Julie Jeffery is a relative newcomer to the mortgage side, entering the broker channel with her husband in July of 2014. She funded over $10 million her first year while setting up an office, systems, processes, and raising a family. Julie is going to fly high in this business and I’m thrilled we got some chat time. So welcome, Julie. Welcome to WIMI Talks. I am thrilled and delighted that you are here with us today. You are in Calgary, Alberta. And so I just wanted to talk to you a little bit about you and yourself. So welcome.
Julie Jeffery: Thanks Catherine. I’m so excited. Thank you so much for having me on WIMI Talks.
Catherine: My pleasure. So, most people didn’t grow up wanting to be a mortgage specialist. A few did, but not most. So, when did you get into the mortgage business? Have you been a mortgage broker all your life or what happened?
Julie: Well, I’m just like everyone else, I definitely didn’t grow up wanting to be a mortgage broker. I don’t think I even knew what a mortgage broker was. I definitely grew up in a banking family, so my mom was an employee at the Bank of Montreal, and was eventually a branch manager at CIBC. But my background is actually fairly interesting. I started out being a social worker.
Catherine: Oh wow.
Julie: Yeah, I think there’s an incredible amount of transferrable skills from my social work background to my banking, and then on to mortgage brokering.
Catherine: Wow. So you eventually became a mortgage specialist. How did that happen when you were a social worker?
Julie: I love social work. I worked with a lot of youths who were homeless, who were experiencing drug addiction and some pretty awful things in life. When I had my kids, I decided to stay home. I did stay home for 3-1/2 years with my kids. And then my husband was an RBC mortgage specialist and through my husband’s co-workers and a lot of the area managers, I was actually offered a job as a mortgage specialist at the Royal Bank when they heard that I wanted to go back to work.
Catherine: Oh that’s good.
Catherine: So, as everyone starts new, what did you do when you first started to grow your business as a mortgage specialist? What did you do to get customers? Did your husband have a full set of clientele and he just handed them off or what happened?
Julie: [laughs] I wish that was the case. Probably the best sales coach in the world in that Royal Bank actively recruited me, and what they told me was it was 100% based on personality and drive. I didn’t have any broker skills or the banking skills, but they felt they could teach that to me. So they called me to say we’d love you to start being a mortgage specialist. And when I told him, his first response was, “I think you’ll be amazing, but I won’t hand you the business”.
Because he said if I hand you the leads and I hand you the clients, you’ll never learn how to source your own. So he didn’t give me a client base. What he gave me was basically the skills and knowledge to process the applications, and the ideas on how to build my business. Which for us, in a lot of ways in that area at RBC was through the branches. So making incredible branch connections. Ultimately, just making friends with people who work in the branch.
The second piece to that was building realtor and home builder relationships. But he did give me the basic skills and then sent me off on my way to make that work. [laughs]
Catherine: That’s nice. So you’re in the business, you’re being a mortgage specialist, you probably have an idea of how it works because your husband was doing it. When did you know this was a business for you? Because there’s a big difference than social work.
Julie: You know, I knew really quickly. And again, because it’s such a relationship business. So you meet these amazing people who trust you with the biggest financial decision of their lives. They tell you everything about them. They sometimes tell you a lot of secrets and a lot of interesting things about their finances or even their relationships, or their income, where they work, their children, their dreams, the dream home they want to buy. Sometimes it’s a refinance, so you’re learning pretty intimate details about how things have gone wrong for them. So I actually found really quickly I love the human element of it.
And the thing that I was concerned about is how do I learn the skill of putting together an application. But the applications are very much like building your sort of client notes and your client needs in social work. So it’s what does your client need and what solution can I offer to make something better for them.
Catherine: Of course. That makes so much sense.
Julie: So I knew quickly. I knew within probably the first couple months that I really enjoyed it. My frustration was not getting as much business as I wanted. So it did take me some time to build up the business and by the end of the first year I was actually the RBC Mortgage Specialist Rookie of the Year for the province of Alberta. So I went, “You know what? This is working out for me”.
Catherine: This is good. So do you find this job stressful?
Julie: You know that is interesting question. I would say that different than other mortgage brokers, I actually don’t find it stressful. The stress that I do feel is, again, not getting as much business as I want. So I knew that I want to build my business and I want my business to grow as I went. I want to see more applications every month, I want to build my client base.
The day-to-day transactions of the business or how we actually process mortgage applications, again going back to my social work background, there’s nothing in the mortgage world that could compare to the stress of family violence or drug addiction, or homelessness, or some of the really, really awful situations that I was involved in or that I saw, and that I tried to help people out of, as a social worker. So I think I constantly go back to those days and think nothing is as bad as x day when x happened. So an abused child or wives that I was working with or somebody involved in the social work space.
Catherine: Yeah. Okay, so you and your husband now own a company. So you work with your husband every single day.
Julie: [laughs] I do work with my husband every single day.
Catherine: And then you have children together and you have a home together, and you have a life together.
Julie: We do. We have 9- and 11-year-olds. We actually live two blocks from our office in inner-city Calgary.
Catherine: So tell me you walk to work.
Julie: We walk to work every day. We often walk home for lunch. We bring the dog to work, we walk home to check on the dog. The kids’ bus driver is kind enough to drop them off right beside our office and so our kids hop off the bus and come into the office every day.
Catherine: So how does it work with you and your husband? Like does it work? Julie: Yeah, good question. There are days where there’s wine, for sure. [laughs] You know, getting through the day. The truth is that we are building a business, so we have a DLC franchise in Calgary. We have a team. We’re each building our own business. So I guess I look at like if you’re building a small business, which many Canadians are, who do you trust more? Who would you rather own your small business with? And for me, the person I trust the most is my husband. He also happens to be an insanely good salesman. He’s an incredibly great mortgage broker and he’s a connector, and he’s just fantastic at what we do.
The second piece to that is we have very different skills, so we’re not overlapping. And we do some coaching around which skills do I have, which skill does he have, and we’ve really divided the duties on our team and on our brokerage so that I’m handling the things that I’m great at and he handles the things he’s great at. So it is actually working out very well for us.
Catherine: So you had a coach come in and do that or how did that all work?
Julie: We did. We had a business coach come in and she sat down with us for about four hours. She basically made a list of, you know, Julie what are what are your number one skills and what are Andy’s number one skills. Also, what are your weaknesses and what are the points in your business that are causing you both conflict.
So, what are the things that are coming up daily that are causing conflict between the two of you in the business realm. One of the things that came up was admin and so I had been doing all the admin for both of our transactions and that really wasn’t working for us. And so we did take on a client care manager who’s now doing our admin full-time. That works really well for so.
Catherine: So that’s good. So it was worth the time to have that person come in and kind of go through everything and help you see.
Julie: Do you know, I don’t think people do it enough. I think there’s nothing better than having an unbiased third party sit down and help you really look at your business. And I also think there’s nothing better than your personal life. Obviously as a social worker, I’m a big believer in any kind of counselling. And I don’t think there needs to be a problem to be able to go to counselling or even to have a life coach. You don’t need to have a problem. I think that it’s just incredibly beneficial for people to have that third party opinion and have somebody outside of your relationship look at it and say this is what I’m seeing.
Catherine: Right, and there is kind of a stigma on that, so that’s really great advice.
Julie: There is a stigma, which is too bad. I mean, I just don’t find it any different having a life coach, a business coach, or counselling, than talking to a really great friend. She’s able to give you some unbiased advice.
Catherine: So the friend usually comes with wine.
Julie: They do. And so that’s why I love that that person who just, you know, doesn’t know all of your details, doesn’t know everything about you. They’re able to give you a little bit bigger picture of you.
Catherine: Since you have a coach or have a coach come in, do you have work/life balance? And if so, is it awesome? And if not, are you okay with that? Like how do you deal with working with your husband and being in a very commission-driven business and having children and a dog and everything?
Julie: Right.I would say that I think work/life balance is a catchphrase that people get caught up in. I think it’s incredibly hard in real life to have what people think of as work/life balance. I think that most successful mortgage brokers I know are the people who accept that this is actually way more than a full-time job. When I hear people say there’s lots of flexibility, I can spend a lot of time with my kids, I can have a lot of down time, I can still do my activities, and I can still go to yoga every day; I actually think that’s lovely and I understand that for you, but that’s not who I am.
And so, I put in way more than a full-time week every week being a mortgage broker and having our team. So work/life balance, for me, is carving out specific times. Let’s say, my kids are home from school and from five to seven o’clock every night. I am not working from five to seven o’clock every night. I am focussed on my kids, I’m making them dinner. I’m going to the park and doing homework, and going to activities. But before five o’clock, my entire day is 100% focused on work. So I don’t think there’s a lot of flexibility in what we do and I think I’m probably a little bit different than other people in that if you really just have to put in the time and the hours and you have to be focussed on what we do all day long, every day, for me, to be really successful.
Catherine: Yeah and you know this job is a lot of work. There’s a lot of responsibility with this job.
Julie: There is and the challenge with this job is as you get better at it and as you find success, the amount of clients who contact you and the amount of applications can actually grow exponentially. So there’s also that danger. The more successful you become, the more successful you become. And in this job, that means the more clients, the more applications. As you get fairly busy, I think I quickly realized, you know, I put my kids in full-time daycare on day one when I started with the Royal Bank. I didn’t have a single client and I didn’t have a single application to load, and I put my two kids in full-time daycare. The full-time daycare cost me $19,000 that year.
So it’s a huge commitment. I think when you have kids and you really want to go for it and you really want to be successful. Lots of people do really well where they are half-time or part-time, where they have the flexibility. It’s just not my personality. I’m a bit “all or nothing”, to be honest. So I knew I had to put them in full-time.
Catherine: I know you have processes. You’re a fairly process-driven person. Your husband is sales-driven and you have processes. Explain to me what that looks like.
Julie: I’m super process-driven. I’m super systems-driven is what I would say. My brain probably works in a way that I believe everything in life can have a system or a process; every single thing. So when it comes down to little things, like even organization in my house or my office, I like to just by nature, group like with like, is one of my favourite sayings. I group like things with like things, and you always find them. So all the scissors are together, all the pens are together, all the pencil crayons are together.
I think being a mortgage broker, I think systems and processes are critical. If you have to think about your process or you have to think about the emails that you’re going to write every day, or you have to think about how do I check conditions lists, how do I check who’s been submitted, how do I check each broker complete. If every day you’re recreating a system for that then you’re wasting so much brain power and energy recreating that, versus just stop and create the system.
So my biggest piece of advice to new brokers is picture what this job is and create a system for everything. So, do you have a really easy-to-complete pre-approval form for purchases? Do you have a different very easy-to-complete pre-approval form for refinances or transfers, because you’re actually collecting different data. Do you have a really easy-to-complete credit bureau form? Do you have a really easy-to-complete service agreement? It never changes. It’s the same for every client. It’s has fillable boxes or it’s a fillable PDF.
So I do have an obsession with fillable PDFs because all of our forms are PDFs and they’re all fillable, so the client just opens the PDF and pops in the data, saves the form and sends it back to us.
Catherine: Oh, genius!
Julie: Yeah. So there is no reinventing the wheel at our office. There’s also so much comfort and there’s so much release of that mental energy if you just know that this is how you do it and you never vary.
Another example is how we store files. So I have a list of how I want files stored and every single person on our team stores them the same way. And so our example is always Clooney, George LOE; Clooney, George Paystub; Clooney, George downpayment. So it’s always “last name, first name, what the document is”. So when my underwriter says, “Julie, I really need the T4 for George Clooney”, I can quickly go into my file storage system and grab the T4 for George Clooney and send it on.
Catherine: That actually helps in a way with work/life balance because you can get more work done and you’re mentally not straining and thinking, “Do I have the letter? Do I have the T4? Where do I find it?”
Julie: Right. They’re all there. I can also see, you know, do I have the signed commitment? Do I have the signed mortgage application? Do I have the insurance forms? It’s all there, even down to “Clooney, George Lawyer”, so when I open George Clooney files, I can see here’s the lawyer and I have that on a web-based system so I can actually also access it through my iPhone. So if I’m at lunch with a realtor on a Friday and schmoozing and hoping to build my business and there’s a call from a lawyer who is in a panic about a file, I can quickly pull up the lawyer’s names, the paralegal’s name, both their emails, both their phone numbers, and from my phone I can make a call to that law office instantly. So I think it’s also about being mobile. It’s a really great way to make sure that your business is mobile anywhere in the world.
Catherine: Do you always let your lawyers know when a deal is coming?
Julie: Do you know what? I am such a process person. I let everyone know everything. [laughs] And I know that sounds wild, but we use a CRM system that basically keeps track of every single participant and every single transaction, and every single participant gets multiple emails, including the lawyer and the paralegal. So in our files when a broker completes,we have a stock email, an email template that goes out to the lawyer, the paralegal, the realtor, and the client or both clients if there’s two clients involved. And that lawyer just talks about the law office process. What’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen, what kind of documents they’re going to need, and it remind the law office that we want to be the first point of contact if there’s a problem. So it has a line that says, “If there are any issues, please contact my office at x number before you contact the client. We can resolve any issues up front”.
And that again, goes down to process. So email templates, I have hundreds I would say. [laughs] I love an email template.
Catherine: Does everybody use them in your team?
Julie: Yeah, I mean, I don’t insist on it, but certainly as our agents are seeing our business growing and they’re seeing that we still take vacations and most days I’m done by six o’clock, and I really don’t work on the weekends. I do take calls. I think our phones are our secret weapons and I think there’s a lot of brokers who maybe don’t use their phones enough. But successful brokers answer their phone every time it rings. So I always have my phone with me and I always answer my phone. But I’m certainly not sitting at my laptop on a Saturday or Sunday, loading applications or doing any paperwork. It’s really just for conversation.
Catherine: Right, because you have processes in place to look after that.
Julie: That’s right. And I have an amazing CRM and the second I get a new lead, the leads name get popped in there. With one click of a button, that person receives a stock email explaining our team and our process, how we want to help. There’s an attached pre-approval, there’s an attached credit bureau consent, and that’s with a click of a button.
Yeah, isn’t that cool? And the referring realtor gets literally one click of one button, the referring realtor gets an email saying, “Hi Rick, thanks so much for your referral of John Smith. We sincerely appreciate the referrals you send us and we will keep you updated throughout the process. Talk to you soon”.
Catherine: So that must have taken quite a while to get all that together.
Julie: It’s been an epic adventure in terms of the CRM system, and it’s certainly you do need to be detail-orientated and you need to have a vision for what you want the outcome to be. So you really need a vision for what emails do we need, what systems do clients need, what’s reassuring to people, who can I contact, what’s the privacy rules. So you have to have a pretty broad view of how your business works.
The key is that you have to write email templates that are your voice. One thing the business coach said was, “Julie, you want to do everything because there’s a way you want it to sound,” and she said, “so you need to write the email template because you know how you sound and how your husband, Andy, sounds to a client”.So you need to recreate that in email templates so the client always hears your voice.
Catherine: Yeah and it’s not fake-sounding.
Julie: It’s not fake and it’s how I would actually talk to a client. lt has little tidbits in there of our personalities, it has a little bit humour, and it has some touches where it’s apparent I didn’t buy theseemail templates. They didn’t come with my CRM. I actually wrote them.
Julie: And we tweak them daily. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t change a little snippet of wording in an email template. But that’s a heck of a lot more efficient than rewriting them every day.
Catherine: So you bring in customers and you also do the admin and that sort of stuff.
Julie: I do. So yeah, I certainly don’t bring in the amount of businesses that my husband might, but I made my first year with—I’m not sure—$8 to $10 million my first year.
Catherine: Yeah, that’s good.
Julie: So coming from the bank space, we find the volume really different on this side because we were running around $70 million combined at the Royal Bank. So when I say $8 to $10 million, I always go, “Oh my gosh!” It feels really low [laughs] when you’re used to just massive volumes. So we are used to having a lot of files on the go and having to be organized when you’re doing $70 million plus, and a lot of years we did that with no assistance. You really do have to be organized. So it was actually a great learning experience in a lot of ways to manage that much volume.
Catherine: So if you were a new broker coming in, what would be three pieces of advice that you would give them to help them start?
Julie: So I would say the number one thing you need to be a connector. You really do need to be someone who loves people, who love to hear their stories, who loves to chat with people, who loves to know more. You can’t be someone who is nervous of those connections. So I also think there’s a very big social element. The best sales people that I know and the best brokers I know are incredibly social people who have a lot of friends and acquaintances. They have a lot of lender partners they’re friends with. So I just really think to be someone who’s really open and really wanting to connect with everybody. Not just your realtors, not just your clients, but I love connecting with anyone in the industry—lawyers, you know, it’s kind of everybody. Connections, for me, are number one.
Number two is process. So, the number one thing people need to build and start small. Start with a stock pre-approval email. One for a purchase and one for a refinance or a transfer. Start with that generic application, make sure you have it saved. Having little bits and pieces, having a conditions checklist for yourself, have a file management system. So start with those little pieces of process and as your business grows, constantly seeing you add and evolve your process and your systems.
And the third thing is I’m a big believer in thinking really positive and really happy. There’s a lot of fun to be had in this business. We have a lot of fun every day with our team. We have a lot of fun with our client care manager. We have a ton of fun with our realtors and our home builders. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, so everything we do at our office revolves around being positive. It’s really critical that we sort of always say have you loved your lender partners this week? Have you sent a lender partner, have you sent an underwriter or docs reviewer an email that simply says, “I really appreciate you. You’re helping me close business and earn an income, and that’s awesome”.
Catherine: That’s so great. It’s so important to stay positive because people want to deal with positive people.
Julie: They do. In the worst of situations, in the very most stressful, challenging situations, and we’ve all been there on deals that have gone sideways, if I pick up the phone and I call my underwriter or I call my VDM, when they hear my voice, they’re know they’re never going hear a harsh voice. They’re not going to ever be yelled at. They know that I might be upset, but I’m there looking for a solution. And that as soon as you find a solution, I’m the first person who’s going to send an email, drop them off a candy basket, drop them off a gift that says I really appreciate that you helped us out of that challenging situation.
Catherine: That’s nice. So there’s a lot of great insights that I got around having a CRM and trusting and engaging a coach, being positive and that work/life balance is different for everybody, and that’s okay.
Julie: Yeah, I think it’s whatever works for you and your relationship and your family.
Catherine: Yes. Well thank you, Julie. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am Catherine Halkyard with WIMI Talks, and I look forward to actually meeting you in person one day.
Julie: Oh my gosh, thank you so much Catherine. I really appreciate it. I’m so excited and it was great to chat with you.
Catherine: Our pleasure.
Catherine: WIMI ladies mentor, collaborate, share ideas, experiences and opportunities. WIMI is a place where we encourage each other to get more involved as industry professionals, and as women leaders, to help transform the landscape of mortgage brokering in Canada.
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