Building a successful real estate team teaches you many things.
Above all, it teaches you one crucial lifelong skill: How to build successful systems.
It’s no secret that great real estate teams leverage systems and workflows to perfect every aspect of what they do. But who said that solo agents can’t do the same?
Dean Linnell, Founder & Team Lead at The Whistler Real Estate Company is living proof that you don’t need to be big in order to enjoy success in real estate.
Dean has helped over 1,000 families buy and sell properties in Whistler, British Columbia, and is well on his way to earning $1M gross commission income annually. After years of experience, Dean’s learned you need just two things to be successful in real estate: the right people and the right systems.
In this interview we sit down with Dean and dissect his path to creating a sustainable business model as a solo agent. He shares how he built the systems that grew his business and empower him to live life on his terms.
Table of Contents
- The Backstory: Ski Instructor Turns Solo Realtor
- Don’t Grow Teams, Grow a Business
- Find Real Estate Tech that Helps You Grow the Way You Want
- Dean’s Top Tips for Real Estate Video Marketing
- Reaping The Benefits of Systematization as a Solo Agent
Rather watch than read? Check out the full video interview with Dean below.
The Backstory: Ski Instructor Turns Solo Realtor
Dean started his real estate journey in 1998 when he moved to Whistler from Kenora, Ontario after an extensive career as a ski instructor.
It didn’t take long for Dean to realize that real estate was a perfect fit. “I think that we gained some success in the beginning there, and then I started to realize that we needed to have some help,” he says.
After a few years of a running start in the industry, Dean decided he was ready to take it to the next level. “We actually began working with some coaching pretty quickly and realized we wanted to grow the business as big as we could,” Dean shares.
It was 2003 when the idea of building a big real estate team really started to take off, and Dean decided to go right where the action was.
“We went to a Howard Brinton STAR POWER SYSTEM Convention in 2003 in Washington DC,” he remembers. “It was amazing, I mean, meeting Howard and seeing all those superstars and the giant teams they'd all built.” Dean was nothing short of inspired.
“I remember meeting the Shine Team,” Dean says, “they were doing roughly 500 transaction sides a year, which is just insane.”
Dean got a glimpse of what life could be like with a team, and proceeded to build a dream team of his own.
Don’t Grow Teams, Grow a Business
“We started with one assistant, that morphed into two, and then we ended up having those assistants become buyer agents, and then move some more assistants in,” he shares.
The initial momentum was exciting. Still, it didn’t take long for Dean to realize his market simply was not big enough to sustain a large team.
“We live in a ski resort here up in Whistler, British Columbia in Canada. Now we're just about two hours, maybe an hour and a half North of Vancouver,” he adds. “We're in a pretty small resort here.”
But this wasn’t the only challenge.
With each new team building experience, Dean began to realize that adding more team members didn’t necessarily grow the business.
“When we had our team from whatever it was, 2005 to call it 2010, there were several years there, where one of my assistants made more net than I did,” Dean reveals.
The team model didn’t hold up very well during the 2008 crisis either. “That started to hit us hard, but we didn't pull back on the team enough at that point,” he remembers. “We were trying to sort of dismantle things.”
The final straw was when one of the most promising agents on the team tragically passed away.
After realizing how fragile and inefficient the current model was, Dean decided he needed a total do-over.
He chose to go back to being a solo agent, with a new focus on growing his business, not his team. First, though, he decided to outsource whatever tasks he simply didn’t want to do.
“I just was gonna shoot myself in the face if I had to do another transaction record,” Dean laughs. Eventually he found a great assistant, Jennifer, who still works with him to this day—though a rockstar like her isn’t the norm in his neck of the woods.
“There's probably 150 agents in Whistler and maybe 30 or 40 of them have assistants and everyone else is just purely solo,” Dean shares.
After finally securing his ideal assistant, Dean experimented with various tools and lead sources until he found the combination that got him the best results. With the transactions being looked after, Dean was able to focus on putting effective lead systems in place.
Today, his chosen infrastructure works so well, he’s been able to come out on top despite a global pandemic.
Find Real Estate Tech that Helps You Grow the Way You Want
Even after Dean built an infrastructure that worked for him, he never stopped perfecting his processes and workflows.
“I'm always looking for the next best transaction management tool,” Dean shares, “Or, at least something that we could showcase what we're doing to market our client's homes to the client.”
For a long time, Dean and his team used a combined transaction management + CRM tool to manage their transactions—but it wasn’t clear how the platform was evolving.
“It started mostly as a transaction management tool, and now it's morphed into a database, and some kind of a marketing tool,” he adds, “It really was starting to lean more towards an all encompassing tool. They wanted you kind of in on everything with it,” he explains.
The enclosed, all-in-one system prevented Dean from testing new tools and reduced his flexibility in building effective systems for his business. Eventually, Dean had enough.
After switching systems last year, Dean decided to continue building his real estate technology stack, his way. He was determined to build an agile platform—one he could easily update and control as his business infrastructure evolved.
“We’ve liked the move we've made to Follow Up Boss,” says Dean.
As an open system, Follow Up Boss integrates with Dean’s core lead sources and tools. It also allows Dean and his team to quickly test and integrate the most effective real estate tools directly into their existing lead management workflows.
We've basically built our own system,” Dean adds, “Jennifer created some systems within Follow Up Boss that can just take her through the transaction timeline, and create all these different things we need to hit.”
A Simple Email Marketing Strategy That Works
Another core pillar of Dean’s real estate business is marketing. Specifically, email marketing.
And when it comes to email marketing, Dean is positive: there’s no such thing as too many emails—as long as the emails are good.”
The only question is:
What should you send in your email newsletters to keep prospects engaged?
“Most people just want the new listings, the price reductions, and what is sold, you know, just to see where the prices are going. So, we just leave links to that.” Dean says.
“Most realtors are afraid to do [newsletters] once a month, let alone once a week. I just figured: screw it. I mean, if it's got really relevant information in it, then it's not gonna be bothersome.”
But that’s just a baseline. Dean believes that the real deal maker is how you make your emails feel personal.
“I wanted to make a little bit of a personal blurb at the beginning of the email. ‘Hey, this is what my wife and my kids and I have been doing this past week. And we went camping, and we did this and that. And we went skiing and here's a picture of us skiing,’” he shares.
With this approach, when you send your emails isn’t nearly as important (even though there are studies on the “best” day of the week, if that’s really important to you).
For Dean, it’s about experimentation over hard-and-fast rules.
“We played with other days of the week, just with response to, or with open rates and things, and we just landed on Friday. It’s apparently not the best day of the week to send it,” Dean smiles.
“We were told Tuesday's better but ‘Friday Morning Coffee’ is what we call it, and we have coffee mugs,” he adds. It’s a simple theme that works.
“Whenever I meet a client who's on that newsletter list and they make it up here to go and view properties with me, they get a little Friday morning coffee mug with chocolates and stuff in it. And they're like, ‘Oh yeah!’ So, that's what it’s been about!”
This strategy of combining an email marketing theme with an offline, in-person experience has proven to be hugely successful. “You know what? It's super cheesy and it works,” Dean laughs.
On top of Dean’s newsletters, the team also uses Ylopo to send regular listing alerts.
“That's where it starts to swing to be maybe a bit too much, but you know, we're definitely getting business out of that, too,” Dean explains.
“I can't complain about doing two emails a week that work,” he laughs.
Dean’s Top Tips for Real Estate Video Marketing
Dean and his team are also very serious about video marketing. In fact, Dean himself has always been deeply immersed in the process.
“I used to do a lot of it myself, just because I was a bit of a video nerd and a camera nerd. I’d have grand ideas of all these different videos we'd create.”
Here are three tips Dean and his team to make video marketing efforts as ROI-driven as possible.
Tip #1. Outsource Video Creation to People You Trust
Even though Dean loves creating videos, he wanted to outsource this part of business to focus on optimizing his other business systems. Problem was, outsourcing video marketing was incredibly expensive.
“Every video guy wants like a thousand bucks for a real estate video. And it's just too much for me,” Dean shares. But that didn’t stop him.
“We ended up finding my youngest son's elementary school teacher. He is a short documentary type filmmaker who does amazing movies and videos,” Dean says, “We just got to be friends, and so I got him on board.”
“We've got a pretty good system and now I spend about $250 bucks a video, which is really affordable. I mean, that's less than the cost of a professional 20 shot photo package.”
Tip #2. Experiment with New Video Formats
The video marketing game is constantly changing as more and more Realtors produce quality videos to engage prospects.
The secret to staying ahead of the curve is to regularly try new things.
“We're playing around with some different things,” says Dean, “Tim Smith in Newport Beach, California, he's doing some cool videos where he's just walking through and the camera man's just following him. And so we're experimenting with that now.”
During lockdown, Dean’s team ended up trying another new-to-them interview format, which went extremely well.
“We brought in experts like my company president, who's just super insightful on market trends,” Dean adds. “We brought on building inspectors and we brought on the mayor and so forth.”
The experts were big names but the beauty is, the team didn't even have to get fancy (or expensive) with their approach. All the interviews were recorded via Zoom.
Tip #3. Repurpose Your Video Content
Dean and his wife Betsy, who happens to have a marketing degree, always aim to get the absolute most out of every video they produce. They make sure every video created can be reused several times and repurposed across marketing channels.
“It's the Gary Vee methodology of cutting that up into social media snippets,” shares Dean, “and then making it into a podcast, and being able to make that into a blog post, etc.”
“We've been doing a lot of that, and you just kill three birds with one stone,” he explains.
Reaping The Benefits of Systematization as a Solo Agent
With time and experience, Dean realized he doesn’t need a big team to be successful.
All he needs is a few trusted people he can rely on, and the right tools to grow his business systems.
“I think it’s a critical point to tell people, I mean, I'm not doing 20 ends a year,” shares Dean. “When we had a team of three buyer agents, and two assistants I did 97 ends that year,” he continues, “Then when we got our systems dialed in, I think it was three years ago, I did 92 ends on my own.”
Apart from doing as much on his own as with a team of 5 agents, Dean now has the ability to do more of what he loves, while working on his own schedule.
“I try to do an hour on Follow Up Boss with all my calls in the morning. Then I try to keep my afternoons free for meetings or mountain biking,” he adds.
Dean is a huge fan of Cal Newport’s “Digital Minimalism”, the book that teaches a focused life in an increasingly noisy technology-packed world.
“We do a lot of traveling too,” he continues. “We've got a travel trailer and we like to go camping with the kids in the summer, and so then I just lean on other agents with a referral fee to take people out, if lots of people come into the office in the summer.“
Dean’s business is still growing. This year Dean is on track to bring in $600,000 GCI. “We've had as high as $800K before, and that was just a couple of years ago,” he adds.
The best part of Dean’s processes and workflows as a solo agent? If he continues to fine tune them, he might eventually push himself to a million!