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Brad Davis runs a successful real estate business in Seattle, where the housing market has been on fire. He’s as busy as can be, helping his clients buy and sell houses and setting up continuing education sessions for fellow realtors. But as his mother aged, he decided to move her into his home, and real estate had to take a back seat.
“During that time, I didn’t take on a lot. The expectations I set were having an outgoing autoresponder on my email and having a voicemail, not getting terribly detailed about what I had going on,” he said.
Because your small business is your livelihood, it’s easy for it to become the focal point in your life. But it’s important to remember that a good business should be able to run without you, particularly when other commitments, such as family and friends, require immediate attention. This is exactly where Brad’s colleagues and network of connections came in.
“I had no less than eight people in my office backing me up during that time,” said Brad, who realized that he didn’t have to shoulder the burden himself and that his support system understood he had a life outside of work.
Brad carries this collaborative nature into everything he does. Although real estate is known for its competitiveness, Brad builds a good rapport with other realtors to help mutually grow their businesses.
That’s one of the things that drew his client and reviewer Karen J. to his real estate practice when she was looking to sell her home. He’s collaborative on every aspect of the sale and wants what’s best for his client, even if it means not necessarily making the sale at that moment.
“Not only does he get excited about properties with me, but he’s also very pragmatic in terms of looking at: ‘Does this fit your needs?’ on top of ‘Is this just a good property?’—because a good property could be good for anyone, but it could be bad for that individual. So he, more than a lot of agents that I’ve chatted with, really, really listens to the must-haves and the must-not-haves and considers that when he’s guiding me.”
Buying a home is not a decision to be made lightly. It usually involves hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it’s a long-term commitment for most people. It can also be quite laborious, between financing, inspections, negotiations, and signing page after page of mortgage documents.
Brad understands this. “When it comes to real estate, it is such a personal endeavor on the residential side. You’re talking about someone’s home, someone’s sanctuary, someone’s safe space. This is what we all kind of want—the American dream, right? Having your own domain and being the master of it.”
According to the National Association of Realtors, 90% of home buyers would use their agent again or recommend that agent to friends and family. And word-of-mouth marketing is critical to realtors everywhere, who use referrals to build their businesses.
One of the strategies Brad uses to keep his name top of mind is the simple concept of communication—and customers notice.
“One of the things that I immediately liked about Brad when we first met was his communication—that he is really on-point and direct and defines expectations well. I like that he has a system for working with clients,” said Karen.
Brad uses a variety of communication tools to work with and retain his clients and takes advantage of helpful technologies, like using automated messaging based on where clients are in the home buying process.
“Staying in communication on a regular basis—even if sometimes it has to be a little bit more automated—those things are important; and also delivering communications—even if they’re automated—that are of value. For my homeowner clients, they definitely want to get updates on value. So I send those out on a quarterly basis. It’s a great way for us to catch up and have a touch point,” said Brad.
It always helps if you love what you do too. Brad had to make a choice between real estate and another job when both grew too big to manage simultaneously. He chose real estate because he saw a need for someone like him in the business. Like so many small business owners, he found a gap in the market and filled it.
“I don’t think you can find anything more exciting and dynamic than real estate. I know dynamic is probably a very overused word, but really, you’re constantly on a moving target of changes, whether it’s lending guidelines, contractual changes, or market changes.
“My ‘why’ I got into the business had to do with my own personal experience, trying to find a reasonable agent when I was purchasing my first home. And I found that oddly challenging. After that experience, I thought to myself, ‘I think I could probably do this better.’ And it turns out I can!”
Real estate isn’t so different from other small businesses, with its entrepreneurial spirit and dependance on word-of-mouth marketing, but following these four lessons from Brad can help any small business build a solid customer base:
- Life happens to everyone. Remember to create a work-life balance, which can be hard to do with a small business, so build reliable back-ups for life’s emergencies.
- Find a need, fill a gap. Create a business around a need you see. Chances are someone else needs that same service.
- It’s always better working together. Collaboration—even with apparent competitors—can be an advantage for both of you.
- We’re in this for the long haul. Relationship-based businesses benefit from listening more than talking to clients because you are building a long-term partnership.
Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Brad and Karen, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.