#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.
#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
#2 Enhance Your Online Presence (second in a series)
In today’s market, having a strong online presence is essential. You probably already know that! Unfortunately, many (most?) of us tend to set up our websites, then ignore them for weeks or even months at a time.
An effective online presence requires continuous “care and feeding.” Without that, your websites will stagnate, lose visitors, and eventually drop out of sight.
So, during this slower economy, set aside a day or two, to burnish your online image and spruce up your websites. Here are a few ideas that you might find helpful.
Look at each wesite with a critical eye. Is it neat, or cluttered? Is it modern, or old fashioned? Does it use too many colors? Are your name and company’s name lost in the array of information? Are you adhering to your company’s branding guidelines? Using a fresh look / template for your website will attract more consumers. Limiting the number of colors to 2 (in addition to black and white) will make the website easier to read.
How easy or difficult is it for consumers to locate information in your website? Do you have tabs or a navigational sidebar? How many sections are there? Research shows that 7 ± 2 is an appropriate number of items for any kind of list. You can help consumers locate information through the overall redesign, by renaming sections, by reordering sections, and by keeping the number of sections near 7.
How stale is your biography / “about me” section? When is the last time you updated it? Have you accomplished anything at all, since you wrote the existing copy, that would make a good addition to your biography? Does your biography truly reflect who you are, now, or is it dated? If you were a consumer, would your biography instill confidence and trust in you? This is one place where good friends may be of help. Ask your friends why they think you’re a good real estate professional, and why they would recommend you to their acquaintances. Then, weave their reasons into your biography. Warning: You may find that you have to start “from scratch”!
If you have used clip art on your website, remove it. If you believe that the page must have an image, then use a high-quality photograph. Photos of your marketplace are the best, but you can purchase photos, relatively inexpensively, from services like Dreamstime, iStockphoto, and others.
You should be updating every blog at least once each week. This is particularly critical for the blog on your main website. That’s where consumers will look for your marketplace information. Don’t neglect your independent blogs, either. If well done, and updated regularly, they will drive consumers to your main website. If you don’t yet have a blog that is independent of your website, I would recommend using Blogger, which is hosted by Google. It is a very easy-to-use platform, offers a variety of attractive templates, and facilitates including a number of useful widgets in your blog’s sidebar. If you are more comfortable with technology and know some HTML, then WordPress provides an excellent blogging platform. You can also apply to have your independent blogs listed on a local or industry aggregator website.
Do I really need to talk about listings on your website? Well, yes, unfortunately. You may not be guilty of this particular crime, but some real estate professionals do a terrible job presenting their listings online. What do consumers want? Information and pictures – lots of both. So, every single listing you have should include as many good-quality, well-conceived images as you can fit into your template, a virtual tour, detailed information about the rooms and features of the property, a floorplan, a map showing the property’s location, and links to other information, such as nearby schools.
If you’re like most real estate professionals, you include helpful information for consumers on your website. You may include information about the buying and selling processes, financing a purchase, community resources, up-coming events, and vendors / service providers you recommend. Information like this is valuable, but it can very quickly become obsolete – especially an events section. Mentally “flag” this part of your website for a thorough review, at least once a month, to ensure that all of the links still work, and the information is current.
After you have updated your primary real estate websites, apply the same analysis to each of your social media sites. And, if you’re not participating in, at least, these social networking forums, sign up!
When you have completed these tasks, and are pleased with the look and functionality of your websites, do not just pat yourself on your back and walk away. Before you break out the celebratory sparkling wine, create a plan to ensure that your online presence never again becomes stale.
You can do a lot in just 15–30 minutes a day, by selecting one website or one type of task for special focus. Make a list of website components that should be updated regularly (for example, listings, blogs, financial information, community information, images, and so on), and simply cycle through them, day by day.
Now, you’re ready to celebrate!
Previous post: #1 Become Reacquainted with Former Clients and Customers
Subsequent post: #3 Retool Your Presentations & Marketing Pieces