This Agent Advice guide is all about making sure you value your time correctly. Even if you already have an assistant, it's worth going through the exercise at the start of this article to work out your current hourly rate. This will help you make smarter decisions with your time no matter what stage your business is at.
Also, if you do already have an assistant, scroll to the end of this article where you will find tips on improving your working relationship. Particularly by increasing your assistant's autonomy and encouraging feedback.
Your time has a dollar value. Have you worked it out yet?
Divide the gross income you earned over the past quarter (the last 3 months) by 13 (that's the number of weeks in a quarter). Then divide it by how many hours you approximately work in a week.
Be realistic here, don't sugar-coat it. Whether you work 60 hours or 25 hours a week, let's use that number.
Let's say you earned $50k (after office splits, but before expenses) in the last quarter. Divide that by 13, then divide it by 40 (hours per week), and your hourly rate works out to $96 per hour.
That is what your time is worth right now, based on your recent track record.
Tip: Use numbers from the last 3 months, not the last year. Your last quarter is more indicative of your current activity level. In real estate, a year ago might as well be a lifetime ago.
Now that you know your own value, as you go about your day doing little jobs, ask yourself at each step - could I easily pay someone $20, 30, 40 per hour to do this job? If the answer is YES, then you should have the confidence to hire someone to do those tasks for you. Or to outsource them to an outside contractor, like a virtual assistant or graphic designer.
If you can hire someone to do a job you are doing, for far less than your own value per hour, then it makes financial sense to hire someone to do that job.
Are you nervous about the cost of hiring an assistant?
Depending on your recent earnings and current commission split arrangement, sometimes managers and owners will come to the party and contribute towards the cost of an assistant. At the very least, it pays to ask the question.
Prepare a business case for why it will be worth it for your owner to invest in your success. Show them how many more listings you think you could generate if you had the right support in place.
Here's another tip: Don't hire an assistant based on the yearly cost, base it on the cost for one quarter.
What is the minimum amount of time you can employ someone in your area if they turn out to be a complete disaster? If it's 90 days for instance, then the worst-case scenario risk is that you end up paying them until that point. Work out what that figure looks like.
90 days = 13 weeks of work
30 hours per week over 13 weeks = 390 hours
390 hours x $20 per hour = $7,800
390 hours x $30 per hour = $11,700
So your total exposure is roughly $8 - 12k, depending on what pay-scale you are working to. It wouldn't be ideal if you hired someone and they didn't work out but it likely won't make you bankrupt, either.
More importantly, could you win one or two extra listings over the next 3 months to cover the cost if you had your own assistant for 30 hours each week?
Would you like to know how good you could be if you had some support behind you? That number above ($12k) is the investment you need to make to find out.
Don't knock part-time
Most agents won't need to go from zero support to 40 hours per week. If you did, you would probably struggle to find tasks for your assistant to do at first.
You can always go part-time to start with. This is a great way to lower the cost of hiring someone at the beginning. Lots of people want part-time jobs. Whether it's parents returning to the workforce, or people that want to work from home where possible or someone who is semi-retired but wants to stay active.
Qualities to look for in a Personal Assistant:
- Hire for work ethic. You can teach a hard-working person almost any job you want them to do. But you can't teach a lazy person to work hard.
- Positivity. You are going to be spending a lot of time talking to this person. Make sure they are someone who energises you, who looks at the world with a glass-half-full mentality.
- Up for anything. Ideally, it's worth hiring someone who isn't afraid to get outside of their comfort zone. Could they jump on the phone and call a buyer if needed? Are they going to feel comfortable speaking with people from all walks of life?
- Adaptable. Real estate is not an entirely predictable job because every listing is different. You need your assistant to be capable of adapting to unique situations. They need to be able to think on their feet.
- Solution-focused. Will they come to you with just a problem? Or a problem + a suggested solution? The latter is far more helpful.
- Attention to detail. Last but not least, they need to have exceptional attention to detail. In real estate, the personalities that make great salespeople are often lacking when it comes to this quality. So it's critical that you hire correctly to cover this shortfall.
One of the best parts of hiring an assistant is that they become your 'second brain', saving you from those little mistakes that happen when we suddenly get busy with multiple listings and sales happening all at once.
A great assistant will remind you of tasks you haven't yet completed, suggest following up with that buyer you haven't rung yet and find small typos in your adverts, saving you from later embarrassment.
During the interview process
- Ask them to review some of your written work. Like a pre-listing kit for example. See how many typos they can find and ask what suggestions they have to improve the document (eg. make it easier to understand). This checks for attention to detail, a solution-focused mindset, and whether they have the confidence to make suggestions.
- Ask them to call a real buyer to change an appointment time. Or at least role-play this with you in person. This exercise will help you evaluate their phone manner, ability to think on their feet and adaptability.
One final thought...
Don't be a micro-manager. Humans crave autonomy (the ability to make decisions on their own). Once you have built up a level of trust with your new assistant, empower them to make decisions so they don't need to ask you questions every 5 minutes.
How does this work in practice?
- When they ask you a question, respond with: "What would you suggest we do?" Even if you have an answer, responding with a question helps them think of solutions and shows that you care what they think. If their solution isn't ideal, you can talk through the problem to help them see your point of view.
- Give them a budget. Provide them with a separate credit card and let them know that they are authorised to spend up to a certain amount (say, $200) without your approval. This allows them to get a key cut, book a locksmith, order a gift basket, buy more paper or stationery, or get you a birthday cake without having to gain your approval every time.
- Create a safe space for feedback. Have a set time each week where they can ask you questions and make suggestions. Give them an opportunity to have their voice heard. Tell them that you value their feedback, positive or negative. You might be surprised how much your assistant can help you if you let them.
- Don't watch over their shoulder. Give them time alone in the office. Allow them to make mistakes and find their own answers. Letting go of control is key to long-term success when working with an assistant.
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