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Marketing on a Dime

Nuvia Sutton
Covering all the bases with grassroots marketing can generate a “buzz” for next to nothing and jump-start a business.

When Nuvia Sutton wants to drum up business, she slips on a pair of comfortable shoes and walks her farm area, distributing fliers door to door. “I enjoy placing fliers because people can’t help but see them, and they know I was there,” says the sales associate with AAA Realty Group. Inc., in Pembroke Pines. 

Pounding the pavement has proved worthwhile for Sutton. At just a few cents apiece, her 8.5 by 11-inch fliers create name recognition. And during her firsy year using fliers, she sold three houses in her flier-coverage area.

“A day in the life of a [sales associate] requires commitment, but there are only so many hours in the day,” says Sutton, who is also a single mom. She’s persuaded, however, that this will be the year she devotes to full-time sales. But with a “nada budget,” as she puts it, she’ll need to find additional low-cost ways in which to market herself.
 
Bring in the Expert
For tips on reviving her business without breaking the bank, Sutton spoke with Dan Gooder Richard, an authority on real estate marketing and lead management. “I’m going to call this my pennywise marketing plan,” he says. “When it generates an income, you can allocate 10 percent of that toward taking yourself to the next level. For now, though, much of what I’m going to suggest is free.” Here’s his advice.

1. Target Your Efforts
First, Richard recommends that Sutton continue what she’s doing. “It’s interesting how successful you’ve been going door to door,” he says. “I suggest that you keep going back to the same area, but I want you to focus on special doors—not every house.”

He proposes that she target for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) homes, expired listings and pre-foreclosures. “Start by going to the newspaper, and driving around and looking for FSBO signs,” he says. “You could also subscribe to an online service called FSBO Leader. For a fee, they’ll do the research and send you a list of FSBOs in Broward County.”

Expired listings can easily be found by “keeping an eye on the MLS like a hawk,” adds Richard. (Be sure "expireds" are not "withdrawn" listings still under a listing agreement. Check with the listing broker to avoid a Code of Ethics violation.) And Sutton will be able to identify pre-foreclosure homes by looking up notices of default at the local courthouse. “I believe those are kept in the tax assessment office, but it varies,” says Richard, adding that homeowners who’ve fallen behind on mortgage payments are always given written notice before the foreclosure process starts. “You also can find services [in the Yellow Pages or online] that will go to the courthouse and do the research, and send you the list for a fee.” Title companies are also worth an inquiry, he says.

2. Add Calls to Action
Sutton’s fliers offer more than predictable “Just-Listed” or “Just-Sold” notices. “On one side, I put information about me and on the other side I might include market updates,” she says. “When they had an adopt-a-tree program in Miami-Dade, I put out fliers about where it was taking place.” People are grateful for the information, she says. One time she included a write-up about hurricane shutters that she found on the Florida Realtors® News e-mail service and she “got calls like there was no tomorrow.”

Richard says Sutton is on the right track with her fliers but that she should include some calls to action. “Alternate two ‘Call me’ offers of just a few words,” he says. “Appeal to sellers with something like ‘Call me to find out what your home is really worth.’ (And for emphasis, be sure to underline, italicize or boldface the word really.) You could tell prospective buyers to ‘Call me to find out how much home you can buy in today’s market’ and then list your name, company, phone number and e-mail address.”

Sutton has been using the slogan “Provides Positive Results” but Richard recommends that she make it less formal by changing Provides to We Provide. “Every transaction is a team effort,” he says. “It’s going to be you plus the office or perhaps an attorney or inspector or surveyor, so ‘We Provide Positive Results’ works better.”

3. Follow Up on Free Leads
Signing up for floor time at her office’s “duty desk” would give Sutton an opportunity to meet walk-ins and answer the phone, says Richard. “This takes me to my next thought, which is ‘How to generate leads without paying for them.’ One way to do this is to sit open houses, not only for yourself but also for other sales associates in the office.” Sutton has already offered to do that for a few sales associates. “It’s obviously a free way to generate buyer leads but, more importantly, seller leads,” says Richard.

Sutton has also volunteered to hold open houses for FSBOs in her farm area. “I tell them to go out and enjoy their weekend with their family, and if a buyer comes in, I’ll get a commission,” she says.

One way for Sutton to get free buyer leads, Richard says, is to ask the listings-only sales associates in her office for them. “I call those [sales associates] my top guns,” says Sutton. She does get buyer leads from them occasionally, especially if the prospect speaks only Spanish (Sutton is bilingual). “Ramp that up,” says Richard, “and try to triple the number of top guns with whom you’re working. Be sure to show them what you’ve done with those referrals.”

She can also offer to promote their listings. “You might not actually advertise those top guns’ listings in the normal ‘paid’ advertising sense of the word, but you could include a property description and thumbnail photographs on your fliers,” Richard says.

4. Reactivate Old Files
Next, Richard recommends that Sutton pore over her office’s closed files from the past three to seven years to identify buyers who are no longer represented by a sales associate. He calls this his “orphan plan” because no one can lay claim to these buyers. “Reactivate those files and start knocking on those doors,” says Richard, adding that Sutton should ask the original listing agent for permission if he or she is still with the company. 

5. Go After Trust Properties
“When a property owner dies, it may be without a will or there may be two executors who can’t agree (e.g., one wants to sell and one doesn’t),” says Richard. “The courts appoint a professional fiduciary as a mediator. This is a very small targeted niche market, but in a nutshell, the sellers are often out of state and the best solution is often to sell the property and divvy up the cash.”

Richard recommends that Sutton look up professional fiduciaries and probate attorneys in the phone book and/or online and start calling them.  “There are probably a lot of probate attorneys in South Florida because of the substantial [senior] market,” he says. “They don’t charge a referral fee. They just want to get an inherited property sold. You could become a specialist in selling inherited property in your market, and it won’t cost you a penny.”
 
6. Sign Up for Free Web Pages
Sutton doesn’t have a Web site, but Richard says there are some online freebies that she can take advantage of. A Web page is one option. She already has one with her local Board as well as Florida Realtors Florida Living Network (http://fl.living.net). Richard suggests that she check out these three other sites that host Web page profiles for real estate professionals: www.House-Hunting.com, www.HomesandLand.com and www.HarmonHomes.com. “It’s possible that you must advertise with those sites [to get a Web page],” says Richard. “If your office is already an advertiser, you can probably talk your way in.

“A Web page is just a page and not a Web site, but you still need to include a description of your experience, a photo of yourself and information about your specialty and your designations,” adds Richard. “And try to include your calls to action and your ‘We Provide Positive Results’ slogan on all your Web pages.”

7. Reserve a Branded Domain
Finally, Richard recommends that Sutton go ahead and buy a domain name for her future Web site. He already did some of the legwork for her, by researching names that she could possibly build as a brand. “My personal favorite is CooperCityTopAgent.com, but BrowardTopAgent.com and BrowardCountyTopAgent.com are also available. Those are huge, and for less than $20 each, it’s money well spent.”

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

Before:
•  Limited budget; looking for low-cost marketing ideas.

After:
•     Target specific clients and customers; follow up on free leads; sign up for free Web pages; buy a domain.

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Online Domain Registrars
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Meet the Expert
Dan Gooder Richard is author of “Real Estate Rainmaker: Guide to Online Marketing,” published by John Wiley & Sons. Richard is also founder and president of the Gooder Group, a Fairfax, Va.-based publisher of marketing materials for real estate professionals and lenders. Visit his Web site at www.GooderGroup.com