branding expert who can help you build a website and refine your content. For Murdock Edgar, every good real estate agent website includes a compelling “About Me” page, a blog chock full of evergreen content and a home page that provides general information about your business and about the market.

Agents can include an IDX integration, she said, but it’s not a necessity because most clients look to sites such as Zillow and realtor.com to find listings.

“The IDX, it’s nice if people can do some searching while they’re there, but generally people don’t go to small, standalone agent websites to do their home search. They look at those bigger aggregators,” Murdock Edgar said. “But in reality, what you need is content. What you need is a fair amount of writing and new content being added through the blog on a consistent basis.”

When it comes to keeping your website’s blog fresh, Murdock Edgar said agents simply need to let the market guide them.

If you are letting your market guide you, you’re never going to run out of things [to write about]. There’s always going to be a festival, there’s something happening at the school or in local politics,” she noted. “And if you’re the market expert, a lot of times, it’s just a matter of getting out there and talking to someone in the market and evaluating and analyzing the impact of something new on the market.”

Lastly, Murdock Edgar said quality content creation is crucial for veteran agents who might want to back off from active sales and reposition themselves as industry thought leaders and coaches.

“This is the time to take advantage of the reputation you’ve built and the expertise you’ve built to create content that’s even more meaningful and that’s even more interesting and that positions you as a leader in the entire field,” she said. “Move into content that’s for the industry — not just for your clients.”

Understand your personality and use it to your benefit

Lee Davenport

Real estate is a relationship business, but plenty of agents struggle with interpersonal skills due to pre-existing social anxiety or misconceptions about the “correct personality” that’s needed to succeed in real estate.

Real estate coach Dr. Lee Davenport said many agents study the top producer in their office and try to replicate their actions. But Davenport said adopting a cookie-cutter approach to lead generation and business simply doesn’t work.

Instead, she said agents should take the time to study their personality and tailor their business tactics and interactions to what naturally fits. Davenport, whose dissertation identified the common key traits of the nation’s 1,000 top real estate producers, relies on the DISC personality test. The test places people into one or two of four categories: Dominant, Influencer, Stable and Conscientious.

DISC personality descriptions | Credit: Truity

“No human being is just one thing. In different environments, we may merge and flex [different parts of our personalities],” she said. “Knowing that whatever the DISC test says you are that doesn’t mean you’re 100 percent that. It just helps you find your main motivations.”

Davenport said people often believe they must have a Dominant personality type to succeed in real estate, but that’s simply not true.

“When you know your main motivations, your main personality type, then we’re able look at the different lead generation techniques, from cold calling to social media to whatever it may be, that will work for you,” she said. “For example, if you’re introverted (Stable personality type), cold calling may not be best for you.”

“If you’re extroverted (Influencer personality type), then why are you sitting in the basement not interacting with people? Get out in front of a group of people.”

For example, Davenport has a coaching client who is an introvert. For years, Davenport said her client shelled out thousands on large conferences or one-and-done events where she struggled to connect with others. Instead of forcing herself to become more extroverted, Davenport encouraged the client to begin hosting small events where she could have meaningful, one-on-one interactions.

“She wears her Realtor shirt, and that gives her an opportunity to chat about what she does one-on-one. She closed six deals from her latest event.”

Davenport says she knows her viewpoint is antithetical to the common advice of “getting out of your comfort zone,” but the proof is in the pudding — her dissertation revealed that top producers have learned to capitalize on their strengths rather than build on weaknesses.

“Learn to play to your strengths,” she said. “Develop your sales strategy around how you best relate to other humans.”

Optimize your schedule by identifying what’s ‘truly important’

Dave McGhee

For some, it always seems like there are never enough hours in the day to get everything done. But, Buffini & Company Head of Coaching Dave McGhee says it’s not about getting everything done — it’s about focusing on the priorities that get you closer to your daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and lifetime goals.

“The No. 1 thing that people can do is to identify what their priorities are and then structure the way they use time around those priorities,” McGhee said. “That’s versus trying to time-block or build a schedule, and a lot of what goes into that schedule is everything they have to do instead of the things that are really important to them.”

To help agents identify the difference between tasks “they have to do” versus tasks that are “actually important,” McGhee drills down into the why behind agents’ goals.

“A lot of what we do in coaching is help people get clarity,” he said. “Someone will come to us and say, ‘I want to make $100,000.’ And then we’ll start asking them, ‘Well, why do you want to make $100,000?’”

“And it’s not really about the money, it’s about what the money will do for them,” McGhee added. “It may be more than $100,000 that they need to make [to achieve their goals], or it may be less.”

Once he’s helped agents identify the what (I want to make $100,000) and the why (the $100,000 will help me build a savings fund for my child’s college education), then McGhee gets to work on creating a viable timeline for achieving that goal and putting the systems in place to help a client make it happen.

With those answers in place, McGhee says agents will be able to optimize their schedules in a way that provides more than enough time to get important tasks done.

He says smart time management skills and the ability to clearly identify the what, why, when and how of a goal is important for all agents, but it’s especially important for agents who want to eventually start a team or open a brokerage.

“I know I sound like a broken record, the key to all leadership is [establishing] clarity and priorities,” McGhee said. “If I can get really clear about what my values are, then it’s about putting systems in place that allow me to run the the business and hire people that are in alignment with what I’m trying to do.”

McGhee says the biggest issues for team leaders stem from “waiting to prepare to be a leader until they become one,” and a lack of systems to keep everything (and everyone) in place.

“Usually, it’s not a people problem. It’s a system problem,” he noted. “They don’t have documented standard operating procedures or what they’re trying to accomplish isn’t clear to their team. Getting [a system] in place will eliminate 90 percent of the problems.”

When it’s all said and done, McGhee says a successful real estate agent or broker always plans and leads with the end in mind.

“Stephen Covey in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People said, ‘Begin with the end in mind.’ I think that’s where most people — whether they’re new or a veteran — struggle. They’ve lost sight of the end game,” he said.

“What do I want my life after real estate to look like? Then, I can back it down and put the systems in place that will allow me to get there.”

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