We met in a Starbucks on a cool, foggy San Francisco Wednesday morning. I was, as usual, the first to arrive. My client, who I’ll call “Agent X,” and I had first met with a couple of days ago.
Agent X promised that she meant business. She said that this was going to be the year of her personal and professional transformation.
Agent X was going to invest in her real estate business and take it to the next level. She wanted to build a brand and become one of the top 25 producers in San Francisco.
I got my grande latte, sat down at a corner table and leafed through proposal I’d brought with me. I wasn’t nervous, because she told me she was as serious as a heart attack about getting her business going. She was the one who had set up this morning rendezvous — and I wasn’t doing this for my health.
She strode in, wearing dark glasses and a leather jacket. She flopped down on the chair opposite me, exasperated.
“What have you got for me?” Agent X barked. No hello for me.
“A fantastic plan,” I replied. She looked at me, took a deep breath, and put her hands flat on the table.
“You know, I don’t have a budget,” Agent X declared, as if we hadn’t had a three hour input session and budget discussion two days before. “You know that, don’t you?”
Hmmm, I thought to myself. Maybe we were in different meetings. I apparently, was in the one where she wanted to build her business and invest in marketing.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I can’t budget,” Agent X explained. ” I don’t know what my business is going to do, day to day, month to month, or even for the year. So how can I possibly make a commitment to marketing when I’m not sure how much I’m going to make?” A grimace came along with the word “marketing.”
I thought, “uh-oh.”
This wasn’t my first time at the rodeo. I’d heard this before. “Budget?” some agent would say, as if I wanted to do everything just for the pleasure of working for him or her — or the ever lucrative promise of more paying work down the road. “I can really only spend $1 [or $50, or $500]. I just don’t have any money, and especially not for marketing. But I sure could use a website, logo, listing presentation, and a CMA.”
It was no different this time. Except this time, I decided to tell the truth.
“Look,” I began. “You asked me here to help you. And I’m more than willing to do that, because I believe in marketing. So I’m going to tell it like it is. You’re afraid.”
Agent X gazed at me as if I had three heads. Or an alien popping out of my chest.
“I am not,” she spat out. “I just can’t risk it.”
“Yup! It’s for sure. You’re petrified,” I announced, probably a bit more forcefully than I meant to. Other people in the Starbucks gave me the side-eye. I didn’t care.
“You’re afraid because you feel that investing money in your business is risky,” I continued, warming to my subject. “You don’t know if it will work. You don’t know if it will make any difference. You’re embarrassed by what you’ve got now for marketing — but you excuse it because it’s cheap. REALLY cheap, to the point of being shitty. Sure, it looks cheap, and it’s a bit off target, but it’s better than nothing.”
Agent X looked away. I’d called her out, and she didn’t like it. But she knew it was true.
“Frankly, you don’t care, because you can’t get your head out of your butt to look up and see that marketing isn’t just about pretty fonts, postcards, websites, logos or Facebook.” I explained.
“As a real estate agent, marketing is the beginning, middle and end of your business, whether you like it or not. You can’t outsource it, or get it for cheap. Quality marketing is about YOU.”
My client stared at the table. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but I cut her off.
“You can’t outsource your marketing, because then you’d be outsourcing yourself,” I went on. “Can’t you see that everything about your business is about the way you interact with your clients? People don’t buy houses — they buy you.”
I was on a roll.
“That crappy website of yours that doesn’t allow people to see your listings or contact you is a nail in the coffin for your business. Or that you don’t bother to answer emails just because they’re from Zillow or Trulia. Or do open houses. Or bother with Yelp! or Twitter. Or you’re a jerk to your fellow agents.”
I threw that last one in because I knew that she was notorious for being difficult and unpredictable.
“Marketing is the lifeblood of your business. Every flipping thing you do is marketing,” I said. “So if you can’t afford to invest in it — and I don’t just mean in dollars — you haven’t got much of a business to begin with.”
Her mouth hung open.
“So why am I here? Because I can help you build your brand based on who you are — and who you want to be,” I continued. “Any budget you have is a start, whether that’s for my time and expenses or your own. But you have to have a budget. Because without one, you’re wasting my time, and your own.”
She glared at me.
“So what are you telling me?”
I glared back.
“Simply this: I will not work with you if you do not have a plan and budget for the whole year,” I said. “It’s a waste of time and energy. No plan means no measurement. No plan means no priorities. No plan means you’re just planning to fail.”
She shook her head.
“But I can’t afford it,” Agent X whimpered. “You don’t understand. It’s unpredictable to be an agent.”
But I did understand.
I knew that the real issue was that she wasn’t committed to her business. She didn’t have a plan, because a plan would mean accountability and measurement. It wasn’t a matter of working with me or not. It was a matter of wanting something for nothing — fantastic success, without hard work.
Great plans are not easy to create or implement. They’re hard to stick to, particularly when the going gets tough. The best plans are achievable, measurable and put your skin in the game.
Let’s keep in mind that skin in the game does not necessarily mean spending hard-earned cash on marketing vendors. It can be as simple deciding to implement a Facebook marketing campaign — no money involved. It could be a service guarantee, wherein you announce that you will return every business call within two hours.
The point is, your brand — your business! — demands a plan. As you grow, you’ll obviously add more to your marketing mix. The rule of thumb is that you should commit 10 percent of your gross commissions to marketing your business. But what if you have no commissions? Then what you have to spend is your precious time and energy.
Which is why you need a plan more than ever.