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Sell Yourself to Improve your Bottom Line

Susan Rotenstein
Everyone experiences setbacks now and then. Take some tips from our expert as she shows one sales associate how to rebound.

It’s painful enough for a mother when a child leaves home. But empty-nest syndrome was exceptionally hard on Susan Rotenstein, a sales associate with Bay West Real Estate Services in Tampa. She was facing another major milestone: turning the Big Five-Oh. And, her once flourishing real estate business was fading.

“I was doing great, taking my business somewhat for granted,” says Rotenstein. “Then, my only child left for college, and the emotional ups and downs kept me from focusing.”

Working with investors was her niche. “If [sales associates] listed a home they thought had potential to be flipped, they’d contact me, and I’d contact my investors,” she says. “It [practically] took care of itself.”

To make matters worse, her daughter was homesick. “We both cried every day,” says Rotenstein.

Eventually, her daughter grew to enjoy her new life. “Once she found her way, I could focus on myself,” says Rotenstein. “The weight was lifted, but I realized I’d crippled myself by not continuing what I needed to do. I love the small boutique company that I work for—the longest I ever had a listing on the market up until this year was about eight days— but now I’ve lost my confidence. When a window of opportunity opens, I don’t approach it the same as before, and therefore, I end up losing the interest of the buyer or the seller.”

Bring in the Expert
For tips on getting her career (and confidence) back on track, Rotenstein consulted with communications expert Ruth Sherman, who validated her feelings. “I don’t think you’ve committed such a crime,” says Sherman. “I also have a daughter away at school, so I’m with you in terms of the emotional impact. It’s perfectly permissible. Provided your heart is in it and you’re willing to work hard, there’s no reason you can’t get back on the horse.” Here’s her advice:

1. Take Baby Steps
Like most sales associates, Rotenstein admits that nothing would boost her confidence more than “closing the deal” on a big transaction. Sherman, however, wants her to set her sights a little lower. “If you set goals too far out of reach, then you won’t meet them,” she says. “It takes a series of smaller closes to get to the big deal.”

A small close might be getting a prospect to call her back, says Sherman, or setting up a meeting or lunch with a potential client or customer.

Rotenstein has been working floor duty three times a week. (One 4-hour shift, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or from 1 to 5 p.m.) “You get the walk-ins and the calls,” she says, explaining that she’s willing to do whatever it takes to stir up business. Sherman advises her to take weekends whenever possible.

Sherman asks what she’s been doing to get referrals. Rotenstein replies that she works in an area that has a small town center with various retail shops and eating establishments, so she approached the manager of a bagel shop and asked if she could place a small bulletin board on site. “I keep my business cards there,” she says.

And, Rotenstein continues, passersby at a prime Tampa intersection are greeted by her face on a bus bench advertisement featuring her contact information and the slogan “Ultimate Real Estate Results.” Further, she says, she was regularly sending out postcards—until her daughter left for college.

2. Get Back “Out There”
Next, Sherman urges Rotenstein to aim for face-to-face contact. “Your ideas are good, but they’re ancillary,” she says. “You’re not meeting people; you’re one face and phone number among many. People are entrusting you with most of the money they have. Their entire livelihood or whatever they’ve got is in their home. It’s a huge emotional thing. They have to trust you and like you. You can’t inspire those kinds of emotions on a bench or a bulletin board. That’s why I’m so enthusiastic about you being involved with those walk-ins [during floor duty], so you can turn on the charm. There’s simply no substitute for that kind of advertising.”

3. Try Public Speaking
Next, Sherman suggests that Rotenstein volunteer to speak at various clubs and organizations around town. “Real estate is on everybody’s mind,” she says. “There are loads of business organizations and women’s groups and places [looking for] speakers. Maybe you could make some calls to some local organizations.” Rotenstein mentions that her local Womenade chapter holds charitable functions in members’ homes. “It’s a potluck [meeting], and you do direct giving to someone in need,” she says. 

Sherman says there’s no reason why she couldn’t graciously take the first few minutes of a meeting and give her 30-second pitch. “You could say something like: ‘Here’s what I do; I’m looking for listings. If you know anybody, please send them my way.’”

4. Do Supplemental Marketing
Next, Sherman wants Rotenstein to beef up her marketing efforts. “One thing you should consider doing to drum up business again and get on the map is some kind of [marketing] outreach,” she says. “Real estate is still a fabulous investment. Investors may not be buying in droves like they were, but now with prices softening it’s an excellent time for people who may have been holding back. Is there a talk, Susan, that you could give that, in your opinion, forecasts or says that now is an excellent time? You can listen to the media and let them rule the roost, or you can speak to your clients and customers and say, ‘Yes, the market has softened, but it’s a great time to buy because you can get more for your money.’”

In addition, Sherman says, “In lieu of a newsletter right off the bat, you could send out a form letter. Go to some of your former clients and ask them for testimonials to put in the letter.

“Ask some of your former customers if they’d be willing to put their names to it,” Sherman adds. “This would be an inexpensive way for you to get your name out.”

5. Faithfully Follow Up
Following up with prospects isn’t one of Rotenstein’s strengths. “Join the club,” says Sherman. “When you leave voice message after voice message, it’s demoralizing, so try thinking of it as ‘Dialing for Dollars.’”

Sherman explains it like this: if Rotenstein makes 10 calls and one turns into a transaction of some kind, her efforts will have paid off. [When calling people, Rotenstein should make sure she’s in compliance with the Federal Do-Not-Call law. For more information, go to, click on “tools and support” and scroll down to “Do Not Call Program”.] “You’ll end up making quite a bit of money for making those 10 phone calls,” says Sherman. “It’s one of the greatest motivators.”

However, Rotenstein’s cold calls shouldn’t be left to chance. Sherman advises her to prepare a script. “Create a voice-mail script, a reach-the-person script, and outline the questions you want to ask. That will help anchor you, at least in the early stages of making phone calls. But make sure it doesn’t sound [rehearsed]. Say something like, ‘Hi, this is Susan Rotenstein, and you may recall we met at the XYZ party. I handed you my business card, and it was a pleasure to speak with you. Please give me a call.’ Also leave your e-mail address. This gives people permission to contact you in the way they feel comfortable.”
Instead of approaching prospects with the idea that she needs something from them, Sherman suggests that Rotenstein think about ways she can benefit them. “Start with open-ended questions that don’t require a yes-or-no answer but that let you get to know people,” she says. [Use] questions that show you know your business and that will get them talking. People like to talk.”

6. Re-establish a Web Presence
Rotenstein had a Web site through a company that offers template sites for real estate professionals, but she found the upkeep too time consuming. “It was difficult,” she says. “When my year was up I threw my hands up and didn’t renew it.” 

Sherman encourages her to get back online right away. “A Web site is de rigueur for real estate [sales associates],” she says. “Your competitors have one, so you must offer something comparable. Before consumers look for you, they’re looking online.”

Rather than wasting time trying to create a Web site herself, Sherman advises Rotenstein to look for a company that can do it for her. [See below.] She says Rotenstein’s bus bench slogan, “Ultimate Real Estate Results” could be used as a domain name. “That’s got a nice alliteration quality and ring to it. See if [that domain is] available.” If the dot com version of her preferred domain name is taken, Sherman suggests that she try dot biz, dot net and so forth. [See below for a list of online domain name registrars.]

7. Project Confidence
Finally, Sherman reminds Rotenstein that there are market forces at play over which neither she nor anyone else has control. “It’s such a competitive business, Susan,” she says. “Project confidence even if you don’t feel it. Speak with a confident voice and [memorize] your elevator pitch, or whatever you want to call it. If you look good, give a firm handshake, make eye contact and act like everything is peachy, people are going to pick up on that.”

Sherman advises Rotenstein to play up her experience. “You’re in a business where experience counts,” she says.

Most people believe charisma is something you’re born with, but Sherman disagrees. “People think you either have it or you don’t, but as I’ve said in my book, my experience with it is that charisma can be learned,” she says. “It could be argued that some people are born with a type of personality that predisposes them to it—some are more outgoing than others—but I believe (and I’ve seen it over and over) that listening, asking questions and getting people to talk [with you], and behaving as a person interested in somebody else’s life can help you create a more charismatic presence. It’s the ability to draw other people into your world and make them feel important.

“You need to get out there and speak to people,” adds Sherman. “You can’t be charismatic on a park bench or a bulletin board. Taking on some of those [floor duty] shifts, picking up the phone—those are charismatic ways of being.”

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 2006 Best Column category from the Florida Magazine Association.
  • Business setbacks due to personal issues.

  • Set attainable goals; meet people; sign up for speaking engagements; get back online; exude confidence.

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Meet the Expert
Ruth Sherman, M.A, is an internationally recognized authority on speech and interpersonal communication, and the author of the book “Get Them to See It Your Way, Right Away”. Her clients include CEOs of Fortune 500 companies,political candidates and Oscar-winning actors and directors. She can be reached at or (203) 698-2512.