The New Real Estate Agent’s Guide to Licensing, Lead Generation, and More
By Elizabeth Christensen
About Agent Basics
After weeks and months of making pro/con lists and thinking about what you really want out of your working life, you’ve made a decision: You’re going to pursue a career as a new real estate agent.
Before you get carried away by thoughts of happy home buyers and the potentially sizable commissions you’ll receive from them, you’ve got some serious planning to do.
Most people fail when starting out as a new real estate agent because they didn’t take the time to put together a business plan. Don’t be part of this statistic.
While you may be tempted to start knocking on doors immediately, top-performing real estate agents like Melissa Boucher advise caution.
In Boucher’s episode of our Marketing Genius Podcast, “The Road to $20 Million,” she says newly licensed agents should have their website and branding sorted out and their geographic area identified well before pounding the pavement.
To help get your career off on the right foot, we’ve put together an FAQ and month-by month strategy for building your business in the first year.
Below, you’ll find guidance for tackling your licensing exams, establishing a local presence, and getting comfortable with online marketing.
Be aware that some of these steps will net you quick wins, while others will deliver more long-term benefits.
Prep Work: Getting Your Real Estate Agent License
Before you can even think about showing people homes, you need to take care of the fine print of getting licensed.
You must enroll in pre-licensing courses (the hours required vary by state), sit for the actual exam, and pay all of the necessary fees to receive your license and become a member of your MLS or association.
Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions that you might have:
Between real estate classes, the exam, and receiving my license, how much money can I expect to spend?
The amount varies depending on where you live, but it can be anywhere from $100 to $300. For example, brand new agents in Massachusetts can expect to spend around $500 on the whole process.
How many questions are on the exam, and what topics does it cover?
The national portion of the real estate exam is 100 questions, but once again, the local test is different in every state. The exam typically covers topics like contracts, finance, and property management.
How much study time is enough?
Licensing exams aren’t like high school tests: You’re allowed to take the exam as many times as you want over a two-year period.
But since you’ve got more exciting things to think about, why waste time? Study, study, then study some more so you can score high enough on the exam to receive your license, and move forward from there.
What are some tips for exam day?
If you feel confident in how well you’ve retained the information from your classes, all that remains is to:
- Get a good night’s rest the evening before your real estate exam.
- Eat a hearty breakfast the morning of (seriously, this is vital).
- Take your time on each question, rather than rushing to finish.
Once the test is behind you and you’re an officially licensed real estate agent, the real hustle begins. Luckily, each necessary task and learned skill can be divided up into distinct, time-oriented sections.
Months 1-2: Building a Solid Business Foundation
As with all new endeavors, there will be a lot to learn during your initial months in the real estate business. While you’re still getting your bearings, you’ll need to devote time to the following activities:
1) Define your personal real estate brand.
Creating a worthwhile, relatable brand for your business is about more than just picking a logo or taking attractive head shots.
Your brand is value-driven, and it should communicate to your potential clients what sets you apart from so many other real estate agents in your market.
This could be anything from the niche you specialize in, to cultivating a reputation as an agent who goes above and beyond for buyers and sellers.
2) Invest heavily in your real estate website.
Hopefully, you’ve heard too many times to count that consistently updating the content and pages of your real estate website is essential to the health of your business. This advice is doubly true at the start of your career as a beginner agent.
Some important questions to think through as you start building your website:
- Why are you in the business?
- What does it feel like to work with you?
- How do you fit into the market?
- Why should a buyer or seller work with you?
Remember: Your website is an online business card, and it’s often the first way buyers and sellers will discover the services you offer.
Keeping your site up to date and running smoothly should always be a priority, no matter how many months or years you’ve had your license.
If you want to learn how to turn your website into a lead generating hub, dedicating yourself to updating it regularly is a must.
3) Draw up a budget … and stick to it.
As a new real estate agent, you are running a business — and every business involves accounting.
While it’s not the most fun part of the job, setting a budget and tracking your expenses is an important step in building a profitable operation. In the first few months, you may earn substantially less income than you expected (or than you’ve grown used to in your previous profession). That’s where developing a plan for your money can be a lifesaver.
As you put together a spreadsheet, be sure to account for the following expenses:
- Marketing and advertising materials
- Transportation and insurance
- Multiple Listing Service (MLS) fees
- Real estate technology tools
When in doubt, overestimate your expenses while underestimating your income so there are no unpleasant surprises.
4) Find an experienced agent to shadow.
When you begin your journey as a beginner real estate agent, it’s important to realize that you’re not alone.
There are many agents that have come before you, and learning from their mistakes is one of the best ways to avoid making them yourself. Many successful agents and brokers advise establishing a relationship with an experienced mentor or hiring a seasoned coach.
Think about it this way: If you have any doubts about closing deals, building relationships with clients, or investing in advertising programs, the right adviser will be able to rattle off answers to those questions almost without thinking. And if you’re lucky, they’ll be able to easily recall their early days in the business and empathize with your experiences.
Pro Tip: You may be tempted to ask a top performer (someone who’s made REAL Trends’ “The Thousand” or REALTOR® Magazine’s “30 Under 30”) to be your mentor. However, veteran real estate agent Pat Hiban suggests a slightly different approach. Pat advises contacting a recent rookie of the year, rather than all star agent, and emulating what that rookie did to find success.
Listen to the entire conversation between Hiban and the Placester team in our Marketing Genius Podcast episode.
Months 3-4: Get the word out.
You may not think you have any leads to start nurturing, but every single person you’ve ever networked or worked with in the past is an opportunity to get the word out about your services.
1) Start with your existing contacts.
To build a contact list from people you already know (what we in the biz call the “sphere of influence”), follow these basic steps:
- Identify all the ways you have built connections with people. This could be LinkedIn, Facebook, Gmail, and even business cards you have collected.
- Export a contact list from each of these accounts.
- Combine all the contacts into a simple .csv file with first name, last name, and email address. If you have business cards, manually enter this information.
Once you have an initial email list built out, we suggest sending out an introductory message to gauge interest and spread the word that you’re looking for referrals before sending out any automated emails (more on this in the “Months 5-9” section below).
2) Keep track of your communications.
No matter how many leads you have at the moment, or how many you hope to generate in the future, it’s important to note that every contact needs to be organized systematically so no one is neglected or contacted too frequently.
As you begin building contact lists and attracting online leads through your website, it shouldn’t be a question of if you’ll use a customer relationship management system in your business, only when.
3) Connect with local business owners and begin networking with potential customers
If you haven’t realized it already, real estate is a constant balancing act. While you’re getting a handle on your online communication strategy, you should also be spending time on in-person relationship building.
As a new real estate agent, you can’t expect business to come to you. You must be proactive in seeking out leads to nurture.
Here are a few avenues to pursue:
- Introduce yourself to local business owners
- Mingle with locals at community events
- Network at popular places (e.g. the market)
One important thing to note: People can detect a fake a mile away. Rather than being pushy and throwing your business card around, approach those you meet with curiosity and interest.
While you form new business connections with your neighbors, you’ll also get the chance to increase your market expertise.
That way, when you’re fielding questions from your first relocating family, you’ll be able to point them in the direction of the best grocery stores and schools.
Months 5-9: Use email as a lead nurture tool.
Hopefully, by this point, you’ve been able to gather a handful of real estate leads that you’re beginning to nurture and categorize. Chances are, they’ve come to you from different sources.
Your website, of course, but maybe you’ve been lucky enough to snag a referral or network successfully at open houses.
If you haven’t tried out email marketing as a way to generate, nurture and convert leads, there’s a lot of potential for success.
Here are just a few kinds of emails that will get you in front of buyers and sellers and keep you top of mind in between sales:
- Send a weekly or monthly newsletter
- Share your open house schedule
- Provide a roundup of local listings
For additional ideas and examples on how to keep your leads warm, check out our visual guide to drip email marketing.
Months 10-12: Experiment with Facebook ads and SEO.
You’re in the home stretch of your first year as a real estate agent! We’re willing to bet you may have stumbled a few times, learned a lot of lessons you won’t forget, and are on your way to growing your business.
Now that using your website as a lead generation tool has become second nature, it’s a great time to explore a couple other opportunities to grow your contact list:
Take advantage of local Google searches.
SEO is definitely a topic of interest and debate for people who have the goal of ranking high in Google search results. Local SEO is especially important to agents with physical businesses, and aligning any keywords present in your website’s content with the searches your leads are performing makes it more likely your name will be found.
If you want your website to be seen, understanding how search engines work is necessary. Moz has a great, comprehensive guide to learning SEO to help you get started.
In case you’re feeling overwhelmed, here are the top benefits to becoming an SEO pro:
- Keyword research just might be the most overlooked part of SEO. Taking the time to identify keywords your leads search for the most and which ones you use in your content will help you rank higher.
- Links are a great way to improve your organic traffic. Whether you’re increasing your presence through outbound links or sharing content on someone else’s website, the more prospects are clicking, the more website visitors you’ll attract.
Make the most of social media and Facebook ads.
Setting up an advertising campaign can do wonders for your lead generation and traffic to your site. Facebook ads give businesses and marketers several advantages:
- Ads can be targeted to specific groups of potential customers
- They’re cost-effective means of getting high-quality prospects
- They can help you broaden your reach to your buyer personas
Using the Facebook Pixel on your website to track activity is beneficial because of its “set it and forget it” functionality.
With the Facebook Pixel, people who visit your site but don’t complete an action (like a map search or request for a home valuation) can be automatically retargeted with a Facebook ad.
This way, you can stay in front of site visitors who have shown an interest in your services, but haven’t become clients yet.
Stay focused and hungry in your first year.
In 2014, the National Association of REALTORS reported 87% of all new agents fail after five years in the industry.
Your first year as a new real estate agent is critical to your long-term success, as it is the time to build the foundation for your brand and your relationships within your community.
Following the steps we’ve outlined above will put you ahead of the game in the long run.
Want to learn even more about how to thrive during your first year in the industry? Be sure to check out our exclusive guide for beginner real estate agents!
Published on August 29, 2017
Written by Elizabeth Christensen