7 Ways to Plan for the Long Haul

Planning ahead doesn't mean simply making preparations for the next quarter, year, or market cycle. It means coming up with a cohesive strategy to guide your business for years to come.

December 1, 2009

In real estate, it's important to plan for the long term. We have to have a vision for where we are going, or we'll end up back in the same place over and over again. Here are a few ways for you to plan for the long haul in your business.

Set Up Your Sales Pipeline

The absolute most important plan for the long haul is your sales pipeline. Gone are the days when buyers were hanging like ripe fruit on overburdened trees. Today, you have to keep track of people for months—and sometimes years—before they buy. It is a long-term project to get in the door with some of these people. And many of the sellers you talk to today can't afford to do a short sale and wouldn't qualify for one anyway.

To deal with these difficulties, set up a solid follow-up system now (if you haven't already) so you aren't relying on piles of sticky notes to remind you to make your sales calls. Another way to set up your pipeline is to start running seminars. These are usually attended by people thinking about buying or selling somewhere between three months to two years from the time of the event. While it's not always a source of immediate business, it's a great way to get your long-term plan on track and give yourself a sense of security about tomorrow's income.

Get an Assistant

This may not seem like the best time to hire an assistant, but if you get your follow-up systems in place and make use of them, then you should have regular business coming in within a short period of time. And if you're good at asking for and getting referrals, then you'll soon be too busy to follow up consistently.

If you have an assistant, though, you'll have someone to help out when you get too busy to keep up with your marketing and follow-up programs. This will help you produce even more business, allowing you to pay for the assistant and still make more money.

When hiring an assistant, you have two choices. You can go for a virtual assistant who can help you bridge the gap between working alone and having a full-time, in-person assistant. Or, you can jump to the end and get a full-time, dedicated assistant. Before you do the latter, make sure you have three months' worth of salary and tax money saved before you hire anyone. Even if they're really good, it will take about this long before you see a return on their work, so having that buffer is important.

Become Self-Feeding

Many real estate professionals don't think about what will happen to their business if their broker closes shop or sells to someone else. This is where it's important to become what I call "self-feeding." What I mean by this is that your business doesn't come from the office but rather from your own efforts. This way if your broker goes out of business, your source of leads doesn't dry up with the office. It also means that other brokers will find you more attractive for hiring. You might even find that you can get a better deal on your commission split than you would if you were more dependent on office-generated leads.

Make Connections With Practitioners Outside Your Area

While real estate pros may have their own "turf," buyers don't. Having connections with other professionals outside of your market allows you to create relationships that could result in referrals when a buyer decides to move to your area. Find practitioners in areas that have close proximity or similar conditions to your own to trade business with. It's a great way to get an extra piece of business a couple times a year.

Develop a Plan for Getting Client Referrals

If you're not already asking for referrals, you're missing the boat. A solid plan with a good close can yield you referrals at three to four times the rate you have now. Your expectations of clients sending you referrals should be something that you cover during your initial meeting and throughout the transaction, as well as long after the sale. Also, ask your clients to give you good reviews on online review sites.

Build Your Infrastructure

If you really are planning for the long term, you'll want to have some infrastructure in place. This means procedures, forms, and letters that you use consistently across your clientele. There are several reasons to do this:

  • It frees you from reinventing the wheel every time you have to send something out.
  • It gives you the ability to automate part of the process, meaning you spend less time on redundant tasks.
  • Having standard forms and procedures in place makes you look professional to prospective clients.
  • It insulates you somewhat from potential Fair Housing lawsuits if you treat everyone the same way every time.

Don't Think About Tomorrow – Think About Next Year

Real estate professionals are always thinking about the next commission. But if you take the time to plan a little further out and set up systems that can carry you through the next several years, you'll find you never have to worry about tomorrow's commissions again. Then the main issue becomes how to give superior service rather than how to make next month's rent.

Kelle Sparta is the author ofThe Consultative Real Estate Agent: Building Relationships that Create Loyal Clients, Get More Referrals, and Increase Your Sales(AMACOM, 2005). She is also the founder of Sparta Success Systems , a real estate training company.