Real Estate Outsourcing
What is real estate outsourcing?
Outsourcing simply means assigning tasks to someone outside of your organisation, usually on a piecemeal or contract basis. If you’ve ever used Upwork, Task Rabbit, Fiverr, Freelancer or any sites like that, you’ve already outsourced. In the real estate industry, there are many tasks that are often outsourced. These can be things such as:
- Processing applications
- Drawing up leasing contracts
- Editing photos
- Graphic design
- Managing social media.
Outsourcing is when you specifically send out some parts of your back office to a person (or pool of people) to complete the job. It is task specific. There is a different type of outsourcing called offshoring. This is where you hire an offshore employee to join your team. If they are supporting one member of your domestic team, they are usually referred to as a real estate virtual assistant. Although an offshore employee will be responsible for a number of different tasks, their role is usually not task specific. Just like any of your other staff, they fulfil a role, not just a task. So whereas outsourcing is task specific, an offshore employee is role specific.
Getting Started with Real Estate Outsourcing
Most real estate business owners start by outsourcing highly skilled tasks like graphic design and photo editing. These are jobs that require specific skill sets and often specific technology. It doesn’t always make sense to bring that in house because there isn’t necessarily enough work to employ someone fulltime. You can appreciate the value that a professional photo editor can bring, but you just can’t justify having one in your team. Using something like Upwork or Fiverr, you can find someone who can prepare professional looking graphics for just a few dollars. You don’t have enough work to do it fulltime, but ideally you’ll be able to find several well-trained professionals so that you always have a pool of people to draw on when the workload gets busy. It’s more cost efficient than hiring someone internally who may have long periods of downtime.
If you don’t have the time or resources to find and vet your own outsourced talent, you can turn to agencies. These agencies will often specialise in a particular skill set. For example, there are agencies which provide bookkeeping and accounting specialists. Their accountants are trained to know the Australian rules and procedures (or US, UK, Canadian rules) for specific markets. Rather than hiring an accountant to sit within your organisation, the agency trains people to understand your business. Other agencies focus on video editing, social media management, web design, or search engine optimisation (SEO). There are even companies which specifically do lease renewals or applications. Instead of finding one or two people on Upwork, you assign your tasks to the agency and it is up to them to ensure the job gets done.
Using agencies is also a good option if you’ve tried a few virtual assistants but you haven’t been happy with the experience so far. Maybe deadlines aren’t met, or someone who started out perfect has suddenly disappeared. These are some of the risks of dealing with individuals who you never meet! Working with agencies provides more stability and reliability, but obviously comes at a slightly higher cost. It can also make it difficult to build a rapport with a specific person who knows and understands your business. Often you will be assigned the same person, but if your work is irregular or piecemeal then you may be dealing with a new person each time. Obviously, it’s up to the agency to make sure that the work they provide is consistent, but it’s just something else to look out for.
Tasks and Responsibilities
When it comes to outsourcing, you have to be very clear about what tasks you want done. Just like successful goal-setting, your tasks should be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely. When people start out with outsourcing, their goals can sometimes be unclear. You know you need someone to take care of social media, but what does that mean exactly? When it comes to setting your outsourced tasks, it’s not enough to say, “I want some Instagram posts.” You have to thoroughly think through the task that needs to be done. What photos should the VA use? Do you have a tagline that should be attached to each one? What hashtags are you already using? Have you researched that yet? Do you have examples of successful Instagram posts you’ve already created? Rather than being vague, it is better to say something like: “Make me 25 Instagram posts using photos from this folder, and use quotes from this list of testimonials.
Also, research appropriate hashtags for these posts and add 3-7 hashtags per post. After approval, schedule 5 posts per day using this Hootsuite account.”If you have no idea what all that just meant, then you probably need to research your role before you outsource it! Many Virtual Assistants will understand social media management much better than you, and that’s great. But if you don’t know it at all, how can you measure their performance? How do you know if they’re doing a good job? Outsourcing can be a genuine game changer in terms of freeing up your time and resources. But it does require you to make an investment in education and training so that you know exactly what parts of your business you can outsource and exactly what tasks can be done under the outsourcing model.
Tasks and Responsibilities
Something that people often neglect with their outsourcing is an approval process. Once your outsourced tasks have been completed, is there someone within your organisation who can sign off on the work? Outsourced assistants don’t have a boss in the traditional sense. They’re probably not reporting to someone in the same way an employee does. Several of your staff may be sending them tasks during the day, but there isn’t any direct oversight.
Each task that gets completed – whether that’s scheduling social media posts or lodging a tax return – needs to be checked before it is sent out into the world. There are apps you can use to help you track a task’s progress as it moves through the approval channel – these are project management apps you may already be using, such as Trello or Asana. Even a simple Excel spreadsheet is fine – whatever works for you and your business. Just ensure that there is a barrier of accountability between the person carrying out tasks on behalf of your business and the public face of your business.
Outsourcing is a brilliant way to start trimming the fat from your business and make easy increases to your profit margin. As outlined already, though, there is still a bit of work involved for you. But if you understand your business, you can easily find the low-hanging fruit and start making cost savings immediately.
The best way to start outsourcing is slowly – start with one or two simple tasks, hone your process and learn to better understand the system. You may prefer to work with people from one country over another. You may have no idea how much you should be paying. You may not realise how difficult a particular task is. Starting out outsourcing can be a relatively low cost investment, but don’t throw yourself into it all at once. Besides the research involved, there are other downsides that you need to be aware of.
Moving from Outsourcing to Offshoring
In our experience, a real estate business will typically outsource a specific task for a defined period of time. For example, lease renewals. A real estate agency finds that it has fallen behind in this area. They contract with an outsourcing company and hire an offshore team member who is responsible for catching up on all lease renewals for 3 to 6 months. The contracting company is responsible for training the staff member on this specific task, driving it and ensuring it is moved forward on a day to day basis.
Keep in mind that in this example, the person assigned to your business is not your employee. However, they will be working only on your business so there are fewer problems associated with loyalty or inconsistency. Real estate companies will commonly search for outsourcing when they begin to consider their offshore wants, but the reality of their needs may be more complex. Outsourcing is fine for the tasks we talked about above, but at some point you may need to take on someone fulltime.
If you’re looking for a fulltime offshore staff member to join your team, you should be searching for offshoring. For a lot of businesses, this is the next step after outsourcing. As mentioned, this is when you hire an offshore employee to join your team. This person is dedicated to your business, just like any other member of your staff.
At ShoreAgents, we have created a hybrid model of offshoring. In our process, you still take on a full-time staff member just like with offshoring. However, our dedicated agents will be there to help train and monitor the staff member in their specific tasks. We call this a co-managed solution. We have this product because we know that real estate businesses are busy and fast paced. Resources are scarce and you don’t have the time to completely take on the responsibility of an offshore staff member. In our hybrid model, you get the best of both worlds – a fulltime employee who is 100% dedicated to your business, with the resources of offshoring experts who can give you all the assistance you need on your offshoring journey.