Building and managing an offshore real estate team – Q&A with Stephen Atcheler
Outsourcing – it’s a word that conjures up a range of emotions. Appealing, yet with a cloud of uncertainty. In an ideal world, real estate outsourcing (or offshoring) is the perfect way to build your team and achieve more with less cost. But where do you begin? What can an offshore team do, what do you need to look out for, and how do you get started?
We did some Q&A with Stephen Atcheler from ShoreAgents – a 14-year veteran of the real estate industry, who now runs his very own real estate focused offshore sourcing company based in the Phillipines. Author of The Tipping Point, he knows how to build a well-oiled offshore strategy that can give you the competitive edge in your market – giving you more time and making you the go-to agent, with minimal outlay.
What are the advantages to outsourcing?
There are some clear-cut advantages to outsourcing, and the one that comes to everyone’s head first is cost. Hiring a full time staff member offshore is about ¼ of the cost of hiring internally, not to mention the added savings when it comes to extra office space, computer upkeep and other infrastructure costs.
However, what I found most benefit to outsourcing when I was running my real estate business is there was no barrier to creating new roles, because cost is no longer a factor. There were so many tasks which I know were important and would benefit the business, however the internal cost to hire was a huge barrier – so these tasks simply weren’t getting done. That was a tipping point for my business, until we discovered offshore staff.
Where should someone begin, and what should they expect?
For every real estate business, the first thing to do is this – think of everything performed online, and make a simple list. Review the simple, yet time-consuming tasks, design a process around these tasks. Once you have built a process around these common tasks, you can then teach this process to others – and you are well and truly on your way.
There are also things you may not expect when starting your offshore journey. For example, the Philippines is a very process drive country, so if are use to flying by the seam of our pants, this will not suffice when working with the traditional Filipino. You need to take the time to set up the process and work on your training.
Every business is different – and how it will all play out will be based on your capacity. A bigger agency may find the process easier, as they have more resources in-house to help drive the process. The number of staff you should hire should be based on the tasks being provided. In my experience, an offshore PM assistant can work with your in-house PM to support approx. 200-250 properties. That’s not a typo.
What are the tasks an offshore team can (and cannot) do?
This is really one of the most talked about topics, and is often a blockage for a business owner starting with outsourcing. What they can and cannot do will all come down to your creativity, and ability to train your offshore team. When I first begun offshoring, I fell into the trap of only delegating the low-dollar-values tasks to my team, and underestimating their ability. However, I found the more skilled I was at training, the better my team became. Funny how that works.
While the salary is lower for offshore workers (in the Philippines for example), this is due to the cost of living and is not directly related to the skill level or worth of an employee. There are approximately 109 million people in the Philippines, and of those a significant percentage attain a college degree. They are skilled workers with the ability to learn.
Ultimately, it’s up to you how far you would like to go. First off, start small. Learn and get comfortable with the process, then review. Just like hiring someone locally who has no real estate experience, there is a journey before the light bulb moment and things fall into place.
What is the best way to manage an offshore team?
Once you have your team up and running, the fun begins. It will be an adjustment having a new employee that isn’t in your office, no doubt – and it will require some new communication methods.
Firstly, email will just simply not do. You need to implement task triggers and notification systems so you know they are receiving and completing tasks as needed. A group tool around communication, process and the triggering of process is essential.
Slack is a team communication tool that allows you to chat, video conference, create channels for specific tasks, trigger a task to start and easily know when it has been completed. Trello is another easy tool to create checklists and follow a workflow from task to task. You can also add your team members as users in your CRM to complete tasks as per your systemised follow-up plans.
What are the tips to ensure success?
Whenever it comes to the unknown, there are always going to be fears and apprehension. You may not see the whole picture until you have your first light bulb moment where you say “OMG it’s working!”.
Take the plunge – the first step is always the hardest. Everything will become much clearer once you do. If you are not considering offshoring yet, I can assure you that your competitors are. It is truly worth the effort to build a scalable business that won’t break the bank.
Here are my keys to offshoring success:
- They are a part of your team – so include them and your will be amazed at their productivity
- If they do not understand something, it could just be a minor issue. Dig a little deeper and work with them
- Believe in your teams’ ability, and challenge them so they will grow
- It will not be instant success, and if you think it will be you will only get frustrated. Get fascinated, not frustrated. This mindset will allow you to make it work, instead of giving up on a good thing
- When the time comes and you are ready, visit your team and do some training (a great excuse for a holiday by the way)
- Start small and be prepared. Have your processes and systems ready
- Choose the right offshore provider who knows real estate
- Enjoy the journey!
Get your copy of The Tipping Point eBook
Based on Stephen’s personal experience, The Tipping Point eBook is a no-nonsense guide to help you identify the pain points that real estate business owners face on a day-to-day basis, and a way to overcome them through offshoring. Whether you are considering building an offshore team or not, it’s a must read for every business owner. And best of all, it’s free. Download The Tipping Point here.