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The Simple Ingredients of Building a Successful Real Estate Business

You. I know what you want. You want the same things in life as I do. As all of us do.To start or build a real estate business that you find purpose in. You want to be happy. To feel in control. To make progress. To earn enough money to fuel a lifestyle that leaves you time for growth and the people you love. But deep down…you can feel it all the way to your bone marrow that you’re not on a sustainable path to get there.

There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth.

Leo Tolstoy

Doing The RIGHT Work (to Build a Successful Real Estate Business)

What if you are being lied to? What if the quick-fix culture in our industry, shilling everything from worthless technology, social media nonsense, and coaching from people who have never done anything, were all orchestrated distractions to suck money out of your wallet and kept you in an endless unwinnable loop that f*cks up your focus from what is truly important in life? What if you didn’t need any of them...

What if the true path to getting what you want was already inside you. What if it was about keeping things simple at the granular level. And what if focusing on the smallest of things in your day - over and over - made the biggest impact and best things happen in your business and life.

What if it was simply about doing the right work... It is about that. And I’ll prove it.

“There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth.” ― Leo Tolstoy

Before we get into any of that - I’d like to start by sharing a story about a two real estate agents. They started the same year. They were both in early 20s and both in a city that was new to them.

Tale of Two Real Estate Agents

Their first year, they both sold about 20 homes - which is not too shabby for not having much of a base of people they knew and relying on door knocking and open houses.

Starting in the 2nd year, they changed approaches. The first agent became fascinated with marketing, lead generation, internet technology, and other mass produced automation that he felt allowed him to ‘work smarter’. The second agent just knocked on doors and became involved in the community he lived.

Over the first few years, agent 1 got out to a quicker start - but both agents made progress and earned a living.

The first agent got so good at marketing and their CRM - he became a consultant to a nationally known real estate coach, did consulting for a national franchise and was even recruited by an Internet company. The second agent didn’t even have a website….he just knocked on doors, met people, remembered people, and got more deeply involved in the community.

After about 10 years in business, they were both doing in excess of 50 transactions a year. The contrast was, the first agent, was 90% new business from marketing.

Then the Great Recession hit... The first agent doubled his marketing budget - blanketing the TV, print and the web. It didn’t matter. His production dropped like a rock.

The second agent did the simple things, day in and day out. His production stayed steady and he has never done less than 60 transactions in a year since his 5th year in real estate - almost all coming from his CRM database of people. This year, he’ll do over 100.

The first agent was me. I failed. But I learned...

The Obstacle is The Way (to Mastery)

I learned as novices developing any skill or art, whether learning to play the violin or build a real estate business, is to quickly move past the fundamentals and on to more elaborate, more sophisticated movements, skills, or techniques. As agents, we adorn ourselves in gadgets, technology, marketing, lead generation, jargon and vision boards. We succumb to ‘magic’ offered by consultants, speakers, coaches who have never put into practice or earned a living (let alone build a life) using the tactics they themselves teach.

This compulsion is the novice’s curse—the rush to growth, to originality and risk. To move faster. To get more. But, if you’ve ever had the opportunity to be taught by the very best in any field, you’ve likely been surprised at how simple, how fundamental, how basic the instruction was. Building a real estate business is no different.

The other indisputable fact I learned is there are two types of Real Estate Agents:

Type 1: Those that have the daily habits and infrastructure to build a scalable business.

Type 2: Those that have the habits and infrastructure to own nothing more than a job. Forever.

They both may earn a lot of money. But the contrasts between the enjoyment, contentment and peace in their lives are like night and day. Only one is sustainable. Only one will fuel the life you want.

Which leaves us with the most important question to ask ourselves. If we’re not taking a sustainable approach to building a business so we can enjoy life - what’s the point?

Being an agent is wonderful and it’s an important role in society. It’s one of the few industries left that allows us to be independent and not be a cog in someone else’s wheel. We have a beautiful career opportunity and if approached with the right habits... will give us everything we ever wanted.

But the Craft of Real Estate is hard. We’re busy. We are the CEOs, the marketing department, the lead follow up rep, the accountants, the support team. Sometimes, we’re overwhelmed.

And when we’re pushed to these ‘red-line’ limits - we look for any help we can get to alleviate the stress...and often that comes in shortcuts. And sometimes these shortcuts appear to work. Like a diet-pill….they help us accomplish a short term goal. But in the long term - they’re an illusion, a heartbreaking mirage...they hurt us. The life you want is the by-product of preparation at the granular level.

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” 

 Vincent Van Gogh

No Wrinkles...

The most valuable asset to any small business is people. And indeed, the ONLY WAY for a real estate agent to build a ACTUAL BUSINESS that is predictable and dependable is a portfolio of people you have a relationship with. But there are fundamentals below the surface of ‘people and relationships’ that the majority of agents, brokers, coaches and consultants overlook.

In 1948 John Wooden became coach of the UCLA Men's Basketball team. On the first day of practice he walked into the locker room. The team of 18-22 year old men surrounding him, Coach Wooden asked everyone to take off their shoes and socks so they can practice putting them on.

Everyone just looked around at each other. Smiled. Laughed. Putting on their shoes and socks was not something new to these young men. Surely the new coach was joking. He was not. Coach Wooden said:

"Now pull your sock up in the back, pull it up real good, real strong. Now run your hand around the little toe area ... make sure there are no wrinkles and then pull it back up. Check the heel area. We don't want any sign of a wrinkle about it ... The wrinkle will be sure you get blisters, and those blisters are going to make you lose playing time, and if you're good enough, your loss of playing time might get the coach fired."

Can any of you relate to small things affecting your performance? What about the time you had the best intentions to have a productive week or start a new exercise program or start eating healthy - and all it takes is one bad night’s sleep to throw you off track and completely lose momentum.

By the way. John Wooden went on to win 10 national championships and become of the most revered coaches in US history. Indeed, small things are everything.

The Little, Unseen, Simple Things Matter

What if the penalty of failure for not accomplishing the life you and I both want... is death. For some, it is precisely that.

Navy SEALS are super-humans. They do things that are amazing. They must be the best in the world in a myriad of skills. They must be the masters of air, sea and land. Weaponry. Bombs. Skydiving. Psychology. Human nature. The list goes on.

But their stakes are higher than ours. If they don’t accomplish a mission - people die.

A few months ago I started studying under former Navy SEAL commander Mark Divine. This man is not an ordinary man. For starters he’s 6-4” and solid muscle. His nickname when he was a SEAL was “cyborg”. He’s all physical characteristics we’d envision a Navy SEAL should have. But there is depth below the surface...

Now retired, he runs a company called SEALfit which trains civilians the physical, mental, and even spiritual aspects of being a SEAL and they even put on a civilian form of the famous Navy SEAL ‘Hell Week’ which I am reluctantly planning on participating in.

You may assume that Navy SEALS spend all day learning how to blow things up - but that couldn’t be further from the truth. You can’t just be a gifted athletic person who is tough and become a SEAL. It’s not the star college athletes that make it. It’s not the guy with 20” biceps. They are an intellectual bunch. There is depth to these human beings. They study and borrow disciplines rooted from ancient cultures to tap into areas of the mind that most of us don’t know exist to push themselves to places that break most people. They are better at life than you and me. But why?

They practice the smallest of details of life over and over everyday.

Like John Wooden’s practicing of putting on socks. They focus on the smallest of fundamentals.


Breathing is the basis of life. If we don’t breathe...we’re dead. If we don’t breathe the right way...our thinking and actions are compromised. When people don’t breathe correctly, they make mistakes. They override systems. They disregard procedures, ignore rules. They deviate from the plan and the mission. So Navy SEALS practice breathing. Everyday. It’s one of the fundamentals they practice over and over again.

Our brains evolved over tens of thousands of years. And still to this day, we are biologically wired in primitive ways - that once useful - now get in the way of evolving our state. Fight or Flight is one of those mechanisms that once useful if crossing paths with a tiger - now, with dangers removed, it harms our ability to think and act in the moment for the benefit of the long term. If we’re put in a stressful environment - like a transaction about to fall out of escrow - something happens to us physically. Our breathing becomes shallowed and fast. It’s meant to create an alert state and heightened awareness to make one of two choices….do I fight - or RUN. The problem is - a lot of people are walking around in a constant state of fight or flight...because they don’t practice their breathing.

When you’re a Navy SEAL - running is not an option. They need all of their faculties to think through options in the most stressful of circumstances. They must remain calm regardless of what chaos is exploding around them. And the only way to remain calm and be able to think clearly and rationally is breathing (Learn how to box-breathe).

So they practice…

This basic, oft-overlooked, fundamental is one the reasons they’re the most elite forces on the planet. They practice and never deviate from the basics. If they don’t - you shouldn’t either. Practice the smallest things everyday. The best creators of our time always do.

We Are the Sum of Our Days

“Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.” 


The smallest things add up to become big things. Mastering the little things in your day is everything. It’s more important than your market conditions. Than your website. Than your social media strategy. Than your real estate marketing plan. Your day….will add up to become your life. For all of us. It’s all we have.

A study was done about the daily habits of some of the worlds greatest contributors to the world in the last 400 years. They all had a plan for their day. Benjamin Franklin. Beethoven. Charles Dickens. Mozart. They mastered their day.

When they eat, exercise, socialize, work, etc. They set aside times for the most important things to get done….and did them daily. Because it’s all connected, it all adds up and paints the reality you are living today.

“Would you have a great empire? Rule over yourself.”

Publilius Syrus

In the right hands, your day can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of limited resources — a solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies. If the goal is building a sustainable real estate business, so you’re enjoying life and growing as an individual every step of the way - what should your day look like?

Your Day...Everyday:Work-Play-Fit-Push.png

  • Work. Meet 3 new people a day. Call 10 people in your People Portfolio and have a real conversation. Let them know you’re grateful for them. Listen to them and what is going on in their life and what they’re passionate about. Calling 10 people on the phone a day and having a conversation about life - is more rewarding and effective than sending out 10k emails of canned bullshit.

  • Play. Do something fun Everyday. Laugh. Use your body. Go on a bike ride. Run fast. Skip. Play a game. Find the joy in little things.

  • Fit. Your health and fitness matters. You have one vehicle to get through life with. Take care of it. Exercise will improve every area of your life. Plus it makes sex better and you’ll make more money - If THAT isn’t reason enough, I just don’t know what to say.

  • Push. You have to keep growing. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Daily. Make that call you’ve been putting off. Learn something new. Do not become stagnant. Your People Portfolio demands that you keep growing (otherwise, why would they want a continued relationship with you?)

None of these things cost you money. You don’t need a guru to get started. You have all the tools. Keep things simple. Master your day before anything else and the weeks, months, years will take care of themselves. I promise if you get these ingredients right. And commit to them everyday - you’ll have the life you’ve always wanted. Indeed, a day is a lifetime.

Or, if you want to take the approach I did - learning the hard way - and spend a decade of your life ignoring the fundamentals - go for it. But at least I’ve taught you how to put on your socks and gotten you a few breathes closer to becoming a Navy Seal.



PS: If you haven't read REAL yet - you can get a copy of the Best Book in Real Estate


Dave Crumby

Dave is the founder and CEO of Realvolve, a state-of-the-art customer relationship management (CRM) platform built expressly for real estate agents. Dave began his real estate career as an agent in 1996. Dave authored in 2013 the book titled 'REAL: A Path to Passion, Purpose and Profits in Real Estate’ that has since become a best seller. The book features Dave's experience and the wisdom of other successful real estate leaders, such as the CEOs of Zillow, Trulia, Better Homes and Gardens, and many others.


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