A lot of tasks are involved in real estate investing, such as cold calling and bookkeeping, and that’s why investors usually cannot find enough time on their hands just to finish them all. This is where virtual assistants come into play, helping to lighten the burden while keeping the revenue flowing. Robert Nickell sits down with Paul Lizell to discuss how struggling with his own time constraints inspired him to create Rocket Station, a company that trains VAs specializing in real estate. He shares the specifics of their offers while underlining how his mother influenced him to focus on providing value to his customers than just mere virtual assistance.
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Using VA’s To Grow Your Real Estate Business With Robert Nickell
In this episode with me is Robert Nickell. For those of you who don’t know Robert, you’re going to enjoy the show. Robert is an awesome guy. I’ve known Robert for many years. We’ve been in Collective Genius together and other masterminds together as well. What Robert has created is RocketStation.com, which is using virtual assistance in your real estate business. For those of you who are reading, I do have two virtual assistants that I use in my business and I plan on adding more. What Robert’s team does is train their VAs specifically mostly for real estate investors, whether it’s called cold calling, inbound, outbound, and all kinds of other stuff. I’m going to let him speak more about that. I’ll let him do a little short intro on himself and how he got into real estate investing and into this business. Robert, why don’t you kick it off?
Paul, I’m really excited to be here. I’ve known you and it feels like a long time since at least 2014. What’s awesome is in this business, there’s a lot of flashes, a lot of egos, and browbeating, and you’re none of that, which is a couple of years later, you’re running a great business still, doing awesome things, helping other people, and impacting others. I think you’re a great guy. I love your show. I’m excited to be here and I appreciate you having me on.
I appreciate you being on too. Likewise, right back at you, Robert is as good a soul as you’re going to find out there. He’s a genuine human being and cares about people. He cares about his clients. That’s the most important thing. He cares about his employees as well. How did you start Rocket Station? When did you start this and what made you start this?
I was in real estate. I had a corporate job right out of college. I knew quickly that wasn’t going to get me where I wanted to go, but my 8:00 to 5:00 wasn’t exactly that. There’s no way that I saw the life that I wanted, built around the desk working for somebody else. Most of that had to do with freedom of time. It drove me crazy. Someone controls my schedule and have a certain number of days off. That to me was the biggest thing, even more than the money and financial objectives, I knew I’d never reach. It was really about that control of time and schedule and those types of things. Even location, you’re geographically restricted. All of that just seemed crazy. I had always been interested in real estate and I had flipped a few houses with my best friend in the last few years of college. That means buying probate for $30,000 and then doing all the work ourselves. We do all the demo and strip it out, like run the raw mats, plumbing, and everything then pay contractors, tie out the permits is what we were doing because we were broke.
We’d sell the house that we bought for $30,000 for $55,000 and we had split $70,000 for rehabs that I was doing. I thought that, “We could flip 3, 4, 5 houses a year and I would make 2 or 3 times what I was making in my office job, then being able to be working for myself.” That’s what I started doing two years out of college, which is flipping houses. I learned about wholesaling through one of these education companies that came through town, one of the big ones, I heard a radio ad and I walked into a room thinking that it’s going to be me and a handful of individuals. It’s like they said on the radio ad, there were 800 people in there but what I realized is like, “These guys are good at marketing. They know what they’re doing.” I signed up for their program and I had never heard of wholesaling before. I had only heard of the traditional buy fix, flip, or buy, fix and hold. My parents had 3, 4, 5 properties, and so I only knew the grind way. I started wholesaling and I was like, “This is awesome.” I can flip a house, make sometimes almost the same amount of money I was making rehabbing and not paying the contractor.
I can’t believe it was legal, flipping contracts. It blew my world up as far as like, “This is awesome.” Although I was working 60, 70, 80 hours a week because I was just doing direct mail to get the phone to ring, but then I was having to go on appointments and run comps. The amount of time I was sitting there running comps and trying to work with the title companies, and they’d call me and ask me the same questions or I email them a packet with everything that they need because they need the same things every single time. They need the contract, the copy of the checks, your Certificate of Good Standing, and your Articles of Organization every single time. I’d send them everything that they needed every single time and then I’d get a call or an email, “Can you send this?” It’s like, “It is in the email that I sent you. It’s in it.”
What wholesaling did for me was it made me understand that real estate was a transactional business. There are all these things you have to do over and over again to do a deal and I was working tons of hours. I was like, “This sucks. This is brutal.” I went from working 40 hours a week thinking that somebody else controls my time to work, in 80 hours a week feeling like I was totally out of control. I went and talked to my broker because, in Texas, you have to be licensed to have MLS access obviously and it’s a non-disclosure state. If you want to run comps and have good information, then you have to be licensed as an agent.Go and add value to society, and happiness would come as a result. Click To Tweet
I go talk to my broker who had a great life. I’d tell the same story over and over again. It’s true. His daughter played golf and he caddied for tournaments all the time, and he never missed a tournament. His son likes to build things like go-karts and as the fence tornado came through, they didn’t call and hire somebody. They enjoyed those days of rebuilding their fence, he and his son. He is invested in his family, which is awesome. Plus, he had a great business and I felt like I had a business that was barely hanging on like I was the business, much less having anything else that I cared about. I wasn’t spending time with my nephews. I wasn’t hanging out with anybody. I wasn’t doing anything I cared about, playing golf, doing anything fun, much less go on vacation because all that did was I panic because on vacation you have all the money that you spend. Then while you’re on vacation, you’re spending money and not doing deals. I felt like I was going 2,3 times negative.
I felt a little bit out of control, much less having this life of a great family and a cool business the way my broker has. I went to go talk to him. He had teams of agents that manage his buyers and he had agents for his listings. I assumed that he had an office full of staff that did his marketing and his prospect answered the phone ring, qualified leads, set appointments and ran comps, and put CMAs because I’ve seen all of that work. I talked to Rachel a couple of times a day so I was just going to see an office full of people, and they were all in the Philippines.
The retail brokerage, his office was the same thing I did every day, except I didn’t represent clients. Whenever he wanted to get listings or more buyers to do transactions like as investors we’re out there buying and selling but the process, he was doing the same thing just a little bit different tweak towards. That was my a-ha moment as far as I don’t have to hire somebody off Craigslist because I tried that and it was terrible. I had hired my best friends, buddies from college, buddies from high school, and family to come to hang out in the office and do some stuff, and that was not good for me. I know other people who can do that well, but that didn’t work for me at all. I saw somebody else having a lot of success with teams and managing people. They’re super productive, efficient and doing the same things I was but had a great life and doing significantly more business than I was, less time like the brokerage, it was doing way more in every sense, from top line to bottom line doing way more. I was like, “One of these guys is not smart and that’s me.” I realized that and that was the a-ha moment.
The first thing I did was I ran back to the office, I went online and talked to some other people’s job ads because I thought if I could just get off the phone, sellers, that would change my life. The first thing I did was put some job ads that I had copied from other people who had job ads and I hired the first person that sounded great. The truth of it was that was also terrible because I didn’t do any screening or any qualification. I didn’t do anything that I was supposed to be doing, but I also learned something super important. There’s a reason I’d say it’s that what I’ve learned was that I was afraid of having somebody else answer the phones. I needed to get those leads where that was the lifeblood and who I decided to spend time with on which appointments that I went on, that was the make or break. Every lead mattered, I needed it every single time.
Here’s what happened, the guy answering the phone spoke perfect English. He sounded amazing, but he was not very smart and he did not communicate well at all. He screwed up a bunch of calls. I did more deals with him on the phone, screwing up calls I was doing with me on the phone, making every call perfect. I think he worked for me for two months before I even let him take a call because I was so afraid of him screwing up calls. This was 2011, and we would role-play over and over again and eventually got him on the phones. That was my next real breakthrough. He may not be as good as me, but just allowing me to do other things, which meant I could go on more appointments. That’s all I’m doing, answering the phone less, I was on more appointments, which meant contracts. Those were my deals. From that moment on, it was like, I was a shark that tasted blood in the water, but I wanted to do it right.
What I learned with my very first hire and the reason he wasn’t good was one, he wasn’t the right person, and number two, I had no scripts. I had no processes. I had nothing down. Everybody I had hired previously that came in, I just wanted them to figure it out, solve problems, and do things but there was no structure. There was no system, there were no processes. I spent the next long time working with someone who is super detail-oriented to take every time I answered the phone and I recorded that and she would write those. What we learned was every call that I thought was different, they are the same call over and over again and I was trying to only get a few things out.
I wanted to know why they were looking to sell their house because that tells me everything I needed to know, and then get some general price, information, insights, some basic stuff if there are any major repairs needed. We took everything that I was doing in the day to day and we put step by step of what I did. That created the roadmap for me to be able to solve problems by hiring people and be able to get stuff done. Title work, all of a sudden became insanely easy because I had a checklist that someone else can look off of. From 2011 to 2013, I was the maniac with documenting everything, all this stuff that I am inherently horrible at with sellers and negotiating with my buyers less and trying to do deals, but all that detail-oriented admin stuff I was terrible with.
I got help to get almost two full years, and I perfected that process like crazy because real estate is transactional. That’s the foundation of what the business is. Once I understood what that meant was the wheel had to be running all the time, and if any part of that ever stopped, then we’ve got a massive jam in the entire infrastructure business. It’s got to keep moving all the time. The only way for me to do what I wanted to do, which was more than a couple of deals a month, was to have other people help me do that. The only way for me to not hate driving to the office every day was just going to have to tell somebody what to do all day, structure and systems and processes. For about two years, we had perfect that, and I helped almost a hundred people do what I was doing for free. Get the life figured it out and I became this evangelist.
I was out there pounding with my friends and everybody that knew I was part of masterminds and places like where I met you like CG. I was spreading the word and as a result, I’m giving away my stuff over and over again, and everybody had the same response, which was just immediate implementation. They took what I had, handed to somebody and did that exact thing. Eventually, what led me to create the business around it was after doing it for a couple of years on my own, then helping people do it and then having a lot of success in gaining feedback from it. That ultimately created the business with what it is now, serving real estate investors and lots of other businesses. It all came from my struggles. It would be sucked at the day-to-day stuff and now we solved those problems for entrepreneurs and businesses.
If you didn’t go through that, you wouldn’t know all those systems and processes that you need. On the acquisition side, everything you need from the direct mail to the phone calls that come in, to the appointments, then you have your transaction coordinators who are the middle person handling the title company, getting both the A to B contract, the B to C contract, all that stuff squared away. If you have somebody on the disposition side, that’s a whole other process. I know investors who like to keep the acquisition person and a disposition person separate, they don’t want them talking to know anything, which I get and understand, plus, you want to keep everything separate that way anyway. You going through this from fixing and flipping to then go through the wholesaling led you to write down and document everything, systems, and processes. You’re able to teach the new other VAs to do so then you had a few VAs. Now, your VAs that are experts at this can teach other VAs how to do it. You can almost sit back there and relax.
The truth is there are people out there that have the skillsets that I don’t have. Rocket Station is supplementing the skillsets that most entrepreneurs don’t have, structure in detail orientation and intense follow through, or an insane amount of adherence to structure, policy and processes, which for me, I’m out there. If I see a wall, I run through it. That is what I do, but as far as building an efficient, profitable business that’s sustainable, that is the opposite of how business should be running. For me, the way of building a successful business, whether it was a real estate business or now the virtual assistant business, was really about eliminating my week, getting myself out of the way, not being the bottleneck in the process, and being very focused on having a couple of things.
There are only two maximum three things that I will personally be working on any time because that’s all I can, from a bandwidth standpoint, absorb but also from a company standpoint, those are the only things I should focus on. It’s because there are other people who are significantly better at some of those other things than I am. All the day-to-day work, administrative work, inside sales work, because we service, all the transaction coordination, the disposition, the running, the comps, all of that stuff that I held onto for so long made my business worse, not better. What has defined our success in my opinion is removing myself from everything in the business so that it can be more efficient and run the better. As a result, we’re more profitable and make more money, which is what we intended to do when we started.
That’s the whole intention of building a business anyway and building what you created your business, what you intended to do, end up creating this whole other business for you, which is freaking awesome.
I was a Business major in college. I read a lot and I liked to learn, but what I always wanted was for my parents to be in some business or something that I could shift into. My dad was a dentist and mom was a teacher. I had the best childhood and upbringing that anybody could ever wish and ask for, but I didn’t have anything I could take and have to run business-wise. Some of my friends, their parents had insurance companies and other things that they got to just work in and tried to work up and eventually run one day. To be candid with you, Paul, that was what I wanted but my parents were very much a, “No. You go figure it out.” It’s like, “What’s ours is ours. You’re lucky to live in the house that we’ve provided for you and this amazing structure for you to figure yours out.” It was the way our parents treated us, “We’re going to give you everything that you need to be an independent, self-sufficient person. Go figure it out on your own.”
That was the best thing that ever happened because I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I had to make tough decisions to do that, to leave my corporate job, but it was all focused, and I had energy towards being productive and creating value, which was what my mom was always about, “Go and add value to society,” is what she would always say, “and happiness would come as a result.” She wasn’t worried about our happiness. She wanted us to earn something and be productive and she would think as a result, she would tell us happiness would come from that.
I used to hate those conversations as a kid but now looking back, it’s the luckiest thing ever because I never felt entitled to any of the businesses that I ever was a part of or that I started for them. I knew I had to add value. I knew I had to earn it. If there wasn’t a value add, then there was no opportunity for me. It’s the same way with real estate. I used to get frustrated when people weren’t accepting my cash offers, but then I had to realize that I had to provide value to the marketplace or the deal wasn’t a deal. That’s what’s at the core of our upbringing. I couldn’t be more grateful for that.Provide value to the marketplace, or the deal wasn't a deal. Click To Tweet
That’s tremendous. The best thing that parents ever do is do that. Some parents want their kids to follow in their footsteps and do exactly what they did. I don’t think that’s ever right unless they love it. If the kids have an interest in that, that’s great. You push them into that direction but otherwise, let them figure it out on their own. Truly, you’re going to do well what you love to do. If you don’t love your job, and we see too many people who are not entrepreneurs like us, who hate their job. They’re miserable all the time, “I can’t live.” I feel bad for those people. You want to find something you love and then make a business around it as much as possible. It so happens that it was real estate for us initially and now, you created it into Rocket Station, which is awesome. This leads me to another question because we have a lot of our students who want to learn to use VAs and we may be able to have you train VA specifically for what our uses are and just wanting to find out why. I know you have different types of uses for your VA, but what is your general average VA cost per hour or week? Are they part-time or full-time? Can you do both?
We specialize in a few different tasks. We’re good at lead management, inbound and outbound seller leads. We’re good at all the administrative side. From running comps to transaction coordination, even with disposition. We’re good at accounting and bookkeeping. Most investors are terrible at keeping their books reconcile month over month and it becomes a nightmare. All that data, anything that we can put that you’re willing to spend some time where we can put some systems and processes around, we can do that well. In real estate, it so happens to be the vast majority, 80, 90% of the day-to-day. For us, it’s just worked. Flat rate billing is $10 an hour. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lead manager or you’re working in disposition, it’s $10 an hour.
Everybody that works with us goes through the same couple of step process. We work with publicly-traded companies down to single-member LLCs, but it’s the same process for everyone. The first step we have is a discovery and alignment phase. We want to get to know you and your business, how you operate, what your current team or non-team looks like, the way it’s structured, and what kind of systems, technology and processes that you’re currently using. We want to be aligned with your business end to end. Our team is workforce management experts and we’re real estate experts. In a pretty short period, we can get in line with you and your business. We want to know what kind of phone systems you’re using and do you have a CRM or you’re keeping everything in. There’s not a tool or a resource out there that we’re not very familiar with and know how to use. We want to know your business and then try to get a pretty good idea of what your goals are, where you’d like to be, and what you’re trying to accomplish. That’s step one.
From step two, we create that plan with you that’s both documenting your systems and processes. Our team does that for you. If you have some already, great, and if not, we will do all the heavy lifting there, and most people are somewhere in between. They have some in some places and most places they don’t. That is what we call the treasure map. It identifies the perfect plan, which also creates a job description to identify the right person. Someone who’s working on the phone as a lead manager, that’s a different higher in my opinion than somebody who’s going to be working in disposition or are running comps all day or doing transaction coordination. That’s every detail. You want every t crossed and every i dotted, and you want your details, structure and your administrative side to be tight. On your front-end piece with your lead managers, you’ve got to have a little more personality there and you’ve got to have someone that can engage in and have that conversation.
The job description, the building of the system, then process map alongside with you, that’s what allows us to identify the right people on our platform. You’ll interview 3, 4, 5 people that are a perfect fit for that role. If it’s the disposition role, you’ll know that person has got the skillsets. You’re just hiring the right personality to fit your organization, and then it’s not a 1099. It’s not an independent contractor. It’s the service agreement, your company and ours. We’re $10 an hour, if full-time at 40 hours a week, and then I think it’s $12 an hour part-time.
That’s great because for a lot of people, especially for newer students start now, they may want to start part-time because they don’t know exactly what they’re doing yet in their systems. They’re learning it and doing it. As they build and grow their business, they can go full-time.
A lot of this may seem over, even if you’re not new, building and managing teams are hard. I feel like a good leader and I have a very clear vision of what I want to happen, but I’m a terrible manager. I am not good at managing people in the day-to-day. What it’s really about is being able to put the structure and processes in place so that you can build a great team and have what you need. If anybody who’s like, “This makes sense, but how does this apply to me and will this work for me?” That’s normally the number one question people have when they hear about us or have listened to us in any way. It’s like, “I get what you’re saying, but how would that work for my business?” Spend 30 minutes with our team and we’ll go through your business specifically. From there, if you wanted to build out a plan and work with us, great, but I don’t care if you use our teams or ever hire us or not.
The best thing that anyone could ever do that’s honest and sincere about this and curious about how this can help them, just spend 30 minutes with us. If you go to RocketStation.com, there’s a Schedule Time Now button and there are lots of other great information on the website. We’ve got multiple charts that are endorsing us and giving us some great content because they believe in what we’re doing. We’ve got some good stuff on there. If you want to spend 30 minutes with our team, hit that Schedule Time Now button and the team will walk through your business specifically and answer any questions that you have, whether you hire our teams or not. I would highly recommend that to anybody interested.
You’ve got a great website and you’ve got Harrington from Shark Tank. You’ve got two Shark Tank guys there.
We had a great year in 2020, and a lot of that has to do with we’ve earned it so long for many years now. Guys like Kevin Harrington and Kevin O’Leary, we feel very fortunate to have backing us. The reason they’re backing us, it’s more about if you go to Google and you type in our company name and you see that we have however many five-star reviews on there and the praise that our clients are praising upon us. That’s how we get the backers like the Harringtons. Companies like that work with us because of the people who get on there and talk about us, which is unsolicited and real reviews. That to me is what I’m most proud of is our unblemished five-star review record on Google because in our industry, in our space, that’s pretty.
It’s unheard of too. What you’re doing, and I’d never heard anybody ever say a bad thing about your VAs. Everybody has used your VAs, loves and raves about them in every mastermind I’ve ever been in. We know you do a great job with that part of itself. For people reading here, don’t be afraid. You may be able to find a cheaper service out there, but I guarantee you, they’re not going to be the same level as what Robert’s people are going to be. It is worth paying a premium for good people. It is worth doing that. It’s essential, you must do that. I don’t want to hold you up too much because I know you have time constraints.
Paul, this was awesome. I appreciate you having me on. This is a lot of fun connecting with you. I’m looking forward to getting to see you in person soon.
March here, that would be fun. I’m looking forward to that as well.
That’s why I stay in these masterminds and these groups, it’s worth taking the time to get together, and getting to see you in person is great.
Zoom is okay but in person, we just have so much more fun.
I’m looking forward to it. Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you. I super appreciate you.
I’m going to be reaching out to you because we’ve got some students who may need you here. I’m going to be reaching out to you shortly on that. Thank you again, Robert. I appreciate your time. We’ll probably be talking again soon and have you on the show again.
About Robert Nickell
Robert continues to propel Rocket Station forward with his innovative thinking, extensive experience, and entrepreneurial spirit.
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