Robin's Ruminations is our blog, which we update regularly. Please do comment on the individual postings. If you'd like us to blog about a specific topic, just tell us about it, using the Contact Us form.
We use a virtual classroom that, as closely as possible, mirrors the capabilities of a physical classroom. The capabilities include having the instructor right there, with you. Our classes are live, not “canned” (although you may be given access to a recording of a class, once you have completed the live experience).
Research supports the effectiveness of online teaching. Our own experience at Century 21 Real Estate validated the use of a virtual classroom, year after year. The outstanding results achieved by our team led to Century 21 Learning System’s being named to Training Magazine’s “Top 125″ training programs, for six consecutive years.
Just recently, the Brandon Hall Research Center published a report, summarizing research that compares the effectiveness of virtual vs physical classrooms. Do read this brief synopsis of the report, to see what they learned.
Then, contact us about participating in one of our online classes.
#1 Facebook (first in a series)
Facebook allows anyone with a computer, an Internet connection, and an e-mail address to easily stay in touch with family, friends, classmates, co-workers, and previous customers who have become friends. If your family is far-flung – even in other countries – you can keep track of their comings and goings, and share news and pictures. If you have not been diligent in keeping in touch with past friends and classmates (and most of us have not), Facebook makes it easy to reconnect. You can also keep track of their birthdays, through Facebook.
Setting up a Facebook account is simple. Just go to the Facebook homepage, and follow the steps. Facebook guides you through the process, and helps you find your first Facebook friends! (For additional assistance, download the free step-by-step guide to “Setting Up Your Facebook Account,” on the Resources page of this website.)
As the owner of your Facebook account, you decide who sees each different kind of information you post: everyone, friends of friends, or just friends. There are extensive Account Settings and Privacy Settings that you can adjust, to ensure that your privacy is at a level with which you are comfortable. You can also specify what kinds of occurrences you’d like to be notified about by e-mail, such as a friend writing on your Wall or commenting on something you posted.
As you explore Facebook, you will be able to enjoy some of the entertaining features provided. These include interactive games, quizzes, and groups and affiliation pages that you can join.
Why would a real estate agent want to have a Facebook account? Naturally, doing so marks you as someone who is knowledgeable about current trends. More importantly, it gives people an opportunity to know more about you than is typically possible in a purely business setting. Why would they want to do that? Because consumers tend to do business – particularly financial business – with someone they trust. And they are more likely to trust a person who demonstrates that they are friendly, communicate well, and are involved in their community.
By sharing news items about your community – and about real estate trends in your community – you demonstrate your knowledge of the area. Post links to interesting stories and area pictures, too.
With Facebook, the focus is on friendship, not on business. In fact, it breaks Facebook rules to advertise your business in your basic Facebook account. To support your business, you may want to consider setting up a Facebook business page, which is the subject of the next post in this series.
Forthcoming post: #2 Facebook Business Page
#10 Take Photos of Your Marketplace (last in a series)
When considering moving to a new community, consumers also seek pictures. Oh, they will read the Chamber of Commerce descriptions and statistics, but it is the photos that will engage their interest in the community.
Similarly, consumers will be more inclined to select a real estate agent who really knows the community. How will they determine that? Based on the stories and photos on your website or in your blog.
Your website should have a special page devoted to each community in your marketplace. Showcase your marketplace through a narrated virtual tour, or add photos to a map of the community. Include links to the municipal website, the historical society’s website, the local Chamber of Commerce, and the school board.
In subsequent articles / blog posts,
- feature the information and resources to be found at the municipal center
- provide a tour of the educational facilities – public and private elementary and secondary schools, colleges, and training centers
- illustrate the variety of recreational facilities available
- focus on the business centers that serve the community
- highlight the medical centers and hospitals in the area
- do special features on nearby historical sites,
- and illustrate the many benefits of living in the community.
Be sure that you include appropriate tags in your posts. Always include the community name and your own name, so that the stories are indexed by Google and other search engines.
You will soon become known as a community expert, and will attract a lot of visitors to your website. And, you will have a lot of fun doing this!
P.S. As you’re setting up your website, do the same thing with a Facebook fan page for each community!
Previous post: #9 Be More Visible in Your Community
#9 Be More Visible in Your Community (ninth in a series)
Building a “presence” in your community can be hard – especially if you’re relatively new to the real estate business. How can you get buyers and sellers to trust you with their most-important purchase, if they don’t know much about you?
There are a number of ways that you can become more active and visible in your community, and enhance your image at the same time. Here are a few suggestions:
- Choose a local charity to support, or participate fully in the charity your broker sponsors. There will be activities throughout the year in which you can be involved and on which your participation will have a positive impact. Volunteer your time and talent!
- Add (or enhance) a community page on your web site. To keep the page current with relevant local content, subscribe to your local newspaper, and check state, town, and news web sites every couple of days.
- Join a service or business group in your community, to expand your local network. It takes time for networking to pay off, but other group members will, eventually, become a valuable part of your Sphere of Influence. When they come to know and respect you, they will be more likely to refer buyers and sellers to you.
- Write a real estate column for your local newspaper. If you do not feel comfortable with creating original content, you can use news releases from your real estate brand, from the National Association of REALTORS®, and from your state or county association (with proper attribution).
- Offer to be a guest speaker for local homeowner associations, condo associations, retirement communities, or adult schools. Basic real estate topics, such as buying a home, selling a home, pros and cons of renting vs. buying, and financing a home purchase, are often popular with such groups.
Such activities pay you growing benefits, that will last throughout your career. Not only will you increase your visibility in your marketplace, but you will also become known as a real estate expert. This will draw sellers and buyers to you.
Forthcoming post: #10 Take Photos of Your Marketplace
#8 Create an Innovative Prospecting Plan for Your Target Market (eighth in a series)
So, it is essential that you determine how to differentiate yourself from other real estate professionals in your marketplace. How can you make yourself more appealing to potential clients than the other guys are? How can you grab consumers’ attention?
I’ve organized my recommendations into a four-step approach. (I do like to be organized!) Naturally, you should make detailed notes, as you go along.
First Step: Who’s Your Audience?
Never be afraid of the obvious; sometimes, secrets are hidden there.
Where do you hope to find sellers and buyers? Your “farm” and your Sphere of Influence, of course. Anywhere else? For example, are you trying to focus on one particular type of property, such as new homes or luxury homes or starter homes? Or, are you specializing in one particular consumer category, such as seniors or singles? Analyze the audience for your marketing efforts in a variety of ways, to make sure you have identified all of their key characteristics.
For each distinct audience group, list a number of descriptors and needs that make them different from each of the other groups. For example, those looking for a starter home may be seeking smaller homes in the lower quartile of your market. Affordability is key for them, as is ready access to transportation – whether mass transit or good roads – and, possibly, good schools. Usually, these will now be young adults with the preferred buying styles of Millennials.
Second Step: Why Would Anyone Choose You?
This step often makes people cringe; they hate analyzing themselves. In particular, many of us were raised to not “brag” about our positive qualities and accomplishments. For this exercise, you must banish all such reticence and take honest stock of who you are and what you have to offer.
Create a “Why Work with Me?” list. Include an appraisal of your skills, your values, and your personality, as well as your community activities and the way you prefer to work. Consider also your previous work experience. For many of us, real estate is a second, third, or fourth career. What strengths did you develop through past jobs?
Don’t rush through this activity; it’s worth the time you invest in it.
I suggest that you show a draft of your “Why Work with Me?” list to a very good friend, or to your spouse. That person may be able to suggest other characteristics that you have overlooked.
Third Step: What Can You Do, That Is Different?
A number of companies offer branded, “frequent-touch” marketing programs, to which you can subscribe. This is a simple way to maintain constant contact with your Sphere of Influence and the people in the markets you are targeting. Drawbacks of using these programs include cost and the impersonal nature of the communications.
If you are willing to invest the time to design your own marketing program, you can put your personal mark on marketing materials that will be far more effective than what you purchase.
As you design your prospecting strategy, consider the image you want to portray: how do you want to appear in person, in print, and online? Do you want to portray yourself formally (suit & tie)? As a modern professional (business casual)? As the “girl next door” (casual)? Your answer should reflect your marketplace: what will work best in that context?
Ensure that you incorporate a mix of contact methods, with an emphasis on face-to-face and digital communication, rather than print. I make this recommendation for two reasons: (1) face-to-face communications are still the most effective, and remain the only form of communication trusted by many members of older segments of the population; (2) digital communications are favored by the younger generations. These methods are also the most economical.
For each of the audience segments you identified in Step One, specify from 6 to 12 communications. Communications may be in the form of market-specific newsletters, personal letters, or cards (whether digital or print), as well as in-person visits and phone calls. Some may be the same for all audiences; others will be targeted to the specific group.
Here are just a few communication ideas: current market reports; seasonal greetings; today’s buyer “hot buttons”; link to a new blog post; staging tips (potentially several communications, focusing on exterior, main rooms, kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms, closets, garage, and basement); government mortgage-assistance programs; relocation services; when to consider a short sale; invitation to a neighborhood Open House; featured property flyer; link to a virtual tour; offer to conduct a CMA; birthday / anniversary cards; and a seasonal gift – flags for Memorial Day, pumpkins for Thanksgiving, etc. (Such gifts are “corny,” perhaps, but are cheerful and usually generate a smile.)
Determine the sequence in which you would like to communicate the marketing messages, throughout the year. The sequence will be affected by local market seasonality and special holidays, but can otherwise be up to you.
CAVEAT: Ensure that every marketing communication you create has been proofread by someone. All of your work will be in vain, if what you write is riddled with syntactical and typographical errors.
Fourth Step: How Can You Manage the Work?
The primary effective strategy for managing a marketing campaign is breaking it into bite-sized chunks.
Start by quartiling your markets – dividing them into four segments. A segment may be market-specific, alphabetical by last name, geographical, social, or source-based.
Implement step 1 of your marketing plan (for example, hand-delivering a seasonal gift) with one quartile each month, for four months. During the next four-month period, implement step 2 (for example, making a personal phone call). Implement subsequent steps, in successive four-month periods. By following this plan, every individual will receive some kind of communication from you, every four months.
If your audience is smaller, say 300 or less, you can use three-month periods, and step up the frequency of contact.
#7 Work with a Partner (seventh in a series)
A partnership offers each party some benefit that would be unavailable to the individual. Benefits might include complementing one’s strengths (such as getting listings vs. marketing listings) or sharing resources (such as a professional assistant or a website). Usually, a formal agreement is involved, to protect all of the parties.
Of course, a good online system might be considered a partner, of sorts. But, for this post, I’m talking about flesh-and-blood, human partners.
CAVEATS: The laws in your state may prohibit the formation of real estate partnerships or Teams, and your Broker may have specific rules governing the formation of partnerships or Teams within his/her company. Check!
I’m suggesting three options for your consideration:
- Hire a Virtual Assistant
- Work with a Buddy
- Join a Team
Let’s look at each, in turn.
Hire a Virtual Assistant (VA)
A virtual assistant (VA) can be your right-hand business helper. But, unlike traditional assistants, you don’t have to provide office space, a desk, a computer, or a phone for this person.
A VA can do a variety of administrative and marketing tasks for you, including
- Running your drip-marketing campaigns
- Updating your website(s)
- Posting your listings
- Managing your calendar
- Maintaining your contact list
- and many others.
(Of course, not being a licensed REALTOR®, a VA cannot deal directly with the public in any real estate capacity.) Imagine how much more time you would have to work with customers and clients, and to write blog posts, if you had a VA!
Rates for VA work will vary, but are reasonable. Best of all, the VA is not salaried, so you pay only when you actually have work for the VA to do.
Many VAs specialize in real estate. Look for one who has taken the trouble to earn NAR’s REPA (Real Estate Professional Assistant) certification. And, be sure you ask for—and check—references.
Work with a Buddy
If you’re really good at only half the job (great working with sellers, for example, but no patience for buyers), then partnering with another REALTOR® who is your complement (great working with buyers, but no flair for sellers) may be the way to go.
The keys to making this kind of partnership work are two:
- Selecting the right partner
- Completing a formal partnership agreement.
The first key, selecting the right partner, may seem obvious. But it’s important that you analyze your strengths and weaknesses very carefully. Select a partner who is strong where you are weak; do not select someone who is just like you!
The second key, completing a formal partnership agreement, is imperative, to protect both of you. In this agreement, set out the precise terms of your partnership, with respect to task assignments, working hours, timelines, resource utilization, productivity expectations, and revenue sharing—and any other parameters that fit your situation. Also specify under what conditions the partnership may be dissolved—either explicitly or implicitly—and what happens to current listings and in-progress transactions at that time. It would be a good idea to have an attorney review the agreement, to ensure that the language is appropriate and to help identify anything you might have overlooked.
Being this formal need not put a damper on the partnership. Rather, if both parties clearly understand and agree about who does what, then you won’t get in each other’s way. However, should one party fail to live up to the agreement, then the partnership can be dissolved, without confusion or legal repercussions.
Join a Team
Real estate Teams have existed for decades. Typically, a Team is led by a top-producing REALTOR®, and consists of the REALTOR and one or more assistants. One or more of the assistants may also be a REALTOR.
CAVEAT: State real estate laws clearly define the limits of unlicensed real estate assistants. Know the laws in your state!
The roles of the various members of a Team are clearly defined, and may include a variety of tasks, such as:
- Entering and maintaining MLS data
- Managing customer communications
- Marketing listings
- Scheduling appointments
- Prospecting (REALTORS only)
- Working with buyers (REALTORS only)
- Maintaining website(s)
- Writing blogs and other PR communications
- Maintaining a social media presence.
Does being part of a Team appeal to you? Consider joining an existing Team in your company. Before approaching the Team Leader, again review your strengths and weaknesses: what can you offer the Team that it may not already have? Prepare a concise proposal for the Team Leader’s consideration, and schedule a conversation.
If you are a top-producing REALTOR, who is going crazy trying to do everything yourself, this may be the time to form your own Team. As for a simple partnership, putting everything in writing is essential. I recommend that you consult with your Broker, who may already have prepared Team guidelines. Also, talk with one or more Team Leaders, and take note of any advice they have on how to run a successful Team.
Whichever of these routes you choose to follow, monitor your productivity closely, and adjust roles and timelines to achieve the greatest benefit to your career.
Previous post: #6 Implement One New Technique, Every Month
Forthcoming post: #8 Create an Innovative Prospecting Plan for Your Target Market
#6 Implement One New Technique, Every Month (sixth in a series)
Earlier in this series, I recommended using any period of low business activity to undertake professional development activities, such as training. Often, during such activities, one learns about more new tools and techniques than one can possibly implement at one time. If you are participating in social media, such as Twitter, then you probably also learn about useful new tools and websites from your virtual connections, on a regular basis.
How can you efficiently implement so many new tools and techniques? Simply, by making a plan. (Yes, another one!) Planning will ensure that you implement the tools and techniques that you like in an orderly way and that you don’t forget to use them.
- Start by creating a list of new tools and techniques you have encountered, that you think will add value to your real estate business. Consider this to be a “running list,” because you should add items to it, as you learn about them. Because you will be sorting this list, I suggest that you create it in a spreadsheet program, such as MS Excel.
- Next, categorize the tools and techniques. (Insert a special column for this.) Some categories that you might find helpful are
- Prospecting (including sphere of influence, market niches, FSBOs, expired listings)
- Marketing Listings (including digital photography, virtual tours, listings websites, mobile technology)
- Customer Management (including follow-up, frequent-touch programs)
- Communications (including blogging, presentations, objection-handling).
- Sort the list, so that items in the same category are together.
- Then, prioritize the categories. (Insert a priority column, and assign the same letter or number to every item in any given category.) The area in which your business requires the greatest improvement, such as Marketing Listings, should be your top priority. Be brutally honest with yourself, here.
- Prioritize the tools and techniques within each category. (Insert another priority column, and assign a unique number or letter to each item in any given category.) This will give you a “nested” list, with the tools prioritized within prioritized categories. For example, you may decide to improve the quality of your digital photographs of interiors before you add virtual tours to your listings.
- Finally, assign a month – or week – during which you will first implement each of the tools or techniques, in order. (Yes, that’s another column.) I suggest that you transfer these assignments to your calendar, so that you don’t forget to do them!
This is what your plan might look like:
Tools & Techniques
|Real Estate Shows|
|Listing presentation facelift|
|Post-closing gift program|
|Expired listing campaign|
Important: Do have fun using the new tools and techniques that are available to you. Enjoy both learning how to use them and seeing your business take on new life because you have implemented them.
Previous post: #5 Build Local Vendor Partnerships
Forthcoming post: #7 Work with a Partner
#5 Build Local Vendor Partnerships (fifth in a series)
I’m sure that you realize that developing cordial relationships with businesses and service providers in your real estate market is simply good business practice. You may already have several vendors listed on the Community page of your website. You may also have received occasional referrals from them.
But have you considered that these relationships could develop into an ongoing source of revenue, too? I offer two models – one simple (mutual support), one more complex (revenue generating) – for your consideration.
Mutual-Support Local Vendor Partnership Model
For the simple, win–win partnership model, you agree to promote each other’s services, in equivalent ways. For example, you would publish their advertisements and special offers in your newsletter; they would publish yours in their newsletter. You would list them as a preferred service provider on your website; they would list you on their website, in a similar manner.
This model requires no exchange of money, just a signed letter of agreement, in which the two of you agree to provide reciprocal marketing services for each other. It is advisable to also specify how frequently you will advertise each others’ services – weekly? monthly? quarterly?
Revenue-Generating Local Vendor Partnership Model
Some vendors cannot provide reciprocal marketing services for you. They may not have a website (still common, for small independent service providers) or publish a newsletter, relying solely on business cards and referrals. You can offer marketing services for these vendors, for which they would pay you a small monthly fee.
For example, in addition to the two marketing services mentioned for the mutual-support model, you might feature a particular vendor in each issue of your newsletter. You could also provide a link to a comparable, permanent feature page on your website. Such features could include
- a photo of the business (or vendor “in action”)
- a case study (description of common consumer problem solved by the vendor)
- your comments on the quality of the vendor’s services
- a discount coupon or discount code
- contact information, with your referral code.
This partnership model requires a signed contract, in which you specify the marketing services you will provide (including frequency), and the vendor agrees to pay you a specified amount, each month. The amount you charge will depend on the size of your marketplace and the number of “impressions” you are willing to provide. Your prices should be competitively affordable.
I strongly urge you to implement this model only with vendors that you can justifiably recommend – whether based on personal experience, or on testimonials that you trust.
Benefits of Partnering with Local Vendors
The benefits from your building partnerships with local vendors accrue to all:
- You will benefit from referrals generated through mutual advertising (simple model) and from the extra revenue received (complex model).
- The vendors will benefit from increased exposure, not only to consumers already in your marketplace, but also to consumers who are moving to your marketplace.
- Consumers will benefit from detailed information about high-quality service providers and from the discounts you are able to negotiate on their behalf.
Previous post #4 Get Some Training
Forthcoming post #6 Implement One New Technique, Every Month
 CAVEAT: We recommend that you consult a lawyer about all contracts, however simple. If you will receive a referral fee from any of your vendors, be sure to acknowledge that vested interest on your webpage.
#4 Get Some Training (fourth in a series)
It always seems difficult to fit professional development activities into a busy work life. And required training, such as Ethics or Fair Housing, may use up as much time as you believe you can spare. However, now, when you are a little less busy, is a great time to invest in your professional development—learn a new skill, expand into a niche market, or earn a designation.
Learn a New Skill
Is there a tool or technique that you’ve been wishing you had time to learn? Perhaps you’d like to become proficient in PhotoShop, so that you can enhance the photos and illustrations on your website or in your marketing pieces. You might wish that you could create short, effective videos about your services and your listings, for posting on YouTube. Or, you could be ready to try building a comprehensive website, using a tool such as WordPress. The links I’ve included take you to some free online tutorials, but you can undoubtedly find onsite, “hands-on” training in a neighborhood community college or adult school, if you prefer that format for technical training.
Learn About a Niche Market
An effective way to build your real estate business is to specialize in one or two small market segments, or niches. Examples of niche markets include accessible housing, retirement communities, and vacation properties. You may already be working in a niche market like that. If you would like to strengthen your skills and knowledge in a new niche market, this is a good time to seek out the specialists who provide training and coaching in that area.
Earn a Designation
Real estate marketing methods have changed a lot, in the past decade, as has the housing market, itself. National Association of REALTORS (NAR) and other providers, such as Social Media Marketing Institute (SMMI) and RealtyU, offer a variety of designations on such topics as “green” housing, effective Internet marketing, and working with sellers. Take advantage of any lull in your business to differentiate yourself from the competition, and to increase your value to consumers, by earning a designation.
Just as you create a formal business plan and marketing plan, so you should create a formal professional development plan. A slower market offers you the opportunity to put that plan into action. Do it now!
Previous post: #3 Retool Your Presentations & Marketing Pieces
Subsequent post: #5 Build Local Vendor Partnerships
#3 Retool Your Presentations & Marketing Pieces (third in a series)
While you’re waiting for your local market to turn around, invest time in updating your presentations and marketing pieces. This is a great opportunity to give them a fresh look, which will help distinguish you as a real estate professional.
If your company provides starter templates for you, be sure to use the latest version or, if you use PhotoShop, you can create your own background designs. Many of us would prefer to download a simple, appealing background from the Internet. For example, I purchased a really nice background from Dreamstime.com, and Microsoft Office Online offers many free real estate templates.
Here are some key design guidelines to keep in mind, when choosing a template. Be sure the template
- can incorporate your company’s logo
- is uncluttered, so it won’t detract from the information
- reflects your company’s color scheme (or you can change the colors to do so).
Now that you have created a new design for your presentations and marketing pieces, turn your attention to the content:
- Update your company information with the latest data
- Update your personal information, including recent achievements
- Use an recent professional photo of yourself, in every presentation or marketing piece
- Update all of the statistics, verifying them with company, census, and MLS sources
- Demonstrate your savviness in using today’s marketing techniques
- Replace clip art with high-quality photographs
- Plan to include photos of a prospect’s home in your Listing Presentation and photos of your marketplace in your Buyer’s Presentation
- Include current information about your marketplace, and the vendors with whom you work.
You will find that just knowing you have verified current information and a modern design will increase your confidence in making presentations to prospects. It will also renew your enthusiasm for distributing your marketing materials and newsletters.