Engineering hands-off real estate processes: 3 steps to a system you don’t have to think about

Team Management
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You don’t always get it right on the first try—John Selby of The Selby Team learned that lesson the hard way. 

John earned his university degree in environmental engineering (impressive, right?). 

But actually working in the field wasn’t all he’d hoped for. 

“I thought I was gonna be an engineer, worked a year and a half in the field, and realized it was not for me at all,” he remembers. 

Even though his first shot at choosing a career wasn’t a home run, he knocked his second swing out of the park. 

Once he realized it was time for a pivot, John looked to someone who’d been setting the right kind of example all his life: his mom—who also happened to be a top producing real estate agent. 

“I just learned from her,” he says. “I followed her around, did everything she did, and started developing my business over time. So ever since I started as an agent, we’ve been partners or team members and have grown the business from there.”

Now, their small team in San Diego closed close to $40 million in sales last year. We sat down with the rainmaking team leader to get the inside scoop on how John leverages his engineering expertise to make sure The Selby Team is operating at peak efficiency.

Table of contents

  • A Mother & Son Power Team
  • Bringing an Engineering Brain to Real Estate
  • How to Create a Hands-off Business System in 3 Steps
  • Moving the Wheel of Business with Metrics
  • Be Purposeful
  • What's Next?

Watch the full interview with John Selby of The Selby Team here!

A Mother & Son power team 

Though John certainly inherited some of his expertise from his mom, this mother-son team have very different approaches to running a real estate business: 

“She has always had—and still has—a very strong referral-based business,” John says. “She has maintained that while I’ve gone out into the lead gen and farming, and taken on a lot of the new avenues of business creation.”

As John built up his own side of the business, he realized that, “Doing open houses and being an agent with your database written down on a piece of paper and shooting from the hip is going to take you to one level, but it’s not going to take you beyond there.”

And John has some big dreams for the future.

Shortly after making his career shift, he saw greater opportunities.

“I started looking into systems and processes, what successful agents and other business people are doing. I started listening to books, going to seminars, reading, and doing everything I could possibly do to learn the business and go from 12-16 transactions a year to 30 or 40 as an individual.”

What he saw was that there were new, innovative tools and strategies to push his career to the next level, and he wanted in on the action.

“That’s when I started putting into place online marketing, CRM management, follow-up lead systems, lead tracking—and I’ve been developing it ever since.”

John and his mom, Joanie Selby, make a stellar (and super cute) team.

Bringing an engineering brain to real estate 

So, was John’s university degree a waste of time since he didn’t opt into a career in environmental engineering? Far from it!

“When I look back, my education wasn’t A plus B equals C—it was problem solving. It was learning how to study, how to figure out how to be efficient and get good grades and still enjoy my time,” he explains. 

Those are skills John’s been able to apply both to grow his real estate business and keep a handle on his work-life balance (but more on that later).

“I’ve taken that problem-solving and efficiency-planning mindset to the real estate world,” he says. “Everything to me is like a puzzle, everything is solving a problem. Whether that’s helping my clients buy a house, figuring out how to get their offer accepted with twenty other offers on the table—things like that. It’s always a puzzle.”

One of his biggest real estate engineering wins? Figuring out how to save time following up with leads. 

“There are some agents I know that block time from eight to noon every day, and that’s their calling time. And they call and they call and they call and they call and they call. And they’re super successful, and that’s their business…but it’s not my business. That’s not what I want, so I make sure that I’m purposeful in how I’m reaching out to people,” he explains. 

To create the business he wants, John implemented a consistent lead follow-up system. 

You can create and customize automated Action Plans in Follow Up Boss to perfect your follow up process.

“Now it’s thoughtless,” he says. “Not to the client, but in the sense that I don’t have to put any energy into thinking about who I follow up with. The right people show up at the right time, so I know exactly when to call them.”

It’s impressive, but it’s also just what John does by nature: “I’m always putting things together in my business, moving pieces around or fixing things, improving and removing and whatnot. I’m always trying to problem solve and simplify things to be as efficient as possible.”

How to create a hands-off business system in 3 steps

For John, building processes so that he can easily pass them off to other members of the team is key. It can’t require constant maintenance, otherwise, “If we’re doing everything all the time, we’re not going to have time for anything,” he says. 

So how does John create a truly hands-off system for his real estate business? 

Here are the 3 crucial steps.

1. Build a process that works. 

This is the hard part. Before you can hand off a system, you have to learn it and create it. But this is the kind of learning that pays dividends down the road when it’s designed exactly how you want it and you can confidently monitor it from afar. 

“I know I can make something really good, figure out what I want, and then make a process behind it that somebody else can do that keeps it running,” explains John.

2. Prepare for a seamless handoff. 

There’s a reason relay teams spend hours of training to perfect their handoff: get it wrong, and you’ll never make up the lost time. Unfortunately, many leaders struggle to give their people clear enough direction and support to take over a complex process—as a result, it turns into more of a fumble than a pass.

Team members need a clear starting point and parameters for success. So when you’re creating a system with the purpose of ultimately handing it off to another teammate or assistant, consider the following: 

  • What is the key deliverable?
  • When does it need to be done, and how frequently should it be repeated?
  • What tools should be used?
  • Are there examples you can provide? (Inspiration or previous successes work well.)
  • Are there other resources—blogs, videos, contacts, etc.—to help them succeed?
  • Can you create a step-by-step guide to make it super simple?

3. Pick (or hire) the right person. 

While he makes his processes as slick as possible, the real level-up happens with delegation—although John will readily admit that he didn’t have to take the scary step of spending part of his income to pay an assistant to help him. He was fortunate that his mother had already taken the step of hiring an assistant. 

“I don’t know, maybe I was spoiled,” he says. (Only if you say so, John. 😉)

But his experience with that “borrowed” assistant proved the model, and the Selby Team has since hired an additional assistant, as well as two more agents. 

What it looks like in action: No-sweat email marketing

“Email marketing is such a key part of our business,” John says. But it wasn’t always that way. When he realized they needed to tackle an email marketing strategy, John—like the engineer he is—took it upon himself to figure it out

After over a year and a half of running marketing solo, it was time to pass the job on to someone else. “I wanted to be able to just say, ‘Okay, this chunk of our database gets hit 2-3 times a week, and this chunk only a few times a month,’ and so on,” he says. 

So he put in the work to ensure his team could be successful: “They’re not trying to do it all from ground zero,” he says. “They have the resources to create content, and they know who to send it to.”

As they’ve worked out the kinks, the Selby Team has learned the value of personalizing content to different segments of their email list. Not only does it help with deliverability, but it’s much easier to start with an audience in mind versus creating an email and then trying to figure out who to send it to. This approach also allows them to test variations in content and figure out what resonates best with their leads and past customers.

“We’re so much more effective when we’re hitting smaller chunks of our database at different intervals than if we just blanket the entire database.”

Now that his assistants have taken the reins, “I don’t even have to think about it anymore,” John says. “There are times where I get calls about an email that we sent and I have to go look for the email because I’m not actually sure what got sent.”

Moving the wheel of business with metrics

A good engineer always takes measurements and tracks performance—John is no different. “We track everything on spreadsheets, pretty much,” he says. 

John combines his CRM data with a robust, customized tracking system that he manages in Google Docs. 

“We’re tracking all of our leads that come in, we’re tracking the conversion rates, we’re tracking our transactions in combination with all those leads, so we’re able to see where all of our business is coming from, which helps us figure out where we need to spend more money, less money, or implement better systems. It helps us identify if we’re missing a key factor in our business that we need to figure out.”

In such a rapidly changing industry and market, there are so many moving targets. Savvy real estate professionals like John track trends in the market, their lead sources, and their performance so they can make smarter decisions. 

Case in point: John’s team had to make a quick pivot in their lead sourcing after COVID-19 shut down open houses.

The Selby Team adapted to new circumstances with COVID-19—in more ways than one.

“We had to add in another lead source. So we went to adding Zillow leads as something to help our agents continue to grow their business,” he says. “It was important to me that we track those leads because we were spending a lot of money per month on it.”

Being able to see the ROI on each of his lead sources gives John the information he needs to make better business decisions: “If I spent $20k on Zillow leads and we made $40k, then all right, we’re good! But if I spent $20k on them and we only made $10k, that’s a problem.”

Motivation and accountability are another facet supported by tracking: “If my agents can see that they’re converting Zillow leads at 7%, it gives them more motivation and excitement.”

Knowing where they’re at helps the team understand how well they’re performing and what higher goals they should be reaching for. If they were at 6% and reached 7%, there’s something to celebrate—and then it’s time to shoot for 8%.

“It really helps move the wheel of our business,” John says.

Check out the built-in reporting features in Follow Up Boss.

Be purposeful

John’s engineering mind has helped him become successful in business—but it’s also helped him be more purposeful in creating the type of business he wants, including an enjoyable work-life balance. 

One way he accomplishes this is through optimizing his time. Automating and passing off tasks where possible has helped him stay focused, but another successful strategy has been changing the way he sets appointments:

“I made an effort three years ago to purposefully set my appointments,” he says. “I don’t ask, ‘When do you want to meet with me?’ I usually give them a couple of options or tell them when I have an open block of time. But I try to be more purposeful and not let them pick willy nilly.” He always reiterates that he’s flexible, but being intentional about his schedule has helped him create the life he wants. 

Of course, it doesn’t always go to plan. “Maybe once every quarter I get a little bit forgetful and I’ll say, ‘When do you want to meet?’ And then they say, ‘Let’s meet at 7 pm’ And I think, ‘Damn, that’s why I don’t do that,’” he laughs. 

Bonus Tip: How to make daily team huddles work

Building all of that tracking and accountability into his team takes work—and lots of follow-up. Thankfully, John has also implemented daily team huddles (now calls, #thankscovid) to help his team stay focused and bring problems to the surface quickly. 

Constantly reevaluate (and get a good coach)

Perfection doesn’t come instantly. That’s why John is continually iterating to improve his processes, strategies, and actions.

“The biggest thing that’s helped me grow is to realize that I can’t do everything and I don’t know everything. I have to constantly be open to learning and changing and fixing—I’m constantly reevaluating.”

It’s both the mentality and a commitment of time that makes this process effective: “You might be reevaluating just to confirm you’re doing something right. But if you’re not reevaluating, you’re never going to catch the mistake or the thing you could do better.”

To really boost success, John also believes in having a business or real estate coach. “They’re going to see things and they’re going to push you,” he says. “There aren’t very many people that can actually push themselves as hard as somebody else can push them.”

What's next?

Remember those big goals of John’s we mentioned earlier?

For The Selby Team, John’s hoping to hit $2 million GCI in the next 1-2 years. But it’s his personal goal that really drives him to tune his business with precision: 

“My big goal that’s been driving me since I was 20 is that I want to be retired by 45. I want to be able to do what I want, when I want, at 45. It’s not that I never want to sell real estate past that, but I want to be in a position where it doesn’t really matter.”

To support that goal, John listens to empowering audiobooks and podcasts about real estate and investing, including two of his favorites—The Millionaire Real Estate Agent and BiggerPockets

“I always like to keep my investor mind sharp,” he says. “It not only helps me, it also helps me educate my clients because I do have a good portion of people I work with who want to flip, buy multi-units, do ADUs, and all that stuff. I’ll probably do some investing in my retirement, so it helps me and I can take nuggets to give to my clients too.”

With John’s unique experience and expertise, we’re confident that The Selby Team will engineer a strong path to success. 

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