Like many would-be real estate agents, Michelle Humes once thought: How hard could it be?
But what started as a side hustle for this former teacher quickly escalated into a very solid first year with over $8 million in sales. By her second year as a real estate agent, she’d more than doubled her sales to $20 million.
“Now I’m like, ‘Oh, it’s hard,’” she laughs.
Now, Michelle is in year six of her real estate career, the Michelle Humes Group is kicking off their third year in business — and it’s safe to say things are going swimmingly.
“In the last year, we’ve had tremendous, exponential growth with our team,” says Michelle. “We went from about eight agents to now 43 agents on our team and a full staff.”
Through it all, Michelle has stayed focused on creating a learning culture and a hybrid do-it-your-way team structure that helps agents set their own pace. Today, we’ll peel back the curtain and show you how she does it.
Michelle’s teaching background has had a profound influence on her real estate career and leadership style.
She spent a decade living and teaching public school in Europe before she made the shift to real estate. “About six years ago, we moved back to America for our oldest child to go to school, and I was pregnant with our second little girl.”
A career change wasn’t originally in the cards for Michelle, but she was looking for a way to take some financial pressure off her husband when a friend gave her just the right nudge.
“My girlfriend said, ‘There is a Groupon for $200 to get your real estate license. I think you should do that!’”
And the rest as they say, is history. Yet despite going from $8M to $20M in her first two years in the game, Michelle still sees herself as more of a teacher than a business leader.
“I’m not a business person and sometimes I think that actually gives me an advantage because I don’t have some preconceived notion of how to build a business,” she says. “I think of everything from a teacher’s perspective.”
So when it comes to helping an agent learn something new?
“You won’t find ‘Michelle Humes, real estate agent.’ You’ll find the 22-year-old teacher, hungry to help kids learn,” says Michelle.
Michelle recognizes that agents come into her team expecting that she’ll show them how to become an expert in the field.
“I think people join a team for whoever the visionary is that they’re joining for, and if they don’t have access or don’t have time to learn from that person, I think that would be disappointing for a teammate.” She prioritizes spending time with agents, or ensuring they have time with their lead agent, to learn new skills.
Fortunately, Michelle also has an easy-to-remember three-step approach to training agents that she picked up in her past life as an educator:
With this simple approach, Michelle (or another experienced agent) will demonstrate a skill or activity, then walk the learners through the process, and finally let them do it on their own.
“We put people in the hot seat during our listing meeting and we'll have one person present, and somebody else will be the objection, and then we'll switch. They'll take notes and then we'll practice again,” explains Michelle.
“It’s important for me to be able to show someone,” she says. “You can’t say ‘we do it, you do it’ without doing the ‘we do it.’ It doesn’t work that way. So you will find us practicing all the time.”
For her, a hands-on leadership approach also helps in transmitting the implicit knowledge she’s learned after a couple extremely successful years in the game.
“I'm not a master of getting every listing, but there are certain things I do well intuitively that it's hard to teach unless you see it,” she says. “So we'll critique each other and talk about it. I think agents need that, agents want that. And certainly there's four or five hours in my week that I can make that happen.”
And with her team 5X’ing in size in just one year, it’s all about sharing that knowledge.
“There’s a reason teachers make great agents and great team leaders,” says Michelle.
Michelle has optimized her onboarding process to help new agents get started on the right foot and in sync with the rest of the team as quickly as possible.
“It’s very difficult to scale if everybody’s not on the same page about what it is that we do and don’t do,” she says.
As soon as a new agent comes into the team, they go into a week-long onboarding program.
“We really set the stage from the beginning, and I think that’s been a huge piece of our success. Setting the tone not only for what they can expect but how to do great business,” she explains.
Michelle’s “teach a man to fish” approach hinges on each agent having the tools, training and resources they need in order to win long term.
“We’re building a long game here. This isn’t just a flash-in-the-pan kind of thing. We’re helping you have your mindset right for this long-lasting career — one that most Realtors don’t ever experience because they’re just chasing the next deal. But we’re teaching our agents: Attract, attract, attract.”
Given her background as a public school teacher, it’s no surprise Michelle has agent training completely dialed in. But there’s a lot more to how she runs her team.
Here are the core tactics that have helped Michelle scale success across the team.
Problems are inevitable when you own a business — that’s something Michelle knows all too well. She also knows that the solution to most problems comes down to the system, not the individuals within it.
“Our staff want so much to please and do a good job,” she says. “So when something goes wrong, I always tell them, ‘It’s not a people problem. It’s not a you problem. It’s a systems problem. Let’s get a better system, and then it won’t happen again.’”
And great systems have been key to her team’s growth:
“I’m not someone that can design systems, but I can identify problems, and I can identify when something wasn’t quite as great as it could have been and say, ‘How can we make that better?’”
Michelle is very intentional about having her house in order, before inviting new agents into the team.
“For the first year, we didn’t bring anybody new onto the team. We had five agents, two of whom were part-time,” explains Michelle. “It definitely wasn’t until the last 8-10 months that we had this tremendous, explosive growth.”
“If you want to have that kind of growth, you have to have systems put into place and people on the backend.”
One tool that’s central to the team’s systems is Follow Up Boss.
“What I love so much about Follow Up Boss is that it helps us track on the backend,” says Michelle. “We use it to track our database, including our current and former clients.”
On Michelle’s team, tracking performance is vital — in fact, they’ve made “Know Your Numbers” a company-wide theme.
“We encourage everyone to put their numbers into CTE, even if they’re not on company leads, because it’s really hard to see what progress you’ve made if you don’t know your numbers,” Michelle says. “How can you measure your success if you don’t know what the data is?”
But knowing your numbers isn’t just about looking back — it’s so you can look forward as well.
“We really stress highly that agents know their numbers so they know, ‘It’s going to take me this many dials to get this many people on the phone to have this many appointments and close this many deals,’” she explains. “Without knowing your numbers, how can you know what kind of effort you have to put in?”
“When I talk to other team leaders and business owners, what they struggle with is that no one knows what the expectation or standard is…or it’s blurry,” Michelle explains. “And with the lack of standards or lack of clarification come problems because you have miscommunication.”
So Michelle made a crucial call: she found someone who could help her make everything crystal clear for the team.
“I made a key hire two years ago — her name is Cindy,” Michelle shares. “I tasked her with documenting everything that we do. She spent the better part of three to four months spelling out into words what she knew, what I was doing with the company, and what I believed in. And that was really incredible.”
For Michelle, documentation is the unsexy necessity that makes a BIG difference in agent motivation and accountability.
“As an entrepreneur and somebody that just wanted to sell and recruit and all these things…that wasn’t in my skill set,” she says. “I wasn’t going to stop to write all that stuff out. But I paid somebody to do it and it turned out great for us. It’s been a game changer for sure.”
You might think with such detailed systems and processes that Michelle would be a pretty demanding team leader…but that’s not actually the case.
Because the first time someone left her team, it changed her perspective forever.
“Life changes and people leave teams. It might not even be that they’re going to another team — maybe they’re getting out of real estate,” she says. “But the first time that happened and the job was handed back to me, I realized that I didn’t ever want to be in that position again.”
So she shifted her business model completely.
“I decided that lots of people can be on our team. Not everybody’s going to have the same leads or responsibilities. In fact, we have several people who just want great culture and great backend support.”
Taking this approach allows Michelle to have a wide variety of people on her team — including several teachers who only sell houses in the summer.
“They still have all of the things that come with being on a big team. We have lots of people on our team that sell between five and 10 houses and that's awesome, because they do a great job. A lot of them have a ton of experience and they're just in a different phase in their life that hustling and selling 30, 40, 50 homes is not the name of the game for them.”
For Michelle, her experience as a teacher and working mom has finally come full circle. “I think I attracted that type of agent because that’s how I started,” she admits. “Now, we have a place for everybody.”
“Our brokerage is a great model for that kind of hybrid approach. And I think it's an excellent model for a team that has great leadership and has a great foundation and core values. It's kind of our little hybrid, do-it-your-own-way model.”
In her last six years as a real estate agent, and particularly the last three years leading her own team, Michelle admits that it’s been quite the learning experience.
So when we asked what she wishes she knew before starting a team, she had three things to share:
“When I started the team, I didn’t really know about business, and I wish someone had told me that people are going to leave me, leave the team, and they aren’t going to be nice. They’re going to say untrue things…but it’ll be okay.”
“I also wish someone had told me, if you’re waiting for someone to pat you on the back and tell you you’re doing an awesome job and you’re such a great entrepreneur — you don’t need to hear that. You’re doing this because you want to do it. That’s where I had to grow the most.”
“If you’re a team leader that’s never led a team or anything, you’re attracting one type of agent. But when you get twelve months under your belt, you’re not going to attract the same type of person. And once you’ve got three years down, you’re establishing authority in the marketplace and you’re going to attract a whole new kind of agent.”
“With every iteration, it’s so exciting and so empowering. It’s hard to see that when you’re on the front end, because you’ve never experienced it. It’s hard to see that one day you’ll get some momentum and that mastery will eventually start to show itself.”
“We're just always learning. I think that's the biggest thing I can ever explain to someone who's thinking about having a team, or even taking their team to the next level.”
“I'm never going to have it all figured out, yet I'm committed every single day to just get up and bring my best. And some days are easier than others. There's lots of days you're like, don't want to do that again tomorrow. But if you get around the right people and you get commitment from a lot of different people, it's pretty fun.”
Michelle has led her team to massive growth, while also creating a culture where it’s safe for agents to put themselves (and their families) first.
But she’s not one to take all the credit.
“I think the growth of this team relies solely on the capability of the leadership of this team,” Michelle says. “I don’t just mean me. I mean the people that are really leaders on our team, who rise to the next level and rise to the occasion.”
She recognizes that being a great leader with a great team takes more than just a willingness to step up. It takes a deep commitment to excellence.
“I’m not saying we’re perfect people. But I am committed to being excellent in every aspect of my life — and when one area isn’t, it’s very difficult to be excellent and to attract excellent people and to be elite,” she says. “That’s certainly what I want. I want to be known as an authority in an elite real estate group that’s professional, that will take care of clients.”
Armed with a clear focus on teaching, learning and growing, there’s no limit to the level of excellence Michelle and her team can achieve.
“I don’t think there’s any other way to do it. It’s too hard to do otherwise. And it’s not really worth it if you’re not going to do it to the best of your ability.”