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How to Make a Comeback/Users/adamp/Desktop/Stuff for FAR/Magazine Assets/SEPT08/images/realtorAdvantage

With a spouse-business partner in Iraq and a family to feed, this salesperson needed to restructure her business quickly. Here’s how she came back from adversity once her business partner returned.

To say that Murphy’s Law hit us square on the jaw six years ago would be a major understatement. After I got into the real estate business in 1997, my husband, Luis, joined me in 2002, when my business had increased so much that I couldn’t do it on my own. Our sales quickly rose, and we enjoyed a healthy real estate market. Life was good, business was brisk and our personal financial picture was bright.

Then adversity hit. Not long after Luis joined me at the brokerage, he was deployed as a National Guardsman to Iraq, where he would stay for nearly a year and a half. I was pregnant and had a young child, which, together with my husband’s absence, limited my activities and my ability to run our real estate team on my own. Then came the clincher: I was injured in a car accident, which made it impossible for me to work productively—and I was unable to get any X-rays or MRIs completed until after I had given birth.

This triple-whammy shut down our real estate business for two years, leaving us with very little income and hardly any cash reserves to get the company back on track. As soon as Luis returned, we started rebuilding. With only a small marketing budget and no regular paycheck, all we had was our drive to succeed and overcome the challenges that had been put in front of us. Within a year, our sales were up 125 percent above what they were before he deployed.

Today, we’re running a thriving real estate business. We’re changing according to the needs of the buyers and sellers in this market and working on upcoming developer projects that will increase our business over the next two years.

Here are four strategies we used to get our business back on track:

1. Knock on Doors
Since we had no budget to do any significant marketing, we just started knocking on doors and introducing ourselves to our farm areas. On the Fourth of July, for example, we bought some sparklers and firecrackers and took them around for the homeowners to enjoy.
As we were able to expand our marketing budget, we began to put regular ads in local newspapers and magazines, including a regular back-page ad in Seminole Marketplace magazine. One particularly good strategy was to market the listings of other agents in our office (with their and the broker’s permission), since we didn’t have any of our own. We would advertise them, and over time we were able to replace those listings with our own homes for sale.

2. Revisit Your Sphere
The telephone turned out to be a great business tool during our first few months back in business. We would make dozens of calls every day to our sphere of influence, which included individuals with whom we’d done business in the past.
By talking to them about their housing needs—and those of their friends, family and colleagues—we were able to drum up some initial business and shake loose a few good referrals. We also approached some of the sales associates who had exited the business and talked to them about how we might be able to service their past customers, thus building our own contact list for the future. Finally, as parents, we made valuable contacts at our children’s schools by simply letting people know that we were real estate professionals.

One of our marketing campaigns at that time was a “Bringing Families Home” ad on every shopping cart in the local supermarket in the area of our children’s schools. Our children’s peers and their parents instantly recognized us, and this recognition led to the referrals of their friends as well. We also participated in the “Teach In” at Wilson Elementary, where we spent one day teaching the students about all the aspects of our career.

3 Find New Niches
As the market changed, we looked for new ways to create business and service our customers. After selling a couple of short-sale properties, we noticed a real need for sales associates who know how to find the right buyers and negotiate in a new way. We educated ourselves by attending free classes offered by our title and mortgage partners and becoming familiar with this process so that we could find opportunity in a new area of the market.

4. Make a Weekly Agenda
Rebuilding a business isn’t easy, and it’s something that has to be tackled one manageable chunk at a time. To make sure we weren’t overwhelmed, we developed weekly agendas and crossed off the tasks (such as making follow-up phone calls to customers on Monday morning and sending out 500 just-listed fliers) as they were completed.

Because we were learning to work together all over again, we divvied up the duties, deciding, for example, who would check and respond to e-mail, who would make up the brochures and who would answer the phone. Finally, we committed to being at the office every day, Monday through Friday, to give customers personal service during business hours, and to allow for showings and open houses on the weekends.

Today, we’re back on track with a marketing budget and increased sales. By getting back to basics and focusing on our business, we’ve been able to successfully rebuild it. It hasn’t been easy, but the struggle has been well worth it.

Luis and Jennifer Gonzalez are sales executives with Charles Rutenberg Realty in Orlando. Licensed since 1997, Jennifer specializes in luxury home sales. Luis was active in the Marine Corps for seven years, and was a member of the Florida Army National Guard from 2001 to 2004.