Over the years, I’ve been at several mortgage companies, and formed lots of different businesses. I’ve never been a superstar. My production has always been good enough to support a staff of five or six, and a family of eight, but I don’t do that in Los Angeles or New York. I live in Lehi, UT, and it’s relatively cheap here. I have managed to produce an annual six-figure income while writing books and running film festivals and being the President of the Rotary Club, and things of that nature. I may not be on the shortlist of top producers, but I live pretty well and pretty simply. There’s a key to doing this, which I’d like to share with you this month.
It’s not me. It’s them.
I have fantastic support. It’s the secret to my success (and that of most others). There are three arenas where good support is crucial. One is in your office. Two is in the corporate HQ. Three is in the home. If you’ll forgive some personal experiences and references here, I’ll explain.
The Office Squad
Jill is my office manager. She’s an old friend, someone I first met 25 years ago. She lives close by. She is a trusted associate in every area of my life. There are, of course, a lot of different ways to arrange this, and some people prefer to have their lives compartmentalized and their relative assistants in each compartment. Do it your way. But for me, if my life touches it, Jill has an eye on it.
Today, for instance, she researched a new CRM system, uploaded credit documents to the reporting company, answered the email of one of our loan officers who is out of the office, and purchased and had delivered to my house 12 bales of hay. That was by about 1 o’clock. Those are the things I know she did because I asked her to. There are, I am certain, another hundred things she did that I did not ask her to do, and that she is doing right now because I am barricaded in my office on deadline for this article.
If you’re going to be efficient and effective, you need a Jill. And a Jason (my loan coordinator). You need someone who does all the things you do not get paid to do, but that you won’t get paid if you don’t do. Credit disputes, rapid rescores, chasing down IRA paperwork, IRS documentation, all the way down to coloring with children while the parents concentrate on deciding between FHA and conventional. It is possible to do all these things by yourself. It is also exceptionally unwise.
As loan professionals, we get paid to do loans. The part of that that cannot be done by anyone else you should do. Anything else should be done by someone else. There aren’t any good exceptions to this. Get someone that you trust to handle those things, and pay them whatever you have to. It will be worth it, this I swear.
The Team at HQ
There’s a lot of moving around going on in the industry, from company to company and broker to banker and so on. I get calls, the same as everyone, asking me both would I take people on, and would I like to go elsewhere. I listen to everyone, because it makes writing this column easier, but I’m not going anywhere. There are several reasons for this, but the big one is that I love the people I have behind me.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of this. When you do a brilliant job of selling a loan to a client, and then it goes sideways because the people processing or underwriting or funding your loan don’t do their jobs, you’re going to lose the referrals from that loan, at the least. Over time, if it happens often enough, you’ll be down the road kicking a beer can, as my father puts it. You have to be able to count on the people you work with to do their job at least as well as you do yours.
More than competence, though, is personality and commitment. An example. We were having some trouble with a financial issue relating to our new office. Some of the reimbursement was hung up in procedure and it was putting some strain on our bank account. We complained a little in an email to someone that didn’t even have responsibility for the problem, and the next morning the COO of the company and the district manager of the area were on my doorstep. Not on the phone –in my office, in person. Sam and Sherri drove to my place and personally made sure I understood that they were going to get the problem fixed (it was, instantly) and that if I ever had a difficulty like that again, that I could call them immediately and they would take care of it. But I heard something else, too, something even more important: you, and your team, matter to us. That was worth a lot more to me than money.
Most of the movement I see from company to company is loan officers chasing rates and programs and pay. I’m not saying there isn’t some legitimacy to that, but I want to make sure I say this: most of the time those things don’t matter long term. What matters is working with people that have your back. If you don’t have those people, no rate or program is going to make up for it. If you do have those people, then almost always, moving on will make things worse, not better.
Home Sweet Home
My Jeanette and I have been married over 20 years. She’s been there for the failures and the successes and the heartbreaks and the celebrations. She’s held down the fort when I closed loans in the middle of the night, and sat with me when skyrocketing interest rates forced me to lay off most of my staff. She is a woman of quiet advice and great strength. No one could ever be more fortunate, when choosing a companion, than I have been.
Now, it’s a two-way street. She knows everything she cares to know about the business, and she sees the books and the payroll and the whole crazy thing. I know that living with a loan officer is sort of like being in the passenger seat next to a drunk driver, so I make sure it isn’t also like sitting there with a gag and a blindfold. Your support people at home, whoever they are, are every bit as entitled to your trust and confidence in business matters as your business associates are. If you forget this, you’ll lose that support. It’s that simple. I don’t ask Jeanette to take on faith that I’m working; I show her the reports. We discuss the branch goals before I even talk to the people in the branch. She is my partner in all that I do.
It doesn’t make everything all better. It does make everything better than it would be otherwise. That support, at the end of the day, is worth more than any deal, and more than any success we could have in any venture. Do not sacrifice it for anything.
To thrive in this industry, as besieged as we are from all quarters, takes skill and determination and nerves of steel. But it also takes help. Get the right people, and they’ll get you where you want to be.
Chris Jones is a branch manager with City First Mortgage Services and a ten-year veteran spanning the best and the worst of times in the industry. He is the author of the book Even Your Mother Won’t Call You Back, a primer on how to use the Six Channels of Marketing to do business more naturally and efficiently (available at www.iamchrisjones.com). Chris arrived in mortgages after careers with tech startups, stockbrokering, and running a presidential campaign. He’s a sought-after speaker and a part-time opera singer, which he insists isn’t as impressive as it sounds. Chris and his wife Jeanette live in Lehi, UT with their eight children.