What I’ve learned about self-employment

In 2011, I enrolled in a real estate agent licensing course. I knew there was a lot of money to be made, but didn’t think I would ever give up the security of a regular paycheck with benefits. I was working at Wells Fargo, got a few promotions, and learned about a “conflict of interest” rule. This outlined that I could not be an active real estate agent and bank employee at the same time. Kinda made sense, because I was licensed to work on mortgages. Couldn’t sell the house and mortgage without there being some conflict of interest… So I put off my plans of getting my real estate license. Five years later I extrapolated what some friends were making in real estate sales and got the itch to give it another go. A few months after getting licensed, my wife quit her job of almost 6 years, some things left me dissatisfied at my job of 3.5 years, and I quit to pursue a full-time real estate career.

Within 2 weeks we intentionally traded dual-income for NO INCOME. My wife had plans of taking a month or two to decompress, then go find something new. I had to figure out how to be self-employed for the first time in my life.

Being self-employed is not for the faint of heart. Be ready for lots of highs and lows. It can be extremely rewarding and reveals your strengths and weaknesses. Before you quit your reliable day job, here are just a few things you should probably know:

  1. Managing your time is hard: With my previous job, despite working 40-50 hour weeks, I felt like I never had enough time to get everything done. Now that I had no clients or leads, I didn’t know how I was going to fill 40-50 hours a week and feel productive. This will especially bother those that are used to and enjoy hard work. I figured out how to find clients, but now I deal with a different problem. How do I maintain balance and not let my work consume all my time and attention? A successful Realtor knows they’ll often get calls/texts early in the morning, late at night, and every time in between. Time is always of the essence, and houses go on and off the market all day, every day. It can be really hard to find balance with your time.
  2. You must be genuine: One of my favorite things about being self-employed has been staying in touch with old friends. My network fuels my business. A good number of my friends/acquaintances probably remember a time where I messaged them on Facebook out of the blue and arranged a time to meet up. I’ll be honest, every time I have one of these lunches, I hope a sale comes of it. It doesn’t have to be my friend buying or selling a house. If it’s not them, hopefully they’ll remember me when they hear a friend or colleague talking about buying a house. It’d be easy for these lunches to come off as sales-y and insincere. I hope my friends know every time that that I genuinely care about them, their well-being, and enjoy their company. If I’m not genuine, I won’t get any business out of it. If I am genuine and no business comes out of it, at least I connected with an old friend.
  3. You gotta know your stuff: When you’re new to an industry, there is a lot you don’t know. My suggestion… fake it until you make it. Your gaps in knowledge will be revealed through doing. Once you realize there’s something you don’t know, learn about it, quickly! Make friends with experts that can help answer questions. Make it your mission to be an expert. After all, that’s what people expect and pay you for.
  4. Learn to save your money: In my first 5 months, I think I had $11k in income. I had several thousand in expenses too. Good thing we had lots of savings! At one point in my first year, a month with $0 in commissions was followed by a week with $20k. You gotta save so that you can survive the lows and especially any drastic market changes. In the next real estate market crash, I’ll have to be pretty resourceful to maintain a steady income. I’ll be glad I saved at least 50% of my income while things were good.
  5. Don’t be cheap with your customers: I like to give my clients something after they buy or sell a house. The right gift/gesture will vary in price. Pretty early on, I told a family I hired a house cleaning service for them for after they moved out. The wife cried and was extremely grateful. They have since referred me another customer. That was $250 well spent. I’ve helped other clients with home repairs or laying sod. Being generous with your time goes a long ways in having a loyal client.
  6. It’s all up to you: As much as you’ll want to take credit for your successes, you also need to take responsibility for your failures. Don’t blame market conditions, a bad customer, or anything else for why you couldn’t succeed. If you want paid vacation and a reliable paycheck, go work for someone else that offers that. If you want 100% of the reward for your hard work, realize that no one else should feel responsible to bring you success.

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