Work Less, Earn More: Setting Boundaries That Stick

A funny thing happened when Rob Henderson started working less: He made more money!

Henderson used to work nights and weekends — whenever his clients needed him. Today, he works a fixed schedule and sets boundaries with every client. He’s happier, more energized, and more successful than ever.

“My last 10 years have been the most successful for me,” Henderson says.

In this week’s episode of The Walkthrough, you’ll learn the specific things he says to every client to set their expectations from day one. Henderson also explains how far he’s willing to go to stick to those expectations — even if it means letting a client walk away and choose another agent.

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If you enjoy this episode, please subscribe to get future episodes delivered automatically: Apple Podcasts/iTunes | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

Links and Show Notes

Full Transcript

(SPEAKER: Matt McGee, Host) Imagine this: you’re a veteran real estate agent with a successful book of business. You have good connections around town and people know your name. And then … you move across the country. You don’t know anybody in your new town. No friends, no contacts, no one in your database lives where you now work.

What do you do?

I bet you work your you-know-what off. You make yourself available to anyone at any time because you’re basically starting from scratch and you need the business.

That’s what Rob Henderson did 20-plus years ago, when he moved from Rhode Island to Colorado Springs, Colorado. He did all the open houses and took all the floor duty he could. Rob says he worked seven days a week and probably 10 to 12 hours a day. He grew his business over the years, but the long hours didn’t change. And then, when the market crashed, 12 to 13 years ago, Rob decided he had had enough. It was time to run his business and not let the business run him.

Since then, Rob has been working a fixed schedule. He has time for family and friends. He has a healthy work-life balance and get this, it hasn’t hurt his business one bit. In fact, he’s doing more business today than ever, even though he’s working fewer hours.

Today, Rob is gonna tell us exactly how he made it happen, how he changed the way he works, took back his personal life, and still managed to grow his business.

This is The Walkthrough.

(INTRO MUSIC)

Hey, everyone, I’m Matt McGee, editor of HomeLight’s Agent Resource Center and your host every week here on The Walkthrough. This is the show where you’ll learn what’s working right now from the best real estate agents and industry experts in the country. At HomeLight, we believe in real estate agents. That’s why we created The Walkthrough. We’re on a journey to find out how great real estate agents grow their business, stand out from the crowd, and become irreplaceable.

You can contribute to the show or just contact me in two ways. Leave a message for me at 415-322-3328. That’s for voicemails or you can send an email to walkthrough [at] homelight.com. I do read and hear all the messages that come in. So, please get in touch anytime.

There’s an interesting dichotomy in real estate. Some agents take the approach that they need to be available around the clock, 24/7, for their clients. This is, after all, probably the biggest and most stressful purchase of their clients’ lives. Other agents have a different approach. They’ve decided to prioritize family or personal time. They don’t want to be at their client’s beck-and-call at all hours of the day.

Now, I wanna emphasize before we go any further that there’s no judgment here, okay? I don’t think, and HomeLight doesn’t think, that one approach is automatically better than the other. As I’ve said before on the show, you’re a professional, and you get to choose the business model that works best for you.

Rob Henderson has chosen the business model that includes personal and professional boundaries, and it’s working for him. In a typical year, he closes 45 to 50 transactions and does $15 to $17 million dollars in sales volume. And that is all as a solo agent. Rob tells clients that he has a fixed schedule, 8:00 am to 6:00 pm during the week, 9:00 to 1:00 on Saturdays, and then he’s off on Sundays. Now, there are exceptions to that, as Rob will explain, but those are the rules that he gives new clients on day one, and he also makes them agree to the rules in writing.

In today’s conversation, listen for Rob to talk about

  • how he expected a big battle the first time he set boundaries, and then what actually happened
  • why you have to stick with it and — this is important — be willing to let some clients walk away
  • Rob also tells us the exact wording that he uses to explain his boundaries to new clients

After we talk with Rob, I’ll do the takeaways segment. And then at the very end of the show, I have some tips for anyone who wants to be a guest on a future episode of The Walkthrough.

But first, if you’re tired of working nights and weekends, and want some work-life balance, this is the episode for you. I think you’ll get a lot out of it.

Rob didn’t always run his business with boundaries in place. He credits Larry Kendall’s Ninja Selling system for inspiring the change, a change that happened about 12 to 13 years ago during the housing crisis.

(BEGIN CONVERSATION)

Rob: There was no business. I mean, it was… And frankly, the business that was out there, it was doing short sales and foreclosures. And at some point, that gets to you. It’s just not a good… You know, it’s a dark side of the real estate business. So, it was either I’m gonna have to change the way that I think and that I do things because I didn’t think the market was gonna change. Thankfully it did. But I’m either gonna have to reinvent myself or go down a different path.

So, it was a really dark time. It was a dark time for our economy, for the banking industry, real estate, I mean, anything that was associated with the housing market was a struggle. So I needed to get into a positive mindset and take my life over again.

Matt: And so, you probably had very little work-life balance. And so, setting up these boundaries, giving yourself a schedule, and then communicating that to client was sort of the first step I guess in sort of, like, reclaiming your life and the balance between business and personal?

Rob: Yeah, I mean, at that time… So I’ll go back to that exact time period when I took this. I had a seven-year-old daughter, and I wasn’t seeing her. And that bothered me a lot. You know, and at that age, I mean, when they’re younger, obviously, it’s fantastic. But at that age, she’s starting to do things. She has been and still is an Irish dancer, and I was missing competitions and things that she was doing. And I couldn’t continue to do that. I felt I was failing as a husband and as a father.

Matt: I have a daughter as well. And that age is a pretty magical time for a daughter, at least it certainly was for me and it sounds like it was for you. So, right. So you’re missing this family sort of stuff. So that is sort of what compelled you to start setting these boundaries.

Let’s talk about how this plays out in your real estate life right now. How and when do you communicate these boundaries to clients? I mean, it sounds like something that you have to put in front of them, like, right at the beginning.

Rob: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, if you’re not setting expectations with your clients, especially for something like this, but lots of things, then you’re gonna get pushback on it. And it’s gonna be an epic fail. And, you know, truth be told, when I started to implement this, it took me a little while to get my conversations right, to get the proper marketing material ready, and to present it, and to learn how to sell it to somebody. And maybe selling is not the right word, but to communicate it properly to somebody, “Hey, this is how I do things.” And by the way, not just say, “This is what I do,” but spin it as to why it is actually a benefit to them, the buyer or to the seller. So the message has to be very clear, it has to be concise.

So, I think probably the biggest thing that helped me was creating a document that I call Buyers and Sellers Expectations, and they’re separate for each one of those sides of the transaction, that clearly marks out all the things that I expect of them and what they should expect from me. And when you have things concise like that, well, it’s hard to argue.

Now, there were people over the years that I have not been able to work with because of these boundaries. And that’s probably one of the most difficult things is to actually implement this and to stick to your guns. Because I think there is a natural, “Oh, well, maybe I can go do this. Or oh, okay, I got a little time, maybe I should do that and help them out.” But once again, you have very clear and concise guidelines and rules. Folks are really respectful of that. And the ones that aren’t, you don’t wanna work with. So my experience on this has been just fantastic from that perspective, once it’s implemented, but it’s scary to implement. I remember the first time I did.

Matt: When you first implement this, and a potential, you know, buyer or seller is seeing this, you said it’s in these documents that you create. And you’re putting this in place. What are you feeling and what is the reaction you’re getting from them?

Rob: You know, it was funny, I think that we tend to put things in our head, you know, you have these conversations about before you go into an event, whatever it would be, and you think, “Oh, my gosh, this is what’s gonna happen.” But the first time I implemented it, they were like, “Oh, that’s great.” It was actually in my head that it was gonna be this big battle. And actually, the people were like, “Oh, I wondered how you worked. And I’m glad that you told us that.” So I think that there’s always a conversation that is happening on the other side of the table with you that you’re not aware of, that it just may be cognitive that people are mostly respectful of you. So, when you set these guidelines for them, and then you say, “Here’s my guidelines back,” they actually enjoyed it. So it was funny.

I think at first I was like, “Oh, people are gonna hate this.” Actually, people embraced it. It was exactly the opposite of what I thought it was gonna be. And, you know, as soon as I got that, like, to me, it was a free pass. I’m like, “Okay, I’m in. And I’m just gonna do this.”

And like I said, over the years, they’ve probably been several people that I’ve met with. And one, last year, in particular, this person was a very driven New York City individual relocating out here and she was a referral to me, so it was a little hard, but we had our conversations and she was like, “Nope, that’s not gonna work for me. I need somebody that I can call at 10:00 at night.” And I said, “That’s not me.”

Matt: So you just have to be okay with letting that person walk away.

Rob: I would have hated her. You know, I’m serious. And I’m not trying to be mean about that. But that would have been… If I had taken that on, A, it was a disservice to her. And I wasn’t gonna try to change her expectations as to, you know, how somebody could work with her. And I said, “I wish you the best. I’m sure somebody out there can help you the way that you want it done.” And, you know, we shook hands. And that was it. I called the referring client and said, “Hey, I met with your mom and I appreciate the referral, but it’s not gonna work for us. You know, but thanks again.” And that was it. That was the end of it.

So, yeah, you have to be okay with that. And if I had taken that on, it would have just been such a gut check for me throughout that process, and I would have been disappointed with myself.

Matt: Right. Yeah, no, that makes sense. You mentioned a few minutes ago that you have the documents, the buyer expectations, the seller expectations. What do you say in there? Like, is it, like, a full page? Is it just, like, a couple of sent…? Like, what does that look like? Walk me through that.

Rob: So the seller’s expectation page has a lot of different things in it. And I always… When I set this up, I talked to people about, after we leave, there’re gonna be conversations that occur in your head or questions that are gonna pop up. And you’re gonna go, “Oh, I wonder this?” Well, it’s in this expectations document. So, under my availability, which it’s on the last page. I’ll just read it to you, “I’m available during the following business hours, Monday through Friday 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, Saturdays, in this one, I have 9:00 to 2:00, and Sundays, I am not available. My evenings and weekends are filled with family obligations, volunteering, and social functions. I do the best to accommodate evening requests, but please know that those appointments are limited on a very limited basis. Always feel free to call or text. If you happen to call after business hours, I will respond the next business day.” Then I have a little note in here that, “When working on critical matters, offers, deadlines of those natures, these rules do not apply.” But I go through it with them. I don’t just let them read that. I go through them with them. I explain it. By the way, they sign it. So they understand.

Matt: And the reaction, I mean, I love the way you lay that out too. And you sort of got into the next topic that I wanted to get into is that you do need to make exceptions. Because when you are in a negotiating position, if you are not available, I mean, you could be costing your clients the chance to get the house they want or the chance to sell the house that they need to sell. So, obviously, then you’re saying that you have this schedule, but exceptions will be made when a transaction gets to that stage where it’s necessary.

Rob: And I have again a responsibility of fiduciary to them to make sure that I am doing my job. So, I cannot let those guidelines and those rules that I have or expectations apply when it comes to my real job, which is to get that family into that property. So I take that part very seriously, but it makes that all the more palatable because I’m not doing that for everybody. I don’t have a seller call me up and say, at 9:00 at night, “Hey, Rob, we’re out of flyers.” If they do, I’m not answering my phone. But it takes the urgent stuff and says this is what I’m gonna focus on. But if it’s not essential, it’s gonna get done the next day. Again, having this candid conversation with them is really critical.

Matt: I mean, do they…? If somebody calls at 9:00 about the flyers or something that is non-essential, do they get bent out of shape if you don’t pick up the phone?

Rob: No, because I’ve set this expectation. In fact, I will tell you this, this is how well I have them trained. I say this, when I do pick the phone up, they… because I’ll always…you know, Mr. Smith, and I wanted to talk to him anyway, “How are you guys doing?” I’m like, “Oh, we didn’t expect you to answer your call. We were just gonna leave a message.” That’s how powerful this is.

Matt: I love…

Rob: It is my prerogative to answer the phone, especially, you know, if it’s a client/friend that I’m working with, and I answer the phone and they go, “Oh, I didn’t…” In fact, that’s the answer I get often is, “Oh, I didn’t expect you to answer the call, I was just gonna leave a message.” It’s like, “Oh, no, I want to talk to you, how things going?” And then you find out what it is. Because I am a person and I enjoy the people I’m working with because we have these expectations that are realistic, and therefore with boundaries, are more respectful of that.

Matt: You have these boundaries and they’ve already agreed to them, not only have they agreed to them, they have signed this in the document. And so, it becomes a more powerful thing that way.

Rob: Right. Truth be told, I’ve had circumstances where people have called up and said, “Well, I thought you were gonna answer the call.” And I’m like, “Well remember that thing, here’s what we went through. Do you want me to review it with you?” And then, again, almost 100% of the time, if not 100% of time, they say, “Oh, that’s right. I’m sorry. Yeah, I can talk to you tomorrow.” They get in the moment. I mean, you know, this is a stressful time for people. And they’re gonna break the rules. So occasionally, you just have to do a little rain check on them and make sure that they’re okay, and that you get them back in line. But a few exceptions have I had people that have pushed back on it.

And this is really, again, allowed me to be, you know, a better real estate agent. Because with those boundaries, I’m not working 24/7 in my head. You know, I can go out and do the things that I’d like to do. People have to do that to stay fresh. This is a hard business. And we work hard when we’re working. And if you do not have the ability to be able to free yourself from this, and let go without… You know, we’re all doing 50 things at once all the time. So when I’m at home, I’m watching my favorite show, or I’m reading, or my wife and I are playing cards, or I’m out in the yard, doing yard work, whatever it is, and I’m not worried that my phone is buzzing off the hook.

(Announcer: Hi, everyone, if you’re enjoying “The Walkthrough,” we’d appreciate it if you’d tell the real estate agents in your network about us. Even more, please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. Your feedback helps us get better and, in some cases, can also help new listeners find and hear us. And when we get around to having you on the show, the more listeners the better, right?)

Matt: And you mentioned earlier that you present this as not just something that you need and beneficial to you as a real estate agent, but beneficial to the client as well. Is that how you present it as a benefit to them, that you are not going to be exhausted? You’re not going to be overworked? You’re not going to be, you know, distracted by 8 million things going on?

Rob: Yeah, absolutely. It’s pretty easy when I talk to people about this because I get pretty excited about it. And I explain to them, it’s not that I don’t want to be working with them all the time, but I physically can’t. Mentally, I can’t. So if you want me at my best and you’re hiring me to do my best, then in order to do that, I need to have my downtime, to be able to recover and recoup so that I can fight the fight for you guys. And when I talk it, I mean…from the heart, this is how it works. And it’s really hard to argue. It can be on a piece of paper all day long, but when they see it my eyes and hear my enthusiasm … I love my job. Matt, I really love what I do. And I think that if I had not made these changes, I wouldn’t be on the phone with you today.

Matt: I think probably there’s a sense that this is something that only new agents struggle with because as a new agent, you’re, like, really desperate for the sale. But in my experience, and maybe tell me if you agree, this is something that agents at all levels of success struggle with.

Rob: Absolutely. I was doing this, you know, at year… so that would have been year 22 or 23 for me. So, yeah, I think you can’t change this unless you have a plan to change it. I think you fall into traps and you think that you have to do things a set way.

There are a number of other pieces that go with this that are kind of beyond this conversation. But, you know, some of this is having a business plan and having things planned out. So my marketing for the year is all planned out. I have events for my clients that are all planned out. All this stuff is already in place. And I’ve done that, you know, in the slower time, in, you know, December, January time period. So again, my work-life balance is, “Oh, I wonder what I should be doing right now?” Well, I don’t do that. I’ve got a really good business plan in place, as well as the seller’s expectations and the buyer’s expectations.

So between all those things, I manage the business that I run, I’m not run by it. And I think most agents, and I can tell you, I mean, I talk to a lot of agents, I interact with people all the time, and it looks like their business is running them, they’re not running the business. And we have, as an independent contractor, or as a corporation, or however you run your real estate business, you’ve gotta run it differently to be able to do this.

So, work-life balance is a part of it. Again, you have to have fun. And frankly, this is gonna sound a little silly, you have to plan for those things. So if you’re out of control, and your business is running, you’ll never find time to do it. And sadly, you know, there are many industries that have high divorce rates or we, as an industry, can lose sight of our family and if you have this plan in place, it just helps you with that balance.

Matt: Rob, is this easy to do? Like, do you ever find yourself after 6:00 pm on a weeknight, like, feeling like you’re missing out or tempted to, you know, pick up the phone and just make a couple more calls before you call it a day?

Rob: So, again, I’ll say my day is planned. So, this morning, I had to do some errands early. I did a quick workout. I had a phone meeting that I had just before this. I have a luncheon meeting that I’m going to after this. I have another meeting in the afternoon then I make phone calls after I come back from the office, and then I’m done. So the answer is generally no. I don’t miss it because I’m efficient with the time that I’m here.

I gotta say this. The other piece of this that’s really critical is you have to understand how to manage your time when you’re working. I do a set amount of phone calls every day. I do a set of… I do thank you cards every day. I do a certain amount of business follow up. Wednesdays are customer service call days. So, when you have a schedule, you use your time more efficiently. So, to me, I’m not using my time inefficiently, and therefore, “Oh, I didn’t get that done. Now I’ve gotta spend more time doing it.” And it’s about efficiency.

Matt: When you have things like you mentioned the business plan, it sounds like you’re doing a version or, you know, very specifically doing time blocking. You are very organized about that. When you have all those things in place in your business, it frees you up to put a schedule in place.

Rob: Absolutely. And I think you have to… All these things have to come together in order for you to be successful with this. Because if I say 8:00 to 6:00, and I’m not getting things done that I needed to get done, you know, there is the earning aspect of your business, there’s the management aspect of your business, and there’s the development piece. And every day, I’ve got some facet of that in there to make sure that I am doing everything that’s necessary to continue to grow my business and to keep it successful. So, I don’t think you can do one without the other. And that’s kind of an important piece of this is that you have to have a master plan for all of this to work. I think too often real estate agents don’t do that.

Matt: I think I have a feeling that there’s probably some folks listening right now that are thinking to themselves, “If I put a schedule in place, and I am only available until 6:00 in the evening or 7:00 in the evening, or whatever,” they might be thinking, “what about the new leads that I’m going to miss out on as buyers and sellers are at their house in the evening, right, doing their own research, and they’re gonna pick up the phone and call an agent.” And if they don’t reach you, they’re gonna move on to the next agent. So what would you say to that?

Rob: You know what? I mean, that’s a reality of the world that we’re in. There is no doubt that that can occur. And I’m sure it does. The other piece of this, I think, that’s critical is that the majority of what I am doing is fostered from past clients. So, one person gives me a name, that person gives me a name, the other person gives me another name. And you know, it’s exponential growth in that piece of it. So, I am not chasing the internet lead. Now I do Adwerx. I do other types of marketing, I do social media marketing. And that is a part of what I do. But the majority of the business is from past clients. And if you are able to hunker down and really give incredible value to the clients that you’ve worked with in the past, that will allow you to be working with people that you have better control over versus the internet. So, that’s a different… And I’d be happy to talk about that in another topic.

Matt: If you’re concerned about when the phone is going to ring next for your next lead, then you may not be in position to set yourself up on a fixed schedule like this.

Rob: Yeah, and I’m gonna use your organization as an example. I’m a HomeLight agent. And I love HomeLight. And I love the quality of the business that you provide. Most of that, by the way, for whatever reason seems to come to me in the morning. So, I rarely see much come through late at night, but I’m up early. And, you know, so if I get a call in from the lead source at 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning, I’m all over that. I think it works.

I think people that are at home and they’re doing that stuff, and fostering those ideas at night, maybe that business is out there. I have been a Zillow agent previously, I don’t do it anymore. I felt it was unfruitful and I’m not trying to knock any business model. It just didn’t work for me because it was too random. It was the Sundays and it was Saturday evenings. I mean, it was just times that I looked at it and went, “That’s just not for me.” And I tried it for a bit and I stopped it in the fall of last year. So, you know, everybody has a different business model. I think what I can also tell you is maybe you foster — this is an idea is maybe your day off isn’t Saturday, maybe it’s Wednesday, maybe your time off is from 8:00 in the morning until noon, and then you work from noon to 8:00. I don’t see any reason why that wouldn’t work as well. It’s just making sure that you have enough downtime for recovery.

Matt: Gotcha, that makes sense. I mean, you’re all in on the idea of setting boundaries and working on a schedule. Because if I were to sum up the conversation that we’ve had today, it’s been good both for personal and family life as well as for your business life. Is that correct?

Rob: Absolutely. My last 10 years have been the most successful for me. And I have to say it could be for a combination of reasons, but it’s because I’m energized, I’m positive when I meet with people. They like the message I’m giving them and I’m happy. And that isn’t a coincidence. Try this, give it a try. I think you’ll be surprised at how you feel after you have given it a shot. And don’t let your inner self talk yourself out of it. Because that’s what almost happened to me. And then I did it went, “Oh, that was easy.” So give it a shot, I think you will be a happier and more successful agent because of that.

(Speaker: Matt McGee, Host) I know that happens to me all the time. There are so many things you think are gonna be difficult until you actually do it. And that’s what happened with Rob, and learning to set boundaries with his clients.

Let’s do our takeaway segment. And then at the end of the show, I’ll share some tips about being a guest on The Walkthrough. Here are five things that jumped out at me during the conversation.

Number one, setting boundaries begins on day one of working with a new client, going over expectations. And Rob emphasized that this is a two-way street. It’s expectations for what the client can expect from Rob, as well as expectations that Rob expects from the client.

Number two, fix your mindset. Rob was prepared for a big battle when he started doing this. He thought his clients would hate that he had boundaries. But in almost all cases, he says, they understand and embrace it.

Number three, and this is really important, you have to be willing to let clients walk away and go somewhere else. He told that story of the client from New York, it was a referral, who expected him to be available at all hours of the day. Rob knew that would have made him miserable, so he wished her luck and invited her to use a different agent.

Number four, Rob obviously makes exceptions for critical things like offers and deadlines because you have a fiduciary duty to serve your clients. So, sometimes, that means negotiating a deal until 10:00 pm.

And number five, all of this works best in tandem with having a business plan, time blocking, and working efficiently when you’re working so you don’t have to keep working when you’re supposed to be off.

Okay, questions for Rob? Questions or feedback for me or HomeLight? You can leave me a voicemail anytime, the number is 415-322-3328 or just send an email, it’s walkthrough [at] homelight.com.

That’s all for this week. Thanks to Rob Henderson for joining us and thank you for listening.

My name is Matt McGee. Remember at HomeLight, we believe in real estate agents. That’s why we created “The Walkthrough.” We’re on a journey to find out how great real estate agents grow their business, stand out from the crowd, and become irreplaceable. Go out and safely sell some homes. We’ll talk to you again next week. Bye-bye.

(OUTRO MUSIC)

Hey again, everybody. One final note that I wanted to share separate from this week’s episode, and it’s about you being a guest on future episodes of The Walkthrough.

A lot of agents have been emailing to ask about joining me on the show, so I figured I’d try to answer that question on the show. When someone reaches out, I usually respond by asking this, “What is your superpower? What is your strength as an agent?” Think about it this way. If you were going to teach a 30-minute or a 60-minute class to the other agents on your team or at your brokerage, what would you teach them about?

Back in May, Melinda Elmer came on “The Walkthrough” and basically gave a class in how to put up big numbers as a small real estate team. That was Episode 14, if you missed it. A couple of weeks ago, in Episode 17, Aaron West, taught how to make sure you hire the right person for your team or your brokerage every time. And then last week, Abby Walters taught about how to build an unbeatable referral business.

So pretty much any topic is fair game. Give it some thought and get in touch. It’s the same contact info that you hear every week, 415-322-3328 is how you leave a voicemail or you can just send me an email, walkthrough [at] homelight.com.

So that’s all. Now, we’re really done for this week. I hope to hear from you soon and maybe have you on an upcoming episode. Thanks, everyone. Take care.

Header Image Source: (Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock)

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