Let’s start with the one-liner – what is your company? What do you sell?
Al Wisnefske: Land & Legacy Group
I help Wisconsin’s rural property owners sell their home and start on the next chapter in their life.
Tell us your origin story.
Al Wisnefske: I always wanted to own my own business. Every industry fascinated me, except real estate. It never captured my attention. It wasn’t until my last semester at UW-Stevens Point that I even knew how real estate worked. Through a real estate investment class, I got a glimpse of the real estate world, and I was hooked.
Like most graduates, the job search loomed. After filling out applications and not getting any calls, I decided to give real estate a try. The more I learned, the more potential I saw. My life goal of owning my own business was laid right out in front of me. I just had to put the pieces together.
I believe that forging your own path brings out your highest and true potential. My life goal was to start a business and be successful. It’s what I wanted to do and was meant to do. Real estate was the avenue I was going to pursue in order to make that happen. TV made it look so easy. Get a listing, pop a sign in the ground, get paid. Behind the TV, the reality was hiding.
For most of my life, I wasn’t much of a leader. It was so much easier to follow others and perform at the status quo. I was “the shy kid” at school. I had the motivation and desire to lead, but my lack of confidence was holding me back. I wish I could pinpoint the exact moment when I broke out of my shell, but it was a gradual process.
And being in real estate, I knew I was going to have to lead. Clients would rely on me to help them.
After passing both my salesperson and broker exam, I was ready to sling some real estate. I owned my own firm, Wisnefske Real Estate, LLC. which never sold a property. To my credit, I only wished to get into investments, not sales at this time. I did show some hunting properties for my dad in Waupaca County.
I eventually ended up signing on with a brokerage of hunting property. The company is one of the largest camouflage and licensing companies in the world. It was a childhood dream to work for them. I had some closings, made some money, but never really got going.
Self-doubt, low confidence, and outside pressure to “get a real job” were creeping in. The safe route was to get a “regular job” and settle back in. So I did. I took a delivery job. The company was great. The people were great. I loved talking with the customers. I watched and took notes on how the company was managed. I applied some of those strategies in my business, and still, use them today. Inside, I still wanted more.
I left that job to start a position in sales at a local Powersports store. I had never truly sold anything in my life. I had no clue about the process. This was the largest learning curve I ever faced. From talking to customers to helping them choose which product was best for them, this was a life-changing moment. I grew to love sales. Inside, I still wanted more.
While working these two jobs, I still held my license and closed some deals. My broker from my first brokerage went and joined a growing team. He eventually convinced me to join him.
I knew if I wanted to help as many people as possible, I needed to jump in full-time. So I did. I left the security. I left the insurance. I left the retirement account. Inside, I was never going back.
As time went by, I learned and applied as much as I could. I helped more people, closed more deals, and got better. I also went back to school. I’m a huge believer in higher education. To me, it’s more than studying a topic. It’s about the experience; being on your own, paying for expenses, meeting and growing with complete strangers, and thinking outside the box.
I proudly hold a Bachelor’s in Business Administration from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and a Masters of Business Administration from Marylhurst University.
Being forced out of my comfort zone by a constant drive for more has helped me to become a better agent for my clients, too. It’s forced me to be humble. It’s forced me to be authentic. I know how important your property sale is to you, so there’s no time for me to be something other than my best.
My most important job is to be connected to your situation and treat you like I would a friend or family member. I often ask clients, “Besides selling, what is the most important thing you are looking for?” The most common response is, “I want someone I can trust, that is ethical, that communicates with me.” I take pride in being all of those things. I love helping rural property owners sell their homes and move on to the next chapter of their life quickly and easily.
Did you need a lot of capital to start your business? How did you finance your business in the beginning?
Al Wisnefske: To get started in real estate is rather inexpensive. On average for about $2,000 you can be up and running. I used the money saved from working summers in college to start my business. After I got up and running and had closing, I allocated more money into marketing and training.
Was this an area for which you had passion before you started the business, or did you see a need and move to serve it?
Al Wisnefske: I was never a fan of real estate brokers. I actually had no idea how real estate worked, to begin with. Even my first year, I was so lost…I barely knew how to use the MLS. After college, I couldn’t find a career where I fit or had any passion. I knew I wanted to own my own business, and real estate just happened to be there, so I ran with it.
How has the business evolved over time?
Al Wisnefske: I was so scared to spend money on my business. I started out part-time and held onto every penny of my commission checks. It was a terrible feeling to not know if you would get paid again. I stopped focusing on the money and start investing in becoming a better version of myself, both personally and professionally. I owed that to myself as well as my clients equally. I also went from being on a team to start my own brokerage. This was a huge step but the experience has been life-changing. I’m so thankful I ventured out on my own.
How did you grow? Tell us about a moment, or moments, in the early days that were “big moments” for the business. What moved the needle substantially?
Al Wisnefske: The first moment was committing to the business. I was part-time starting out. I need to go full time and give it my all. The second moment was investing in marketing. I did a mailer that cost me $648, which was a huge sum of money for me. I got 3 calls from it. I remember the first call I had…it literally blew me away, here was someone that got my card and decided to list their property with me. The third one was investing over $8,000 in myself in 2019. It was the largest sum of money I’ve ever written a check for. It allowed me to really understand marketing and I realized that investment into systems and training is a great use of your money…as long as you implement and use what you’re learning.
Every successful small business owner has to navigate the world of expansion. And choosing how to expand is just as important as choosing how NOT to expand. Tell us about forks in the road on your journey.
Al Wisnefske: I reached a point in year 3 of my career where I needed to decide if I wanted to grow. It was either stay on with a team and be just a member or start my own company and become a leader. I was comfortable being a member. Becoming a leader would cost more money, time, and patience, which really scared me. I talked it through with a couple of mentors and took one night to think everything through. I decided to go all-in on myself. In 7 months I already surpassed what I did the previous year and am growing every day. It’s been wild.
You know the axiom – no risk, no reward. Tell us about a time you took a big risk. Did it pay off? Did it fail? Or you had a completely different outcome than expected?
Al Wisnefske: The biggest risk was starting my own brokerage, the payoff is much larger than being on a team. There are more responsibilities as well. It has paid off huge. I can honestly say I’m much happier as I’m in control. There are longer days and nights. There’s a lot of growing pains, but I’m confident I will work through those as time goes on.
Tell us about some of your sacrifices along your small business journey.
Al Wisnefske: Looking back, I don’t think I really sacrificed anything. I’ve had fun along the way. There are times where days are longer and weekends get filled up with work, but I knew that going in. It’s just part of who I am. I don’t believe in the “work/life balance.” My work is my life, and I share a lot of it with my friends and family.
What is the most gratifying thing about what you do?
Al Wisnefske: I love sitting at the closing table and looking back at how the deal came about. A lot of my deals have come from letters to complete strangers, some of which are now life long friends.
What is a secret weapon that you have that would surprise people?
Al Wisnefske: The ability to keep my mouth shut and keep to myself.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Al Wisnefske: In 10 years I will be 38. Personally, I see myself with a growing family. Professionally, I intend to own some more real estate rentals and have a growing brokerage that is well known in the market. I’d like to be out of the sales part of the business and help my team grow to support their families beyond what they ever thought was possible.
Finish this sentence: ” I would not be standing here today, if not for___”.
Al Wisnefske: The people thought they knew what was best for me. – Seriously, I had people that hated the idea of what I’m doing. They wanted me to do something else or thought it was stupid. I went and continue to go against the grain of others’ opinions.
What’s one piece of advice that you would give your 18-year-old self?
Al Wisnefske: Start sooner. Honestly, the college was like a nice long vacation and party. I would have hit the books harder and started in real estate while in college. I would be light years ahead. But…I’m also very thankful for the way I did things, I have some incredible moments and people in my life that probably wouldn’t be here if I followed a different path. Also, the experiences I went through have helped shape me into who I am today.