Flexible Assistance: Let’s Go Virtual

Virtual assistants can help your productivity in a big way, without ever stepping foot in your office. Skeptical? Read on.

April 1, 2007

Personal assistants are a hot topic in the real estate industry right now, and with good reason. Assistants give you the freedom to focus on what you love about the business, knowing that administrative functions and other designated tasks are still in good hands.

Virtual assistants are the same as personal assistants, only they’re invisible. They tackle chores from afar without taking up an inch of office space. You can hire a VA for a specific project — Web site design, for example — or for a certain number of hours per week or month to handle tasks such as transaction management, writing ads, or coordinating your marketing.

To illustrate how this works, I’ll introduce you to a hypothetical real estate practitioner, Sally Agent, who works seamlessly with a support staff of VAs she’s never actually met in person.

Sally’s an expert at listing presentations, writing offers, and negotiating. Everything else gets delegated to virtual team members on an as-needed basis. All of these examples are based on actual practitioners.

Prepare for Listing Presentations

It’s a big day for Sally; she’s got two listing appointments. Before leaving for the office, she reviews her Microsoft Outlook calendar, which all of her VAs can access online to add appointments and check her schedule as regular assistants would.

As Sally arrives at her desk she sees the CMAs and customized marketing plans for the listing appointment are waiting for her on the printer. The blank CD she left in her CD-ROM burner last night is ejected and contains the custom PowerPoint presentations to help her win the listings. All of these things were done by her Virtual Listing Marketing Coordinator, Amy, who is two time zones away.

The Virtual Listing Marketing Coordinator also handles all of the marketing details of the listing once the seller is on board. This includes entering the listing into the MLS system, writing and posting print and online ads, managing feedback from showings, and sending the sellers comprehensive marketing reports every Friday.

With help from Amy, Sally can average eight listing appointments per week, which take a total of about 15 hours.

Generate New Listings

Sally generates her new listings from two primary sources. The first is “stay-in-touch” drip marketing, using e-mail and postcards targeted to her sphere of influence and previous clients. All of these mailings are handled by Vickie, the Virtual Drip Marketing Coordinator.

The other source of new listings for Sally is pursuing expired listings, a task that’s delegated to Anne, the Virtual Expired Listings Expert, who researches listings that are about to expire, gets the seller’s phone number, and e-mails Sally a “call list” of prospects whose listings will be expiring that day.

A copy of the call list also is sent to Rhonda, who is Sally’s Virtual Listing Appointment Coordinator. Rhonda is an absolute pro on the phone and more times than not she’s able to set up the appointment for Sally. After each appointment is arranged, Rhonda contacts Amy (the Virtual Listing Marketing Coordinator) so that Amy can prepare listing presentation documents in time for the appointments.

Harvest Online Leads, Close Deals

Another major source of new business comes from Sally’s niche Web site, which targets mid-level executives relocating to her Midwestern town. She knows that online consumers want an immediate response to their inquiries and that they’re often many months from actually needing her services.

Sally can’t be sitting in front of a computer all day checking for e-mail, so she has two Virtual Online Lead Managers who do it for her. Chris covers normal working hours and Marley handles inquiries that come in during the evening. Every time an online inquiry is received, here’s what they do:

If it’s clear that the consumer is ready to buy or sell, they contact Sally immediately so she can personally follow up. They also respond to the message, letting the consumer know that Sally will be in touch shortly. Only 5 percent of the inquiries fall into this category.

For the other 95 percent of online consumers who aren’t quite ready, the VAs send a “first response e-mail” from Sally, designed to build trust and rapport while respecting the consumer’s desire for anonymity and control.

They put the prospects on Sally’s custom monthly e-mail newsletter (written by another VA, of course) and in a drip e-mail system that is written specifically for relocating mid-level executives.

This frees up Sally to focus on the consumers who are ready to take action now. The other prospects are like fish that are too small to keep. But instead of throwing them back into the lake, her VAs put them into a special private pond (the drip e-mail system campaign) where they are fed and nurtured. When the prospects are big enough (ready to move), Sally gets involved.

Transaction Management

Whether working with buyers or sellers, as soon as an offer is accepted Sally faxes the documents to Cindi, her Virtual Transaction Coordinator.

Cindi handles the transaction from there — she even orders a closing gift. Sally just has to show up at the closing. When the deal is finished, Cindi then contacts Vickie (Sally’s Virtual Drip Marketing Expert) to make sure that the client is put on Sally’s seven-year, stay-in-touch campaign.

Is a VA Right for You?

The key benefit of working with virtual assistants is flexibility. You pay for only what you use, rather than paying a salary and overhead for someone who works set hours in your office.

Our hypothetical real estate agent uses a full range of real estate VAs for marketing, follow-up, transaction management, and more. You’ll probably start with a more modest team of VAs as you get your team up and running. If you’re interested in learning more about hiring VAs, check out some of these links:

  • REVA Network. I’m president and cofounder of this free online forum for VAs who specialize in real estate (I receive no compensation from REVA Network). Register for free and you can search for a VA who will meet your needs.
  • Team Double-Click. This virtual staffing agency provides help with an array of administrative real estate tasks, such as answering the telephone, making and confirming appointments, creating flyers, and sending thank you notes.
  • International Virtual Assistants Association. This nonprofit organization is dedicated to the professional education and development of VAs, and to educating the public on the role and function of the Virtual Assistant. It’s not real estate specific.

Michael Russer, a.k.a. Mr. Internet®, is CEO of Russer Communications. He is a leading speaker and author in the real estate industry and has been writing about Internet marketing and virtual outsourcing since the dawn of the commercial Internet.