March 5, 2015

Weekly Book Scan

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Updated: 1 hour 1 min ago

Bring Them in With Style

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 11:46

In our upcoming March/April issue, we have a feature about a consumer panel we brought in to give feedback on real estate professionals’ bios. One of the biggest complaints? Sloppy grammar and spelling mistakes.

Credit: DMedina 2014, Morguefile

As a writer, I don’t need much convincing as to the power of the written word. Real estate professionals, on the other hand, are a different matter. They are trained to respond to e-mails at lightning speed, not necessarily reading over what they’ve written before hitting the “send” button. They’re encouraged to quickly get the word out about their business through blogs posts and Facebook updates, giving them little time to deploy spell check.

But what about the business proposition of good writing? We’ve often made the argument that accurate, concise, intelligible communication is valued by your clients and colleagues alike, and I think the piece in the March/April issue will really drive this point home from the consumer perspective. However, I read something this week that summed it up so well, I had to share it with readers here. I recently picked up Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style: A Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (which I find to be excellent so far), and I couldn’t help but sharing his encouragement in the prologue, which seems almost to be written for the rushing real estate pro described above:

…Style earns trust. If readers can see that a writer cares about the consistency and accuracy of her prose, they will be reassured that the writer cares about those virtues in conduct they cannot see as easily. Here is how one technology executive explains why he rejects job applications filled with errors of grammar and punctuation: “If it takes someone more than 20 years to notice how to properly use it’s, then that’s not a learning curve I’m comfortable with.”

So stay tuned for our next issue (hitting mailboxes around the third week of March) to see how consumers define a successfully written bio in real estate. But in the meantime, know that I’m one of those silly writer-types who are going to be much more likely to work with someone who can string a sentence together!

4 Ways to Rise Above the Noise & Generate Leads Online

Thu, 02/19/2015 - 14:25

Are you drowning in the endless supply of data? Chances are your customers and clients are too. Search engines are quick-loading when it comes to giving advice. And too often, that advice is automated, over-opinionated, and misinformed. The buzz of social media is quietly fading and the scream for demonstrating value is taking on new forms of creativity that promote the customer’s best interest, not just sell a solution.

Credit: Ryan McGuire, Gratisography.

So how do you lend a helping hand without coming across as a salesperson who is just looking for a commission check? In his new book, YouTility for Real Estate: Why Smart Real Estate Professionals are Helping not Selling (Portfolio | Penguin in November, 2014), Jay Baer really lives up to his subtitle. This shortened version of his New York Times best-selling book YouTility provides practical case studies on how real estate agents are succeeding with this approach.

Here are four elements of Baer’s new book that you can implement in your marketing right away.

“Friend of Mine” Awareness

The best source of business is via trusted referrals and past clients. The way to achieve this in a social media world is by getting personal. An agent who shares an undifferentiated, company-centric messages will find their marketing goes unseen, unshared, and un-referred. The more targeted the message and the more value it offers to a specific customer type, the more likely people are to share the message with others because they can easily see how everyone can benefit.

Self-Serve Information

Customers are starving for the right answers, not just any answers. If you can post authoritative, easy-to-understand solutions to potential clients’ online queries, you’re building trust before you ever meet them. And sometimes a helpful tip will require the customer to contact you to get more specific details. Baer calls these information-packed nuggets “knowledge snacks.” If you don’t feed your customers, they might go searching for another meal elsewhere.

Real-Time Relevancy

Even more rare than accurate information is an accurate understanding of what the data represents. Outdated statistics, legal information, and accounting principles that don’t automatically update can easily mislead a customer. In order to combat this problem in a constantly changing world, you need to make yourself available. Increase your accessibility by opening up your communications on several mobile-friendly channels. Then, when a customer has questions you can quickly respond to their answers according to their preferred method of communication.

Radical Transparency

Have you ever publicly given a potential customer a good reason not to hire you? What might seem to be a self-destructive maneuver is actually a brilliant tactic in disguise. A post or video that outlines the type of real estate professional you aren’t can be a real differentiator in your marketing. One of my favorite examples of this comes from the BREL Team in Toronto. They say customers who “just want someone to tell you what you want to hear” or who are “looking for a discount agent” should seek services elsewhere. This tactic works to both introduce your style to unknown prospects and to help you find clients who are looking for the specific types of service you provide.

Hiring to Amaze

Fri, 02/13/2015 - 15:40

This week, NAR Vice President of Business-to-Business Communications Stacey Moncrieff and I toured the headquarters of Quicken Loans in downtown Detroit and sat down to speak with a few key players there about the mortgage market, commercial design, and urban renewal, among many other topics. You’ve probably heard about how Quicken Loans Founder and Chair Dan Gilbert is looking to revitalize the city via his sizable business investments there, and that’s something we hope to dig into further at REALTOR® Mag. But here at the Book Scan, I wanted to share some reading material that you wouldn’t necessarily assume to be the most engaging: the Quicken Loans employee manual.

An art installation in the company’s offices in the Compuware Building in downtown Detroit. The Isms book cites the mid-century innovations of local soda favorite Faygo as inspiration in their “We’ll Figure It Out” chapter.

OK, so it’s more than a manual, really. Quicken Loans sent us home with copies of Isms in Action: Faygo Edition 2014, which is a 140-page book produced by the company that outlines the values and expectations throughout the many sister companies under the Quicken Loans family. The mini-chapters cover everything from customer service expectations (“every client, every time, no exceptions, no excuses”) to their openness to innovation (“yes before no”). It’s colorful and fun, filled with real-life e-mails, pictures, and stories that illustrate the isms in action. But the best part was being able to see and hear firsthand how these isms affect life for the leadership, employees, and clients of Quicken Loans.

Jay Farner, Quicken Loans president and CMO, explained that the isms help communication and decision-making flow more naturally between leadership and employees. He said that the isms had been in development for a long time, with Gilbert talking about them and sharing stories informally for years before the idea came to make a book out of it.

“Dan said, ‘We’ve got to package this in a way that’s digestible for our team members if we’re really going to get people to understand them,” Farner recalled. He added that having the isms also helped the company avoid some of the common problems that plague companies that grow rapidly. “If you’re growing and there’s still only three or four people who can make a decision, you’re going to become pretty bureaucratic pretty quickly. And so the mission has been to make sure everyone understands our culture so they’ll be able to make decisions about what we should do when any situation arises.”

Derek Latka, vice president of business development for Quicken Loans, started at the company two years ago. He vividly remembers the impact that the isms discussion had on him as a new member of the team. He said that he was used to the idea of having a mission statement foisted upon him when starting a new job, and explained how his experience at Quicken Loans was different.

“Usually, you get a little manual and they review it with you and you put it in a drawer and you never see it again. Here, we live and breathe that every single day. Those isms, those core philosophies that we hold are quoted daily,” Latka said. “It’s constantly at the forefront of every decision we make and I believe it’s that culture that makes us different. I truly do. It’s a great place to be.”

The isms also help the company manage Quicken Loan’s reputation in the outside world. Eric King, VP of REALTOR® relations, explained how having a stable vision of customer service achieves that goal.

“We all live by that same drive and desire to take care of the client,” King said. “When you take care of that buyer or when you take care of that person refinancing, or the listing agent, or buyer’s agent, we want them to stand up at their next sales meeting and say, ‘I had a deal with Quicken Loans, and I’ve got to tell you, they honored everything they said they would, they stood up, and I’m a fan.’”

Of course, we all want raving fans, whether they’re employees, higher-ups, or clients. And we all have our own isms that we live and work by. Maybe it’s time to write them down?

3 Solid Ways to Rock the Cold Call

Wed, 02/04/2015 - 11:39

If you are just starting out in real estate, transitioning into a higher median sales price point, or recruiting new talent to grow your team, what do you think is the best tactic in order to grow your business?

Well, let me first tell you what it’s not. It isn’t creating a website. It isn’t drafting the perfect LinkedIn or Pinterest profile. And it isn’t how many e-mails you can send out to your list.

In my opinion, the No. 1 way to grow your business is to pick up the telephone and call potential prospects.

Photo: stockarch, 2009, Morguefile

There is a difference between marketing and sales. Sales is the act of converting opportunities into closed transactions. Marketing is the act of attracting new opportunities in order for the salesperson to close. Marketing costs money and time in acquiring qualified leads, whereas in sales the only cost is your time.

The No. 1 mental roadblock that prevents each one of us from picking up the phone and making calls is the fear of rejection. But what if for every attempted call, you never experienced rejection?  What if you were able to create meaningful conversations with every person you came in contact with every day, and if each of those conversations led to another opportunity?

In Smart Calling: Eliminate the Fear, Failure, and Rejection from Cold Calling, author Art Sobczak helps sales professionals reverse the paradigm of the dreaded cold call, changing it into a positive experience where callers can connect with prospects in a helpful way. Here are some of my takeaways after reading his book.

  • Create your potential value propositions. Think of how much money you save a seller from their initial purchase, when you help them get full market value upon sale. Think of how much time and how many mistakes you can save a homeowner with the services you provide.  When you can quantify this compared to the market average with empirical evidence based on past success, you will be leaps ahead in a competitive situation. For example, clients who work with me have saved on average of 10 percent off the list price in negotiations, see five fewer homes thanks to my property qualifying process, and have a 100 percent on-time closing rate once the contract is in escrow. That’s what I need to communicate to make the conversation more helpful.
  • Practice social engineering. There is a large and ever-increasing supply of data available that might tip off a listing agent about a homeowner who is ready to sell. This data can be found online, inside social media conversations, or via a predictive analytics tool.  Rather than dialing for dollars with a cold list, warm it up by doing some research ahead of time to have a better-prepared conversation that can set you apart from the competition.
  • Use a script. Professional actors aren’t winging it when the camera starts rolling, and neither should you. The reason why most salespeople object to using scripts is because they don’t want to seem robotic or canned.  But the problem isn’t the script itself. It is the delivery of the script where salespeople goof up.  Once you create your script, you need to practice it over and over again using a friendly conversational approach and you will have more success than those who fly by the seat of their pants.

Successful Women Think Outside the Investing Box

Thu, 01/15/2015 - 15:14

What would you do if you never had to work again? What if you had all the time in the world to spend exactly as you wanted? How would your life be different if money were not a worry? These are just a few questions posed by Kim Kiyosaki in her book Rich Woman: A Book on Investing for Women, Because I Hate Being Told What to Do! (Rich Press, 2006).

Honestly, when I first read that title, I was a little insulted. Why can’t it just be a book on investing? Why does it have to be different for women? But I was curious.

Ryan McGuire/Bells Design, 2014

I recognized the author’s name instantly. Kim’s husband is the famous (or infamous) entrepreneur Robert Kiyosaki. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Rich Dad Poor Dad. He is also the author of Cashflow Quadrant and many other books covering real estate, business and investing. So it is quite possible she knows a wee bit about investing.

Turns out, Kim Kiyosaki is more than worth her salt. She began her career in advertising, started her own business venture in her 20s and subsequently began numerous businesses with Robert.  Her passion is teaching women the importance of investing and taking control of their financial futures. She believes the key to freedom for women is becoming financially free.

“We’ve spent our entire lives taking care of our families but have no ability to care for ourselves in this vital way. We are either depending upon someone else to do it for us—a husband or partner, a boss, a family member, or the government. Or we figure it will all work out. The fairy tales we grew up with were just that.”

We’ve all heard that supposedly half of all marriages end in divorce. But Kiyosaki adds some startling statistics to the conversation, in order make her point about the importance of independence.

  • Nearly 7 out of 10 women will at some time live in poverty.
  • Of the elderly living in poverty 3 out of 4 are women—and 80 percent of them were not poor when their husbands were alive.
  • 47 percent of women over the age of 50 are single.
  • In the first year after a divorce a woman’s standard of living drops an average of 73 percent.

The book details a wide variety of investment strategies that include but are not limited to real estate, paper assets, businesses, and commodities. It is written as a casual conversation among close friends. It begins with Kiyosaki sitting down for lunch with three of her girlfriends, which represent a single working mom, an overworked business owner and a stay-at-home mom, respectively.

Chapters 1 through 4 detail Kim’s personal story, wherein she describes Robert’s “cashflow quadrant.” This quadrant represents the four types of people in business: employee, self-employed worker, business owner, and investor. The final quadrant is the goal, where your money is working hard, so that you have more time for living.

Chapters 5 through 17 deal with her friends’ objections to and fears about investing. Kim’s argument is that, “When it comes to money, men and women are different—historically, psychologically, mentally and emotionally.” It is interesting to note that she doesn’t start to explain the actual how-to of investing until chapter 18. The first half of the book focuses on getting her friends—and readers—into the investor mindset.

She also spends a fair amount of time asking readers to uncover their “big why.” Why is investing important to you? What makes it personal for you? She uses a male friend’s reason why as an example, “I’m an engineer. I see my son for a few minutes in the morning, then he gets picked up for school by one of the other child’s parents, and I go off to work. If I’m lucky I get home before he goes to bed. The reason why I want to become financially free was very simply so that I could drive my son to school every day.”

Chapter 11 asks you to take an honest look at your finances. Kiyosaki uses Buckminster Fuller’s definition of wealth: “A person’s ability to survive X number of days forward.”

She then suggests that the reader create a personal financial statement and use it to determine how many months they could survive without working:

Savings + income coming in without you working
                   monthly living expenses

This number might be eye opening. As a real estate professional you might earn a substantial income with many commissions coming in monthly. But how would you afford your expenses if the commissions stopped? In sales we are all too familiar with the ebb and flow of the market and how they affect our paycheck. But what if you didn’t work because you were injured, wanted to raise a family, needed to take care of an ailing parent or just wanted to take a month off to travel? Is this possible in your current financial situation?

Chapter 20 reveals the nine keys to being a successful investor:

  1. Arm yourself with education: Kiyosaki lists a variety of resources available to you, including books, CDs, DVDs, seminars, newspapers, newsletters, websites and investment organizations.
  2. Don’t dive in head first: “Start small and expect to make mistakes.”
  3. Put a small amount down: “A little money means little risk.”
  4. Stay close to home: It is much easier to get to know the market in your hometown. You will spend less time travelling and more time learning.
  5. Set yourself up to win: Start with small deals, knowing that “a little success early on builds your confidence as an investor.”
  6. Choose your circle wisely: “Surround yourself with people who will cheer you on, who will be honest with you, and who will encourage you to keep going, during the ups and downs, to achieve your goals.”
  7. Ignore the get rich quick schemes: Remember that investing is a process and that financial independence does not happen overnight. “You don’t become fluent in the language in one day. You first learn a few words and phrases and you keep expanding your vocabulary.”
  8. Always be open to learning new things: “Nothing stays static. The markets are always changing. The rules are always changing. To be a winning investor you’ve got to change as the market trends change.”
  9. Have fun: “Celebrate each win along the way. Acknowledge yourself when you have successes.”

A helpful glossary of financing and investment terms follows at the end of the book. Overall this book is a great introduction to the investing world. Some of the dialogue feels sappy, but it is definitely food for thought. Even if you love your job as a real estate professional so much that you would do it for free, you have to have a plan B.

Gaining this investment knowledge will give you options. If you can master investing you won’t have to work as hard for money, because your money will work hard for you.