After a decade in real estate, Nat Ferguson had hit a wall.
As a solo agent, he'd bounced from brokerage to brokerage—but nothing felt right. So, Nat did what any entrepreneurial Realtor would do and set out to build his own.
But success as a broker wouldn't come until much later.
After years of bad hires and leadership misfires, Nat finally found the magic formula for running a highly productive team. Today, he's the proud president and broker of Ferguson Realty leading a team of nine agents to the top of their market in Seal Beach, California.
In the latest edition of our interview series, we sit down with the team leader to reveal step-by-step how he transitioned from solo agent to owner of a high-octane brokerage.
Watch the full interview with Nat Ferguson here!
As a solo Realtor, Nat was the go-to agent whenever his brokers had questions.
"There weren't a lot of all-in-one solutions back then, so a lot of brokers were trying to figure that out and they were coming to me like, 'What is that you're doing? Can you show me how to do that?' At that point I thought, you know, I know which way the money is moving in this particular arrangement and it's not necessarily in my favor," says Nat.
At the time, Nat was also the President of his local Chamber of Commerce alongside his mentor, a business consultant from outside the real estate industry. And it was this wayward mentor who forced Nat to get his broker's license—no excuses.
"I said, 'It sounds like way more work than I'm interested in," remembers Nat.
At the time, he couldn't have imagined adding a single new task to his already overflowing workload. But he figured that, at the very least, it'd be nice to have the word 'broker' on his business card and eventually, he gave in.
When he's not serving his customers or agents, you can find Nat camping with family in a breathtaking National Park. His goal is to visit all the National Parks in the US!
For Nat, the real value in taking the broker's exam was facing the question, "What if?"
"You stop thinking so much like an independent operator," says Nat. "And you start thinking about the larger picture of the business."
While studying for the broker's exam, Nat's wheels started turning. He began to envision what his ideal brokerage would look like, who his clients and team members would be, what kind of leader he could become.
Whether he liked it or not, Nat's mindset was starting to shift. After years of thinking like a solo-agent, Nat was beginning to strategize and visualize like a team leader.
"And at that point in time, it's a lot to take on because you're working after you're done with your clients. They're buying and selling homes, and then literally, your side hustle is growing something that has no revenue, it's literally a logo, an idea, something bigger than you. So in the beginning, you wear all the hats. You have to."
"It is a side hustle, it's not more of the same."
As it turned out, Nat's intuition about the extra workload was dead-on. But now that the strength of his vision was beginning to outweigh his fears, Nat's leadership side hustle was starting to gain some serious momentum.
He was ready to build a team.
Nat's hiring mistakes started from day one. And they lasted until 2016.
So, how did the reluctant team leader finally find his rockstar recruitment strategy?
It had a lot less to do with a documented plan and a lot more to do with learning on the fly.
"When I started finding the right agents, it was always because I was doing something that they saw that they wanted to talk about, or had attracted them. And then I started seeing, 'Oh, okay…' I was connecting the dots. You know, what you're putting out is what you're getting."
When Nat started to become more open and transparent about the things he and his team were doing, that's when agents started seeking him out (not the other way around). And word was spreading fast.
Armed with a recognized name in the market, Nat had unknowingly paved a smoother path toward better hires.
"I'm not saying that I haven't, since then, told people, 'This isn't the right fit for you,' but I'm able to do it upfront as opposed to hiring them and then going, 'Oh my God, wrong person.'
"And as the team grows, you start having this quality growth and that culture starts to really get intertwined, it becomes more and more important to manage who you add," says Nat.
Today, Nat is very focused on quality over quantity hiring.
It's a unique team building strategy that's underpinned by a unique team structure.
"Our structure is a sales team. I don't think of it as a traditional team where there's a team leader and then there's a buyer's agent and a listing agent, a listing coordinator, etc. We're not that, that's not how we're setup," explains Nat.
Here's how a typical work month looks at Ferguson Realty:
Nat and his team give their followers regular insider-peeks at what they're up to via their Instagram.
Everyone in Nat's office can work with either buyers or sellers. Because with the right agents in place, team leaders can afford to be much more flexible with their workflows and policies.
His success in team building is largely down to his ability to take the same long-term approach to relationship building he uses with his leads and apply that to his team.
And according to him, it's definitely NOT a sprint.
"Relationships take time. They take investment. They take a long-term vision. And so, so long as I remind myself of those things, I can weather the little bumps in the road."
Fortunately for Nat, turnover isn't a problem. In fact, he regularly has to turn down agents who just aren't the right fit for the team. And for the record, he does bring brand new agents onto the team.
Because for Nat, it's not about experience. It's about personality.
According to him, if a new agent has the eagerness to succeed and an enthusiasm for learning, they're going to soak up knowledge "like a sponge".
"Those agents tend to fall through the cracks in a big-box brokerage. They were over-promised and the promise is being under-delivered. These agents know enough—they understand the concept of an escrow from booking the close, they understand negotiation concepts—they just need hands-on training and they need a set of tools that they'll actually use," he explains.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that every member of Nat's team gets weekly support and open, collaborative troubleshooting whenever they hit the next hurdle. New agents can dive in and learn the lingo with the complete support of a team.
It's a level of support and nurturing you don't typically see at big franchise teams.
Nat also meets with new agents one-to-one to help them drill down into any workflows and documentation they may not be familiar with. It's a fast-paced environment, but a supportive one, too.
Here's Nat on why it's a good idea to take on new agents (and how to do it right):
"What I wish I knew when I first started is that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Slow down when you're making decisions."
As a leader, the pressure to keep up with all the latest tech and tools is very real.
"I constantly feel the… [and I'm saying this partly for myself], it's like you feel the anxiety to need to adopt the next thing or, pivot quickly on the next thing," says Nat. "I think there's a saying in the military which is, 'slow is smooth and smooth is fast'."
Rather than rushing headfirst into the latest software or biggest trend, Nat takes his time. But in the age of instant gratification, it's hard to resist the urge to give yourself over to the busyness.
This push-pull relationship between tactics and strategy is a constant battle for Nat, especially given the fact that he's still in production. Every day, he does prospecting, agent and client communication, closings and—not least—celebrating success.
"One of the things that I really enjoy doing right now, and I have the time to do right now, is agent communication. That's one of the things that I've found that my team really puts a high value on is being able to get a hold of me through Slack," says Nat.
He makes sure there's always space in between his daily activities to jump into Slack and help put out fires, provide suggestions on how to put a deal together, or celebrate wins in the team Success channel.
"It's seven days a week, let's just be clear about it," laughs Nat.
"I think at the end of the week what you wanna look at is, what percentage of my time did I allocate to these things? If you're allocating the correct percentage, even if it doesn't happen between the hours you wanted it to, that's okay. As long as it's getting done."
As a broker and active producer, Nat's agents aren't the only ones trying to get a hold of him.
"It's kind of like broker-on-demand," he says. Nat also needs to make sure he's completely available to his customers.
Of course, that level of responsiveness and productive flexibility can't exist without some type of structure for it to stand on.
Here's how Nat and his team start their day:
But Nat doesn't breathe over his agents' shoulders for an hour to make sure they hit their call quota—in his experience that never works.
At Ferguson Realty, the agents decide whether or not to stay in the office themselves and the decision to prospect together as a group happened organically.
After prospecting, most of his agents will pick up their kids from school then spend the rest of their time out in the world doing what they do best: selling.
And when they're out selling, Nat's agents know that if they run into something they need help with, they can reach him via Slack, phone, Facetime, whatever.
It's a killer combination of support and autonomy—a simple formula that makes big things happen, seemingly without even trying.
Scaling is tough in any business. But in the world of real estate, with all its market shifts and disruptive technology, it can be hard to know how your team's progressing at any given moment.
As part of his gamified approach to team management, Nat uses sales contests to keep agents engaged and motivated.
Depending on the goals of quarter, Nat's KPIs may change but one thing he always keeps an eye on is database growth. If new leads are being regularly added to Follow Up Boss, he knows he's on the right track.
But that's not all he can do with his database.
"Here we are in January, usually the market's a little bit slower, and so before my sales meeting last Tuesday I thought, 'I bet the agents would love some new leads.' Right? Who doesn't love new leads?"
Nat went into his database, agent by agent, and looked at which agents had a priority notification that hadn't been contacted in two weeks. "I wanted to see every agent whose database had shown signs of activity in the last two weeks that hadn't received a phone call in the last two weeks," he explains.
Nat totaled up the numbers and saved a list for each agent.
When his agents logged in, their custom list of 'new leads' was right there in front of them.
"Everybody gets busy, you know, this business has never been linear. So pulling their focus back by tracking, not just the numbers but also the activities or the lack of activities in their database, really helps."
In Follow Up Boss, Nat can easily track agent activity and create custom Smart Lists to help his team connect with every last lead on their list.
Nat's big goal for 2020 is to grow from nine to twelve agents. And he's going to be more intentional about it than ever.
"Now, with every single person I bring on, it becomes exponentially more important to make sure they're the right person. We don't want to throw the whole system out of balance," says Nat.
To keep the balance, Nat gets buy-in from his current team members before bringing on anyone new. It's the same kind of respect and autonomy he shows up with each and every day, simply by making himself available.