Light Bulb!: The 5 Benefits of a Virtual Office

This is the 3rd post stemming from The Difference Between a CRE Broker and a Drug Dealer.

I started working with my dad in Commercial Real Estate the day after I was discharged (honorably!) from the Marine Corps.  He is a CCIM designee and understands the value of that education.  He had me in the CCIM intro class the following week.  I didn’t have my license.  I was as green as they come.

Light bulb

The instructor had us introduce ourselves and share with the class how long we had been in CRE.  27 years.  15 years.  35 years. 8 years.  Me:  ”4 days and I don’t have my license yet.”

That was the first day I’d ever heard of a Capitalization Rate.  It was a completely meaningless and nebulous term.  The percentage linking Value to Net Operating Income?  What is NOI?  You’ve heard the term ‘dear in the headlights.’  That was me.  This was the end of 2004.

Fast forward to yesterday.  My 10-year-old had an assignment requiring him to interview someone who uses math at work.  He chose to interview me.  I taught him that the only equation in CRE that matters is V = NOI / Cap.  Value equals Net Operating Income divided by the Cap Rate.  At some point in the last 8 years, I had a ‘Light Bulb’ moment when these concepts clicked.

I’ve known for a while that the mobile/virtual office was the way of the future.  I’ve inherently understood that this model increases efficiencies.  It makes me more effective – from anywhere.  However, I couldn’t quite articulate the why.

I had another Light Bulb moment yesterday during a fantastic webinar by ClientLook‘s founder Michael Griffin.  He was able to clarify for me the value of being mobile.

Why You Should Consider a Virtual Office

  1. Your Office Moves With You – Do you remember the line in Spiderman 2 when Doc Oc says, “The power of the sun in the palm of my hand!”    This is the totality of your office in the palm of your hand.  To accomplish this you need to have a paperless office.  I explain the steps to making that happen in my post – The 5 Steps to a Paperless Office.
  2. Beyond paperless, you must commit to moving your office online.  This means using websites instead of software.  You need a web-based email solution like Gmail.  You need a web-based CRM like ClientLook (be looking for a review of ClientLook coming soon).  You need to choose web-based solutions that work across all platforms.  Mac or pc.  iOS or Android or (what’s the name of the other one?).
  3. Drop the Legacy Technology Anchors – Michael Griffin calls desktop software Legacy Technology Anchors.  What a great description for all the programs on your desktop that keep you anchored there.  Cut those puppies loose and claim your freedom!  And consider, you will have to upgrade every one of those programs.  You will have to update the servers that run your office.  You will have to update your desktop.  I pay monthly licensing fees that are known costs.  Do you know how much life your servers have left?  Do you know how much their replacements will be?  No, you don’t.
  4. You Need Less Space – This point will vary greatly depending on what kind of office you have.  It will vary by the size of your office.  How much rent have you paid in your life for square footage to store files?  What about for servers and IT equipment?
  5. You will do it now or later – You may never do away with having an actual physical office.  I do believe that you will have true mobile and virtual capabilities.  I encourage you to be on the front end of that wave.  Use it to your advantage.  Make it a point of differentiation between you and your competition.  The technology to pull this off has never been easier or safer.  Your excuses are gone.
Raise your hand if the idea of having all your data stored online makes you queasy.  Why is that?  This topic leads to a discussion of data security.  What concerns do you have? Or are you comfortable with it?  Let us hear your thoughts.

The Difference Between a CRE Broker and a Drug Dealer

If you have read some of my other posts, you may know that I was an Arabic Linguist in the Marine Corps.  One of the huge differences between English and the Arabic language is that Arabic is completely contextual.  Words don’t have meaning outside of context.  Said another way, the context gives meaning to the words.

Here’s what I mean.  To say that I am a Commercial Real Estate Broker I would literally say:  ”I am a broker in the buying and selling of real estate.”  The problem is that the word for real estate is also the word for illegal drugs.  So, if you don’t know me or have any context to give you a clue, you would not know if I’m saying that I’m a CRE broker or a drug dealer.  Context is everything.

So here is a story for you to give context.  This post will spawn others as I unpack this story.  My purpose in this post is to show how systems, the proper team, and technology work together.  I want to demonstrate what is possible.

The Story

A few months ago, I was riding with my dad heading to a meeting in central Kentucky.  We drove through a small town called Perryville where I saw a Dollar General Store.

Dollar stores are a core part of our business.  Seeing this store gave me the idea to cold-call the owner.  I opened the Dropbox app on my iPhone 4S and accessed my Kentucky Dollar Store database.  Finding the owner, I looked him up in my mobile cloud-based CRM solution, ClientLook.

I recognized the name for the Perryville store as a man who was a former college coach in my town.  That gave me the common ground I needed to connect with him.

I was fortunate to get him on the phone.  By the time we had driven through that small town, I knew that he owned three Dollar General Stores - not just one.  I also knew that he was in a partnership, that he would like to simplify his life, and that he was likely a seller.

He agreed to send me the leases so that I could do proposals on his properties for his partnership.  He had one of his staff email me the leases.  I forwarded them to my assistant.  This all happened in 30 minutes, from a car in the middle of Central Kentucky, using just my iPhone.

The next day, my assistant used the leases to build proposals through BuildOut.  She is able to quickly take raw materials and take a proposal to 80% completion.  I then did the financial analysis, approved the comps, set a value, and pressed ‘print.’  Though I have a paperless office, I do print and bind property proposals.  The quality is so high on these packages that I know property owners will not throw them away.

The next week, I was in the man’s office – one hour from my office – presenting proposals on his properties.  Because we’d done our homework building a database of properties, had systems in place to be lightning fast, and used technology that made us mobile, we were able to instantly take advantage of an opportunity.

Over the coming weeks, I will take you behind the curtain of our business and unpack how we build databases, what systems we have in place, and what technologies we use.  This post, however, was all about context.  Never confuse the broker for the drug dealer!

UPDATE:  Post 2 in this series can be found here:  The 5 Steps to a Paperless Office
UPDATE:  Post 3 in this series can be found here:  The Benefits of a Virtual Office
Parting thoughts:  do you use a database in your business?  What systems do you have in place?  What technologies do you use?  Share a story from your business that will provide context for this conversation.  Engage!

Commercial Real Estate Technology and App Review: Dropbox

I have achieved mobile status and have a paperless, virtual Commercial Real Estate office.  I will be reviewing and sharing with you the technologies and apps that make this possible.

Dropbox

Dropbox is my first review for one reason only:  I love it!

I was in an airport a couple of months ago.  I received a call from a client that needed a copy of their lease ASAP.  I was able to access their lease from our files through Dropbox on my phone.  I emailed it to my client from my phone walking from the gate to the plane.  It took less than 30 seconds, and I was a hero to my client.  That is the power of Dropbox.  It makes you more efficient and more valuable.  To start using Dropbox – click here.

4 Uses of Dropbox

1.  Dropbox acts like the “my documents” on a PC or ‘finder’ on a Mac.  The files are actually on your computer.  This is key so that when you are on your laptop or desktop, you don’t need an internet connection to access or work on your files.

2.  Dropbox syncs up with other computers, smartphones, tablets, etc.  I have Dropbox on my PC, my Macbook Air, my iPhone 4S, and my iPad2.  When a document is created, edited, or changed in any way on one of these machines, it is synced with all the others.  That is the magic of the cloud.  When I have my virtual assistant draft a lease, she saves it to Dropbox for my review.  Any changes that I make are synced, and she has instant access.  This makes Dropbox great for collaborations.  It is also a great way to never have to go back to the office (if you have one!) for a file again.

3.  Dropbox allows you to share folders with anyone you would like to invite.  Simply send them an email invite, and that person has access to the folder.  It is that simple.  My entire paperless office is on Dropbox.  My assistant has access to pretty much everything.  Any advisors working with me have access to just what they need.  It is a beautiful thing.  This is how I collaborate with all of my coaching clients.  Drafts of their prospecting letters and marketing materials are all in their shared dropbox folders.

4.  Dropbox is accessible from anywhere with an internet connection.  I shared with you that a file syncs up with any machine/smart-phone/tablet.  If you happen to not have one of these devices on you, then you can get to all your files by logging on to www.dropbox.com.  My wife likes to joke that if I have forgotten my phone then I’ve forgotten my pants as well, but it can happen!  (The phone – not the pants).

A Word of Caution

Dropbox has some limitations.  I had a conversation with a friend recently who is in the Information Security business.  His comment on Dropbox was that it was not the most secure platform in the world.  I asked him if I should be worried, and he said no.  There is a trade-off between security and usability.

Another limitation is the user has little functionality when sharing folders.  Maybe I want to invite someone to a folder, but I don’t want them to be able to edit, change, or delete.  The ability to limit users is not there.  If you invite someone to a folder, be aware that they have free reigns on those documents.

Conclusion

Despite the caution, Dropbox is an invaluable part of my business.  It allows me to be mobile and efficient.  It makes me more valuable to my clients.  It allows me to easily collaborate with my virtual team.  It is easy.  And it is free (to a point)!  It can be all these things to you as well!

I know many of you are already using Dropbox.  What ways do you use it?  How has it simplified your life?  What are some of the benefits that I failed to mention?  Join the conversation!