There may be no "I" in team, but when it comes to real estate, if you aren't the head of a team, you may as well not exist at all.
Traditionally, real estate firms helped agents create their own brand under the larger corporate umbrella. "Jeff Thompson, Windermere Real Estate" is how you'd be billed. Agents had to follow corporate guidelines, but there was always an emphasis on building your own individual brand — the idea was that if people knew your name, they'd come to you for their real estate needs, and everyone, including you, would make more money.
But when the real estate business began to boom, some of those branded agents wanted to become "mega producers." So they started building teams to back them up. The "rainmaker" agent would establish a group under his or her name, taking on people whose roles would be very specific: a transaction coordinator, a buyer's agent, a showing agent, maybe even a listing agent. The agent with the name would recruit the customers, while other agents would receive a set commission.
The problem with this sort of team structure is this: You, as an individual, have no personal brand. Rather than being "Jane Doe, Acme Real Estate," you're just "Member of the Jane Doe Team." Unless you are Jane Doe, your name isn't associated with the listings; your production isn't tracked within the local MLS; and you're not responsible for any marketing, follow-up, or customer care.
Teamwork Doesn't Always Make the Dream Work
Team members control neither their own destiny nor their own brand, and in a business where being known is vital, this can be devastating to a career. For example, what if Jane Doe decides to transition to a different career or cut expenses by reducing her team size?
Without a personal brand, you'll find it almost impossible to transition into work as an independent agent. You'll likely have to start over, creating your own story, production statistics, and referral database. Understandably, this is a really difficult position to find yourself in, especially if you're an agent who already has years of professional experience but basically nothing to show for it.
Restarting your real estate profession after being part of a team is especially challenging if Jane Doe chooses to reduce the size of her team during a market downturn. Real estate is cyclical, but no one wants to be stuck in the position of trying to establish a new identity in the middle of a market downturn. Trying to sell real estate with no reputation is difficult in the best of times. During a slow period, it can kill a career.
Building Your Brand to Save Your Career
This is why I prefer to help agents create and grow their own businesses and use our office staff members only to do tasks that don't make them money. So how do you set yourself up for success?
Start by building a personal database of clients. Keep track of who you've served and established a relationship with. To expand your name recognition, you can start promoting yourself on social media, too. Find the niche you work well in or really enjoy and expand that specialization.
Maybe you like helping people get into their very first homes. You can brand yourself as a "first-time buyers' agent" and put all your energy into that market. If that's the path you want to take, you might teach first-time home buyer classes and work to build a client base among renters who want to become homeowners.
Developing your reputation as an agent who serves a particular population well helps you stand out in the marketplace. Specializations don't have to be limited to a certain type of buyer, a certain geographic area, or even a certain type of property, though. You can also tap into your personal passions to build a niche. For instance, I know a woman who specializes in horse properties; she's acutely aware of horse owners' needs and enjoys finding ways to meet them.
When you advertise yourself, spend a good percentage of your marketing in a way that targets your specialty. Connect with others who work within your niche, and refer clients to others who share your passion. Learn who your clients spend time with and who they know. Volunteer in organizations that work within your niche — for instance, if horse properties are your thing, check out 4-H clubs. Those connections and networks will help your independent business grow more than almost anything else.
You're in Charge of Your Own Destiny
Real estate teams aren't concerned about your personal career success. You have to carry that concern yourself. If you're unhappily stuck in a team, focus on building your own clients and qualifications so you'll be ready if — or when — you need to go out on your own.
The National Association of REALTORS® has a number of designations you can earn, which will give you valuable knowledge, make you stand out, and put you ahead of the competition. Check into becoming an Accredited Buyer's Representative, a Seniors Real Estate Specialist, or maybe an Accredited Land Consultant. There are many options out there — you just need to know where to look and how to choose the right one for you.
At the end of the day, you are the only one watching out for your career. Don't let it get lost in the shuffle of a big-name real estate team. Start building your brand now.
Jeff Thompson is managing partner at Windermere Group One, a real estate network comprised of 300 offices and more than 6,000 agents throughout the western United States. Jeff is truly passionate about helping build companies by building their people. He leverages his 25-plus years of experience in real estate to coach other managers and brokers. Jeff credits much of his success to hard work and a willingness to partner with good people.