Ep 101: How to Be a Top Producer and Still Take a Vacation (with Tony Ray Baker)


Tony Ray Baker is a top-producing agent from Tucson, Arizona, with 25 years of experience. He’s maintained a successful real estate practice while never forcing himself to work weekends or foregoing a vacation.

Today on Stay Paid, Tony discusses how he built a business that thrives on referrals and repeat transactions.

Key Points:

  • Find a way to fit your business into the life you want.
  • Regular touchpoints are the key to a business driven by referrals.
  • When you market the right way to the right people, your business will grow significantly.

Q: Introduce yourself to our audience.

I was in college for a long time, pursuing psychology, law, architecture, and design. My mom suggested doing real estate. It dawned on me that she might be right. Real estate had everything I wanted, and I fell in love with the idea of helping people buy and sell.

I passed my test and started work with a broker. But I realized I had no idea what I was doing. The broker said we were going to door knock and cold call. We didn’t have fax machines, pagers, or cell phones. We had a runner who gave us listings from the MLS.

I was one of the youngest agents in town, so no one would take me seriously. They would take us to a neighborhood and tell us to knock on doors until someone listed. I had a guy chase me with a shotgun. I said, “That’s it. We’re done.”

I had to do a little soul searching. Then I realized I was going to make it my way. Clients would come to me, and we would work together on a schedule beneficial to both of us. My broker asked me to meet a guy named Joe Stumpf, who created a program called By Referral Only.

I knew right away that was my business model. Joe said he wanted me to design the life I wanted, and then we’d fit real estate into that life. I wanted vacations and a Monday–Friday schedule. Joe opened my eyes to the fact that I could make my business fit in with what I wanted.

I think that’s the golden ticket. I feel for the agents who are very focused on a number but are willing to sell their souls to get there. They’re doing volume, but they’re not making profit. They can’t take a day off. That’s not the life I wanted.

Ironically, the first problem my business coach gave me was to take a vacation every month for the next year. I scheduled a vacation once a month for 12 months, and my production doubled.

This was because I had to become super-efficient about how I was going to handle my clients and still get to go on vacation. You can’t believe how much stuff you get done right before vacation.

Q: Do you have people who help clients while you’re away?

I do now. When we go on vacation, we have our back-up agents who step in to help. We have people who we trust who aren’t on our team. But we do also have people who work with us regularly, including an assistant and a video/audio guy. And we have a website guy. I also just brought in a new person to start helping with focusing on our clientele and making sure they’re taken care of in every aspect.

Q: How does this kind of business come to be?

I think what happens is that your brain starts working out how to make your goals happen. If you keep telling yourself that you’re fat, you’ll probably think that every time you walk by a mirror. If you think you want to take care of clients on a concierge level where they’ll want to refer to you, your brain will help you do that, too.

Early on, Joe Stumpf taught me the systems that helped me get there. As you work with clients and give them concierge service, they naturally want to refer their friends to you, because they want you to have that same experience. For my first ten years, I did 95 percent referral business.

I was about being number one in the minds of my clients. They would be raving fans and tell others about me.

Q: How often are you touching base with your clients?

I’ve taught marketing to agents in Tucson for 15 years. One of the things I teach is that you need to be wherever your clients are. One of things we do is send out a newsletter. It’s informational and fun, and it lists things you should do in Tucson.

We give them information by email about how to pay off their loans early. We also have this really cool magazine we send out to our top 100 clients called American Lifestyle.

We send texts, we connect on social media, and they get a phone call. I like to talk to everyone by phone at least once a year.

We have 800 people in our database. We look at our top 100 and we pay extra close attention to who those people are. We throw a big block party for a couple hundred people every year. These people see us everywhere they are.

Q: Could you give us some more details about what this outreach looks like?

We’ll do a regular Wednesday happy hour. The night before, between 5 and 7 p.m., I’ll send out 50 texts and ask people to join us at a hotel for a happy hour. We typically have 45–50 people show up. What we do is buy a whole bunch of appetizers from the hotel. People show up, buy drinks, and hang out and talk to each other. At the end of that party, I don’t have to clean up—all I have to do is walk out the door with my friends.

I also text people to say, “I’m thinking of you.” I’ll send a funny little text. Because I feel like if the universe puts your name in my head, there’s a reason. I’m going to follow through on that.

Everyone’s trying to mass message people in their database, and all of us know what those messages look like. But a personal message is authentic, and people know it.

Q: Do you find that you have an even smaller percent of people who are driving most of your business—such as 20 percent driving 80—and, if so, what do you do for those people?

Yes. The fact is, we can only spend so much time with people. We give most of our time to spouses, children, and best friends. The people beyond that are our raving fans. They’re constantly referring to us. My CRM shows me everyone who every client has referred to me—a referral tree.

My raving fans and I spend a lot of time together. They might be working with me on my favorite charity (Pet Partners), they’re in my wine club, and they might go out to dinner or to the theater with me. They’ve raised their hands, in a way. That’s a natural thing that happens with people.

If everybody focused on those people, it would grow their business tenfold.

Q: How does a new agent starting today build that database?

The first thing I did was make a list of every single person I knew. That included all the vendors I worked with. I looked at all of those on a list, one by one, and focused on getting them into my database. Back then, there wasn’t Facebook—I had an address and a phone number. When email came out, I went and called every single person and asked, “What’s your email?”

Now, I have a database that shows all my connections on social media. It updates me when their photo changes. I can track all of that.

It’s a whole new world. You can get distant by using technology the wrong way, or closer to people by using it the right way.

Q: Tell us how the photo of you with the iguana changed your whole business.

I felt like a secret agent for the first several years. There was no advertising with my name on it. I went to Puerta Vallarta. I wanted to touch an iguana. I’m an adventurer—that’s what I do.

So, I went to touch it. It ran across my arm and up onto my head. The iguana photo went up on Facebook. Within 30 days, I got a phone call. This lady said, “I saw your picture on Facebook. You are not the typical agent. You’re not that stuffy ‘tie guy’ trying to be this person that you’re not. I think you’re my guy. Can you help me find a house?”

At the time, I actually did wear a tie every day and was very proud of my tie collection. I told her that, and she said “Don’t wear a tie when you work with me, and we have a deal.”

I started attracting people who wanted to work with me, so I posted the photo on the internet and put it on all my marketing and yard signs. People would see an easygoing guy they could work with. When I put the iguana photo on my signs, my sign calls quadrupled.

Q: Which routines have driven success for you?

I do affirmations. I talk to myself and remind myself that I’m thankful for everything I have and that I’ve created. I also try to thank all the people around me—you can never do that enough.

Our team meets every day for lunch and talks about family and life. It helps all of us be closer and have a good work day.

I’m very focused on the systems that allow me to spend more time with my clients without giving up my free time. My goal is always high revenue with low expenses.

Q: What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t care what other people think! I cared when I was brand new in the business. I grew a caterpillar mustache to try to look older. I cared too much about what people thought. I didn’t learn until later that I should let the people who don’t like me pass by, and let the people who do like me get in the door.

In the middle of the night, two people come to my website. One says, “That guy’s a quack,” and he leaves. And the other one wants to work with me.

Action Items:

  • Print your database and determine your top 100 contacts. Ask yourself, “How much value am I giving these people?” 

Connect with Tony:

Tony Ray’s Marketing on a Dime class

Tony Ray Baker's famous iguana photo

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