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Building a business that can run without you



Buying a home is not a decision people make lightly. It often involves a long-term commitment with a price tag of hundreds of thousands of dollars—especially in hot housing markets, like Seattle. The process itself can be laborious, between financing, inspections, negotiations, and signing page after page of mortgage documents. 

Real estate agent Brad Davis understands this, having struggled to find a reasonable agent when he was buying his first home. Back then, he thought, “I think I could probably do this better”—and he has ever since, bringing a personal touch to the buying process through his business, Just Real Seattle.

“When it comes to real estate, it is such a personal endeavor on the residential side,” he said. “You’re talking about someone’s home, someone’s sanctuary, someone’s safe space. This is what we all kind of want—the American dream, right? Having your own domain and being the master of it.” 

Brad’s relationship-building skills were among the qualities that drew Yelp reviewer Karen J. to his business when she was looking to sell her home. Brad is collaborative on every aspect of the sale and wants what’s best for his client, even if it means not necessarily making the sale at that moment. 

“Not only does he get excited about properties with me, but he’s also very pragmatic in terms of looking at: ‘Does this fit your needs?’ on top of ‘Is this just a good property?’—because a good property could be good for anyone, but it could be bad for that individual,” Karen said. “So he, more than a lot of agents that I’ve chatted with, really, really listens to the must-haves and the must-not-haves and considers that when he’s guiding me.” 

Brad brings this inclusive nature into every facet of his job, even when it comes to his competition—he builds a good rapport with other realtors to help mutually grow their businesses, what he calls “a mindset of abundance.” This is key in an industry that revolves around referrals and word-of-mouth marketing: According to the National Association of Realtors, 90% of home buyers would use their agent again or recommend that agent to friends and family. 

Another one of the strategies Brad uses to keep his name top-of-mind is simple, but important: listening and communicating with clients. First, he sets up an initial consultation with every client, where he practices this soft skill: “It’s listening and also probing and asking the right questions,” he said. 

He also uses a variety of communication tools and technologies to ensure clients are up-to-date on the home-buying process and their home value, including sending automated messages based on where clients are in the process. “Staying in communication on a regular basis—even if sometimes it has to be a little bit more automated—those things are important,” he said. “It’s a great way for us to catch up and have a touch point.”

Customers, including Karen, take notice: “One of the things that I immediately liked about Brad when we first met was his communication—that he is really on-point and direct and defines expectations well. I like that he has a system for working with clients.”

But even Brad has had to take a break from constant communication, making adjustments to his business so it can run without him. For example, as his mother entered her older years and he moved her into his home, he decided to take time off from work. “I had a matter close to my heart that was taking precedence… During that time, I didn’t take on a lot,” he said. “The expectations I set were having an outgoing autoresponder on my email and having a voicemail, not getting terribly detailed about what I had going on.”

Because your small business is your livelihood, it’s easy for it to become the focal point in your life. But it’s important to remember that a good business always includes a back-up plan, particularly when other commitments, such as family and friends, require immediate attention. This is exactly where Brad’s colleagues and network of connections came in. “I had no less than eight people in my office backing me up during that time,” said Brad, who realized that he didn’t have to shoulder the burden himself and could still maintain a life outside of work.

Even when he’s not experiencing something as difficult and personal as that, Brad makes an effort to take time off and provide back-ups for clients when he’s out of the office. “To be able to bring my best self to the table, to be a great facilitator of a transaction, to be the top-notch relational broker that I know I can be—it really does require having some type of balance between my work and what have you,” he said.

Real estate isn’t so different from other small businesses, with its entrepreneurial spirit and dependance on word-of-mouth marketing, but these four lessons from Brad can help any small business build a solid customer base: 

  • Life happens to everyone. Remember to create a work-life balance, which can be hard to do with a small business, so build reliable back-ups for life’s emergencies.
  • Find a need, fill a gap. Create a business around a need you see. Chances are someone else needs that same service. 
  • It’s always better working together. Collaboration—even with apparent competitors—can be an advantage for both of you. 
  • We’re in this for the long haul. Relationship-based businesses benefit from listening more than talking to clients because you are building a long-term partnership. 

Photos of Just Real Seattle on Yelp; editorial by Emily Moon & Holly Hanchey


These lessons come from an episode of Behind the Review, Yelp & Entrepreneur Media’s weekly podcast. Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Brad and Karen, or visit the episode page to read more, subscribe to the show, and explore other episodes.

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The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.

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