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E-Market Yourself

Our expert shows one sales associate how to build an Internet brand.

Jeff Porter
Jeff Porter knows state government inside and out. Before he became a sales associate, his résumé read like a Who’s Who in the Florida Legislature, including positions with Gov. Jeb Bush, the Auditor General and the Florida House of Representatives, to name a few. And in his role as a policy analyst, he was instrumental in writing some of the laws that affect Florida real estate professionals today.

But after eight years in Tallahassee, he decided to return to his hometown, Panama City. “My family needed me [because] my daughter had one year of high school left,” says Porter, a sales associate with ERA Neubauer Real Estate. The real estate market was hot when Porter got back to the Panhandle, so in April 2005 he got his license and began specializing in residential and investment properties in and around Bay County.

He closed 10 transactions within 12 months, all of which were from referrals, but he’s certain the momentum won’t last. “Our market is changing, and I don’t want to get lost in the shuffle,” he says. “I know [sales associates] who closed $10 million last year, but they’re struggling to close $1 million this year.”

The key to capturing more business, he believes, is an effective Web site and consistent advertising. He pays about $500 per year for a basic Web site, www.BuyPanamaCityRealEstate.com. His marketing campaign includes $2,000 worth of radio advertising (half on talk radio, and half on a Top 40 station) that he bought for $400 at a charity auction. He also pays $558 per month for an ad inThe Real Estate Book (a local real estate magazine), and occasionally sends promotional mailings. Buthis efforts haven’t really taken off.“I need help cranking up my career,” he says.

Bring in the Expert
Porter spoke with Internet marketing expert Dan Gooder Richard, who mapped out a plan that he says could double Porter’s business next year:

1. Set Sales Goals
Porter’s farm area is a patchwork of individual communities that comprise Bay County. None is large enough to be a niche market on its own, so his focus is countywide.

About 1,470 of the county’s 150,000 residents have real estate licenses, which translates to about 1 percent of the population—and stiff competition.

Porter hopes to close 12 transactions this year—he’s closed five so far—and next year he’d like to close 24 units. One challenge he faces, besides the competition, is that he’s in a buyer’s market saturated with listings averaging 125 days on the market.

“Your rookie year was better than most,” says Richard. He asks how much business Porter expects to get from the Internet.

“Right now, buyers are controlling your market, so I encourage you to place your emphasis on buyers,” says Richard. “Since 74 percent of buyers look online before they talk to a [sales associate], e-marketing tends to attract buyers first.” If Porter beefs up his e-marketing, he’ll draw those buyers from the Internet.

“People preach listings, but in today’s market buyers are even more valuable,” adds Richard. “They will naturally create their own marketplace of listings anyway—double transactions—because they [usually] have to sell their home before they can buy.”

2. Work Out a Budget
Richard advises Porter to commit a specific percentage of his gross commission income (GCI) to e-marketing. “If you meet your goal of 24 transactions in 2007, your GCI will be about $70,000,” says Richard. “I would recommend committing about 20 percent of your GCI, which would be about $583 monthly. That’s aggressive, but essential because you’re new to the market. Spend half online, and half offline. Going forward, reduce to 10-15 percent for a maintenance budget.”

3. Create a Core Web Site Brand
Richard sizes up Porter’s Web site and says he’d like to see him use a concept he refers to as an “extension brand.” For example, Porter could register multiple Web site addresses with the extension “dot info” and build an entire brand around it.

“The word you want to dominate in the minds of your clients and customers is info,” says Richard. “If they want information of any kind about Bay County real estate, they’ll turn to one of your Web sites.

“You can use a slogan, such as ‘The Last Word in Real Estate Info,’ and then create as many dot info Web sites as you can,” adds Richard. He suggests BayCountyTopAgent.info, for a core brand, or BayCountyHomefinder.info as two possible choices and explains that the domain names should be geographical so that consumers who visit the search engines looking for real estate in Porter’s area can easily find them.

“The dot info strategy will help you maximize the number of available domains, make people think of you as the real estate information source, and it will let you jump over the competition that’s focused mainly on dot com,” he says.

Porter should register 10 domain names or more for at least five years, says Richard. “Having them all in one registry, with one expiration date is easier to manage.”

Domain names cost as little as $6.79 a year, and some companies offer a discount for multiple registrations [see examples at left].

4. Use Microsites
Next, Richard says Porter should use some of his domains for what are called “microsites.” A microsite is a one-page Web site with a different URL from the main site, which can stand alone and also be a page linked to the main site. The microsite is an ideal tool for reaching out to different market segments, Richard says,and to illustrate the concept, he visits an online domain registry and discovers that two domain names using Porter’s own Lynn Haven neighborhood are available: SearchLynnHavenHomes.info and LynnHavenHomeValues.info.

“LynnHavenHomeValues.info, for example, can become a one-page microsite that offers information on how to find out what your home is worth in Lynn Haven,” says Richard. “You can then use small, targeted local promotions, including direct mail, newspaper ads and transit advertising. The people who are going to be interested in that site are those who want to find out what their home in Lynn Haven is worth. It’s a cutting-edge concept for e-marketing because it turns the global Internet into a local lead generator with a single offer that features a lead-capture response form for neighborhood prospects.”

The possibilities for microsites are endless, says Richard, and could include specific property types—LynnHavenBayfrontHomes.info, LynnHavenGolfHomes.info, for example. Porter’s Web designer will be able to set up the microsites.

5. Design a Domain Logo
Porter should create a logo for his main Web site and use it in his marketing materials and ads, says Richard. “Go to Gotlogos.com (www.gotlogos.com) and get them to create a high-resolution, four-color logo for you around the dot info brand. You can also use your radio spots to drive traffic to both your core Web site and microsites.”

Gotlogos.com offers Web site logos starting at $25, but for about $99 Porter can get a deluxe package that includes both color and grayscale versions, as well as a high-resolution logo for printed materials and stationery.

6. Grow Your Database
Porter’s Microsoft Outlook database contains about 50 people with whom he has an affinity (e.g., friends, family, business associates). However, Richard wants him to acquire at least 50 more by early 2007, and then quadruple that amount, for a total of 400 contacts, by year end. “That will be about one new contact per day,” he says.

Porter can do this by encouraging prospects to respond to his forms so that he can capture their e-mail addresses. “Include anyone in your sphere of influence—sales associates, other ERA agents in Florida and nationwide, co-op agents with whom you work, accountants, political contacts and so forth,” he says.

Richard also recommends that Porter switch to a bona fide contact management program as soon as he can afford it. “If you don’t have a larger database, you won’t reach your 24-closings goal,” he says. “So, tell yourself, ‘When I close this deal, [the profits are] going to one year’s worth of database.”

7. Use Drip E-mail
Each month, Porter should create a report or information nugget of value—anything from what’s happening in the market to how to improve a credit score to what the return on investment will be for a kitchen upgrade—and offer it electronically as a Web page or PDF. “Give your clients a call or send them a post card, and ask them to pleasee-mail you if they’d like to start receiving your reports,” says Richard, explaining that when someone requests a report Porter can capture that person’s e-mail address.

A marketing tool called “drip e-mail” will let Porter automatically send out hundreds, if not thousands, of e-mails from behind the scenes. There are several companies that offer drip e-mail. Richard’s own RAINMAKER E-CENTRAL® will send automated follow-up e-mails.


This column, designed to provide advice from industry experts to real estate professionals who need help with technology, business or promotional issues, won the Bronze Award in the 2006 Best Column category from the Florida Magazine Association.