Real Estate Side Hustle Case Study ― How Jeff Left His Real Estate Job to Make $9K a Month on His Own
Jeff Howell shares his journey from real estate broker to putting his 9 to 5 skills into an online side hustle.
Jeff’s story shows what is possible when you use take advantage of your own unique skillset and put in the time (along with a lot of patience) to create an online business that solves a problem around your area of expertise. His story is very inspiring and I’m sure you’ll all enjoy following along:
As a (recovering) commercial real estate broker, I was always envious of people that make money online.
The perception of living the laptop lifestyle, being location independent and putting in the 4 hour work week (shout out to Tim Ferriss) seemed so appealing.
And here I was, wearing a suit every day, sitting on a train for an hour and then making cold calls and touring office buildings.
And then one day it hit me.
The most important meeting I would have with clients is the one in which we let them know what’s in their lease.
It’s the meeting the CFO would fall out of their chair.
They were focused on the rental rate and did not realize what the other terms are that they agreed to.
I’m talking about some sophisticated tenants here too. Central business district, A class office towers – some of these clients are billion dollar pharma companies.
I thought these CFOs would know a lot about commercial leasing.
What about everyone else?
What about all the mom and pop operators? All the 1,000 square foot mall and store front leases out there?
What if I could charge a one time fee to provide a score card on their lease so they can essentially have a virtual real estate advisor in their lease negotiation?
Someone needed to level the playing field for commercial tenants.
Commercial tenants needed a Lease Ref.
Commercial tenants now have a third choice in their quest to negotiate a lease:
The Old Ways:
Do it yourself: read the 40,000 words in the lease, see what you can figure out, and hope for the best (hint: this “free” option may be the most expensive in the long run).
Hire an attorney: the job will probably be done well. It will also probably cost about $2,500 and will take at least a few weeks of back and forth (maybe up to 6 weeks). You also have to find one you trust, and most tenants don’t already have a commercial real estate lawyer on speed dial.
The New Way:
Get on Google and Discover Lease Ref: have your lease redlined with a score card as well within 24 hours for a one time fee (which is a fraction of the lawyer’s cost).
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Lesson # 1: the internet is still relatively new and is not yet saturated with great ideas – there are new ways being invented all the time on how to deliver goods and services that challenge the old delivery methods. Offering commercial lease advice on the internet is an untapped market.
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And boom! Lease Ref launches in early 2017! Raking in….$4k*
*I’m not crying, you’re crying.
Ok, so $4k is not bad, it’s still over $300 per month – I’m just not sipping Tequila on a beach yet.
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Lesson # 2: There are not many overnight successes on the internet – it’s still business and I’m still a rookie.
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This is where the story takes a twist.
I left commercial leasing.
I was tired of the industry and it was time to get into something new.
I landed a great sales job in home health software.
So I essentially abandoned Lease Ref.
I wish this would be a story of me pushing through, having some amazing breakthrough and it was all worth it in the end.
But my results are probably equally interesting.
I almost quadrupled the results without doing anything, making $13,626.61 in the next year.
This with a marketing budget of $0.
I created no new content.
I built no new links.
No Facebook ads, no Google ads.
To be frank it was annoying when work would come in as it was infrequent enough to just be a distraction to my day job.
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Lesson # 3: Most people give up too early. While I essentially gave up, I didn’t shut it down or sell it.
What I did do, is apparently I did some things right when I initially set it up, and Google came to trust me over time.
My biggest takeaway from this initial stage is that I did lots of link building through Help a Reporter Out (HARO), which helped with Google’s perception of my authority, and I created the best content in my niche (through Brian Dean’s Skyscraper Method).
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This is where the story starts to get really interesting.
As you can tell, the year over year growth from Sept 2018 to Sept 2019 was over 2,400%.
So my traffic must have exploded, right?
There was a nice increase in traffic. I wish I could take more credit for my ninja SEO skills, but traffic merely doubled – it certainly did not increase by 2,400%.
Here is the year over year comparison:
2018 (up to Oct 3): 85,960
2019 (up to Oct 3): 162,904
During this time the 85k visitors, converted to $8,957.68:
(the year finished at $13k in revenue)
Here is a look at 2019 year to date (the same first 9 months of the year):
So traffic doubles, and revenue increases by 5x.
Any guesses as to why?
A ton of new content? No.
Lots of link building? No.
Here are more metrics for those 9 month periods:
1 – More buyer intent content.
In order to get people to buy they need to be near the end of their buyer journey. In my case it’s the people that are googling very specific things that are indicative of them being worried about specific clauses they want to delete or modify.
For example, this post lets you know how to get out of a personal guarantee on a lease, and this post is even more specific as it is specifically for the New York state market.
These people convert at a much higher rate as they are looking a personal guarantees for hundreds of thousands of dollars, so my flat fee is peanuts compared to the obligation they are about to sign.
2 – More top of the funnel content.
You must get introduced to buyers earlier in their purchase so they have time to remember you.
In commercial leasing, a letter of intent is the first step, and it is followed by a lease 1-3 weeks later. So when people are searching for how to negotiate a letter of intent, that’s when they find out about Lease Ref, and therefore they know I can help well before the lease arrives.
Here is the post on helping out at this stage, which is one of the most visited posts on the site now.
3 – Video.
The explosion of video is undeniable. As we move more and more into a cyber world, consumers want to know who they are dealing with and need to know, like and trust you before purchasing.
In my case, I am asking for their commercial lease document as part of the transaction – some people can feel like that is a very private document. People need to hear a human’s voice, and see a face.
This post is a good a example of seeing my face (with cash being thrown at it (hey, who said leasing can’t be entertaining?)), and there is a video of a Powerpoint explainer presentation as well as a screencast, showing how I would mark up a lease clause).
Those three above have not had a crazy impact on traffic (as you can see it’s actually been flat):
But during this flat period, the conversions have skyrocketed.
Note that during the year prices have increased twice. This is also a conversion rate factor.
There was very little science used in picking the original prices and they were deemed by the market to be too good to be true.
Since prices have been increased, conversions increased at the some time (woo hoo!).
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Lesson # 4: Don’t get too hung up on traffic. Try to figure out how you can convince and convert the traffic that does show up.
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Do you have skills and knowledge that you have gained in the offline world that can be converted into an online business?
Perhaps they can be delivered in a way that nobody has done.
If you do and are delivering real value to people, it still will not be an overnight success – you must stick it out as Google takes a while to trust new sites, but it is worth it in the long run as the internet provides such a large market and ability to live the lifestyle you want.