No one likes paying for things. Money seems downright impossible to lure into your wallet these days, and everyone’s looking for the absolute best for the cheapest possible price. While this seems impossible to provide, there are many ways you can significantly drop the price tag while still providing great service and continue to earn the dollars you deserve.Outsourcing.How ominous. Sounds like a pretty corporate way to cheapen your service at the customer’s expense, doesn’t it? But, you might be surprised to learn that tens of thousands of businesses Australia wide are leaving the high-wage, high-cost economy in favour of good, freelance labour – and in doing so, ramping their profits. As a matter of fact, in 2013, 4500 Queensland jobs were outsourced and that figure is expected to rise to over a quarter of a million over the course of the next decade.Likewise, a recent poll in The Guardian showed that 79% of small to medium enterprises outsourced to freelancers. Outsourcing is no longer a business obscenity. This perception has rightfully changed for a few key reasons:
- It’s a less risky way to hire
- It’s a great way to grow your business
- There’s a higher return on both fiscal and emotional investment
- It simplifies your accounts and administration
So how can your real estate agency benefit?
Outsourcing in real estate
In real estate, there’s ample opportunity for outsourcing. All sorts of smaller jobs can be lifted from the shoulders of your agents and handled by someone else (usually more adept at the task at hand) for a reasonable fee. This frees up your agents so they have more time to do what they do best – list and sell property.There are plenty of freelancers, both international and Australian, ready and willing to work for you on countless websites like freelancer.com, elance.com and peopleperhour.com to name a few. Jump on and check them out – you’ll find plenty of people ready to tackle all kinds of tasks for you.
Copywriting or content management
Regular blogging is a great way to offer valuable, informative content to your clients and get more traffic to your website. In this brave, new, internet-mad world it’s not something to be taken lightly. It’s serious business. Every agency, big or small, should be pushing content out as part of their online marketing campaign.Many agencies share the task evenly throughout the company. Some principals decide to take on Goliath themselves and scrape a post out every month or two when they find the time. Other agencies don’t bother at all.But you can easily find freelance bloggers and copywriters who are more than happy to write whatever you want, and you can pay them either by the hour or for a flat fee. This can radically enhance your SEO, generate plenty of traffic and client engagement, and add more value to your service.And how about ad copy? Many agents don’t feel they have the skills or time to focus on writing a great property description. Besides – VPA doesn’t include copywriting, and it seems no one tries to convince vendors that words are worth paying for.Well, they are. Studies have shown a whopping 62.8% are frustrated by the lack of detail in the property description. Some even argue they’re just as important as your property photos. Great and alluring property descriptions might not be easy to write – but they’re incredibly easy to outsource.You can find plenty of copywriters on freelancer sites – but there’s a new real estate specific option on the scene that’s worth noting. For example, Word Me is a new real estate specific content writing company. They offer an easy way to get your property descriptions and agent profiles written professionally by experienced Australian and New Zealander copywriters - quickly and at an affordable price. This is definitely worth checking out.
Graphic design and photography
Blogs and other content are always better when accompanied by imagery. If you don’t have an in-house photographer, and stock imagery isn’t your thing – why not outsource this task to a freelance photographer or graphic designer?Most real estate agencies aren’t looking for a fulltime photographer – but professional real estate photography is a necessity. That’s why there are now countless freelance photographers willing to take some great snaps for your website without needing placement on the payroll. This symbiosis between agents and freelance photographers is an extraordinarily common trend now in the industry.Likewise, (though a little more untapped than photography) if you need graphic designs for branding, blog images or marketing materials, there are quite a number of online graphic design freelancers and services you can take advantage of as well.Take Unlimitly, for example. They charge only $150 dollars a month for unlimited designs for all your purposes. This includes business cards, brochures, images for blog posts and other content, white papers, brochures and e-books – pretty much anything. They’ll also do a once-off task for just $25.
Update your website and social media
While we’re on the subject, your website needs more tender loving care than just the occasional blogs and pretty pictures, and for many this can seem like a gargantuan task - even before we bring social media marketing into the equation. It’s good to know that there are plenty of freelancers who can manage your website, update your listings, compile analytics reports and worry about your SEO and online marketing strategy for you.If you’re hiring someone to write content for you – it should already be search engine optimised. If not - here’s a great SEO service. You can tell they know their stuff, because when I typed in ‘SEO services’ into Google they were the first result. Hiring someone to go over your website and content every now and then to ensure you’re getting as much organic traffic as possible is definitely worth the fee.As for social media, it’s easy to find a cost effective solution. You can create a posting plan to increase client engagement, and allow your new social media expert to monitor, screen and respond to comments and enquiries after you’ve given some appropriate guidelines.Be warned however, that you’re going to want to make absolutely certain that whoever you hire for this task is going to do a fantastic job. After all, it’s your company’s image on the line here. Here’s a blog from Katie Lance – Chief Strategist at Inman News. In it she details some key consistencies and tips for real estate agencies looking to expand their marketing efforts into the social realm. Whether you choose to manage your own social media or hire someone else to do so for you, ensure these five guidelines are followed.
Open for inspections
Even trademark agent duties like open for inspections can be outsourced to the right people. Many OFIs really only require someone with a set of keys to open the door and a pair of watchful eyes to make sure family heirlooms don’t go missing – in particular group inspections for rental properties There are a few services that have honed in on this market, and offer trained professionals to take care of your OFIs for you.While properties with plenty of interest are fine to palm off to a less expensive freelancer, it’s best not to outsource your OFIs for larger sales or harder to sell properties. These require the skills and sales knowledge of the selling agent.
Plenty of paperwork
Paperwork is a necessary evil that you probably have mountains of. Property managers in particular seem to be constantly drowning in the stuff instead of focusing their time on marketing, prospecting and, well, property management. It’s not as expensive as you might think to hire an offshore or out-of-office assistant to help dot the ‘I’s and cross the ‘T’s on all your tenancy documents and other day-to-day tedium.It’s easy to find extremely proficient ‘virtual assistants’ online. They work remotely to cover plenty of administrative tasks for all kinds of companies. The term ‘virtual assistant’ can be misleading – but rest assured, you are paying for the time of a walking, talking person.Why not take a deeper look at some of the real estate specific virtual assistant services? My Virtual Real Estate PA is Australia’s first real estate exclusive virtual assistant service. They cover just about everything we’ve already mentioned. Marketing from content writing, to social media management, to website maintenance. Secretarial support from database maintenance, to staff training, to travel arrangements. Property administration from marketing schedules, to online listing management, to update letters for clients. Their service is incredibly comprehensive – and if you’re struggling to keep on top of things, or need an assistant for an hour, day or week – it’s a service worth considering.
Respond to simple requests
As you know, consistently responding to leads is an incredibly important part of real estate success. Clients need to be nurtured in the days, weeks or months leading up to their decision to list or buy with you. Despite the seeming simplicity, sheer volume can make this a pretty mammoth task.If you’re finding yourself spending an awfully large portion of your day responding to simple requests like rental availability or inspection times, delegating to someone else this kind of work is easy. You can employ someone, or even a small team, to quickly answer simple and generic enquiries on your behalf.There is, admittedly, a lot of bad press surrounding call centres – and in a people-focused service industry like real estate, many believe that this type of outsourcing can do more harm than good. We don’t like being put on hold or struggling across language barriers or with auto-responders – three of the main images the very words ‘call centre’ conjure.Why not try having a virtual assistant cover this for you instead?
Here’s one last exceptionally low finance idea every agent can and should try.Signage is one of the first things you can and should outsource. You can buy bandit signs to be made and installed around your area for peanuts. But let’s be honest here – banging signs into the ground is a great job for the teenagers around your neighbourhood - not a busy person like yourself. They’ll love the opportunity to earn some money, and you’ll love the saved time. Plus – a big part of being a good real estate agent is helping out around your community. The kids in the neighbourhood (and their parents) would love someone to give them some work. This is a great, low-cost way to free up time and build meaningful connections within your area.
Outsourcing isn’t about just about saving time. Far from it, in fact. Allow me to elaborate on the four benefits I mentioned earlier:
It’s a less risky way to hire
Freelancers are usually very happy with their situation. They can work from home, (which works for everyone – they’re in comfort, and you don’t need to pay for a larger office, another desk or more equipment). Plus, they can negotiate their wage – which works equally well for the both of you. Not only is there less to pay for for you, you can hire someone with the exact skill set you need from a vast array of online profiles. You can also hire ‘on demand’. By this I mean you can use as much or as little of the service as you require.This means you can match specific tasks to talented consultants with the right skills and tools, pay them to finish the task at hand – then pay them no more. You both go your separate ways after mutually benefitting. At the end of the day – outsourcing can be a lot less of a hassle than hiring a full-time generalist.
It’s a great way to grow your business
Outsourcing frees up lots of valuable time for your agents so they can focus on the important aspects of their job; listing property, selling said property and offering great customer service. In turn, this means you can grow your business through more prospecting and referral.
Things don’t need to be emotional
Not only are you saving money through outsourcing by avoiding high hiring costs, but you’re also saving yourself from the many tricky emotional factors involved in hiring another in-house staff member.Staffing decisions can be tough. You need someone with the right qualifications and experience, sure – but you also need someone who will fit in well with your office culture. You need not worry about the second aspect when hiring a freelancer. Your relationships with them with are completely professional. On top of this, a freelancer’s contract is dependant on how your agency and budget is going – a fact they understand. If you find yourself unable to afford to pay your freelance marketer for a month, for instance, there’s not going to be any issue with cutting back hours. And there certainly won’t be an issue if things pick up and you’d like to increase hours either. Outsourcing allows you to keep the focus on what’s best for business rather than dealing with unhappy employees.Because freelancers are contractors, they inherently understand that their hours are dependant on the success of the company – it’s not an issue. Not for them - and not for the legal sector.
It simplifies your accounts and administration
When hiring a usual, in-house employee, you need to follow several large volumes of rules and regulations that simply aren’t there when you hire a contractor. They pay their own taxes, cover their own benefits, work from home – and paid time off isn’t something you have to worry about either. You even skip the traditional recruiting chores like buying ad space in newspapers or on seek.com.In the grand scheme of things, hiring freelancers for tasks that can (without detriment to your agency or customer experience) be outsourced simplifies accounts, administration and other day-to-day operations.
If you haven’t given it much thought in the past – now might be the time to start looking into outsourcing some of your lesser tasks. You can find great freelance workers from all over the world ready to help you push your agency to the next level without charging you through the nose.Remember, however, to be careful. There are plenty of opportunities to outsource – but you can’t outsource everything (no matter how relaxing that may sound). While there are lots of advantages - be wary of the dangers.Outsourcing doesn’t mean ‘zero involvement’. It means you can hand select non-core activities to a freelancer or service provider so you can spend more time focusing on delivering a higher value service. You’re looking for the best possible freelancers – not just the cheapest. Don’t think of outsourcing as a discount – rather a set of collaborative partnerships with some talented freelancers to improve your business performance, reputation and value.All the same – by reading the fine print, and taking an educated approach to outsourcing, it’s possible to excel. Outsourcing too many or the wrong sorts of tasks can result in a loss of control over your agency. So, as always in business; plan, try and refine your approach until you find a balance between outsourced and in-office activities that works for you.You’ll do just fine. Better than fine even.