By Nora Crosthwaite | Realtor, Re/Max Concepts

On a cold Wednesday morning this month, I was meeting with an entrepreneur friend who is starting her recruiting practice for cybersecurity professionals. As we sipped our Mahalo’s lattes, she asked me a fabulous question: "What have you learned each year in your business? What has changed each year?"

Until she asked, I hadn’t realized how much things had changed in my business and how much they continue to change.

I entered the real estate realm in November 2015 with no sales experience and no professional real estate experience (I’d personally lost money in the downturn, like many). So, the year ending in December 2016 I will call the "Year of Selling."

During my "Year of Selling," I told everyone what I did, whether they needed a real estate agent or not. I recognize these entrepreneurs and side hustlers on social media now every day; they are the ones constantly explaining why their product or service will change your life. This was the year many entrepreneurs and small businesses talked about themselves, and I was no exception. During the "Year of Selling," I did not understand, as most newer entrepreneurs do not, the full value of all I was bringing to the table. I took every client, at any time, at any price.

My second full year was 2017, the "Year of Anxiety." As I started growing, I found my business was sporadic. One month I’d be working with three clients simultaneously, and the next month I’d be hearing crickets.

If you’ve ever known an entrepreneur well, you’ll recognize the mood swings that come with this phase. We are flying on cloud nine one moment, down in the dumps an hour later, and convinced we have everything under control later that day. Thus, there’s another characteristic of the "Year of Anxiety": insomnia. Whenever business is coming in, you worry that it’s just a fluke and will disappear. Whenever business is quiet, you worry that you’ll never make it. I get it; I’ve been there. During this year, I learned to start listening to others talk about their needs instead of shouting about my business from the rooftops. Sometimes, what people need is not quite what I provide; however, I can usually point them in the right direction. This year changed my focus to adding value, which was a game changer.

Toward the end of year two, the anxiety eased slightly and I began the "Year of Systems." While business was still somewhat sporadic, I was becoming consistently busier. While I was now able to sleep regularly, I was too busy to do so. Obviously, the time was right to start building out my systems and investing into the future.

I hired a former client as my assistant. Jeannie quickly became the glue behind the business. Still, this was a leap into the unknown. Having an employee who must get paid each month really forced me to use her skills efficiently and effectively and become more consistent in my business habits. As a necessity, we worked together to create processes and checklists for our real estate transactions; it was no longer enough for me to have everything in my head. These systems are now the backbone of the business.

With our systems in place, 2019 became the "Year of Growth." Creating a clear value proposition and documented checklists, I added an agent to the team, Tawnia. Tawnia and I are complementary in our experiences and interests, enabling us to grow beyond my established client base. We also still have Jeannie standing behind us and making sure we’re on track. At this point, the business still comes in waves (as real estate business can do), but the anxiety has virtually disappeared. We were prepared for meaningful growth from 2018 to 2019 without adding hours or significant stress and are looking to continue the trends in 2020.

So what is year five? In 2020, we expect to continue to diversify by taking on different types of clients and transactions and challenging ourselves. Real estate is a profession that teaches you something new every day; the trials and transformations of each of the last four years have prepared me to tackle future years with aplomb.

The four-year timeline to stability and growth is fairly typical with real estate agents as well — most real estate agents leave the business within their first three years. Surviving and thriving this long shows me that we have a foundation to structure our work with clients and adjust to ever-changing market conditions. This gives us the bandwidth to focus on what we love: adding value.

If you’re a business owner or entrepreneur, consider: Was this your trajectory, too?

Nora Crosthwaite is a Realtor at Re/Max Concepts. She and her team do business under Home Sweet Des Moines, and specialize in educating clients, adding value, and inspiring action. Nora is also launching an online staging service at in April 2020.  

Outside of business, Nora volunteers regularly with Habitat for Humanity, Pi515, and is a former FemCity Des Moines board member. She enjoys spending time with her husband and daughter, and is a self-professed geek who catches all the Star Wars and superhero movies. Connect with her via email.