How to use the Covid-19 lockdown to future-proof your business

When Shakespeare was quarantined due to the Black Plague back in 1606, he wrote King Lear. Isaac Newtown wrote his theory of gravity in 1665 under similar circumstances. Sometimes good things can come out of periods of enforced solitude. 

While not to make light of a global pandemic, one of the biggest complaints agents have about adopting to the plethora of tech out there is that they just don’t have the time to learn it all. So maybe we need to look at this time, to paraphrase Tom Panos, as a badly wrapped gift. The hamster wheel is slowing and may even stop for a bit. 

But we’ve all been burned by failed experiments and subscriptions that didn’t deliver. So how do you approach it right now in the middle of all this drama and get your team functioning while making sure this time it isn’t about throwing good money after bad?

Understand the landscape

When we talk about being a mobile agent in real estate, the industry is guilty of thinking this means popping an agent into their car, and covering the costs of some of their mobile phone calls. 

In the real world, being mobile means something much different. It’s all about being cloud-enabled - so starting a task in one place such as your desktop computer, continuing while you’re out and about on your phone, and then dipping back in again to finish it off later that night, maybe on your iPad or laptop. Think about how you personally use Facebook. You can be anywhere and everything you’ve posted and everything you’ve seen follows you automatically around, regardless of device. 

Over the past three years or so, the technology has rapidly developed allowing agents to sell, manage, market and transact property using laptops and phones. But in real estate, the sad fact is that 65% of the software we use is still very much desktop based. To use it in any way, shape or form requires you to jump in your car and go into the office - or phone or email someone in there to carry out the task on your behalf. 

This means that as an industry we’re behind the eightball when something like a Coronavirus hits because it’s hard to let our team to work from home or be productive if they cannot be in the same room together. It’s both a technical AND a cultural shift. 

But that’s okay. You’re not alone. We’ll get through this. What we need to do though is stop thinking about ‘the tech’ and throwing random ideas at it. Let’s get strategic about how we become truly mobile agents.

Horizon planning for real estate

Even if every piece of technology that you use to run your business is located in a computer that sits under the desk of your office receptionist, and even if you are a complete technophobe, there are things you can do in the immediate and mid-term to make your teamwork from home ready and get you through the current crisis. 

To do this well, we’re also going to take a much longer-term view of technology to look at how this current crisis could even be the kick up the bum we need to put our business on a new future-forward footing. 

Horizon 1 - What do we need to address right now to keep functioning?

Your team all need to work from home. You’ve got sellers, landlords and tenants panicking. What do you need to do right now to keep the wheels rolling and keep people gainfully employed, even if it’s not business as usual?

  1. Work out how you’ll hold team meetings - and how often
    With everyone working from home, you’ll need a virtual solution. Make it video so you can see the whites of everyone’s eyes and see whose in their PJs and who is ready to work.
  2. Understand the resources you have at your disposal
    Who in your team is going to be swamped and who is having a quieter period that can be deployed to other tasks? What strengths do your people have that could be used in new ways? This is the time to pull together.
  3. Set up your communication strategies
    Pull your teams together virtually to brainstorm your responses and identify the best ways for you to resolve the following issues.
  4. Communicate with your current sellers
    Your current sellers will understandably be nervous. Work out your protocols for Open Homes (individual appointments only or virtual tours?) - what is their preference? Will you need to reschedule auctions, do them as a Live Stream, or do you need to change to a negotiation platform to give them the same level of transparency but with the benefit of social isolation? Create some scripts or talking points. Then get the team to hit the phones and follow up with email.
  5. Create a buyer policy
    Every buyer needs to feel the love in the current market. Create a blog or article about how you’ll be handling inspections, negotiations etc and share it on your website and social media channels. Now would also be a great time to create a Market Listings EDM. Give one or two of your quieter agents the job of ringing up every potential buyer from past opens and find out exactly what they’re looking for and what you can do to help.
  6. Communicate with tenants and landlords
    What is your policy around routine inspections (Will you be delaying them or hosting them virtually?). How do you want repairs and maintenance managed? How are you going to prioritise them? Which trades and services will still be able to handle emergencies? What protocols do they have in place to reduce the spread of the virus. What do you want tenants to do when they are present? What is your policy going to be towards tenants who say they cannot pay rent? How will you manage inspections for properties currently on the market, and tenant onboarding? 

    Work with your team to come up with acceptable answers to all of these questions and create content/fact sheets for your property management team so they can hit the phones. Then turn the information into emails for follow-ups.

Horizon 2 - What can we do better with what we’ve got?

It is a truth universally acknowledged in proptech, that real estate agents regularly buy subscriptions to technology that they only ever use a small proportion of, or completely forget about. So now is a great time for you and your team to dig a little deeper into the tech stack that you have already invested in and find out what some of those shiny buttons actually do.

  1. Do a tech audit
    Work with your team to identify all the tech you use in your business and confirm (or find out) the login and the price you’re paying for it. Also write down a brief summary of what it’s supposed to do. This includes your CRM. You probably only use about 20% of the functionality of your database. Find out exactly what it can do.
  2. Unleash the team
    Give your Admin, Sales, PM or Marketing teams to review each piece of tech and give you a report on its capabilities. Get them to read the manuals or the websites from start to finish, and book into some training. Or jump on the phone and have a chat to the supplier. You just might be amazed at the unharnessed horsepower that’s already waiting to power your business through this challenging time, if only you used it properly. And if it’s not fit for purpose, you’ll have a clear list of expenses you can cut. Create some projects to improve the usage and integrate it better into your business. 
  3. Build your client relationships
    Now is the perfect time to rebuild, strengthen, or giving greater depth to your client relationships and database, regardless of whether it’s plugged into a wall, or if its 1,000 5x3 cards in a rolodex on your desk. There’s gold sitting in that data just waiting to be dug! 

    Divvy that data up, get your team on the phone to start cleaning it up. Who is still looking to buy? Who is considering selling but terrified in the current environment? Whose details are five years out of date? Give your team some talking points - and something you can share with them. Create local suburb reports as something you can send as a follow-up and you’ll also capture more emails.
  4. Embrace digital marketing
    You’ve been hearing about social media marketing for a long time now. The time for avoidance is over. Use this time to identify where you have skill gaps, and look for online training options to step you - or someone in your team - through. Find out more about Facebook advertising and Google Ads. Write up a shortlist of the tech providers that can help you out and suss out their products. Learn more about targeting and creating content calendars. 

    And how’s that website of yours looking? Time for some fresh content?  Now’s the perfect time to have someone give you some honest feedback on your website. You’re bound to have a millenial in your office who has been dying to tell you how it should look and read for ages. Job’s yours champ! 

    How up to date is the ‘latest news’ on your site? When’s the last time you added some fresh content?  Is your site overflowing with glowing testimonials from delighted customers? Does it tell me everything I need to know about your community?  Now’s the perfect time to build that online community of yours. 

    Make someone in your team responsible for knocking the content into shape but get your team to contribute what they know through shared documents, or recording their thoughts and getting them transcribed through Rev.com.

Horizon 3 - What would an amazing real estate experience look like for your clients and what do we need to do to get there?

The goal of horizon three in business planning is to visualise a completely new utopian state. What would a real estate experience look like using your agency if you could remove all the pain and drama experienced by your sellers, your buyers, your landlords, your tenants - and your team? 

How could it be frictionless, easy, joyous even? What additional services could you offer if you had the time and resources to keep buyers and tenants - as well as sellers and landords - happy? And how could you create clients for life?

As part of Horizon 3, you want to get really clear on what an amazing property experience would look like for each of your different clients - and the team that serves them. How can you scale the business to do more of what you do brilliantly right now, without any of the problems to new clients and new markets?

Finally, you also want to get really clear on how far away you are from delivering to that new, ideal experience, and new revenue streams that could come from them.

1. Brainstorm with your team about what an amazing property experience looks like from the position of sellers, buyers, landlords, tenants.

2. Identify what’s stopping you from doing that right now. What are all the blockers? What are the areas of the business that your team finds the most painful?

3. Go back through your Horizon 2 projects. Which ones of those will get you closest to solving these problems or executing to this new high ideal? Prioritise them.

4. What’s still missing or going to remain a problem? What kind of technology or solutions do you need to introduce to allow them to be solved? What would a project to introduce the new technology look like and how would you roll it out?