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Service First & a Strong Start with Dondi Fielder

December 09, 2019


In this episode, I sat down with Dondi Fielder from Coldwell Banker Gosslee Real Estate in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Dondi has been in the real estate business for just over two years. Her first year, her production was way above average, and in her second year, she more than doubled her production. Dondi is super relatable and I think her perspective on succeeding in real estate is very interesting.

Dondi and I discussed her unique ability to make her clients feel like they are the center of the universe, a unique twist on building momentum in your real estate practice, how keeping a genuine service-first approach can lead to short and long term success, and several other interesting topics.

Dondi’s Links

Topics and Timing

Episode Transcript

Start of Interview

Bob Burns: I have a confession to make. The guest on this episode is in one of my classes, and when I’m at the front of the room teaching, I always look for her. I do this, because every single time, a hundred out of a hundred times, there’s a smile on her face, she’s totally engaged in the conversation, a hundred percent locked in. And I got to thinking, if she can make me feel like that in a room full of people, I wonder how she makes her clients feel? So, my guest today is a woman named Dondi Fielder. She works with Coldwell Banker Gosslee in Shreveport, Louisiana. She’s been selling real estate for just over two years, but if you looked at her production you would have no idea. Her first year in real estate was well beyond what anyone would expect from a first-year realtor, like upper second percentile, first percentile in the business, but that wasn’t enough, because she went on to year two to more than double what she did in year one, and she’s on track this year to have an even bigger year. Dondi sells a ton of real estate, and I wanted to talk to her about that. But what I really wanted to talk to her about is her superpower of making people feel like they’re the center of her universe. So Dondi, thanks for being on the show, and welcome.

Dondi Fielder: Wow, thank you, what an introduction, I had no idea. Thank you so much for having me, I’m honored, truly. Well, I served the community in education in various aspects and just love people, and I loved serving in that way, and just came to a point where I just had to get into something different and wanted to switch fields, and always have been interested in real estate, so I thought well, I’m just going to give that a go. So, when I did, I loved the reality that every day is a new day. It’s not the same routine every day, but yet the process is the same.  But the very best part of my job is meeting new people. I love people. I feel like everybody knows something I need to know, and I want to know what that is. So I enjoy getting to know them and spending time with them and helping them in that chapter of their lives.

Bob Burns: I think you said a lot of things that I’d like to dig into in this conversation, but I want to start by talking about Tuscany.

Dondi Fielder: Oh, Tuscany!

Bob Burns: Yep, you said you went to Tuscany a few years ago, you said you ate gelato every day…

Dondi Fielder: I did.

Bob Burns: …and if you see what Dondi looks like, she does not look like she eats gelato every day. So, how was Tuscany?

Dondi Fielder: Oh my goodness, a-ma-zing. It’s someplace I’ve always wanted to go. I think Under the Tuscan Sun, you know watching that movie made me want to go there, but we just had a blast. We stayed at a bed and breakfast, and in the evenings would eat with people from all over the world, and visit with them about their daily excursions, and then each day we would take our car, with our Italian map, we did not have GPS, and we had our little destination and go. I have to confess, we went three times around a roundabout one time before we realized which exit to take. But we would go and kind of peek into the lives of the Italians in these little Tuscan hill towns, surrounded by walls, and that part of the country is kind of frozen in time, and I was fascinated with it. And yes, I did make it a goal to eat gelato every day, and I did! I walked it off, that’s what I told myself.

Bob Burns: So on my bucket list are the Cinque Terre towns, and I’ve always wanted, since I’ve learned about it in high school or even middle school, I read about walking from town to town in the Cinque Terre.

Dondi Fielder: You must.

Bob Burns: So you’re getting me excited.

Dondi Fielder: Yes, you have to do it, it’s just a wonderful thing. I think I could live there for a couple of years anyway.

Launching Her Real Estate Career

Bob Burns: That would be awesome. OK, let’s shift into business, I thought that was really interesting. We’re going to get into all the things like customer service and serving the community. You said serve a bunch of times and I want to dig into that, because having that genuine service mindset I think is really, really important, but I want to explore where that came from. What did you do before real estate? I find that what we bring with us from prior lives can impact real estate good, bad, or otherwise.

Dondi Fielder: Right, so that’s a good point. I served as an educator and an educational therapist and a tutor, from classroom teacher to working for a tutoring service is where I ended up the last three years. And so I learned a lot, and I brought a lot of skills that transferred over into real estate easily. But it’s interesting, because some of my old students that I taught when they were in fourth grade, I’ve sold them their home.

Bob Burns: Oh wow!

Dondi Fielder: So that’s been kind of a wonderful, unexpected treat to be able to serve them in that way as well.

Bob Burns: That’s really interesting, because a lot of times when people get into this they seem to build a firewall between what they used to do and real estate, and they’re reluctant to reach out to past-life clients or connections. Did you have any trepidation reaching out to past students or people you tutored, or did it just come naturally?

Dondi Fielder: You know what, that’s a good point. I think Facebook was a great avenue to just put myself out there and let people know that I’m in this walk of life now and this little journey, and so Facebook made that really easy for me.

Bob Burns: So, you talked on Facebook, probably about what you’re doing now, and I’m really excited to be in real estate and here’s a new career, and the leads just flowed in from there.

Dondi Fielder: No. Right after I got into real estate, I took advantage of every opportunity to…any training that was offered, I just dove right in. I have to confess, at first, I was taken aback because I was working so much, but yet the paychecks weren’t there. So I thought, wait a minute, I’ve worked for a salary, and I’ve worked for hourly wages, and I don’t know how this works. This is tough, this is hard. So I had to get out of that mindset of making money, and really focus on, what I really was doing was helping people, and doing my job, and doing it well, to the best of my ability. And then all of a sudden, things started happening. And when I really just focused in on that person, that client and what their needs were and just doing it well, it just multiplied. And then, here we are.

Bob Burns: That takes a lot of faith…

Dondi Fielder: Yes.

Bob Burns: …and it’s a different path than going to a job where you get paid…you’re selling your time to someone. In real estate we’re not selling our time to anybody, we’re selling outcomes to people.

Dondi Fielder: Right.

Bob Burns: No outcome, no paycheck.

Dondi Fielder: Correct.

Bob Burns: So other significant people in your life, a lot of times I find that being new to real estate, people in our lives, even those closest to us, and even our biggest cheerleaders, our spouses, our siblings, our mothers, our fathers, people that really love us and support us, don’t get it…

Dondi Fielder: Right.

Bob Burns: …did you experience that when you first got into real estate?

Dondi Fielder: Well, I put the pressure on myself, because I thought oh my goodness, I’m not working anymore and making a paycheck, and we’re spending our own money investing in this, and my husband, thank God, was very supportive. He’s a lender himself…

Bob Burns: Oh, so he gets it.

Dondi Fielder: …so he totally gets it, and was incredibly supportive, and I honestly don’t think I would have been able to…it would have been very difficult to achieve and to do what I do, and feel free in the ability to serve people and to just trust and like you said, have faith that it’s going to work out.

Separating the Input from the Outcome

Bob Burns: That whole taking the first step on the staircase when the rest of the steps are in the dark thing is really a propos. So, I want to get back to service, because when you were an educator, that was your job, you showed up and your job was to serve the people to help them learn the outcomes, pass the test, get caught up with the rest of the class, whatever your objective was, and you said before that once you started to separate the financial piece from the job, once you separated the outcome from the input, things went smoothly for you. What gave you that idea, or did it just kind of come to you in a brainstorm?

Dondi Fielder: Well, I really just started treating it like, what if I was in college, I wouldn’t be paid for going to college…

Bob Burns: Interesting.

Dondi Fielder: …and then I just need to serve, and treat it like an unpaid internship. You know, I’m getting on-the-job experience. And that freed me up. For some reason that shift in thinking helped me to just be able to dive in and go all-in, and just give it all I have. I thought I’m going to go all-in for a year, and see what happens. And just show up everyday, work hard, do my best, whatever that looks like, and I just kind of got lost in it, and allowed myself to get lost in it, and let that be what I did, because I was in school, so-to-speak, in my head.

Bob Burns: That makes total sense. A friend of mine has this saying, he says, “Don’t have commission breath.” So commission breath is when clients can detect that the only reason you’re talking to them is to figure out if there’s a way to make a commission from them.

Dondi Fielder: Right, that makes sense.

Bob Burns: And I think showing up and doing the work like you said, and just doing it for the sake of serving, without having that direct dotted line, it’s like mouthwash for commission breath. I’m guessing it made it totally go away.

Dondi Fielder: It did, I really do think so. It was very interesting at first, there was a couple that I got off of phone duty that wanted to look at rentals. Well, that’s really not what we do, but I thought you know what, what a great experience. I need to meet with people. I need to work with people, and I need to show houses and I haven’t shown a house yet, so let me go show this rental house. And I loved it. And it gave me the experience and kind of a way to try it out before a real buyer came along. And I helped them rent, I hooked them up with a lender so that we could have a plan to buy in the future. So, just being open and willing to do whatever it takes for that client, and meet them wherever they are.

Bob Burns: That makes so much sense, and it relates back to how we started this conversation, that you just seem to be a hundred percent locked-in with the people that you’re serving, and there’s magic in that. It sounds so simple, but in today’s world that’s just full of distractions, and everyone’s got a fear of missing out, and we have to scroll on Facebook, and what’s going on on Instagram over here and what’s going on in the news, and what’s going…we live in this kind of bubble of distractions. Figuring out how to make all of that melt away and get locked into a conversation I think is such a lost, yet critically important, skill.

Dondi Fielder: Wow, wow, well said.

The Spark That Started It All

Bob Burns: So, what did you do before real estate? You were educating, you were helping students, but at some point, you had this idea of, “I’m going to do something different.” What was that moment that you decided to get into this business?

Dondi Fielder: Oh, that’s a good one. I was actually walking, I live on a farm, and I was walking on the road, it’s my favorite place to be, other than to walk in Tuscany, but I was walking and I thought, okay so my son is getting married, my daughter is graduating and moving away, and I need to do something different, it’s time for me to jump into something different. And so honestly, I started praying and thought, what can I do? I don’t really want to go get my Masters, I just need to be open to whatever that is, so I talked with my husband about it, and he said, “Dondi, remember about 20 years ago, you were going to get into real estate?”

Bob Burns: Wow.

Dondi Fielder: “And you really were excited about that, but thought maybe that’s not the right time,” and I said, “that’s it!”  So I made a couple of phone calls, how do I do this, what do I do? I want to jump in and get involved, and how do I do this? So I made a couple of calls to people I knew that were in real estate…

Bob Burns: And they didn’t talk you out of it?

Dondi Fielder: No!  They said go for it, go visit the brokers and you’ll find where you belong.

Bob Burns: It’s so important, and it goes back to what I was saying about this world of distractions, to have those quiet moments of reflection, and it can lead us to making great decisions. When we give one hundred percent of our attention to something the outcome’s going to be better, the trick is just, how do I do that? It’s been about two years, two-and-a-half years now…

Dondi Fielder: …two years September 7th…

Letting Go

Bob Burns: Two years, a little bit more. What has turned out the way you thought it would.

Dondi Fielder: Oh my goodness. Well, serving people, when we actually do close, or actually selling a house, I figured that would happen. But everything else in between has been really a roller coaster ride and a lot of fun in a lot of ways. What I didn’t anticipate was all the different personalities, and all the different types of people, and I don’t know why I didn’t think that. But I guess I was in control in the classroom. I was the boss, so I could kind of determine outcomes for people. What I wasn’t anticipating is not being in control of other aspects of it. I can’t control the market, I can’t control the pace of other professionals involved, I can’t control their timeframe. So the things that I couldn’t control were kind of unexpected.

Bob Burns: That can be hard for some people to let go. It was certainly hard for me, it still is hard for me. I am a control freak, anyone who knows me knows that I try to distinguish, here’s all the variables, and here’s how I can control for each one of them, A through Z, sometimes I get into two-letter variables because there’s so many.

Dondi Fielder: Right.

Bob Burns: And I work really hard to try to control everything, and a lot of times what that does is it causes me to miss other opportunities that are hidden in the weeds. Have you found that by letting go a little bit, that things have bubbled to the surface that you wouldn’t have otherwise seen?

Dondi Fielder: Oh my goodness, that is so well-said. That’s exactly what I had to do is just let go, take care of what I can take care of, do my part and do it well, and then stay in my lane, and let go. And I found freedom in that, of knowing where my lane was, not being afraid to do more than expected, but just staying in my lane and doing my part.

Bob Burns: What a beautiful thing. What other profession allows us to have that kind of freedom, to just decide, “That’s going to be what it’s going to be, I’m going to do what I can do, and hey, look at me! I’m making a really great living for myself and my family.”

Dondi Fielder: I love that about this business. The ability to telecommute is just wonderful. But of course my favorite thing is just being with people, I love it.

Wins and Lessons Learned

Bob Burns: So, one of the things you said as we prepared for our conversation today is, “When things don’t go as planned, view them as badges you’ve earned and move on, instead of viewing them as failures.” And that goes to a lot of why we’ve connected a little bit together in our time in class, is my philosophy is I either win or I learn…

Dondi Fielder: That’s good.

Bob Burns: …and when I learn, the price I pay is the tuition.

Dondi Fielder: That’s nice.

Bob Burns: And you talked about your first year as some sort of unpaid internship. I think it makes so much sense in a business where the best day of your career can be followed by the worst day of your career and they’re only five minutes apart, they’re the same day.

Dondi Fielder: Exactly, exactly. Oh, that’s so true.

Bob Burns: Has there been an example where you were riding high, something knocked you down, or when you were low, something brought you up?

Dondi Fielder: All the time, I mean a deal might fall through that you’ve been working with for a long time, and both sides have worked really hard to get it to happen, and it just didn’t happen and I felt like a failure. I took personal responsibility for that, and then realized really quickly by talking to someone else, it happens to everybody. So then I thought oh my goodness, I’m not by myself, I really am experiencing what other people experience in my profession, I guess I just got a badge for that. That shift in thinking helped me to go, okay, move on. Because I was like, well, what else could I have done differently, and sometimes you can’t do anything differently, you did everything you were supposed to do, you just need to put your badge on and go on.

Bob Burns: Just move on to the next opportunity.

Dondi Fielder: Right.

Bob Burns: The beautiful part about real estate is that everyone is a potential customer. A hundred people, everybody you talk to needs a place to live…

Dondi Fielder: True.

Finding Your Support

Bob Burns: …so there’s so many opportunities out there. You said something about the support being there if you look for it. This can be a lonely business if we allow it to be, but it can also be just incredibly supportive. Did you come into this realizing that there is support there, and there are people behind you if you look for it, or did that find you.

Dondi Fielder: You know what, Coldwell Banker Gosslee, I don’t know how they do it, but they have created a family atmosphere, and I’m very blessed to be with that broker. I had to really go outside of my comfort zone, because especially as a new agent, I didn’t have anything going, but I would show up and be in the work room, and people would go, “What are you doing?” “Oh, I’m just working.” I know you don’t have a deal, what are you doing? But I would make it a point to go up there, be in the workroom, and have some kind of task, instead of doing it from home, I needed to go up there, start building relationships with people, and then I would maybe ask one question, really timely, to somebody that walked through, then save the next question for the next person so I wouldn’t wear the same person out, and just continue to work there. Continue to show up, build rapport, build relationships, and then they were able to give me the support. And then once I started producing they thought, “Oh, okay, well she really is doing something, she’s not just sitting in the corner playing on the computer.”  So it really helped just showing up and being there and having a task that I could do in front of everybody. And I guess they could see the dedication there, so they didn’t mind giving me a minute of their time.

Bob Burns: That makes so much sense, but the flip side, the other side of that coin, and this is something I experienced early on in my career, I did something similar. I showed up every day, I talked to everybody I could talk to, and I would say eighty percent of the advice I got was really, really good advice. But there was twenty percent, one out of five interactions, I figured out later that I was really asking the wrong people for advice.

Dondi Fielder: Yes, you learn that.

Bob Burns: So, I learned who to just nod and smile and do my own thing…

Dondi Fielder: Yes, exactly.

Bob Burns: …how did you distinguish that. Was it based on their production, was it based on what they said making sense, or was there some other way that you created your internal filter?

Dondi Fielder: Oh, that’s a good point. Being discerning is very important, and being able to filter through that and glean from people, because I didn’t want to make them feel like they weren’t important with what they were saying, because that’s really how they felt, but I did really look at where they were in their business and their demeanor and how they handled life in general. You know if you’re a grumpy old man, then you’re a grumpy old man, and I’m going to listen and ask you about your day, but…if there’s some nugget of wisdom there I’ll grab it, but the rest I’m going to kind of leave. I guess I just like to seek the wisdom of a lot of people, then pull from it based on training, based on whatever. At first it’s like drinking water out of a fire hose, there’s so much information. But as you start getting experience in different deals, then you start learning who to go to for that. And I would almost always preface it with, “Okay, I’ve got a situation with this kind of home…” and they’d go, “Oh, well go to so-and-so, they’re an expert with that.”

Bob Burns: Oh, that makes sense, so you sought advice that was really specific instead of general, and that gave you better, more specific, actionable advice.

Dondi Fielder: Right.

Bob Burns: But there are those people in this business that can find a cloud in every silver lining. I call them CAVE dwellers, Constantly Against Virtually Everything.

Dondi Fielder: That’s funny, that is funny, and they do make for good, humorous conversations sometimes.

Bob Burns: They do, it’s just part of the business, but we have to learn they’re out there, and sometimes, at least for me, I had to learn that the hard way.


Bob Burns: I want to get more into the mechanics of your business, and we talked early on about some of your business coming from social media. What are your primary sources of leads, and I’m wondering how someone so new to real estate has managed to close so many transactions so quickly. How have you found these people?

Dondi Fielder: Well, I did phone duty at my office, I show up for phone duty, open houses…you know at first I didn’t have any listings of my own, so I would go and specifically look at what price range of home was selling, where there was a lot of action, and then I would find what homes, Coldwell Banker listings, that fit that description, and then I would go ask those agents if I could hold their homes open, and so I’d target that buyer.

Bob Burns: Oh, that’s so smart, so many agents do that in reverse, they wait until a listing agent says, “I need someone to hold an open house,” and then they raise their hand. I did the same thing. I flipped it because I wanted to get more targeted, I wanted to select, not be selected. So good on you for doing that.

Dondi Fielder: Well my manager, I have to give her the credit. She trained us well.

Bob Burns: Good for her. And how do you keep track of your leads? Do you have a CRM, or post-it notes, a recipe box, what do you use?

Dondi Fielder: I use a CRM, but I’m a list maker, too, and so I have various things. I’m still kind of trying out, kind of like I did in the classroom, you try out different ways that are available to you until you find the system that really works best for you. And so I’ve got lots of different aspects, and I’m still learning how to hone in on that, and how to really follow up best.

Bob Burns: So, you’re auditioning CRMs right now.

Dondi Fielder: I am, I think that’s a good way to say it.

Bob Burns: And I think that makes sense, because so often a software developer or a real estate company or whomever, thinks that they have designed the perfect system for them, and then when we put that out for a broader audience, it might be a great system, but it requires the users to totally change how they do their business. I think it’s smart, as a user, to figure out what works for you first, then find a software package that emulates your own natural process and how you’re thinking. So yet another smart move from Dondi trying to figure this out.

Giving Back

Bob Burns: Tell me more about your work with The Hub. So The Hub is a homeless shelter organization here in Shreveport, Louisiana, and Dondi does a ton of work with The Hub, she’s very supportive of The Hub, tell me more about The Hub.

Dondi Fielder: Well, The Hub is a wonderful organization and Cassie, who is the leader, got the whole thing started, has a wonderful group of volunteers. I do not work with them as much as I volunteered on several occasions, but I just love to choose to support them. When I got into real estate, I thought oh my goodness, I need more of a noble reason I mean, of course it’s noble to help somebody find a home to live in, but I just needed more than money.

Bob Burns: Sure.

Dondi Fielder: So, I thought, okay, if I’m helping people buy and sell homes, what about the homeless? So that triggered me to go, “Oh yeah, The Hub.” It made me feel good to set aside, purposely, before I even got my paycheck, determine where those monies would go. Whenever I did get a paycheck, a certain percentage would go towards The Hub, a certain percentage would go towards…and I had a couple of separate accounts where I would separate the monies, to be able to set aside for taxes and whatnot, just all the little whatnots.

Bob Burns: You don’t wait ‘till April 14th to figure out how to pay your taxes?

Dondi Fielder:  Right, no, I don’t.

Bob Burns:  That’s good!

Dondi Fielder: So anyway, it just gave me a little thrill every check stub that I would get, knowing that at the end of the year that was accumulating, to be able to give that to the homeless. It made me feel better about what I do.Bob Burns: It totally makes sense. It’s all part of being a business owner. That’s a business owner mentality more than an employee mentality. We can build the community that we serve, it only strengthens the community, and it only makes our business stronger, so it makes so much sense.

If You’re Considering a Real Estate Career

Bob Burns: Okay, one last question, and that is, if you had to give someone just beginning her real estate career one bit of advice, there’s so much that you shared in this interview, but if you had to boil it down to one thing for somebody, the ink is still wet on their license, what would that be?

Dondi Fielder: Dive in.

Bob Burns: Dive in.

Dondi Fielder: Dive in. Take advantage of every training opportunity and just work. Go learn the tools that are available, be familiar with MLS, the inventory, that is our job to know that, and just dive in. And dive in with people, dive in with the training, dive in to your community, just dive in.

Bob Burns: I think that’s fantastic advice, just dive in, and go all-in on what you’re doing. There’s only one way to take the island and that’s, you gotta burn all the boats!

Dondi Fielder: There you go.

Bob Burns: So, if you burn all the boats, you’re going to take the island guaranteed. Dondi Fielder, thank you so much for sharing your secrets of success with us on this podcast.

Dondi Fielder: Thank you for having me.

Bob Burns: And you can find more information about Dondi on on the episodes page. Also remember to like, subscribe, and share this podcast. Thanks for listening, everybody, and have a great day.

Music: “My Everything” by Roads used under license from Tribe of Noise.

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