“20 Minutes of Successful Niche Secrets – EPISODE 59,”
Where I am joined by Real Estate Veteran Rob Roland, so that he can share insights on how to build the business that suits your lifestyle
Glenn: Hi! It’s Glenn McQueenie, and welcome to my 25-Minute Podcast Series – the Success Series, where we help people figure out their niche markets, but also collect the wisdom of those who have lived before us. Today, we have a special guest, Rob Roland. Rob, thanks for joining me!
Rob: Hi, Glenn! Thanks for having me here.
Glenn: I’ve known Rob for awhile, and he’s a veteran of the Toronto real estate scene with almost 32 years’ experience. So I thought today, we’d just change it up a little bit and get Rob on the phone, and just chat about some of the lessons he’s learned, and some of the great advice that he’d want to pass on to people who are either starting, or have been in the business for 10 years and want to have a better business (or maybe even 20 years). I mean, to last and sustain yourself for over 31 years in this business is quite an accomplishment, Rob.
Rob: Thank you!
Glenn: Thank you. So tell us a little bit about your journey – where you started, where most of your business has come from, and maybe we’ll just go on to what advice you would give to some other people who want to have that longevity and be able to build some wealth through real estate.
Rob: Yeah. I started back in the ‘80s. I had been working in the music business in promotions and performing and writing and doing dinner theatres, and I always thought real estate would be interesting because it was the last of the entrepreneurial, free, own-your-own-business type of scenarios, and I decided to just jump in feet first. I became a broker within my first year and started out with Royal LePage, and I’ve actually been with every company except Century 21. I have had ownership interest in my own brokerage and the current brokerage I’m with, so I’ve pretty well done everything in real estate. The thing that attracted me originally (and it still does today, even though I’m approaching my 70th birthday this year), is that real estate is not just about sales. It’s an industry and a profession that you can create your own path – be it ownership, be it teaching, be it mortgage financing. Some of my best friends have become very successful mortgage brokers or managers of offices, or really decided that real estate wasn’t for them, and it helped them discover what they really wanted to do. I can think of one lady who really decided she loved houses and has her two kids, works a 30-hour work week, makes a good six-figure income, and when she’s done her income, she can spend time raising her kids and going on trips with her husband. So the flexibility of the real estate industry was what really attracted me to the business.
Glenn: It’s kind of fascinating. As I listen to you, I’m reflecting back on my own 30 years, I guess (almost) in the business. When I talk to people entering the business, or just been in a couple years, and they’re like, “Okay, what’s the next best thing? What tech should I use? Should I do Facebook targeted ads? Should I do this? Should I door knock? Should I do all this stuff?” And maybe technology will knock us out of the business, you know? “What about Zillow? What about all these things?” And when I reflect, I think real estate’s done the same way as it was done 30 years ago, don’t you think?
Rob: I would totally agree. Most of my business, like you, has come from my database, and I have about 100 past clients. I don’t even look for business. I just talk to them. I just sold a $1.5 million property for my client who I met 12 years ago. I’ve kept in touch with him, and he called me up this year and said, “Let’s list it and give me the appraisal on the farm.” He’s semi retiring up to his farm in the north country. The last two years, I’ve not been looking for business. It comes from a personal sphere. It comes from me picking up the phone or dropping by. Some people I haven’t seen for a few years, and this one in particular was a door knock I did about 10 years ago. And there you are. I just kept in touch with him. He gets a flyer once a month and an email once a month. And he said, “You’re the only realtor that’s kept in touch with me. You helped me get a mortgage five years ago. You gave me some great financial planning and a lawyer to talk to about the estate.” And lo and behold, it resulted in a $1.5 million listing, which I sold in about three weeks. So it’s about keeping in touch.
Glenn: I love what you said there, because it’s meeting people, following up, keeping in touch – having the mindset of service and helping people. And I find if you keep helping people, and you do it because your heart is in really the best option for them, they’ll help you for the rest of your real estate career.
Rob: Yes. Yeah, I would agree with that. When I first started, a coach by the name of Floyd Wickman had a Sweathogs program, and that was my first introduction. And basically, the training was really simple. We had a rotary phone, and your job was to call 100 people in every one or two or three-hour shift, and get at least 10 conversations. We were in teams of six, and the manager at the time said, “When the whole team’s finished, and you’ve got your 10 contacts, I’ll buy you pizza and pop, and you’re free to go home.” And then the next day, we had to actually go out and knock on the door and say, “Hi, I’m Rob. I talked to you on the phone yesterday. Just wanted to introduce myself to see how I can help you, or just to say hello.” What a revolutionary thought!
Glenn: Yeah! Well, it’s interesting, right? It’s like, first you call them, and then you book an appointment, and then you go meet them face to face. Or if you can’t book an appointment, just randomly go out there, get a face attached to the voice that they just heard on the phone, and then just keep following up with them over a period of time.
Rob: Yeah. I would agree with you, Glenn. I think, ultimately, our business is our database. It’s a contact business, and as you’ve said before, and we all say, “High touch, high tech – and emphasis on the touch.” Drop by at Christmas time or their anniversary, or dropping by once a year. Picking up the phone and saying hello. “I just called to say hello and see how you were doing.” And email up to date. That’s what it’s all about.
Glenn: Yeah. I think there’s a bit of a movement also in our industry about going back to the basics of it. There are certainly so many agents right now. They’ve all come into the business recently because it looks so easy. I think our industry looks easy from the outside, but is so hard to explain from the inside. People are like, “Oh, I like people. I like homes. I’m going to get my real estate license. What could go wrong?” And the reality is that a lot of them just come in, and there are so many of them who are almost offering exactly the same value, like, “I want to be everything to everybody.” And you don’t really end up being anything to anyone.
Glenn: I think the other thing I’ve noticed – and I’d love to hear your insights on this – is this massive short focus instead of long focus, which has kind of infected our industry right now. People are like, “If you can’t close them in a day, if you can’t get a commitment from them in a week, move on to the next one.” And I’ve never seen anyone build a long-term business that way.
Rob: I would totally agree with that. You know, that’s a function of the computer age, where we all want instant results and instant gratification. It’s kind of akin to, if you have a medical issue, you’re going to go on the web and Google it, and then feel you’ve solved it. Well, we all know that if we have something that might be life-threatening, we certainly wouldn’t be going to Google. We’d be going to an expert – someone who knows their stuff. If I have a little mole on my skin, I’m not going to Google it and take a picture and send it in to anyone. I’m going to go and see a skin specialist. Well, that’s working in a certain niche and knowing what you need to do. And many people think real estate is simple. I have a saying: “Real estate’s like tearing up hundred dollar bills in the shower. If it doesn’t work…” It’s a take off on my sailing, because sailing is one of my passions. “Sailing is like tearing up hundred dollar bills in a cold shower.” Well, real estate’s like doing it with no water. And the thing is, most real estate agents, even the top ones, start to understand that. What I’m saying is that the public really does not care. We are all painted with the same brush, whether you’re the top 1% or whether you’re the bottom 1%. Now, the key, like the top golfers or the top entertainers – they are on their game right away, and can deal with rejection or can deal with the issue right away, whereas the other agents, the 80-90%, act like they’re just the average. And the consumer has the right to think everyone is the average. So I think it’s really important to act and be in your niche and what you specialize in.
Glenn: Well I think that’s where you create the most value, if you really know what your niche is really going through. What’s the life they’re experiencing at that moment? And then, how does your unique solution solve that problem? I think the market starts to come to you, instead of this scattergun approach of everyone going, “Just listed. Just sold. Free CMA.” It doesn’t really speak to anybody at the same level of, “I’m having a divorced women’s downsizing seminar.” There’s a different market for that.
Glenn: Part of the reason we do these podcasts, too, is just really – it’s almost like my running argument – to convince people to just find someone you want to be a hero to, and go be a hero. And for you, you were a hero, Rob, to your past clients and your sphere of influence. And it’s been paying off for you, because the business just keeps coming. But that’s only because you kept with it, and you kept adding value to them all the time.
Rob: Yeah. Actually, you asked me a few minutes ago what attracted me about real estate. Well, being self-employed was one of them. I have been a caregiver for both my parents. They both passed three years ago. I would not have been able to be a full-time caregiver, because they both lasted up to their 99th year. I would have not been able to be a full-time caregiver for both of them, particularly in the last 10-15 years, without having my own business. And that’s probably one of the main reasons why I may not have achieved the top sales, the top echelons – but I wanted to. I was also caregiver to my first wife, who I lost to cancer. And that was interesting, because I had my best year ever in terms of amount of hours I worked. I worked two hours a week for 19 months, and made $50,000-$80,000 because I was so focused. I just did the Offers. I had other people do everything else. And you can have the flexibility of raising kids or taking care of a parent. There are so many agents that you and I know, Glenn, that have other things they do, and real estate gives them the flexibility. The key is to stay flexible but focused on one unique thing that makes you money.
Rob: And if you’re not, find out what your unique ability is. I’ve never been a niche player. I grew up in what’s now downtown Riverdale, lived in North Toronto, lived in Richmond Hill, lived in Thornhill, and then moved, 21 years go, back downtown. I’ve lived in Toronto for 60 years, so I know a lot of neighbourhoods. But I’ve also realized that a third of my business has always been related to seniors and estate sales, so I am transitioning into advising Baby Boomers, and even Millennials and Seniors on how to transition. I’m not going to actually do the listing or buying. I will pick neighbourhood specialists. I’m almost like the stager in transitioning.
Rob: And I can go to any neighbourhood. If I don’t know the neighbourhood, then of course I’ll get more expertise from people who do. But there are very few neighbourhoods I don’t know, because I’ve lived in Toronto for six decades. I know it like the back of my hand. I’m kind of like the ways of real estate. I’m taking people around and I go through back lanes, and people say, “I didn’t know you even knew about that!” I said, “That’s how you get into Dutch Dreams first!” Dutch Dreams is a wonderful ice cream place on Vaughan Rd and St. Clair, just down the street, and if you take the back lane, you always get in, guaranteed. So yes, it’s about getting a focus and finding out what you do well. I recall doing a training at our Don Mills office, and a young guy had just joined our brokerage and he said, “I don’t know anybody.” And we got talking, and found out he was from an engineering background, and he was from a European-based country. He had 300 people through his religious affiliation and through his work. And I said, “Well that’s where you start. You go to them and you say, ‘Hey, I’m in real estate. I really have time to help you. Let’s talk and see how I can. Taking the background in engineering I have to the advice and the team I’ve got at Keller Williams Referred Realty, I’ve got 100 people that can give me advice. I’d love to help you.’”
Glenn: Well, what I think is really interesting now is, it’s almost like you’ve transitioned from active trading to a niche lead-generation professional. If these people want to go into the downsizing or the rightsizing market, if they could get a whole bunch of people in the room, you would probably show up and tell them the “how” and the “why,” and then the agent who’s hosting this event could be the “who” who’s actually going to execute this and get this done. I think it’s really interesting, because a lot of agents who might want to go into it think they have to learn everything about it. And it’s not really how you do it. It’s like, who can I get to show up at an event where I’ll pack my people into, who can talk about, “Here are the reasons, here’s how you should declutter, downsize, here’s the process.” I think that’s a really cool niche for you, too, because you went from actually having a business that was almost bust-proof (or I’m going to call it illness-proof, in a way), that you’d invested so much in that when you had to deal with the passing of your wife or your parents, you had the space and the income still coming in, which is the long-term focus market, instead of short-term. And now you’re just creating another leverage piece in your business where you can just go, “Hey, I’ll show up, I’ll talk to people, and we’ll work out some fee that you pay me, or a referral fee or something like that.” I’m sure there’s a massive market for that.
Rob: Yes! Yeah, exactly. The other thing I’m doing is there’s an organization called Pivotal Aging Innovations. Their company specializes in advising seniors in medical analysis, in financial analysis, and legal analysis. And they also license agents and mortgage brokers for the Accredited Senior Agent designation.
Rob: So in the fall, I’ll be one of their trainers, starting to train the Accredited Senior Agent designation to agents, as well as one of the resources of coaching and mentoring on how to implement that into their practice. I’ll of course first do it to our offices, and our offices will be hearing more about that in the next month or two. But that gives me an opportunity to help people get a designation that can help them in that market. And we already have some great agents in all of our offices that do that already that can be a great resource to all of us. That allows me to give back and to help train a bit. So that’s about finding the niche, and it was really by accident. The story I love to tell when I’m training and meeting people is, I had a tough year – about as bad a personal year as you could have three years ago. I mentioned being a caregiver. My dad passed in 2015 in January. I had a university friend die in June. My mom died in July of that year. And in November, I had a heart attack.
Glenn: That’s quite a year.
Rob: That’s quite a year! Yeah! And I remember the cardiologist, when he discharged me, he said, “I want you to go home for two or three months and just be bored. Do nothing.” So going into the Christmas season, that’s really easy to do, as we all know. And I misunderstood. The next year, which would be 2016, in the spring, I thought, “Okay, I can just ease back into business.” I was doing a visit to some long-time friends and clients of mine. So I dropped in, said, “I’m in the neighbourhood.” Just dropped in, thought I would have a coffee. “Oh, can’t have a coffee. Have to have a green tea. I’m trying to readjust my life.” And I told them the story I’m telling you and the people listening. And they looked me in the eye and they said, “Rob, do you think you’re being realistic to think this is like getting over the flu?” And that was like a bullet. I took the rest of that year and really got into thinking about my health, my life, what I wanted to do. And that has led to a two-year path which has come to this vision, and I’m totally committed to making sure that whether you’re starting in the business, or you’re 10 years in, as you said, 20 years in, that we’re all really balanced about why we’re doing this. Why are we doing this real estate thing? I think you’ve mentioned this in some of your trainings, and a lot of the trainers in Houston, and that is that if we’re lying on our deathbed, or we can see people around at our funeral, what would we remember about our lives? And it would not be the deal or the listing we didn’t get. It would be the good times we’ve had. The friends we loved. The dogs we loved. You know, the little things. And I encourage people to look at that and say, “If it’s not fun, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it!”
Rob: Take the day off! You don’t feel like lead-generating, or it doesn’t work, take the day off! Take your wife for date night. Take your kid to a movie. Go out and do whatever turns your crank. This is not a business where you have to work 70, 90, 100 hours. We have a friend, Michelle, who, since we’ve known her, she’s got a perfect balance. She works really hard for 4, 6, 8 weeks, does all kinds of business, and then takes 4, 6, 8 weeks off. And she’s travelled all around the world and done all kinds of things. She probably does more now than she did when she first started. But she went into real estate realizing that if she worked hard, like many of us, and you take the down time, it recharges your batteries.
Glenn: And she’s really clear. When you work, you work. And when you don’t, you don’t, you know? A lot of people play in the middle of that all the time. So Rob, we just have about a minute or two left. I’m wondering, if people wanted to reach out to you to get you to come and speak and share some of your wisdom, and even tell your story about that one year that you had (because a lot of people in that room will be going through that kind of stuff, and you make it really real), are you open to giving out your cell phone number now, or your email address so they can reach out to you?
Rob: I have a website that will be geared for that. It’s robroland.com, and my cell phone is 647-281-3633. Or they can email me: email@example.com.
Glenn: Perfect. Thank you so much, Rob, for your insights on our call today. It’s nice to hear a veteran story of survival, and really long-term survival in this business. What I love the most is I get the sense that you’re more excited and passionate about the next chapter of your life. And that’s the one of service, now – helping those other realtors. You’ve been through it all, and you’ve been helping them develop their niche with seniors (or whatever), where you can fill the room, you be the guy, and then they can go run with their clients. And I think your platform, you could duplicate this in every city in North America. It’s kind of interesting. It’s like your niche helps someone else’s niche. You can only go so far doing your thing. They can only go so far doing their thing. But when you combine them, you can get a 10X multiplier of business out of it, and
I think that’s really cool.
Rob: Well thank you, Glenn. I appreciate being on the podcast. We’ve known each other a long time, and the neat thing about our relationship is that every time we talk, you and I are so committed to learning that we get an “A-ha!” We learn something. It’s like it was just yesterday. So thank you very much!
Glenn: Well thank you, Rob! Thanks a million for joining us, Rob.
Glenn: Take care.
Rob: Bye bye!