Starting your own business usually necessitates a leap of faith, and that leap can bring along its own set of anxieties: from the smallest logistical details up to big-picture goal-setting. Typically, that list of concerns doesn’t involve a true ethical dilemma, and yet that’s exactly what Keller Williams agent Jack Campbell of the Carmel Valley/Del Mar (California) market center faced when he left the mortgage industry after 15 years for real estate.
Campbell first dabbled in real estate in 1992, getting his license right out of high school. After attending college in San Diego, he transitioned to the mortgage side of the industry, ultimately starting his own partnership. Over time, that business grew profitable by helping real estate agents create opportunity. However, when the market began shifting in 2006 and his lease came up, Campbell made the difficult decision to sell the business to his partner.
“We weren’t heavily profitable and weren’t doing our clients and co-workers any justice by keeping something that was marginally successful alive. When you take 10 percent off production, I knew we would be in the negative.
For a few years, he did loan-origination work part-time before pivoting his energy to real estate.
“I didn’t know how I was going to get into real estate,” Campbell says. “I didn’t have a business structure thought out. I didn’t have the knowledge of The Millionaire Real Estate Agent.”
The one thing Campbell did have was a database chock-full of potential clients – clients of other real estate agents who had trusted him to guide those individuals through the mortgage process. And therein lay the ethical dilemma that would shape his future in the real estate business:
Would he take his “real estate referred” database with him? … Or would he start over?
“It’s such a gray area,” he says. “There’s no black or white line, but you can’t necessarily go and poach from people who trusted you with their clients without crossing an ethical barrier. Even though there’s no hard and fast rule about it, those people over time trusted me to help them build their businesses, and for me to turn around and start soliciting directly to their clients would be a breach of trust in a way that I think is very wrong.”
Although Campbell knows he made the right decision, he admits that he lacked clarity at the time.
“I was thinking about the other people and my interactions with these people who were in my life – these real estate agents I have relationships with, my ex-wife who’s an escrow officer, my best friend who’s a real estate agent, my next best friend who’s a mortgage guy,” he says.
“Everyone I know in my entire sphere is built in or around the real estate business. You have to make a decision based on how it’s going to feel when you look at these people and deal with these interactions. Our kids go to school together. I see them all the time. You have to draw a boundary somewhere.”
Campbell also realized if he made the easy choice to mine his database that it would haunt him for years to come.
Starting from Scratch
So, instead of having the certainty that he would be able to provide for his family from the outset, Campbell opted to start from scratch.
“I made a mental decision that my personal sphere, which was pretty much full of real estate agents, and my database were pretty much dead, so I needed to find a new way to acquire opportunity,” he says.
Campbell began purchasing ads on mainstream websites and spent his first two years with Coldwell Banker. Not satisfied with his growth at the company, Campbell began looking elsewhere, compiling a spreadsheet with 13 different brokerages and interviewing management as he considered commission plans and options for building a team.
“When I walked through the door at Keller Williams, it was just an obvious place to be,” he says.
“The company was in line with my vision for building a team. It was also a good cultural fit; I was impressed to see all levels of management concerned with every aspect of an agent’s business, from health insurance to financial well-being. They were also very honest and upfront when talking about a shift. Having those conversations was huge. I didn’t hear that at any other company.”
Campbell credits the support materials and coaching KW provided along with honest dialogues with his team leader for helping his business grow.
“I learned that there isn’t one way to do business. Even if you have no network at all, you can build something in two years and be producing well above the average of other agents in the area.”
Keller Williams’ investment in technology has also been a huge area of leverage for Campbell.
“I live in a hot market and have to be equipped with tools that will help me stay top of mind and communicate my unique value with buyers and sellers. Command will provide just that. Finally, I’ll have an integrated system that will help me stay plugged into my sphere and potential clients with simple voice commands. No other company has embraced technology like Keller Williams has. I look forward to what’s to come.”
Leading with a Clear Conscience
Today, Campbell has a growing team and a clear vision of where he wants to go. He receives 60 percent of his business from referrals, making use of KW’s agent-to-agent referral platform, and is working to grow his market center’s luxury division. He remains dedicated to that growth, even if it’s happening more slowly than he planned.
“I made that decision and that commitment and going back and not making it is not an option,” he says.
“It’s taken me twice as long to get where I am today as I expected, but that doesn’t mean that my goals have changed or that I’ve wavered in my interest in accomplishing them. It’s just testing my perseverance.”
That grit certainly aided Campbell when it came time to make that difficult decision at the start of his career, and he believes that running an ethical business will always pay off in the end.
“You constantly worry if you don’t know where you are with your work or family. I’m not perfect by any means, but I wake up with clarity, which is helping me bring value to those around me. This allows me to focus on helping people get to the next level.
A Word of Advice
He offers the following advice to agents facing a seemingly impossible choice: “Stop thinking of the gravity of the decision,” he says.
“When I look at all the things I regret, inaction has caused me far more pain than action. Make that decision and take that first step in the direction you want to go as quickly as possible. Reevaluate yourself as you go, because you’ll make mistakes. We all do. When you make them, own up to them, acknowledge what caused them, and figure out what you can do to prevent the failure again. You have to make more good decisions than bad ones, and if you do that, you will win.”