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Leading an agency when you’re in lockdown – with Matt Nicol

Webinar recorded live on

In the spirit of “we’re all in this together”, leading agent Matt Nicol of Nicol & Co joined us on 30th March us to kindly share his business’ plan of action for making the most of this period of lockdown. He covered everything from keeping his team busy and productive, to motivating himself, to using tech to do valuations. There are sure to be things Matt’s put in place that you could take on board in your own business.

We’re really sorry – we experienced technical issues recording the webinar, which means Matt’s screen did not record. The video above is audio only, however you’ll still be able to follow all of the content as it was a discussion between Lisa and Matt with no slides. You can listen back to the recording by pressing play above or read the summary notes of Matt’s key takeaways and answers below. 

Advice for leaders in the current situation

Some of the things Matt has introduced as a leader are:

  • Making sure I’m there for the team as much as possible, even if I can’t do it physically. I’ve made myself available through Zoom chats, calls, texts – to be as open to communication as possible.
  • Set a planned structure for each day for the team. A number of check-ins booked in every day and making it clear everyone knows what they have to do.
  • “Oozing positivity”. Trying to stay calm and positive myself in a few ways:
    • Being realistic about the situation. Trying to stay calm amongst all the change. Don’t moan – it is what it is and it’s out of your control.
    • Keep an eye on what the government say but try and not watch the media says. Dissect the government advice and simplify if for your staff so they know what to say to our clients when they get asked. We spoke to 548 applicants and tenants last week so staff need to be clued up enough to dispel any myths they might come up against.
    • Creating honest and open video content to keep our community updated and letting them know we’re still around, working and here to help. The last one was 3 minutes of me talking about being in self isolation and advice for others, for instance. They aren’t really about property – just about showing your human side.
  • Staying fit:
    • Using this as an opportunity to set some big fitness goals and get fitter than ever.
    • Leading by example helps staff do the same – having a healthy team is important.
  • Focussing on building relationships in the community (see more tips below).
Keeping the business going and making money – what are staff working on?

I know lots of businesses have decided to furlough quite a few staff and for them and their finances that might be exactly the right thing to do, and I respect them for it, but we’re trying to go the other way and keep really active in the business to keep it going.

  • The main focus for staff is keeping in contact with our clients. We’ve got a big database of applicants and market appraisals we’ve not yet instructed.
    • People have a lot of time on their hands so we’re finding they are open to a 15 minute chat, rather than the 3 minute calls it used to be. Questions we’re asking are “How are you? How are you coping with this? Do you still plan on moving once this has all settled down?” We’re still winning instructions of the back of this. People at home are going to be even more desperate for a chat to someone than ever. If you’re there for them now and dedicate time to having a good conversation, it might not lead to business immediately but our hope is that it will lead to more positive conversations and recommendations further down the line.
    • We’re contacting applicants to tell them about the new instructions coming through and building Interest Registers for each property. It’s a spreadsheet of people who are committed to saying they would view when the time’s right. We’ve got Matterport virtual tours on some properties too that helps.
    • Some people are still carrying on with their planned moves and we’re working on pushing those through to completion. Our sales progressors are working their socks off.
    • We’ve got a large pipeline and our focus is to try and get that turned over. We’ve proactively called all our vendors to give them our opinion on how things are at the moment.
    • We’ve spoken to all our landlords to put their mind at rest and get things like Rent Guarantee Insurance in place for them. When the news came out that tenants wouldn’t have to pay rent, we needed to make sure our landlords were safe in the knowledge that we had a plan for that.
  • We’ve put a real focus on staff training.
    • Dedicating more time per day to training staff over Zoom. For example I did some role playing on applicant registration with a new joiner the other day. I wouldn’t usually have that time for 1 to 1 training with a new joiner in a team of 33, it’d be one of the managers. So this is great for people like her.
    • Encouraging staff to go on all the Rightmove webinars.

We’ve kept on 27 staff and 3 are on furlough, either because they’re new and we weren’t able to set them up for home working in time, or they have childcare commitments and weren’t able to generate the calls we need during this time. It made sense for them.

 

Structuring teams and their days

Here’s how we’ve managed the virtual team structure with a team of over 30:

Structure

  • Each manager has their own team, e.g. lettings, new homes. They have their own morning meeting at 8.30 and I’ll join one of those depending on where I’m needed.
  • We then have a check in at 11 for Elevenses. We’ve split the company into three different colours, so rather than all the lettings team staying together, we mix it up. For Elevenses we have a coffee, get on Zoom for 15 minutes and have a general chat.
  • We make sure to book in lunch break and have extended it by 15 minutes, to allow people to go for a walk or walk the dog.
  • At 3 o’clock, teams have a check in and then again at 5pm. Having these formal times means we keep having conversations and good chats.

Keeping fit

  • Each team has been given a personal training plan. The local Personal Trainer is doing online training sessions with them. We’ve split into the team colours and then at 11.15 the team get their PE kit on and the personal trainer does a 30 minute session. Each team has one session a week.
  • We’re also organising yoga on Tuesday and Thursday morning.

You can’t expect people to be hard at it for 8 hours doing the same thing. Tips for productivity:

  • Break the day up into 45-60 minute slots.
  • Turn your phone off (we’ve all got soft phones on our laptops instead). Stop the distractions.
  • Making some of them during the week Fitness rather than work is fine
Matt’s Top 3 Do’s and Don’ts

Do

  • Do be there for each other. By that I mean your family, your staff and your community. Plan in regular video calls with people to stay in touch and keep talking.
  • Do plan for the boom. We’re going through a bit of a pause. But think about when the market does pick up, where should you be? What things can you do now to help you get there?
  • Focus on your fitness. A health body leads to a healthy minds. As well as work goals, set yourself some fitness goals. I’ve set myself a target of being fitter than ever. This situation gives me the opportunity to focus more on that than I otherwise would’ve ever been able to.

Don’t

  • Don’t read too much into the media
  • Don’t drink more alcohol than normal. It doesn’t lead to a productive day the next day and isn’t good for your mental health.
  • Don’t go through this alone. Speak to as many people around you and in the industry as possible

Matt’s answers to agents’ questions

Is there such a thing as “over-contacting” at this time?

It depends what you’re saying to them! If you’re first conversation is “how are you doing?” then they tend to open up. They’re surprised we’ve called in a positive way and often the call opens up to a discussion about their future plans.

We’re finding people we have an established relationship with do want to hear out take on the current situation. What do we think is going to happen to the market? What will house prices do? We can’t give them all the answers but they’re open to a chat.

If your staff are struggling to have positive conversations, as a manager you should try doing some role playing with them to go through how that conversation should ideally go and help them. We’re not being met with much negativity.

How many calls do you think it’s reasonable for negotiators to make in a day from home?

It’ll be different for everyone but I’d say 20-30 from home, versus 50-60 usually in the office. Breaking people’s days up so they have 20 decent calls with a couple of great outcomes is a good day in this new world.

We’ve got a call board that tracks number of calls each day to keep on top of it – but in this environment I wouldn’t suggest busting a gut to make a million phone calls. Focus on quality instead.

How are you still taking on instructions during lockdown? How are you doing valuations?

We made sure to try and record as many videos as possible before lockdown.

Then for valuations, I recorded a video demo of how we’d do a virtual valuation. I did it with one of my sales team and we’ve now got that video we can re-use to send on to prospective clients. It shows things like how to point the camera and where to stay.

Our process for virtual valuations is as follows:

  • We’re capturing people using Val Pal on our website (our online valuation tool)
  • We’re offering them to show us around their house via whatsapp, and guiding them through each room
  • We’re taking a day to them prep the marketing strategy report using our usual comparable reports and tools
  • We then follow up with a video call the next day to talk through our marketing strategy
  • We’re still winning instructions using this method.
How can we deal with existing vendors asking us to remove their properties?

You need to tackle this head on and give them a call. This situation will present opportunities for vendors that mean more people will likely be coming to market when it’s over. After weeks at home, people will decide either their place is too small, or if they’re in financial difficulties maybe it’s too big. There will be divorces, deaths sadly and all the usual reasons people move.

I’d pick up the phone and reassure your vendor that there’s no real value in taking the property off right now. It’s still getting viewed and you’re still getting people wanting to view properties even remotely. Try to get them to remind you why they offer to buy, or put the place on the market, in the first place. Those reasons won’t have changed – so use that to convince them to stay put.

How are you attracting new business that isn’t on your database?

It’s about making sure people are aware we’re still open for business. That’s not about pushing our name, it’s about showing the human side of our business. Staff are doing their own videos and blogs and sharing on their social media channels, that we then share on our Nicol and Co pages. We’re putting things out like a “vote for the best puppy” competition between the team. Just things that help us stay visual. You probably need to say more on social media now than you did before.

How are your team overcoming the objection...why would I market my home now?

Talk about how lots of people will be looking at property now as they’re at home with free time on their hands. Let them know you’re having more and better conversations with clients than ever.

Don’t promise them viewings and if anyone is still trying to do them in person, just stop now – it goes against all the government advice. But point out how you can still do them virtually and how there’s a captive audience out there now for you. More people will be coming to market after weeks at home, realising their house isn’t right, or for financial difficulties, or divorces – lots of reasons why people will be looking to move when the lockdown restrictions are lifted.

Tell them you’ll market the property and build an interest register of people who want to view immediately as soon as the restrictions are lifted.

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