Delegate: An NAA Pro’s time is money, so budget it

It’s often macho to show how long your days are. But, what if those long days are actually costing your business money?

By James Myers, contributor

What auction professional doesn’t want to improve his or her quality of life?

While the desire is there, living alongside it is a work ethic that resembles something akin to a dare. The long, hard hours auction professionals are known to maintain day in and day out is a point of pride for many.

However, working smarter, not harder, could be the key to freeing up precious time for an improved work/life balance while also improving the bottom line.

Will McLemore, CAI, has sold more than $75 million in real estate, but he freely admits to making a number of “stupid” mistakes, which is a lot for a Yale University graduate to fess up to.
In 2006, he founded McLemore Auction Company in Nashville, Tennessee. His goal was to bring a high-quality auction service to owners of real estate and personal property. However, what he didn’t recognize at the time was that there are two types of businesses: a lifestyle business and a growth business.

“I thought I was going to turn the auction business into a McDonald’s franchise,” McLemore said. “Why not? How hard can it be? I wasted a lot of time trying to figure out how to make a business like that work.”

McLemore thought he was creating a growth business – something that would attract venture capitalists. He hired seven full-time employees and staffed up to seven full-time equivalent employees for large volume monthly auctions.

“What I really wanted to do was run a lifestyle business,” he said. “That’s what attracted me to the industry in the first place.”

He made the tough decision about three years ago to focus on what he was good at and downsize the business down to just himself, his wife and one employee – an assistant that eventually quit and wasn’t replaced. He was able to do all this after he chose to delegate tasks to third parties.

Delegate your phone

For instance, McLemore spent far too much time on the phone taking calls that could be handled by someone else, so he hired a Portland, Ore.-based company called Ruby Receptionists as his live-call answering service.

“The phone is a disaster,” he said of an example of tasks that take away from quality work hours.

Ruby Receptionists gets his auction list on Monday and the team there is provided with all the information they need to inform callers. However, McLemore has a two-tiered system set up so that if a caller isn’t satisfied with what Ruby Receptionist offers, they are sent to another service that staffs personal assistants who each work with a handful of clients. They are equipped to handle questions Ruby can’t. Regardless, it is all part of the delegate system.

There are a number of advantages to this system. First, the people taking the calls aren’t his employees, so there are no payroll taxes or compensation or sick days to worry about. It also frees up McLemore to do what his sole purpose in the company should be – taking care of his sellers. In fact, McLemore said there are a number of things an Auctioneer should never do.

“Never design advertising,” he said. “If you’re good at it, it’s because you did it way more than you should have.”

There are too many tasks that take up precious “mind space,” McLemore said. He recommends that Auctioneers contract with a bookkeeper so that they never have to pay a bill or open mail; the bookkeeper will hand over items that demand the attention of the Auctioneer. He said Auctioneers should contract with a janitorial service so that if you have an office, it’s always taken care of. And, never hang your own signs.

“Never do the same thing twice,” he recommended. “This is a big thing. If you have a repeatable process, do it once really well and find a way to copy it.”

This last bit of advice is something he does with frequent questions he gets via text message. When he gets a question for the first time, he carefully jots down a response and saves it on his phone. When the question comes up again, he just copies and pastes his response. In essence, he chose to delegate the task of answering repeated questions to his saved list of replies. The result is the same – it saves time and accomplishes the same goal.

Delegate your website

McLemore is also testing something he refers to as “live admins.” It’s a live-chat service that pops up on his company’s website after a user has visited for 30 seconds or longer. These are actual people trained by his assistant, Janet, to answer questions that help users find what they’re looking for on the website.

“It’s shocking how much information is on the website and how people can’t find it,” he said.

McLemore said despite the fact that the auctioneering industry is a “tough, hands-on business,” when an Auctioneer finds themselves doing anything other than managing the seller, “that’s a job for delegation.”

“We tend to brag about how much we work,” he said. “It’s a pride thing – it’s macho. It’s nonsense. What are you going to do with the time you free up? I encourage you to spend time with your family. Spend time with your friends, because you never know.”

This article was an excerpt from a presentation given at the 2017 NAA International Auctioneers Conference and Show. Want even more tips regarding this topic? NAA members can access the full audio of this presentation and many others in the NAA Knowledge Center.