OWEN: My guest today is Jeff Cohn and he’s the owner of Omaha’s Elite Real Estate Group. Jeff, welcome to the show.
JEFF: Thanks Owen, I’m really excited to be here today.
OWEN: Good. This show is all about getting entrepreneurs like yourself on here who have been able to systematize your business and it runs successfully without you, to come on here to talk about how exactly you’ve been able to achieve such a feat. Now, so the listener knows real quick, what are some mind-blowing results that you now experience as a result of going through this process of systematizing and automating your business?
JEFF: Great question Owen. I’m really excited to share with the listeners today and I hope that I can provide some really great value that can be applied in their business. But over the last 4 years in residential real estate I’ve been able to take my business from 80 transactions to 580 transactions, and that’s about 25% growth year in and year out. That’s the fastest growth that any residential real estate team has ever seen.
OWEN: Wow. That’s impressive. Also, how do you see your company has been transformed as a result of systematizing your business?
JEFF: One of the things is that once we had systematized it in Omaha we are able to expand into other markets, and we’re now in six markets across the country using all the systems that we had launched in our Omaha market.
OWEN: That’s awesome. How will you say your personal has been transformed as a result of systematizing the business?
JEFF: Time is going to be number one, having more time to spend with my family and having more time to spend on the things that matter most to me outside of my family like my personal hobbies, my health, my spirituality. A lot of times I had to work all night, the whole weekend, and I have my life back.
OWEN: You mentioned something, how long do you usually go in these vacations that you do?
JEFF: Our goal with every other Christmas to get away from town, we have a lot of family and we love to be around our family, but we we’re around them all year so we like to have time to ourselves over Christmas and New Year’s, and we’ve taken trips as long as 5 weeks away from our family. Every other year we like to go to either Hawaii or we’ve been to Costa Rica a couple of times.
OWEN: What has been the longest time you’ve actually been away from the business?
JEFF: It depends which business, there’s businesses that I’ve probably only interact every couple of months, just literally checking in with the leader of that entity. I own about 10 or 15 other businesses.
OWEN: I guess let’s focus on the one we’re talking about right now which is the Omaha…
JEFF: Yeah, probably 5 or 6 weeks.
OWEN: Great. What exactly does your company do and what’s the biggest pain or problem that you solve for your customers.
JEFF: Sure. I like the Zappos CEO mentioned that they’re customer service company that helps people buying shoes. I like to say the same thing. We’re a customer service company that assists people in buying and selling residential real estate.
OWEN: That’s awesome. So basically they get real estate agents from your company to help them buy and sell homes, right?
JEFF: Yeah. We’re helping them through a process. A lot of people think they understand that process. Maybe they’ve done it one or two times but there’s a lot of pitfalls that come along in both of the selecting of a home, looking at it, putting a contract in on it, and ultimately closing on it. And we want to walk people through that process as painless as possible and help them walk out of that experience with a positive feeling that they can remember, so that when they come across other people that are considering buying or selling real estate they want to refer those people to us.
OWEN: How many full-time employees do you have?
JEFF: We have 25 full-time agents. We have 5 part-time agents, and 7 admin, and that’s just in Omaha team. If you take all of my businesses combined we’d probably have about 60-75 people.
OWEN: Awesome. Just to give the listeners some context regarding how the business doing, is the company profitable and what was last year’s annual revenue and probably what do you expect to do this year?
JEFF: Sure. In residential real estate there’s this book that was written by Garry Keller about 10 years ago called The Millionaire Real Estate Agent. And he outlines in that book a lot of things in term how to be profitable because a lot of people will talk about all the money they’re making. But it doesn’t matter how much money you’re making it matters how much money you’re keeping. And a lot of times people don’t even know what this number is. And so that’s what a profit and loss statement will do is to take your gross income minus your expenses giving you an adjustable growth. And then after taxes, insurance, and all the other costs what your net gross is. Our team last year was able to make $2.5 million and out of that $2.5 million i was able to keep 33%.
OWEN: That’s awesome. Take us back, because we’ve shared with the listeners the benefits of what you’re going through, where you now systematize the business and what you’re kind of enjoying right now, but it wasn’t always like this. So take us back to when the business was not systematized and automated like it is now. What was wrong with it back then?
JEFF: The biggest challenge was I’ve reached a point at diminishing returns. Essentially I was a residential real estate agent. I only have 2,080 hours in a year if I’m going to work 40 hours a week for 50 weeks out of that year. And so for me to make more money I had to spend more time in the business and I hadn’t chosen to leverage myself. And so every aspect of what I was doing was reliant upon my shoulders and I learned very quickly that by leveraging that and finding people to take on some of those responsibilities gave me more time to do what mattered most.
OWEN: Back then when the business was not systematized what would you say was the biggest pain point? I think you mentioned something about having a new baby, something like that?
JEFF: Yeah, sure. Right into the business and I started selling real estate we had a brand new baby, I was just out of college, student loaned that, all of those things. And I think that probably the biggest challenge for me was just having to spend so much time away from my family. I probably was putting in 65 to 70 hours a week away from my family. I never was at home on Saturdays. That was a big day for real estate agents, but I always did protect my Sundays. I’ve never worked on a Sunday. I think that’s really important to any business entrepreneur out there so you don’t burn out. You make sure to put your time where it matters the most. Just pick a day, it doesn’t have to be Sunday, but pick a day every week that you can 100% shut off and dedicate that time to the things that matter more to you in your life than just your business for making money.
OWEN: How did you even feel then when you had to work and you had a newborn baby. Let’s talk about that, on the emotional side of it.
JEFF: How did I feel?
OWEN: Yeah, how did that feel?
JEFF: To be honest I was excited, I have a driver personality, I was excited to go out there and work hard. I wasn’t too concerned with the time I was away from my family because I felt like it was a necessary sacrifice. Now looking back and this has been 9 years, I wish I had spent more time at home. I wish I had changed more diapers and helped my wife in the middle of the night, but I was choosing to sacrifice that time to help build my business that now is allowing me to spend even more time with my family than I could have ever imagined.
OWEN: You mentioned something about hiring a transaction coordinator. Why did you do that? I’m just curious.
JEFF: In real estate and a lot of other industries there’s a lot of paperwork that goes along with the transaction. For a long time I was the one that was processing that paperwork, and it takes anywhere from one to five hours per transaction. If you’re doing 50 transactions a year your listeners can add up the hours, it’s a lot of extra time. I had learned a philosophy that’s very important to me and my business and in the decisions I make, and that is you essentially figure out what your worth is per hour. It’s easy for someone that works for a corporation that doesn’t own their own business saying, “I’m worth $27 an hour because I get paid X.” And it’s easy for them to see what they’re getting paid. But for someone that’s an entrepreneur we don’t step back often enough and say, “What am I worth per hour?” If you earn $100,000 a year and you work for 40 hours a week, 50 weeks out of the year which is 20,080 hours, you’d be worth $50 an hour. If you make 50 grand a year you’re a $25 an hour, if you make a million dollars a year you’re worth $500 an hour. And so what I started doing at a very young age, I was 24 years old, is anything that I could hire out that was less than what I was worth per hour I started leveraging and hiring it out.
OWEN: I’m also trying to get a chronological list of the things you did back then in regards to systematizing the business. What will you say was the very first step you took to systematize the business?
JEFF: Right away in a sales environment you’re going to come across potential clients. And so I needed to have a place to put those potential clients. I would say my very first systemization was to create an Excel spreadsheet. I had taken statistics in college, and obviously I was in accounting as well, I have a business degree and so I knew how to use Excel very simply and I just started putting people’s information into Excel.
OWEN: What was the second thing that you did?
JEFF: The second piece that I think really helped set me apart was stop hiring showing assistants and of course you already mentioned the listing coordinators. So finding people that could help me plug into the things I was already doing but they were able to do it better because they could dedicate more time to those activities than what I was able to dedicate.
OWEN: You mentioned during the pre-interview that you were leveraging buying agents. How did that play a role?
JEFF: Sure. As an agent a lot of our time is spent out showing houses. I found early on in my career that if I was able to hire great buyer’s agents all their focus was help people purchase a home, but I could put more energy to the sellers that were trying to get their homes sold, and more importantly acquiring new opportunities to assist other people that were wanting to sell. And so we hired buyer’s agents that all they would do is focus on the buyers that I was previously working with and spending all these countless hours with. And instead of doing that activity I started focusing my time on sellers. I had tracked how much time I’d spent on a [Unintelligible 00:09:08] individual side, and the buyers took me 20 hours and a listing would take me 10 hours from start to finish. So I knew I could do twice as many transactions in half the time.
OWEN: Let me see if I can get this right. The buyer’s agents, these are not buyer’s agents with their own buyers, these were buyer’s agents that you hired in-house to work with buyers that are coming to you.
JEFF: Exactly, with my buyers, but they were able to work their own buyers as well and I would make a percentage. If they brought their own buyer I make a certain percentage, I make more if they work one of my buyers. And that’s what I have today, I have 25 of those in Omaha.
OWEN: Great. You also mentioned how you made use of creating the CRM to communicate with leads. Talk about that.
JEFF: Sure. I invested with a company that is called Viral Marketing. Their headquarters is in Omaha, Nebraska. They provide ongoing virtual communication with all of the people that have ever registered on our website. Right now I have 60,000 people that are in this CRM, and so it gives us the ability to continually communicate with the leads that we have in our system at an organic level. So based on those leads is interaction on our website, so if they look to certain properties we can then communicate to them about the things that matter most to them.
OWEN: The showing assistance, are they a different group?
JEFF: Yeah. The showing assistance essentially what we found was that a lot of buyers didn’t see a lot of value in the realtor going in, literally opening the door and walking them through a property. The value for a realtor was negotiated in the contract, negotiated in the home inspection, determining where the buyer was best suited to purchase a home. We leveraged even another step, and instead of the buyer’s agent showing the properties we starting hiring showing assistants that worked for the buyer’s agents to take the buyers out and just show the properties, but then the buyer’s agent did everything else.
OWEN: Okay. What other steps did you take to systematize the business? I think during the pre-interview at this stage you mentioned something about success management.
JEFF: Yeah. In the beginning when I had all these agents that started to join my group I wanted to hold them accountable to the goals that they set for themselves. I think this is a really big key, everyone has goals every January 1st but who’s checking in on January 7th, and February 5th, and April 27th, who’s checking in with you? Most organizations and individuals with their personal goals don’t have accountability partners. What we did is we started building in a piece of accountability with our organization and we hired a success manager. And that success manager’s job is to hold our agents accountable on a weekly basis to the goals that they set for themselves.
OWEN: Awesome. You mentioned that you also hired someone to do meetings for you. Does that have to do with the success manager…?
JEFF: That also is the success manager role but in addition to that one of the pieces to help me exit from the day-to-day business was to have someone else in charge that could run our group meetings, and our success manager was able to fill that role as well. My number one goal is to have 2 or 3 direct reports that could essentially take on all of the things that I used to do by myself. And so those are the people now running my organization. So when I told you I have to spend about 3 hours a week within my organization, those 3 hours are essentially just meetings holding those three individuals accountable to the expectations that I’ve set for them.
OWEN: Awesome. Also you mentioned during the pre-interview about a back office systems, someone being hired to do that. What is this exactly?
JEFF: We have a lot of back office processes and a lot of this comes back to operations. And so there was a day where I was the one writing the commission checks out to my agents. I was the one piecing together our marketing platform from a technological standpoint, we’re posting stuff to the internet, updating our website, paying bills. I was able to hire someone 4 years ago that stepped into that role and it probably freed up 20 hours a week for me.
OWEN: We’ve talked about all the different systems that you created back then, but I want to understand the thinking behind how did you even back then prioritize what order of steps to take. How did you decided what systems to create first and which one to create after? What was the thinking behind it?
JEFF: Everything I shared today in this Hangout I think this is going to be the most value. So if you’re listening, slow down and really process what I’m about to say. When I was in college I started doing internships. In those internships someone had recommended to me that when I went to decide what I wanted for my real job to be after I was done with college I should go out and interview 15 or 20 people that I determine as successful individuals, not just based on money but lifestyle, and learn from them. And so after doing that I determined I was going to go into real estate. There was no glass ceiling. I could take my business as big as I wanted. Well then in real estate I applied that exact same rule, and I went and met with every agent in Omaha, Nebraska to learn as much as I could. And then 3 or 4 years later I went and met with every top agent across the country. And now I’m meeting with top brokers across the country and internationally. I’ve been to Canada now several times. I have visited over 50 real estate teams over the last 4 years all across the country and then applied a lot of the things that they’ve been doing to help their businesses be successful into my own business. I can’t tell you Owen how frustrating it is when I meet with someone that says their business is failing. And I ask them who they’ve met in the same industry that’s not direct competition? Who have they gone out to meet? And they look at me like I’m crazy. “I haven’t met with anybody.” Why wouldn’t we not reinvent the wheel and go out and meet with someone in another market that’s not a direct competition to us to brainstorm, to mastermind, to create relationships, and to learn.
OWEN: I get the importance of look for mentors, whatever, and that’s great, but I’m also trying to understand how, maybe give us some specific example of now you have identified some top broker back then in the US that you wanted to meet. How you then take meeting that person to figuring out, “What are these systems I should create?”
JEFF: Yeah. When I was doing 80 deals a year and I knew I wanted to do it differently there wasn’t an agent in my market that had a model that I wanted to duplicate, but there were agents nationally getting the types of results that I wanted to duplicate. And so I just reached out to them and ask them if I could come and spend a couple of hours a day with them to learn how they chose to build their business. And so all of the things I’ve already shared with you from a CRM, to our buyer’s agents, to showing assistants, to transaction coordinators, success managers, goal setting, accountability, 90% I learned from the people that I met with. And you’ve heard the saying, “The difference between you and me are the people we meet and the books that we read. I also add on to there the podcast we listen to like the one we’re on today, and then the people that we visit for these mastermind tours.
OWEN: I guess what I’m really trying to get at for the listener is [Unintelligible 00:15:49] that same position where there’s somebody else in their industry, someone maybe in another city or whatever who’s doing this type of business they want to do at this stage they want to be at. I’m trying to figure out how they would approach that person, and then how they would be able to literally get that blueprint from that person of what they should do next. How do you approach questioning that?
JEFF: Number one you have to identify what’s your problem. And in any business and in any world everyone has some problems. I’ve heard it said before, every solution creates 10 problems. Your business is going to continue that problem, so the best thing to do is to partner with people that have already experienced the problems that you have. And all I did was I reached out to them cold Owen. I would go onto Google. Let’s say that I’m in Kansas City and I have a staging company that goes out and helps people stage their properties. And my staging company has two or three huge challenges. That person in Kansas City probably can’t knock on the door of somebody that’s in direct competition with them but they could reach out to someone in St. Louis, call them up, and say, “Hey, I own a staging company in Kansas City. I was wondering if I could come visit you.” They’re going to invest in themselves, spend a thousand dollars, go to St. Louis and ask a person, “Can I come spend half a day with you and learn a little bit about your business. I’ll share with you some of the things that have been working for me in my business.” And then they go to St. Louis with a set of 10 questions of problems that they’re experiencing in Kansas City that they want answered in the St. Louis success person that they find on the internet allows them to come and visit. You wouldn’t have to spend the money to go visit, you could do it over the phone, or via Skype, or a webinar. But I found a lot more value actually physically going. I think you learn a lot more, it’s more organic, and you can actually feel the passion, see the person in action, look at their operation, visit their brick and mortar, and it’s invaluable. I would say one visit for me was worth the time it would take to read 10 books or listen to 20 podcasts.
OWEN: I think also just traveling out actually sets you apart from anybody who just randomly calls them. This probably shows you’re more serious than everybody else.
JEFF: Oh absolutely. Let me share a quote real quick if you don’t mind.
OWEN: Go ahead.
JEFF: This is a Jim Rohn quote and you’ve probably heard this before. It says your level of success will rarely exceed your level of personal development because success is something you attract by the person you become. Too often we think success is going to come to us because of what we offer, or the value, or where our business is doing, or how we’re different than everyone else. The success that’s going to flow to you is going to be based on what you put into yourself. And most often people aren’t willing to invest in themselves because they don’t see a return. But I promise, anyone out there that’s listening, the more time you put in to helping yourself become better and stronger as a leader and as a business person in your space the more money is going to flow to you because money flows to the difference.
OWEN: Back in the stage of the story that we’re talking about, how exactly did you then document procedures and processes for the business, what tools did you even use?
JEFF: From the beginning all of our data over intellectual property we kept in a Cloud. You can use any Cloud you want out there but don’t ever rely on hard drives. Hard drives are going to be outdated in not even a couple of years. Everything’s going to go to Cloud computing, and so we started using Google Drive 5 years ago. All of our systems and processes, all the expectations I have for everybody that’s on my staff is all kept in our Google Drive. To keep everybody organized on our team we use Google Calendar. Everyone plugs into the Calendar. We have a moving truck, they can reserve the truck on there. They can reserve our dialer. We have dialing system, people can take turns using all of our events, everything’s on there. The other thing we use is what’s called Gecko Boards. If you go out and check those out geckoboard.com. Essentially what that does is takes all the analytics surrounding what our team’s doing on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. And each agent individually can see from anywhere real-time via Wi-Fi, they can see how many calls they’ve made, how many contacts they’ve had, how many sales they’ve had. They can see what percentage they are from hitting their goal or beyond their goal. And then they can also have access to the Google Calendar, the weather, any upcoming events or speakers that might be scheduled that come talk to our group. But it’s a really great way to help keep our team organized.
OWEN: That Gecko Board, is this just like giving the team access to transferring data for the entire company as well as specific to themselves as well?
JEFF: Yeah. We actually set it up from a company standpoint. You have to pay $50 a month, but I think they do the first month free to try it out. What we did, and it was actually super simple because we were already using Google Drive and we were using Google Sheets within Google Drive which is essentially Excel on Google. We were able to link all of our Google Sheets of the things that mattered most to us that we wanted to showcase on our Gecko Board. We just linked up all of our Google Sheets to our Gecko Board. And so all that data that was hidden inside of our Google Drive, though a lot of real estate agents didn’t take the time to dig in and find out that data, we now can showcase what matters most to us. And the things that matter most to us are the things that are either going to offer value to our clients that we serve or the agents that work with us to help motivate them and inspire them to work harder to reach their goals.
OWEN: I like that. Back then at the time when you were working on systematizing and automating the business what books or even mentors had the most influence on you and why?
JEFF: Yeah. I already mentioned The Millionaire Real Estate Agent because it helps show a systematic approach to exiting your business. The promise of that book taught you what they called Seventh Level was where you can make a million dollars and not be in the day-to-day. That to me was the dream. And then of course you have Rich Dad, Poor Dad which is Robert Kiyosaki’s book talking about how to leverage, again, using that word. Taking advantage of other really skillful people that know more than we do and being willing to let pieces of your business go. Another great book and it was written by Gary Keller but it’s not real estate focused, it’s called The One Thing and it talks about how doing that one thing matters most and what is that one thing in all different aspects of our life. And that’s another thing I like is sometimes people get too focused on making money or building their business. And sometimes what they need more in their life isn’t based on the money on their business, maybe they need to spend more time with their significant other, or spend more time out in nature, or spend more time at their church, or give back charitably, or spend more time on their health. And I think what’s most important is that we live a balanced life in all those different areas.
OWEN: Thanks for sharing that. The thing is if we just talk about all you did and the success you got from doing them, it will give the impression that there weren’t any challenges. We want to give a well-rounded story, and so that’s what I want to know what are some of the biggest challenges you experience when you initially try to systematize your business and how did you solve it?
JEFF: I would say the first challenge that I had was recruiting agents, finding people that would trust that working with me was going to be a benefit for them, because a lot of people think just like I had thought doing it on my own was the only way to do it. And so I was able to recruit a lot of agents by offering them more value than anybody else. And it all comes back to value, that’s why people choose to align themselves with organizations. Another challenge as I started hiring people was managing them and how to manage…
OWEN: Before we even jump into the management thing, because someone might be thinking about maybe they might be having issues trying to figure out how to offer more value, what specific value are you offering to the people?
JEFF: Every industry is going to be different so pick the obvious. In real estate, for agents looking to determine what team was going to be best for them. The number one thing of value was leads, opportunities, people that were wanting to buy and sell. A lot of agents aren’t that great at finding all those opportunities. And so we figured out a way to generate over, now up to date we’re generating 1,500 leads a month. And so we would take those leads, in the beginning there were 200 leads a month and we would debut those out. And so each agent on my team will get 30 leads a month. That’s huge value to be able to join this group and get 30 leads every single month. We talked earlier about accountability, so I tell people… To some people that might be a negative. “I have to go to that team and have someone holding accountable.” A lot of people actually look at that as an advantage, and it just depends if you’re a scarcity person or an abundance person. So the agents that align themselves with our group they’re abundance people, they want to be held accountable to the goals they set because they want to realize those goals. And so we help them do that.
OWEN: You mentioned another thing before I interrupted you, sorry, about how to manage people was a challenge.
JEFF: Yeah. I think the biggest challenge you know that people are supposed to do A, B, C to get a certain result but they’re wanting to do X, Y, Z. And so the biggest challenge there was using certain people’s success stories to show the people that weren’t experiencing the success a live example of somebody that did do it the way that we knew they needed to do it to get the type of result that everybody was trying to obtain. In real estate it all comes back to communication. Another book I didn’t mention is The Seven Levels of Communication by Michael Maher, and in that book it teaches that the best way to communicate is face-to-face, in person. A lot of times especially with your millennials out there is people want to hide behind text messaging and email. There’s another great book, How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age. So going back on Dale Carnegie’s book but now applying those rules and practices to electronics and the digital age that we live in today. It’s hard to get people that are younger, that are used to hiding behind technology to get out there and get face-to-face, chest-to-chest with people.
OWEN: Yeah. And during the pre-interview you also mentioned how getting your team onboard with systematization was an issue. Talk about that.
JEFF: We are very structured. Every Monday we come together and have an accountability meeting of sorts. It’s somewhat of a weekly huddle. And then every Wednesday we do dialogue training where we teach people how to talk through scripts, the right way to talk to leads. And then we spend two hours on a call but then every Friday we have team training. And it’s hard. Again, when someone chooses to go into real estate it’s essentially a 1099 job. You’re not an employee, you own your own business, and so it’s hard sometimes to ask people to do these certain things and plug in essentially to the systems that we’ve set out for them. But again, it goes back to when they see the people that are having the success it’s always the ones that are the most present, the ones that are showing up every day, the ones that are jumping in and going to the trainings, and going to the accountability meetings, and getting involved with the team culture. I always find those are the people that have the most success. Right from the get-go to try to find people, how you fix that problem is showing any potential candidate that wants to join your organization you need to walk them through exactly what their experience is going to be like if they chose to join your organization. And if somebody doesn’t like the way that you run things don’t hire them.
OWEN: I like that. Just show them what it is, how you play, and then if they don’t like the rules they just filter themselves out…
JEFF: That’s exactly right. We want 9 out of 10 people we interview to not want to join our company. Our interview process is really just showing people why they shouldn’t join our company.
OWEN: I love that. Show them why not to join and they don’t join and you only see the one you want and focus on that.
JEFF: That’s exactly right.
OWEN: Given all the challenges you mentioned earlier why do you even stay committed to the goal of systematizing the business?
JEFF: I knew from a leverage position if I couldn’t get the people in my organization to do the things to make them a valuable part of the organization then I wasn’t going to be able to expand. And so that was the biggest thing for me was to make everyone within the organization to really matter, to actually have value so I could end up eventually expanding if their positions ended up coming to fruition and they did.
OWEN: I think you also mentioned something about the agents if they were not getting results, how did that play as a motivational factor for you to continue systematizing the business?
JEFF: I drew a line Owen in the sand and I told everyone that joined our group, I said our group is called Omaha’s Elite Real Estate Group. So it would be really hard if someone joined the team and they never were elite. They never sold at the elite level. The average agent across the country sells seven houses a year. And I thought if we were going to call ourselves elite we needed to triple if not quadruple that statistic. So today our average agent sells 27 houses a year. That’s elite to me. So to be within our organization, to stay on my time you have to sell up to 20 houses or more a year.
OWEN: That’s awesome. Basically the success of the agents, it had to be successful and that was a motivating factor for you to keep working on systematizing the business. Let’s come to a more recent time in the story. At what point in time were you able to systematize your entire business and have it run successfully without you?
JEFF: Sure. I would say about 2 years ago when I had hired my operations manager that did all the back office 4 years ago. But then my last biggest piece was stepping out of that success manager role until about 2 or 3 years ago I was the one meeting directly with all of the agents, holding them accountable, leading all of the meetings. But that was the last piece that I needed to hire out. That was probably the hardest piece. That was the hardest for me to let go because it broke the intimate interaction that I was having with my team on a daily basis. And so I had to trust that I could find someone, not necessarily had to do as good of a job because that was probably one of the things I was best at. But I had to trust that they were going to do a good enough job in that role and the people I’ve now put in place to take my spot are incredible. They do an amazing job and I’m very fortunate to have found them.
OWEN: Let’s dive into that a little bit. How did you eventually get to trust them, the people you hired for this very last part?
JEFF: I was very fortunate. A lot of the roles within our organization I hired from within. And that’s one of the reasons the majority of corporations like to hire key people from positions within the organization because they can better understand the culture of the organization. But I think most importantly you can trust the individual because they already have a track record within that organization. Now everyone’s so fortunate but we were able to pick people out. And number one, I was always searching out for talent. I was always thinking what the needs were going to be down the road. I’m always thinking one step ahead that I was going to need to fill this role, this role, this role over the next 12 months, or 18 months, or 2 years. And even right now if we dove into it I know what positions I need to hire out over the next 2 or 3 years for all the different businesses that I have going.
OWEN: Basically it was keeping an eye for talent within and trying to hire within, and move it to the next stage of their role. Because if they’re already performing within the company then you’re moving them to the next stage of their role within the company. The trust is a lot easier. And then you also keep an eye out there for talent that you can bring in.
JEFF: Absolutely. And that is probably the number one challenge for any business that wants to see growth, it’s finding really great talent. And that’s where I think the best leaders should spend the majority of their time finding talent. Because talent is what’s going to allow you to leverage your business.
OWEN: That’s awesome. Let me explain why I’m asking this question, because the different parts of your business, and so imagine how on one had of the business it’s like someone was trying to… One part of the conveyor belt is someone who’s trying to buy a property, right?
OWEN: And then on the other hand of this same conveyor belt is that same person, they bought a property and they’re out there raving and telling everybody about how great your company is. What will you say are the different parts of your business and the specific systems that you have in place in each part that makes this transformation happen.
JEFF: Sure. What’s interesting about the businesses that I own, especially the ones within residential real estate is that I have two businesses I’m running Owen. Number one business is the business of supporting real estate agents that work with my organization. And then the number two business is the business of the agents that work within my organization servicing other clients that are potential buyers and sellers of real estate. I run two businesses under an umbrella that to answer the question of how we better service agents to get people to want to join up with our organization. And how we systematize that in your conveyor belt analogy, it comes down to culture, leads, accountability, processes, and strategy. So diving in to culture first… Culture is everything. Culture is the foundation of the organization that you create. It’s the feeling people have when they come in to the office in the morning. It’s the feeling they have when they leave. It’s the high five when someone sells a house. And that culture is defined by the leader of the organization. So when someone has a bad culture and they’ve complaining about it, blame it on the leader. Hopefully that’s the person listening to this podcast. So if your people aren’t the way you want them to be it’s because you’ve done a bad job either selecting them or creating the culture necessary to help them achieve everything that you expect them to achieve within their organization.
OWEN: Yeah. And then leads, talk about that.
JEFF: Yeah. Number two is the leads, and when we talk about leads within my organization it’s not just leads, it’s leads and lead conversion. Anybody can generate leads. For some people that might be a challenge but a majority of the people that I talk to know how to bring the business in, the hard part is how to convert that business. And real estate, when you just look at internet leads, and that can be like your Google Adwords, or we’re even posting houses sometimes at Craigslist or putting a Facebook message out there with a boost on it that cost us money. Nationally the conversion rate shows about half of 1% is what the conversion rate shows in real estate. Our team is converting it 3%. So we’re converting six times as many people with our leads. And that comes back to you asked earlier but it’s our CRM. Our CRM is helping us, we’re leveraging our time by leaning on technology, the texting, the voice mails. We use a virtual assistant also in the Philippines. I have a virtual assistant company with 20 virtual assistants that service real estate companies all over the US. And we’re able to teach the people that join our organization how to convert leads into sales. And then the next one is going to be accountability. Being able to sit down with agents individually for 20 or 30 minutes, listening to their needs, talking about what their goals are that they’ve set for themselves, and then helping them break through any challenges or barriers that they have so that they can get the results that they want out of their life. And again it might not be financial. It might come back to something in their personal life that they need help with. The processes piece has also really set us apart. Having these various roles on our team like having the showing assistant. I didn’t even talk about our transaction coordinator. So if you’re buying a house you have an assistant or a secretary that just helps you process the paperwork on the buy side. And if you’re selling a house we have a person that helps you just on the sell side. And then we hired a full-time client care specialist. We did 580 deals last year so our client care specialist reaches out with every single one of their clients and asks them how their experience is throughout the process and then after the process. They send them a handwritten note. We have a survey done. Every client that ever buys or sells with our team we survey them. It’s about a 20-minute survey so we can find the areas that we needed improve on. There’s other strategies that help us zero base some of our costs. Strategies like creating alliances with other companies that benefit off of your business. And so in the real estate industry obviously you have home inspection, home staging, home warranty, title companies, lenders. We’re able to create, they’re called marketing service agreements where they pay certain dollar amounts every month to help us generate more leads that obviously in turn are going to come around and provide a benefit to them.
OWEN: That’s awesome. I like how you went through and broke down each part of business and different things you have in place. But what systems do you have set-up that enable your employees to know what exactly they need to do?
JEFF: I think that having these accountability meetings is key. In that accountability meeting on Mondays each of our agents have to stand up and they report what type of results they were getting the week before. But where I think we really separate ourselves as an organization is our agents have to report what they’re doing on a weekly basis in front of a group of their peers. They also then have to report to a success manager in person. We then have an allotted time where we help them become better at the things that they need to do in that we have our dialogue training on Wednesdays, and then we have team training on Fridays. So it’s not just us saying, “Hey, get this result. Get this result. Get this result.” We then hold them accountable to getting that result. We teach them how to get that result, we train them how to get that result, and we create a culture that helps them get that result.
OWEN: I can see holding this continuous, ongoing accountability meetings actually help you track and verify the results including seeing the data in your CRM as well as the Gecko Board that you mentioned earlier where everybody can see. You’re transferring access into the results you guys are getting. I’m wondering. We’ve talked about how you transformed the business from you doing the work initially to the point where it’s running without you successfully. I’m wondering, since you have more free time which areas of the business do you now focus on now and why?
JEFF: I’m always doing R&D, research and development to serve the in-client. So I talked about how I have two businesses, one is to serve agents, the other is to serve clients. I know that my organization’s going to grow if I look at how can I help the agent better serve the client. It’s going to offer more value to the agent. So we invest a couple of years ago in a moving truck. I’m the only person in Nebraska who has a truck. Anyone that buys themselves a house with us can use our moving truck to further move to get their house ready to move, or any time after they move forever, they can call us up with a couple of days’ notice and use our truck for free. That’s just one small example. We have menus in our office. So when someone comes in to potentially look at houses on the internet with our agents or sign a contract the first thing we ask them is what we can get them to drink and we hand them a menu. We are a customer service business assisting people in buying and selling residential real estate. And I don’t care what business you’re in, it always going to come back to customer service. That’s what’s going to define if your business wins or loses over the next 10 years. Because we’re serving millennials, that’s the future. And millennials expect to be treated good.
OWEN: I love that. I’m really enjoying you talking about how you’re going above and beyond and looking at the different aspects of bringing more customers… You’re selling homes, that’s what the typical agent will think, or you’re helping them buy homes. But then you’re thinking about all the different parts including helping them move. That is thinking way beyond what most people would do. I like that.
JEFF: Thank you very much. Another thing that helps us with finding out those holes and what the clients want is those surveys. To be willing to take the time to ask them, “How was your experience?” and not be scared to hear the negative feedback. Every year we look at that and say, we do it weekly, daily, but every year we strategize how we want to spend our marketing dollar to help better serve the client based on the 580 people who give us feedback every year.
OWEN: That’s awesome. What is the very next stage of growth for your business, what you plan to achieve next, and why?
JEFF: Sure. I feel like I found this pretty neat niche on how to build real estate teams and how to serve the client most importantly. There’s so much knowledge that I want to share, and that’s one reason I’m on this Hangout with you today. I also have my own podcast. I’ve been interviewed probably 20 times in the last 12 months and I’m speaking now nationally. But the thing that I’m most passionate about is helping entrepreneurs build residential real estate teams. And so we actually launched six expansion teams in 2015. I hope to launch 26 expansion teams by year 2018 and 100 by 2020. And so what I’m doing is I’m going around the country and finding people with the need of systematizing their business and I’m plugging in with their businesses and growing it parallel to the business that I’ve grown here in Omaha.
OWEN: That’s awesome. As we come to the end of the interview if you were to summarize what you feel the listener who’s been listening to the interview all the way to this point, what do you think they have to do in order to systematize their business and get it to the point like yours, running without you? What will you say they should do?
JEFF: I think number one is hire anything that you can hire out and leverage so that you have more time to build your business, leverage it. I talked earlier about determining what we’re worth per hour. Someone out there might say, “Yeah, that’s great but I have no money. I’m a brand new startup business.” That’s okay. I was getting ready to go to a convention last week and I hired my daughter for $2 to spend 2 hours stapling all these little fliers together. I didn’t want to spend my time doing it. My 7-year old daughter was excited to earn a couple of bucks so she could buy a new app on her iPad. Sometimes we need to come up with creative ideas to leverage other people’s energy and time to help us grow our business. But the key to that is taking advantage of that additional time you have. That time isn’t there so you can go sit on the beach, or sit at the pool, or watch some new sitcom on TV. That time is there so you can put it into things that are going to be income producing for you. And then the other thing is being willing to leverage when you do have that additional time and you are continuing to leverage your business, be focusing on the things that are going to help you grow not only within your company, not only financially but also grow in other ways. So when you do have some free time don’t take it all to build your company, take some of that time to build yourself as a person. And like I shared you with the Jim Rohn quote, “The more we build ourselves as individuals the stronger we’re going to be as leaders, and the better we can inspire those within our organization and without.”
OWEN: Awesome. Is there question that you are wishing I would’ve asked you during this interview that I didn’t ask you yet? If there was a question like that please pose the question and the answer.
JEFF: I wasn’t actually prepared for that one, something that I wish you would ask me that you didn’t? I think a great question, this actually came up in a mastermind we had yesterday was, “As you become more successful and you’re surrounded by people that aren’t successful, how do you handle their negativity? Or how do you and handle the comments that they make behind your back, or on social media that are counterproductive to what you’re trying to accomplish?” Anyone listening to this has already set themselves apart from the people that they associate with. And you’ve heard the say, “Birds of a feather flock together.” Sometimes you need to find different birds. And you can’t feel bad that the friend you had in high school or college, or the neighborhood you’re in, or the church that you go to is no longer in your social circle. It’s okay to still associate with that person a little bit, maybe via social media, but you don’t just spend your weekends any longer with them. We all have people in our world where when we told them this amazing idea we had or this way we’re going to change our business they rolled their eyes and they came up with a reason why we shouldn’t pursue that dream. Those people live in a scarcity mindset, those people don’t take risks. Those people will go their entire life regretting that they never did anything significant. Beware of people like that. Disassociate with people like that. And so who I teach and train my clients to spend time with are the people that have championed them or been their cheerleaders throughout their entire lives. And so you look at the people in your life that matter most. It’s the people that are going to cry at your funeral. It’s the people that text you on the weekend and ask you how you’re doing. Spend more time with those people get around people that motivate you, that inspire you. Get around Owen’s podcast, listen to more of these. Go out and read books that inspire you, that motivate you. And then do the things that you like to do whatever it might be. Some people might be walking in the forest. Another person might pick up basketball, but do the things that are going to replenish you. Because everyone’s going to drain, everyone’s energy is going to go low. Do the things that you know are going to replenish, not going and sitting and watching TV for 5 hours, or go on an wasting time doing things that aren’t going to better you. Obviously there’s a place for those things. But I think too often we spend time doing things that aren’t going to make us stronger and it makes us weaker because you only could become better or worst.
OWEN: I like that answer. What is the best way for the listener to connect with you and thank you for doing this interview?
JEFF: You don’t have to thank me just you listening is thanks enough. But if you do want to connect with me on some level, like I mentioned earlier I do do national speaking. I do do a team building workshop. The niche is for residential real estate agents but it applies to anyone that’s building a team or a sales organization. You can reach out to me on Facebook. It’s just Jeff Cohn. I’m sure Owen can include a link, but it’s just Jeff Cohn and Facebook me. A website I can throw at you is eliterealestatesystems.com. That’s eliterealestatesystems.com and that’s the site that we use for speaking tours, for our expansion teams, and for our team building workshops.
OWEN: Now I’m speaking to you the listener. Thanks for listening to the interview all the way to this point. If you’ve enjoyed this interview I want you to leave us your positive review on iTunes. To do that and go ahead and click on sweetprocess.com/iTunes and that will link you to our iTunes channel where you can actually leave us your honest review. And if you are at that stage in your business where you are tired of being the bottleneck and you want to get everything out of your head so your employees know what you know, well, feel free to sign up for a free 14-day trial of SweetProcess. Jeff, thanks for doing the interview.
JEFF: Owen, my man, thanks for having me brother. I appreciate it. It was a great time. Great questions, you’re awesome.
OWEN: And we’re done.