Words of Wisdom from Top Producers

Every year, we honor the Top Producers in Chicago Real Estate at our Sales Awards banquet. But what does it take to become a Top Producer? What are their tools for success? To find out, we went straight to the top. Thank you to Jeff Lowe, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, Emily Sachs Wong, @properties, and Ian Schwartz, Coldwell Banker, for sharing their insights and best practices at YPN’s February breakfast.

Jeff Lowe, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, Emily Sachs Wong, @properties, & Ian Schwartz, Coldwell Banker, at the YPN Top Producers Panel

What does a typical day look like?

A mix of listing and buyer appointments, along with dropping kids off at school, visiting kids after school briefly, etc. The biggest struggle is catching up on the hundreds of emails received throughout the day, and then finding the time to take care of yourself and your family.

What management tools do you use, to make time for a balance between work and family?

It’s tough to find a balance when you’re in town. It’s a choice you have to make every day, but you also have to cut yourself some slack that, if it doesn’t happen one day, that’s ok. Become ok with the choices you make. And, utilize time blocking to help schedule out your day and prioritize. It’s a challenge, and it’s hard.

What steps did you take to become a Top Producer, and how long did it take?

  • Find a mentor – someone who will champion you, challenge you and push you.
  • Remember your real job: to find qualified buyers and sellers. If you can spend your day (or part of your day) trying to do that, you’ll be successful.
  • Be the first person in the office every day.
  • Let your acquaintances know that you love your job, that you’re busy because you’re successful, and hold open houses to welcome direct interaction with other potential buyers and sellers.
  • Hustle. Whether you start out selling residential or you get your start in rentals, hustle. Be hungry. The people you rent to could become your biggest referral sources and clients in the future and will appreciate your hustle.

How do you stay in touch with past clients and attract new leads?

A lot of business become repeat clients because of the level of care. Jeff only prospects a few times a year, but he’s in touch with little notes throughout the year, while Emily does a lot of client contact via gifts and mailings. Ian doesn’t have a huge database, but he stays in touch religiously. He doesn’t advertise, he just stays in touch, and he says thank you. Key: when reaching out to check in, never just ask for business. It’s too sales-y. Be genuine, and be helpful. That’s what’s attractive to clients. If you don’t stay in touch, you won’t get the eventual listing or sale. Do they know if you’re even in the business anymore? This is important when you run a referral-based business.

At what point do you hire an assistant or bring on more help? What does your team look like now?

It depends. Jeff is reluctant to hire people on because he is responsible for them. You never want to hire someone you can’t keep. At first, look into sharing an assistant with another broker, like Jeff did the first year he hit 15 million. He then brought her on full-time the following year. And, he cautions, even with a team, you still need to know what’s going on with your listings and your buyers. Know the clients, the houses. Be responsible for your team, as well as your clients. Emily takes a slightly different approach, in that she hired her first full-time assistant after about a year — spending money to make money. But she stayed independent, without a full team, well into 100 million in sales. It’s only been recently that she’s turned herself into a full team, because she has a family and wants to share her knowledge. It’s important that if you feel you are too busy to take it to the next level, hire someone, even part time. It will help you be big, be focused and grow your business. Ian, too, hired his assistant after about a year, because he had no other plan B — he wasn’t going back to being a lawyer. The first assistant he hired was his kids’ babysitter. He realized he could delegate, and he could do other things that were more productive. If there’s anything you’re doing that someone else could be doing, hire someone. Set yourself up to be productive.

Do you use technology in your business, and how do you leverage that?

If you don’t know anything about technology, delegate it. Put your assistant in charge, or hire a virtual assistant to be you online. Get assistance if it isn’t your forte. And, make sure you are careful about what you’re posting — keep some class, because it’s not just your friends looking at your profiles. At the end of the day, real estate is a relationship-based business. You still need to stay in touch with your clients face to face.

What advice would you give to those interested in becoming more successful in 2016?

Jeff has a rule: no blue jeans. Present yourself as a professional. A lot of people have a low threshold of what they think of real estate professionals. Present yourself in a professional manner, show up on time, and show that you’re serious about helping your clients and respecting their time and investment. Emily says that constant availability is your friend. Have more knowledge than you need. If you’re at an open house, know the other open houses in the area so you can be a resource, even if yours isn’t the best fit. People will remember that and appreciate the knowledge. Share with others and it will come back to you immensely. Ian advises that this is a fair business, in that you get out of it what you put into it. There are a lot of advantages to this industry, but there is no substitute to hard work. Put in the hours. And, spend time doing your job: finding qualified buyers and sellers. People fail because they don’t spend time doing that. Focus in and work hard.