Parkbench.com Co-Founder and the sponsor of Become A Local Leader, Grant Findlay-Shirras, was recently Spotlighted on Beyond the Box. In this interview, Grant shares his thoughts on how COVID has impacted business, how he has adapted, and why agents should be doubling down on their database and their community. Check out the full interview and transcription below.
For those people that don’t know who you are, and what Parkbench is, what do you guys do?
Parkbench.com provides neighborhood websites to empower Real Estate Agents to become the go-to Agents in their community. One of the ways that we are talking about Parkbench these days is we look at the benefits that our clients are getting and we see their sales are going up. Parkbench, as a platform, has so much cool stuff under the hood for real estate agents to use to enable sales. That’s one of the things that we’ve been really thinking about, Parkbench is a sales enablement platform.
The specific type of realtor that we specialize in, is the relationship-based realtor. The realtor who wants to build their brand and build their business in a specific geographic area. Some realtors are advertising-based and transactional-based. They just want to pump up tons of numbers. They don’t even focus on a specific community. It’ll either be that they work all over the city or they focus on luxury homes or pre-constructions.
But for the realtors who are almost like the Puritan, the pure realtor, the one who loves to get to know the people who live and work in their area, loves to give value to them and build their brand as the leader of the community, someone who cares about the community and as a result of that builds their database with that reputation to build their business, we have a platform and a whole bunch of systems and scripts to help realtors go do that.
How long have you guys been around?
The original story was Amanda and I came up with this concept back in 2012. We did it for ourselves in 2013. And then, realtors came to us saying, “Hey, I like your platform. I like the way you’re building your brand and business. You are doing it in this neighborhood in Toronto (where I was based). Can you help me do it in this other community? I’m not competing with you.”
And so, that’s how the whole business started. That was 2014. Six years later, four countries, thousands of realtors, we’ve really nailed it. One of the things I heard recently, which I really loved, was people give a lot of lip service to relationships. Everyone in real estate says, “It’s a people business.” “It’s a relationship business.”
I say, “Yeah, you’re right. How much money and time are you spending on that?” Because that’s the metric that shows whether you’re giving it lip service or you’re actually doing it? How much time and money are you spending to build new relationships and add value to the people in your database? Or are you just advertising?
We’ve been on this mission to help realtors actually do something, to not just say they’re all about people and relationships but really walk the walk.
How’s the last 12 months been? How have you seen the market react? What are the conversations you’ve been having with realtors? How are they adapting over the last 12 months? What are you doing to adapt over the last couple of months based on what you’re seeing?
We do a lot to practice what we preach. Our team provides a lot of educational sessions and we add a lot of value. We create a lot of content to build relationships with a database of realtors that we have so that some of them will eventually become our clients. But we don’t hate advertising because it can sometimes work. But 12 months ago, Facebook gave me a slap in the face, jacked our prices up four times, and the advertising funnel that I had been using to help increase my sales stopped working.
I realized that and this is the same thing that I bet you other tech companies and other real estate agents have experienced. Ad prices are going up and commissions are being squeezed. That’s not a recipe for a good business. That was some tough news for us when we experienced that.
And so, we were like, “we have to change the way we do sales.” We actually have to double down, even further, on adding value and reaching out to people. Going back to the basics, just like we help and teach realtors. And so, we changed the way that we do sales in the new year. And because of COVID, we’re 100% remote. So, our entire team is now across Canada. We got people in British Columbia. We got people in Quebec, in the Maritimes, and everything in between. We’ve really changed the way we do sales because we had to.
We’ve added a five by five program for personal brand building, business coaching, and marketing training. So, one of the things that we added for realtors during COVID when they were all at home was that we created a five hours a day five days a week training program, to help our clients and our community work on thier personal brand. And to do it all from home, work on the pipeline development from home, work on their business from home. We knew that they needed to learn some new skills because you got to go digital which means getting even better at social media and video.
We also launched our CRM this year and our own version of leads. Everyone’s got a different definition of leads. But for us, and anyone who works with us, when they now get a ParkBench site, they log in, and they see a list of all the people who work in the community who are trying to promote their products and services to the community so that we can help realtors reach out to those people, help them go do that. And as a result, earn their business and referrals.
We also got invited to this program, which is one of the best things that’s happened to us is to be a part of the REACH Program. We recently just won an award for being A Best Place to Work in Canada. That’s a new one. I think our employees love our culture and love what we’re doing for the industry. We’re trying to make realtors relevant and respected again versus just being a salesy cheesy person who puts up ads.
And then personally, for those of you that care about the human side of it, I moved from the big city of Toronto to a Top 10 Powder Mountain so I can snowboard and ski a lot. It’s called big white. And if you don’t know what big white is and you like skiing and snowboarding, you definitely should google it.
In your opinion, what are the top three trends that you guys are seeing at Parkbench from your customers’ perspective? How are you guys looking to adapt to help them?
When I look at the trends, there are global things happening that are impacting everybody. And so, we all got to think about “Okay, so how does COVID change things?” Then, there’s going to be a post-COVID world, we’re not there yet and I don’t know when it’s going to happen but it will happen and it will not be the same as pre-COVID. Anybody who thinks it is, you’re just delusional. It ain’t! This is a traumatic event in people’s lives.
It’s so unfortunate that we’re going to be holding back as people, not able to hug and shake hands. It’s going to be this weird thing that goes through our brain even when the vaccine is here and all this stuff is gone. And then, somewhere either before post-COVID or after post-COVID, there’s going to be some sort of financial crash. And realtors need to be thinking about how their business could be affected by these three big things that are happening.
One of the things I hear a lot, which I’m going to really challenge and I hope everyone listens to me because if you or anyone around you is allowing yourself to feel okay for being “Zoom-ed out”, you can’t! You can’t be “Zoom-ed out”. There’s no such thing. Do you want to be a loser in business? Okay. Talk about being “Zoom-ed out”. Being “Zoom-ed out” in this new world is like saying I’m sick and tired of door knocking. I’m sick and tired of calling my database. If you said that, you’d have been called out. A realtor would never say that because that’s the cornerstone of your business to meet new people and talk to your database.
So now, you got to love Zoom. Embrace it! Look at the benefits of it. I have clients who are building their databases faster because of Zoom. You can sit at my desk and just start networking over and over and over again. I guarantee you realtors are going to complain that they have to go see people again. They’re complaining that they can’t go see people. But I guarantee you realtors will complain that they have to go see people in the future once they really embrace this digital world that we are now living in.
So, I tell realtors, first and foremost, you got to be 100% digital. You got to embrace Zoom. You should never be “Zoom-ed out”. It’s like saying you don’t like work. That’s just the truth. Some people are letting people feel okay about being “Zoom-ed out”. You can’t and you can’t have that thought.
I’m noticing a few trends when we talk about going 100% digital. We’re all learning this. But that’s the cool part. We’re all learning this together and we’re all doing this together. And so, there’s a huge rapport bonding moment for realtors, their homeowners, and their database because we’re all learning how to do Zoom. We’re all learning how to do video. We’re all learning how to be more online, and be more on social media, and do more DMing, and do more digital stuff. That’s one trend that people are still not embracing enough. And they’re not going deep enough into “How can I be more digital? How can I leverage all these digital software products and tools to grow my brand and my business and have a better quality of life?” That’s number one.
The second one I’m seeing is community marketing. I actually think community marketing is the new social media. Remember social media back in 2010? Everyone’s like, “You got to go social media, social media, social media, social media.” Everyone’s like, “Oh, come on. Really? What’s the ROI on social media? Do I really got to do this?” And now, you’d be crazy to say that. Same thing with community marketing. Realtors are now thinking about it. And then some people, when they start thinking about it, they go, “The time, the money, is it really going to be worth it? Can’t I just do what I used to do in the past?”
Now, when I say community marketing, I don’t mean advertising. I mean finding ways to start conversations, give value, and build relationships with the people who live and work in your community. Whatever community that you’re in. Now, something that we’re really thinking about is that a lot is suburbs and small towns are on the rise. Our best clients are in small towns and suburbs and they’re just rocking it. So, I think there’s so much real estate opportunity in suburbs and small towns, and second-home markets will become first home markets.
I am an example of someone who went from Toronto to a second home market and it’s now my home. It’s now my future home. So, I think community marketing is a trend that we’re just starting. How can you help the small businesses in your area? How can you help the local businesses? Or how can you help the schools? They’re all encountering so many challenges in this new world. So, how can you contribute? And if you make people in your area feel like you are coming from a place of contribution, these people will be your raving fans for life because we’re all going through this really tough time that we’re going to remember for the rest of our life.
Realtors who make the time and investment the money to step up, they’re going to be in the memory of someone for the rest of their life. If you don’t step up now, then you’re losing this opportunity. COVID in some ways is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to all of us. I get all the bad stuff about COVID. It’s got a horrible amount of health issues and inconveniences and worldly stuff. But if you now look at all the great stuff that this is doing for us as a society, I think that actually outweighs the negative stuff because it’s pushing us.
It’s pushing us to move to a new world. One of my predictions is social media is going to die. I think the idea that people go on a platform and stay there fully will die. Because that’s all these platforms are trying to do. Facebook, Instagram. Everyone wants to keep you on the platform. Look at the Social Dilemma. That thing is really probing people’s minds, that Netflix movie.
I said this years ago. I said, “We are meant to connect with people. We’re going to start our connections on Zoom, on the phone, through text messaging, and DM way more. But we are also wanting to be able to walk down the street to go meet more people.” And so, how can you contribute to that future? That’s number two.
Number one I have is more digital. Number two is community. And number three is the basics. Everyone has shiny object syndrome for many years and the economy was on such a rise and the world was so perfect that you could suck and still do great. Business is really simple in all downturns, all of them. You ask any realtor who has been successful in the industry and been in the industry from multiple downturns. You ask them what got you through the downturn. What got you through the downturn? All of them, without fail, will say “My database” and “My brand within my database”. That’s it.
It’s not some crazy marketing tactic. It’s, “Hey, I continue to find ways to build new relationships. And I found new ways to reconnect with people in my database and give them value because I know that business nowadays is earned.” It’s not bought. You can buy it in a good economy through ads. Right now, you have to earn it. And so, realtors need to get back to the basics. And because all the top realtors that I talked to who are crushing it have their best years ever. Brand and database. That’s it.
And that’s why it’s not like, “Oh my God, there’s so much happening in the world. I got to learn all these new things.” It’s like, “No, it’s literally one blueprint.” It’s one that’s seamless and fun. All this advertising is boring. I’ve never heard one realtor say “I love advertising. I love thinking of ads and I love chasing down leads.” Or “I love creating email marketing.” No one says that. Everyone says, “I love genuine connection. I love helping people. I love serving my community.”
What are you most optimistic for? What’s the one thing that’s kind of keeping you up right now?
Well, I am positive and optimistic because I’m extremely freaking worried all the time about two things. There are two things I’m worried about and I’ll tell you two things that realtor should be worried about.
I’m worried about a freaking New World Order. I can go down some weird thoughts, conspiracies and all that stuff but there are some weird stuff happening on world politics levels. What governments are doing for people is crazy. They want a universal base income. What are the impacts of that if that actually continues? That’s crazy. That worries me – stuff I can’t control and don’t see yet, and a financial meltdown worse than we’ve ever seen before. To me that is what I’m cautious about and I’m always planning for. And those are really big things you really can only react to but at least it gets you thinking like okay, if that was to happen, what would I do?
With realtors, the thing I’m most cautious of for my clients and I think they should be cautious about is big tech like Zillow. I’ve been saying it for years. I’m a tech founder so I can understand where they’re coming from and having to appease their investors and their shareholders. And realtors are like, “No, no, no. Zillow said they’re not going to become a brokerage.” I’m like, “Bullshit.” It’s business fundamentals that a business integrates vertically or horizontally. That’s just how a business services its shareholders, it looks for ways to go wider or deeper. And brokerage is one of the methods and they’re not trying to go anywhere. So, it’s going to happen. And it happened.
It’s like realtors were the frog not realizing that they’re boiling in the water and boom, you’re just dead. You didn’t even know what happened. So, they should be worried about big tech companies trying to eat their lunch.
But the cool thing is, the big tech companies can’t do some things that realtors can do in terms of the relationship or connection with the homeowner and the understanding of the homeowner. There’s no way technology can make a human feel like that technology knows the human better than a human. And the number one reason why anyone chooses a service is that they feel that that service provider understands them. And a human realtor can understand the consumer better than tech. They always have and always will. That’s what they should be thinking about, how can they understand people and show them they understand people to get their business first, before they go to Zillow or open door, or whatever.
The second thing I’m cautious about which people might think I’m a little crazy about, but I see the problems in the business world where there are teams. Not all teams. There are some amazing teams out there. There are some amazing brokerages out there. But there are some of them that are just brainwashing their people. Absolutely brainwashing them because they have their goals. I am in business for the realtor, the individual. I have no bias. I’m not your broker. And I’m going to work with you to figure out whatever is right for you.
It’s the same reason why I didn’t raise money from investors because as soon as I raise money from investors, they don’t give a two cents about me. They care about their fund. I’m in business for me. If you talk to any realtor, “Who are you in business for? Are you a broker?” “No.” “Are you a team leader?” “No.” So you’re in business for you!
They need to be way more sensitive to what they’re hearing from and be asking themselves, “Who are you listening to? Does that person have a biased lens for their own self-interest or not?” And that’s something that I’m cautious of because I got to react to that and make sure I go on the offense with the people I work with to make sure that they don’t get brought down or held down by the people up top.
That’s it. Everyone’s competitive. There are some teams that can make this work because they are just really good friends that keep it really small. But these mega teams, your team leader is your competitor, you know that right? Yeah, he sells you on joining the team and the culture but he’s taken sometimes 50 to 80% of your commission. That’s ridiculous! The amount of money that these team leaders sometimes take from their agents, who are not employees and who are not guaranteed income, I think it’s wrong. I love companies that are part of the solution to help agents have a team of people to serve the consumer. Teams to service the consumer is a winning formula.
I was in the health industry in the past. Anyone who goes and works for GoodLife or LA Fitness, they’re giving up two-thirds of their income. And everyone’s wise now to say, “You’re just getting into the industry. You don’t want to be there because it’s slavery. They take way too much of your money for the amount of work that you do.” So, there’s that dynamic that I want to see change in the industry.
And this is why I’m not too optimistic about the internet. With all that’s happening in the world, I have no faith in governments for fixing things. And I think we have the tools with Shopify, with Google, and as humans to get ourselves out of this mess. I don’t think governments can get us out of the bucket they put us in but I think we can shop local. I think we can use local businesses. We can create an economy in our communities. We can stimulate the economy that way. The people can do it and that means entrepreneurialism is on the rise, which I think is a wonderful thing for this world. And that’s what I’m optimistic about is that we, the people, are going to fix this.
The solution I see for realtors is that it’s easy to get transactional in this industry because you only make money in one way of a transaction. And it’s not a frequent transaction. Most people don’t even stay in the business a long time. There’s all these factors but I think that the changes are happening. I’m optimistic that realtors will start to see homeowners as this lifetime of value that they want to give first to because they understand and can see the monetization later. So, they don’t need to be so salesy, cheesy, pushy, and transactional.
A lead is not a person who’s looking to buy right now. I think the stats came out from Korea. I didn’t even notice this when I said this but I saw that stat. Ninety-seven percent of people on realtor.ca will never use a realtor because 43% aren’t actually serious. Something like 30 something percent already has a realtor. Another huge percent just bought a home. Boom! Put those three numbers together. It was 97% of people on realtor.ca and the same numbers will exist for Zillow, realtor.com, Redfin, homes.com, all those ones. Ninety-seven percent of people on those sites will not hire a realtor, which is why the conversion rate on all these things is so bad.
And so, a lead is not a person looking to buy right now, looking at properties right now, looking to sell, or potentially even thinking about it. A lead is a person with needs and wants. They’re a person who can become a client who can refer your business. And your focus as a realtor should be more than just a realtor. Your focus should be how can I be a leader for this person? How can I be of service to this person?
And my big optimistic view is that real estate agents and brokerages will figure out how to make money in other ways so they don’t have to be so weird in this real estate transaction. I think real estate brokerages all screwed themselves over, the business model is totally done. You can’t fix it. So, stop trying to fix it and actually go look in a different direction. Be a neighborhood broker. Don’t be a real estate broker, be a community broker, be a life broker. Help the people who move in and out of a community have a great experience and have a better quality of life before, during, and after the buying and selling of the home which really just be one tiny piece of it.
For people that want to learn more about ParkBench, what’s the best way to find and interact with you guys?
Just go to Parkbench.com. Right away you’ll see a screen saying pick who you are. Just click realtor and then fill in a form and get a demo and see what we’re all about. It’s not for everyone. My system is not for every kind of realtor. It takes a certain personality. A certain value set. We want to make sure that we align with the strategy that’s already been working for realtors. We work new agents too. But if you’re thinking about doing more community marketing. Or you’re thinking about how to build new relationships and add value to the people in your community, I’d like to think we are the best at it in the industry.
I don’t know of another company that has helped agents do those things better than us for as long as us. We guarantee it works or you don’t even pay us any money. We’re so confident that it works for the right person. If you’re interested in seeing if you’re the right person, just go to Parkbench.com, click on the realtor image, fill in a form, and talk to my team, and figure it out.
Do you have some educational copies of the content for people who are looking to digitise?
Yeah. I have another company brand called BecomeALocalLeader.com. Not just real estate agents, mortgage brokers, insurance, title, escrow. For any local service professional, the trend is going to be how can you get to know more people in your community, give value to them, and focus on a smaller geographic area. I think because of COVID and traveling, your secure safe place, working your Geo-Farm is a trend for so many industries. And so, I’ve created that blog to educate people, even if they don’t become a client of Parkbench. This is pure free education on how to build your business in a specific geographic area.