There are times in our lives when personal and professional circumstances conspire, and we either master those circumstances or they master us! You wouldn’t think real estate marketing would be that important, would you? Over the past 2 years or so, I’ve had a newborn baby girl with another on the way, my top-notch buyer’s agent has relocated to another city, my former template website has been banished to the internet hinterlands, and my husband and I bought a foundering property management company at a fire-sale price (lesson learned–if you can buy a company at a greatly reduced price, there’s probably a REALLY good reason for that!) So, rather than panic and run from those circumstances, I did what any rational (!) real estate agent would do–I looked on the internet for advice! And now, I have a story about Twitter and connecting with real people, and about how I found my market when, just like Dorothy, I never really lost it in the first place.
Shane! Shane! Come Back!
[singlepic=162,320,240,right]There’s a scene in the classic western Shane (in the book, not the movie) when Joe Starrett and his son, Bob, are discussing the events going on in their valley. Little Bob tells his father that “it seems to me” it has been pretty quiet in the valley lately, although, in reality, their world would soon explode with violence. His father replies, “It seems to me you’re pretty young to be doing much seems-ing!” Besides the fact that I’ve always liked a good western, that exchange has been a reminder to me every time someone has offered their view of the world, and that certainly applies to the real estate marketing world. When I first started my search for internet wisdom, I found all sorts of real estate bloggers and as the market was then in the throes of “irrational exuberance” many of them spoke with incredible volume, unbelievable quantity, and eye-opening audacity. Yet, of all those “seems to me” real estate bloggers, I found very few who could equal their marketing rhetoric with real estate sales success. Now, in retrospect, I have found that the most prescient have proven to be the ones who have talked about niche and neighborhood markets and the most authoritative have been those whose counsel has been about building connections with clients.
Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me…
[singlepic=165,240,160,,left]Every successful writer for executive-level thinkers knows that for the sake of clarity and brevity, one must always put the bottom line up front; BLUF. So, before we get back to Twitter and theorizing about social network marketing and human connections, I have to tell you the real secret to business success (or any other success) is extremely simple: tithe. I’m not kidding.
“…and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.” Malachi 3:10 (NRSV)
My husband and I tithe on every single penny that comes into our businesses or our family. We give 10% back to God, and then we do taxes, bills, savings and all our wonderful little marketing experiments with whatever is left. I have to tell you, it has worked stunningly well. I continue to get listings and sell houses at a successful rate, my business and market center continue to grow, and our troubled little property management company has increased by over 400% in the last year and a half. Now, there is no doubt that we work hard and try to treat our clients and employees well, but we haven’t done anything that even comes close to our best marketing effort and have been hugely distracted by other challenges over that same period of time. To boot, the real estate market here in Fayetteville, NC, as elsewhere, has made a dramatic shift. Still, success comes. So, it really isn’t us, it clearly is Him, and if you are a Christian and are not tithing, I encourage you to start. We have never, not one time, hear me–NEVER–gone without in the entire time we have been tithing, and we have enjoyed a continuing period of blessing even though we’ve made some pretty boneheaded business mistakes.
“Back to the Casbah and the Business of Spying…”(Dan Jenkins, Semi-Tough)
But, back to our story. My first thought during that challenging time was that we should create or pay for a new website that was hi-speed, Google-page-rank-centric,search engine optimized, blog-errific and sure to get us back to the top of the search engines like we were in the good ole’ days. We looked around, considered contracting Hobbs and Herder, put a notice out on E-lance, and got too busy to follow up on any of it. One day, to my great dismay, I opened my website to do some maintenance and found that everything had either disappeared or changed. Fonts were all messed up, pictures were re-sized or missing, buttons and links were not working. This website that I’d spent so much time on, that albeit a template site, still got plenty of use and some pretty good reviews, was just about worthless.
I closed it that day, signed up for a WordPress account and started re-learning everything. I created a LinkedIn account because I got a request from a friend, a fellow Realtor®. I started a Twitter account because I’d read about it somewhere. And, I added a Facebook account because everyone in my family that I was hounding to join Twitter kept asking me what was the difference between a tweet on Twitter and an update on Facebook, and I couldn’t answer them. It was slow going, and I’m still not even close to finished, but one thing troubled me even as I schemed to have the best real estate website and social network in Fayetteville…my business had continued to grow and my clients continued to use me even though I had no usable website, no on-line social networks, and none of what the bloggers were saying was “must have.” Another “seems to me” moment?
Oh, That Explains It.
You know, Keller Williams is an “open book” company. I love that, and it forces you to do 2 things–keep really good books, and look at them often. After one particularly heated meeting among the fellow owners of our market center, I went to get some numbers to prove my point (which was a pretty forgettable one) and in my research, I pulled up the last 3 years of my production since joining the company. I set it aside with the intention of doing some real hard analysis, and a few days later, I noticed this exchange on Twitter between @ResPres (Jeff Turner) and @Ribeezie (Ricardo Bueno):
These 2 were discussing a post on Ribeezie’s blog in which he’d pointed out that many people were missing the point of social network marketing–that it wasn’t about numbers or ratings, it was about people. He used a quote from Seth Godin to make that point and that pulled a lot of things together for me. I went back and looked at my numbers for confirmation, but I already inherently knew what I would find. My business had come from 3 sources: previous clients and their referrals (over 60%), listings in two neighborhood farms in which I had proven results or listings that came from people seeing those results (another 25%,) and a white-hot buyers agent who could convert internet leads which had come in from Realtor.com Featured Homes™ or my own website. Of those sources, the first two accounted for the bulk of my production and those were built on connections I had with people. Furthermore, I had lost my buyers agent and hadn’t found any suitable replacement, and my business had not suffered unduly.
From Tweet to Tweetup – Finally!
One day last week, I had my first tweet-up ( a meeting with others who you follow on Twitter.) I went to lunch with @bluedevilmsn, who I met on Twitter (see this post) and with whom I had been trading tweets and direct messages. I found a new friend and a great connection! We had an enjoyable lunch and I realized as I drove home (rode off into the sunset like Shane) that my business was built on these connections and that I LOVE that. I also realized that Twitter, Facebook or any other social network site is not a farm and not a magic database that will drive my business. But, they are a great way for me to connect to people, they help me do it better and more inexpensively, and it is fun and exciting to use them! Still, you have to go from on-line to in-person at some point. Despite all the bloggers and all the advice about gee-whiz technologies, page ranking, search engine optimization, and maximizing popular social networks the best advice I have gotten, and the only advice I’ll pass along is this: By all means, build a great web presence, but, it seems to me that when you connect with your people they become your clients and if you serve them well you will build a business that withstands shifting markets, internet trends and personal difficulties.