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This is for all you busy agents out there and maybe some of the not-so-busy ones, as well. This article is not a criticism of delegation or the urgent need many have to get help with the administrative burden that comes with running a successful real estate business. It is a challenge to be honest with yourself about how you spend your time and whether or not those decisions are based in strategy or comfort. It is a challenge to step forward into your business with courage and lead it the way it needs to be led. I hope you take that challenge.

Key takeaways:

  • Strong, dynamic, and profitable real estate businesses start with leaders who set a clear vision for the business and adopt a “me first” attitude.
  • Are you delegating work because there is a higher and better use of your time or because you don’t like or understand (we don’t like what we don’t understand) something?
  • You cannot delegate key relationships, strategy, systems, or team building.
  • You only have time to do the things you should when you stop doing the things you shouldn’t.

While we all know about the Pareto Principle, which states approximately 80% of our results stem from only 20% of our daily work, real estate agents display an alarming and consistent tendency to delegate or disregard some of the most critical responsibilities in their business.  Many of them do not know which 20% generates 80% of the results, and most do not delegate strategically to ensure their time is spent in those activities which are most productive. In extreme cases, their process for strategic planning and delegation seems to be formed around avoiding the things they do not enjoy more than any real sense of vision for where they want to go.

In light of the business environment that is residential real estate, it is hard to blame them.  First of all, nobody is perfect and none of us are 100% productive, 100% of the time. Second, it is easy to get lost with an entire ocean of clever marketers running rampant who sell the ideal of how an agent is supposed to “leverage themselves” or “lead by delegation” or “set and forget” their way to success.  These ideas often drive to the tantalizing conclusion that you can somehow structure your real estate business in such a way that it will work even if you do not. You simply need to set it, forget it, and sit on the beach while the money rolls in! Not quite. I have a lot more to say about these unrealistic ideals, but it will need to wait for a future article.  

Much of the “delegation” in the real estate business is not delegation at all but abdication in disguise. This can easily happen when you push work off on team members for the wrong reasons.

Now don’t get me wrong: one person cannot do it all nor should they. Division of labor is a thing, and specialization most definitely works. The chef at your favorite restaurant is not seating you for a reason. However, it is also critical to note that you are responsible for the most important functions in your business and are not passing them off to an admin— regardless of experience – who by definition, does not know what you know.   

For example, we cannot expect someone who has never sold real estate and who has no idea what sellers deeply care about to be able to properly structure a direct marketing campaign for listings. Similarly, it is unrealistic to hand someone a spreadsheet of contacts and tell them, “Set up my database” without first giving them direction as to how they categorize people. This includes criteria like: what contact information needs to be tracked, what information is to be sent and at what frequency, and what overall strategy is to be employed with this group (i.e., why are we doing this?).

Here are several of the most critical aspects of running a successful real estate business that should not be delegated, but often are:

  1. Key relationships – Real estate sales are relationship sales in their purest form.  The health and vitality of your relationships with others, your rapport, and your ability to engender trust, is the most important aspect of success in a business that is ruled by referral and word-of-mouth advertising.  Given its importance, you would assume that this would be the last thing someone would attempt to pass off to an assistant, wouldn’t you? Well, in many cases, you would be wrong. 
  2. Critical moments in the transaction – Calming fears; relaying critical expertise and wisdom; closing the relationship; negotiating the deal; handing out keys; funding and recording. All moments in a transaction are not created equal. If you are not there for the big stuff, don’t be surprised if you fail to get referrals and repeat business.
    • Personal visits and gift deliveries – Nothing says you care like personal visits, lunches, drinks, or gift deliveries on special occasions.  Nothing says you don’t care like delegating these things to someone else. Either the relationship is important enough for you to take it on yourself, or it is not.
    • Lead generation and lead conversion (relationship-based) – Simply put, you will develop relationships with all your best clients and the best referral sources. While this group of “best” will evolve over time, these key relationships cannot be passed off to someone else or delegated. Ever. 
  3. Strategy and systems – We and only we are the architect of our own business.  It is up to us to form a compelling vision first before communicating that vision to our team.  Only then can we assist with forming the specific strategy and systems that need to be built to bring a vision to life. Assistants and administrators can jump in to help build the systems and execute the strategy only after we have done our part to form it in the first place.  Owners and leaders who fail to set this vision will frustrate their staff or be frustrated themselves when the results do not match their internalized expectations.
  4. Strategic partnerships – You must take charge of who will be a partner and how they fit into the overall plan, be they lenders; title and escrow officers; builders; referral partners; high net-worth individuals; or legal or accounting professionals.
    • Branding and brand promise – Does your brand promise fit into your vision, or are you delegating this to your admin and just telling them to come up with something that looks good?
    • Marketing, advertising, lead generation – You cannot expect your administration to have the intimate knowledge of buyer and seller needs that you have as an experienced agent, nor can you expect them to understand your voice and how you want to show up in your advertising. You have to set the tone and the structure for these campaigns before you pass them off to be executed.
    • Marketing presentation collateral – What goes into your presentations— listing or otherwise? Yes, you can delegate putting them together, but if you don’t tell them what to include and what the objective is, don’t be surprised when it is not meeting your internal expectations.
  5. Hiring and team building – “Who” is so much more important than “what” or even “how.” Getting the right people on your team and building that team up takes enormous effort, patience, and vision. Who are the “right” people? You are responsible for figuring out the answer to that question and making sure those roles are filled. As you transition from building your individual business to building a team, even if that “team” is just you and your assistant, the most critical decision you will make is who you let onboard with you. Once they join, you and only you are responsible for building rapport and trust as well as educating them about the larger vision and how they fit.  Attempting to delegate the vision of how your team will function or what types of people will fill the roles which need to be filled will end in disaster. 

Keep in mind with items 1-5, or any critical function of your business, that a failure to take action and allow your admin or team members to make these decisions for you is no different than choosing to delegate them (perhaps it is even worse). This is a leadership vacuum and is commonly filled by team members who see the decisions that need to be made but do not execute them. In this way, many real estate agents’ businesses are actually directed and led by admin and assistants, much to the frustration of their employers who of course only have themselves to blame. A vicious cycle appears.

Also, notice that the words lead generation to appear several times in the three items above.  While team members may help you execute strategy, you are ultimately responsible for generating leads and creating opportunities for your business.

If all of this sounds like a lot of work, it is. This is leadership in action.

I can almost hear you say, “How in the world am I supposed to find the time to do all of this stuff when I am swamped as it is?” That is a very good question. The answer is the subject of my next article. The answer is to stop doing many of the things you are currently doing every day. The answer is in the things you should be delegating and letting go of.