The following information is provided by the Center for REALTOR® Development (CRD), with assistance from Lauren Hampton and the Podfly editorial team, and is a recap of CRD Podcast Episode 17. (This is part three of a three-part summer episode series on technology.)
In the last installment of the Center for REALTOR® Development (CRD) Podcast summer series on technology, host Monica Neubauer talks with guest Sam Powell about virtual offices. Since beginning her real estate venture, Powell has been working towards being 100-percent paperless and 100-percent virtual.
A real estate professional since 2002, Powell is passionate about making the industry better by educating peers and consumers regardless of whether they work with her or not. She is very active in her local REALTOR® community through her volunteer work, whether as the 2016 Women’s Council of REALTORS® Illinois State President, 2014 Women’s Council of REALTORS® Chicago Chapter President, or Game Day Operations Manager of the Chicago Force (a women’s semi-professional tackle football team and 2013 National Champions). She is also an active member of the Chicago Association of REALTORS® Professional Standards Committee. (You can follow Powell on Facebook to see what she’s up to at any time.)
Below are 10 great tips from the episode with Powell, so you can get up and running with a virtual office, too.
- Remember to Keep Data Safety a Priority
Don’t use public WiFi to run your business. There are lots of tools to help you with connectivity, so don’t let this discourage you from pursuing a mobile office—just do it with care! When working out in the community, Powell always tries to be able to securely connect online in a minimum of two ways, just in case. She uses a Verizon hotspot, and her phone can also function as a hotspot. For a backup third solution, you can use the WiFi at the location that you’re at, but make sure to use a secure network, since you may be handling sensitive or secure client data.
- Battery Backup
One of the main things to be mindful of if you’re wanting to step into the mobile/virtual office experience is battery management. Charge everything every night so you can grab-and-go in a minute’s notice when you need to. Invest in multiple battery packs so you can charge your laptop without having to sit near an outlet. Devices and battery packs are so compact and lightweight these days, you can bring multiples with you. Be sure to bring backups for your backups. (Powell is diligent about this.) The last thing you want to have happen is to run out of power on the road, especially if you’re with a client.
- Data Usage Hacks
You can conserve data by not sending attachments in email messages; you can paste the link to Dropbox or Google Docs, where these files are stored. This way, clients and vendors can access live and current documents at all times. You can also train your clients to find the information they need in these shared folders without your constant assistance. It also provides a place for clients to leave notes, too, so there is less misunderstanding. This is helpful when comparing appraisals and reports for full disclosure.
- Sync Your Notes and Info on All Devices
To take client notes paperlessly, Powell uses Evernote. This program is a one-stop shop: you can upload photos along with your notes. The notes in Evernote are mostly for Powell herself, and then to share information with clients, usually in detailed emails. Powell also uses the electronic notepad that comes preloaded on computers to log notes that come in from clients on the fly. There are a few other applications and places that can do this: Google Docs, OneNote/OneDrive (Microsoft) and Dropbox. Using programs like Word and Excel can also help you organize client information and data, as well as track business trends.
- Be Mindful of Privacy in Public Locations
Communicating via text and email allows for privacy when you are working in public locations. It also automatically allows client communication to be documented in your system in case of any miscommunication or problems down the road. On the other hand, having a phone conversation or meeting face-to-face can allow for more clarity and emotion, especially with any questions or issues about a deal. After you have a phone or in-person conversation, you can always follow up with an email to review and recap the issues discussed, and then the conversation is documented. Either approach works; just be mindful of who’s around and what you discuss in public.
- Choose a Communication System That Works On-the-Go
Powell talks about her approach to using her phone as a way to collect inbound voicemails, and then responding to them digitally via email or text. Like many of us, Powell doesn’t like being caught off-guard and prefers when clients send a text or email about what they want to discuss so she can be prepared—but many times, people just prefer calling and wanting to talk. Often she leaves her phone on Do Not Disturb while she’s focusing on a project or in the middle of something. Nevertheless, she is prompt in getting back with her clients, using all kinds of other methods besides live voice. Whatever your system is, if you’re proactive to train your clients, they will know how to work with your communication preferences.
- Pick and Buy the Right Tools
One of the nice things about a mobile office and using some of these programs is that it’s easy to get set up on multiple devices. Powell tells the story about her mobile office being stolen from the back seat of her car, and how quickly she was able to get back up and running after her equipment disappeared. Make sure to register all your devices and keep serial numbers and account and purchase information documented in a separate location or fully in the cloud. This could help you get back up and running almost immediately, and the bonus is that it also makes it easy to delegate and train your team.
- Adjust Your Hardware to Your Location
In the episode, Powell talks extensively about the hardware she uses to run her virtual office. When she’s home, she uses a Mac cinema screen connected to a MacBook Air. When she travels, she uses her Macbook. She also carries her iPad mini. For travel, she ends up using the same configuration that she has at home, just a smaller version. Since you’re paperless, you don’t need to worry about a printer—your computer, hotspot and phone should be all you need.
- Use Your Setting to Work on Soft Skills
Powell talks about her approach to picking a location. She likes to switch it up and feeds off the environment around her. She also likes to explore her immediate neighborhood and community. Some agents will frequent the same few places, which allows you to get to know the staff and regulars that can provide connections. Powell and Neubauer talk about how their in-person interactions in their communities enhance communication and allow REALTORS® to polish their people skills. “What a great experience to constantly interact with humanity on so many different levels,” says Powell.
- When You’re Out and About, Market and Grow Your Business
When Powell is out and about, people recognize and notice her. She is able to start conversations and forge connections with people she maybe wouldn’t otherwise have met if she kept to herself. In addition to her hardware, Powell completes her virtual office by taking her marketing with her and putting it on display. She has branded stickers and labels that fit her devices, as well as branded shirts, so when she is out working in the community, she becomes her own advertising and marketing. People remember her and are curious, so they approach her to ask about her business.
The CRD’s monthly podcast focuses on education in the real estate industry. It addresses formal education programs (such as those from NAR) and informal sources of industry knowledge (such as peers and mentors). Its intended audiences include REALTORS®, real estate professionals, allied professions (such as appraisers and lenders), educators, education providers, and consumers. To listen or subscribe, visit www.crdpodcast.com.
For much more about virtual tools for your real estate business, check out NAR’s e-PRO® Day 1 and 2 online bundle, which is the educational requirement for NAR’s e-PRO® certification. This certification aims to help real estate professionals broaden their technology skills to connect effectively with today’s digitally-savvy consumer.
For more information, please visit RISMedia’s online learning portal from NAR’s Center for REALTOR® Development (CRD) and the Learning Library. Here, real estate professionals can sign up for online professional development courses, industry designations, certifications, CE credits, Code of Ethics programs and more. NAR’s CRD also offers monthly specials and important education updates. New users will need to register for an account.
For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.