An excerpt from Success Faster On Fire Hot!
I can track 7 significant pivots in my real estate career; some fluid, some messy, a few enlightened, all moving forward.
I have been in real estate since 1999. Based on industry standards, I had a good first year. Seduced by success, I had $3,798,315 in sales volume my first full year in the business. I have trained Rookie’s of the Year who did three or four times more volume than that but at the time, it was a solid respectable first year. It was more money than I had been making in my previous career, I was having a blast and this working from home on my own schedule thing was the greatest invention ever. I was professionally grinning from ear to ear. Fist bump, high five!
And then I sold $3.3 million in my second year and $3 million my third year. I was sliding backward. I realized I had no plan, was lacking focus, was being a lousy boss to myself, and that my business was running me. The honeymoon was over. I had no control over my pipeline, had zero training on the concept of pipeline or database, had few if any tools, my website was meh, my cash flow was completely unpredictable, I had little control over my flexible (air quotes) schedule, and my business was running me and my life. I was a mess and needed solutions.
So I started over. Some sort of business intuition or personal fortitude kicked in, and I simply started over. That was my first significant pivot in my real estate career.
I can track seven significant pivots in my real estate career and have absolutely lost count of all the minor pivots. Some of these pivots were fluid, a bit of an art; some were more on the messy side. In looking back, I believe I pivoted a lot. Whenever I hear pivot, I think it should be a drinking game. That would be fun. As it turns out, business pivoting is a bit of a skill, a survival technique of sort. Two steps forward, one step back. Not always linear, sometimes sideways, sometimes messy, sometimes by design, sometimes because life shows up or sometimes because the market or economy shifted. It’s a bit of a business cha-cha-cha.
Let’s take a closer look at my pivot record, my story. (Note: It is a bit of the story … the full story is in the book.)
Pivot 1: Year 3, Vision
First brokerage, small boutique run by two dear friends and they were generous in mentoring my start in the business. And I was a good student, I was a talented junior agent. With $3.8 million in sales volume in my first full year (all personally generated), I awarded myself the Rookie of the Year award.
It took me a year or two to begin to form the vision of what I really wanted with this new career. I came to the realization that I wanted a bigger platform to build on my vision. I wanted a bigger platform to create the customer experience I was starting to piece together. Because of how I learn, I came to the realization that I needed to be around as many top producers as possible. So in the sophomore year of my real estate career, I moved my business to the biggest game in town. I knew I needed to make a dynamic move to another business model. So I made the business decision to shift from tiny brokerage to huge brokerage. I pivoted.
Pivot 2. Year 8, Team
The brokerage move upped my technology, tricked out my website, and put me in a position to observe (and copy) some of the best agents. And it worked.
And I was killing myself. I was working all the time. I needed help, I needed leverage. What I was doing, how I was operating was not sustainable. So the second major pivot in my real estate career was building a team. So I hired a contract-to-close specialist (I think it was $350 per contract, and that is still pretty much the cost today), then I hired a paid assistant (my first employee … now I do not like to have employees, only contract help), then I added a buyers agent onto my team. I stepped from solo agent to small team.
Pivot 3. Year 10, Acquisition and Help
In 2009, I had the opportunity to acquire another agent’s business. The agent was a top agent in my office and she had a unique opportunity to move her family back to California. To make that happen, she needed an Austin business partner to adopt her client relationships and I was the right match. Think of it a bit like a second marriage and growing your family. In the acquisition, I gained a seriously talented buyers agent. I started my team over.
And I hired a coach, an interim CEO of sorts. I hired a coach because I did not want to keep repeating my patterns. I hired a coach because I feared, if left to myself, I would keep doing what I had been doing. I hired a coach because I needed help to create change and stay the course. I hired a coach to run less of a squirrel farm and stay focused on the goals. I hired a coach because being CEO required growth.
Pivot 4. Year 12, Be Careful What You Ask For
In October of 2010, I was seriously restless and had a meaningful conversation with my business coach. I told her I had two very distinct goals for the next year. Goal one, get my life back in balance. And goal two, increase my business and bank account. In that order.
Pivot 5. Year 17, Crash
I was running the largest new agent training program in the country. For five years, I helped nearly 150 brand new agents each year get their start in real estate. This was super meaningful work, I helped agents change their lives. And I oversaw the overall training effort in this big office. I was sprinting. And saying yes a lot. Sprint, yes, sprint, yes, sprint, yes. And I hit a wall. I crashed.
I landed at the cardiologist. I am a healthy, sporty, trim, 50-something and my heart was racing, my chest was tight. It was not a heart attack. I pass all the tests with flying colors, get assigned to a cardiologist for more tests. Everything checks out fine. Turns out that sprinting and sprinting and sprinting is not sustainable. Go figure. I was exhausted and stress was showing up in my body. I landed at the cardiologist again five months later with the same thing. Same symptoms, same test results, same diagnosis. It was a wakeup call. A huge wake-up call. Something had to shift. It was time to let someone else figure out how to take the program to the next level, the next more manageable level, and time for me to do something else. It was time to pivot.
So the next big pivot in this story is how I decided to go back to being a solo entrepreneur, formalize The Nelson Project training and coaching company, and start writing a book that could help more than 150 agents per year.
Pivot 6: Year 18, Relaunch
My training and coaching company had been a part of my work for years. Helping real estate business people grow their successful careers has been a long time passion that fuels my inner fire. The time was right to pull it all together and relaunch. In 2016, I generated the first published version of this very book, designed a couple online courses, became a contributing writer for Inman News, blogged, podcasted, spoke nationally, got my life and health back. And made very little money in the process. It was a bit of a sabbatical year. How can you not love a sabbatical? Right?!
And then I relaunched my real estate business in 2017. That was inevitable. My plan was to go from $0 sales income (starting over) to $10M in sales in 10 months. It was an aggressive goal but was doable for an experienced agent fresh off of sabbatical with a vision, the right leverage, and a backpack full of best practices.
Pivot 7: Year 18, Changing Brokerages
I did not see this coming. In the midst of my 2017 relaunch (pivot 6), I hired a coach. I wanted (the truth is, I needed) some accountability to stay on pace, fuel to get to the next level financially, and help in formulating my 5-year plan.
The relaunch was working but I was still trying to figure out the other pieces … my coaching practice, teaching opportunities, writing the book, creating an accelerated retirement plan, identifying other sources of income, and continuing to make a difference in the world. I wanted help pulling all that together and formulating a clear plan. Hiring a coach is leverage to get somewhere faster. I wanted to get there faster.
I felt at a bit of a crossroads. Do I stay with my 16-year brokerage for the rest of my sales career, another five to ten years, or is there another model that has the potential to move my business, my goals, and my bank account ahead faster? Do I recommit and stay in this place where I really care for these people and have built up friendships and a national reputation, or is there another industry vehicle I should consider.
I could sell real estate with any brokerage or my current brokerage and just keep on keeping on. But then I saw an emerging model that looked like it would fast-track my financial goals. It made sense. My resolve was rock solid and I moved my 18-year license to a newer emerging technology-driven cloud-based brokerage, eXp Realty. New chapter!
Pivot 8: TBD
This is where we always leave a place setter for some other amazing pivot opportunity that could develop. What other opportunities will surface? My mindset could shift. What lovely sabbatical may present itself? I could win the lottery. (I could.) I dream of an RV trip. (Often.) A month of skiing has been on the bucket list for some time. (It will happen.) So I add Pivot #8 as a place-keeper for my next move or opportunity. And how lovely to know that it is there, that place-keeper for something awesome, something new, something unknown.