7 ways that real estate professionals can differentiate themselves from their competition

I love the real estate industry. There is so much opportunity for an entrepreneurial, self-starting salesperson to succeed. Unfortunately, when I look around at real estate professionals within the industry, I see many professionals who struggle.

With all due respect to my friends, colleagues, and clients in the real estate industry, one of the problems is with differentiation. Frankly, most real estate professionals seem to be the same. (I’m sure you’re NOT the same but it’s hard for prospects to always see the difference between you and the 30 other agents who are out there promoting themselves in a similar way)…

  • All real estate professionals seem to claim that they’ll take good care of their customers — treating customers with the same level of service and courtesy that they would want to receive themselves.
  • All real estate professionals seem to claim to do free home evaluations.
  • All real estate professionals seem to send out fridge magnets or calendars or shopping list notepads.
  • All real estate professionals seem to send out the same direct mail pieces.
  • All real estate professionals seem to have the same business cards, billboards, bus benches, etc.

For home buyers or sellers who don’t have a pre-established relationship with a real estate professional, every single professional seems to be a clone. One seems to be the same as the next. To prospective clients, it makes no apparent difference who they work with.

As a result, there’s no loyalty. When it comes time to buy, why would they choose you over someone else? When it comes time to sell and buy a bigger house, why would they remember you (since your fridge magnet is buried under a dozen others that promise the same amazing service)?

So how can real estate professionals compete?

Through differentiation — by making yourself unique. I don’t mean just restating what other real estate professionals say but in a different way. Don’t rename “free home evaluation” to “complimentary house valuation” and think that you’ve successfully differentiated. Differentiation has to be more than that. Here are 7 ideas (in no particular order):

1. BECOME A DEMOGRAPHIC EXPERT

Pick a group of people that you like to work with and promote yourself as an expert in that group. Often, demographics are measured by age, gender, marital status, ethnicity, income, and other factors. There is definitely space, for example, for a real estate professional who exclusively serves professional women. (Obviously you’ll need to be careful here. You don’t want to present yourself as so exclusive that you are not welcoming to others. And sometimes it might not be appropriate to serve one demographic group if you are not somehow associated with that group). If you have a connection to that particular group, serve them!

2. BECOME A PROFESSION EXPERT

Different professions have different needs when it comes to housing. If you become an expert in that group and their needs, you can meet them in a way that other real estate professionals cannot, and your marketing can resonate with them in a way that other real estate professionals cannot. You’ll understand their needs and serve them more effectively.

3. BECOME A LIFE-STAGE EXPERT

This is related to the demographic expert above but it’s also tied to how people buy houses so it might actually be a better way to differentiate if you can’t find a demographic that you want to focus on. This group is sliced up by the stage of life they’re in and what kind of home needs they have as a result. First time homebuyers is good. Families with children. Seniors. I really like empty nesters as a demographic group that is under-served.

4. BECOME A HOUSE-TYPE EXPERT

Find a type of house and become an expert in it. Bungalows. Condos. Homes built before 1975. Whatever. Know these homes inside and out and know exactly the type of people who own these types of homes and want to sell, and exactly the type of people who are likely going to buy these homes.

5. WEAR A CHICKEN COSTUME

I don’t mean that you actually have to wear a chicken costume. I mean: Become known as the real estate agent who is unique in the way you act — serve your customers in a chicken costume or dressed as a clown or dressed in a tuxedo or as a pirate or in some other unique, memorable, or even silly theme. Maybe drive a fancy car. Or wear a purple suit. Or a giant hat. or maybe you’re a reformed biker who still wears leathers and sports all the tattoos and brings prospective buyers around in a loud Harley. Stuff like that. I heard that there was a real estate professional in the city where I live who used to be a chef and dresses like one… maybe they even make dinner for the home buyer in their new home? I have no idea; I’ve never seen their deal. Just using it as another example.

Confession: This is my least favorite of all of my differentiation suggestions. I think it’s gimmicky and it gets awkward, especially if you have to deal with a difficult situation or an intense negotiation — you don’t want to be doing that in a clown costume or while wearing a goofy chef’s hat. But it is memorable and maybe you can find a way to tie it all together without being ridiculous when it counts.

6. BECOME AN EXPERT ON SOME ASPECT OF THE DEAL

Lots of real estate professional claim to be experts on service but the kind of service that most real estate professionals provide is exactly the same (or SEEMS exactly the same). But service isn’t the only aspect of the deal. There are other aspects of the deal as well. Negotiation is one. Marketing is another. Speed of closing is another. Become an expert in one of these aspects of real estate. Tie all of your branding and marketing around this particular aspect. For example, become the expert in getting the fastest move-in dates, and then tie all of your marketing around that (perhaps by advertising the average move-in date of your last 10 sales). Write blogs about this. Heck, write a book about it!

7. BECOME A LOCAL AREA EXPERT

I see real estate professionals try to do this one but they try to become local area experts across the entire city. It doesn’t work that way. Pick a community and rock it. Become the only person that every homeowner in that community recognizes. Don’t just market to this community, become a true community expert. Volunteer in this community. Live in this community. Coach softball in this community. Patronize the stores in this community.

There are other ways to differentiate but these 7 (or, at least 6 of these 7!) are fast and easy to implement without an immediate, expensive overhaul of your brand.

What I’m working on this week (Apr. 29 – May 3)

Ugh! I think I caught the cold that my wife had. She was coughing and had a sore throat all last week. I thought I had dodged the bullet but then I woke up with a cough and sore throat this morning. But my fingers can still type and as long as I don’t take drowsiness-inducing cold medicine, I should be able to still work.

Here are a few things I’m doing this week:

  • I’m really close to wrapping up an ebook for a client on real estate investing. It’s been a long project (much longer than usual) because of some scope changes but there is a light at the end of the tunnel finally.
  • I’m in editing mode on my Sales Funnel Bible book. I was hoping to be completely done by the end of the month (and maybe I will be) but I’ll at least be mostly done. Just want to wrap this one up ASAP!
  • I’m also in editing mode on a report I wrote for a new project I’m working on. Will talk more about it in the near future. Very excited about it.
  • It’s the end of the month, which means my week is also full of invoicing, bookkeeping, goal setting, etc.
  • I’m putting together a couple of direct mail sales letters for a real estate investor. Looking forward to that!

Aaron Hoos’ weekly reading list: ‘YouTube killed the TV star’ edition

Aaron Hoos: Weekly reading list

I called my parents earlier this evening, like a good son should from time to time. During the conversation, my mother mentioned that she had been watching a couple of her favorite shows on YouTube. For my parents, who don’t watch a lot of TV, it’s a way to find programming that they enjoy — it not only fits their tastes but also their schedule.

And recently, I was thinking about a TV show I had always wanted to see but it premiered, ran a few seasons, and was cancelled before I had even heard of it. I looked it up on YouTube and — awesome! — every episode is there. It’s bookmarked and ready to watch.

I love internet TV. In my mind, it really represents one of the great things about the web: You can find the entertainment you want, when you want it, and you can watch it wherever you want it (on whichever device you choose).

What a change from yesteryear when you got the TV Guide, fought with a sibling over what you got to watch on the one TV in the house. Yeah, I’m that old. I think it makes me appreciate YouTube and other web-based TV a lot more. And I appreciate it, not just for entertainment…

There have been several times when I’ve been renovating my house and I needed to figure out how to do something and a YouTube video helped me figure it out. (Hey, I love books but it’s hard to beat actually seeing the whole thing from start to finish).

YouTube is huge (and it’s continuing to get bigger) and it’s changing how we consume television/video. Here’s some reading that I found insightful about where YouTube is now and where we can expect it to be in the near future.

  • Don’t touch that remote talks about the growth of online video (not just YouTube) and how Amazon, Netflix, Microsoft, and even traditional television networks are turning to the web as a way to produce video. It’s hinted in this article and I think we’ll see even more of it in the future: Companies can produce pilots, push them to the web, measure response, and know which shows to produce. That is an exciting opportunity for the future of entertainment!
  • The future of content is niche channels. This article is kind of basic, and more than a year old, but I like how it nicely summarizes the trends in content consumption, particularly on YouTube. I’ve become fascinated by the channel concept on YouTube and particularly how businesses can maximize that for the benefit of the organization and their customers.
  • It’s getting harder to make money on YouTube. This article provided a good counterpoint to the frequent comment that YouTube (and web videos in general) are the wave of the future. I think we will see lots of video being created and consumed but this article makes me wonder whether YouTube might need to innovate new monetization models to motivate more quality programming, or businesses need to rethink why they are on YouTube and see it as an earlier part of their sales funnel rather than the place where they make money.
  • How to respect copywriting on YouTube. This is a great article and it clearly outlines what happens if people upload a copyrighted song on their video. The concept of copyright is changing on the web, and YouTube is definitely a battleground where that is happening. As someone who earns money from the content I create, I want to see lots of copyright protection. But as a realist who is totally in love with the anything-can-happen wild west of the web, I recognize that copyright concepts may need to change even more than they already have. I frequently see people writing “I don’t own this song. No copyright infringement intended” on their videos, as if that will erase their liability for using copyrighted material. I don’t think there’s a clear answer yet about how we use content that we didn’t create. It’s very complicated.

A simple guide to Facebook usage (so you don’t drive your friends bonkers)

As someone who works from home, Facebook is a way to stay connected to friends and family. For the most part, I enjoy interacting with my close friends and reconnecting with long-lost friends.

But my Facebook experience is far from perfect. Could we all agree to some ground rules so that we don’t drive each other bonkers? Here are four simple rules to keep us all from going crazy:

1. Check Snopes… PLEASE

For the love of all things sacred, please check Snopes before you randomly post stuff you read. Half cut onions that heal cancer? Check Snopes. Eddie Murphy died? Check Snopes. Meth that looks like pop rocks? Check Snopes. If you didn’t write it yourself (and even if a trusted friend posted it on their wall) please check Snopes.

2. Take it easy on the heartwarming pictures

I love seeing pictures on Facebook. YOUR pictures. Those vacations. Those family pictures. The 100,000,000 pictures you post of your baby. Heck, even your food. (Confession: I’m indifferent about the histograms of your unborn baby but at least they are your pictures). What I hate is when my newsfeed fills with pictures of angels or dogs or heartwarming sayings that have been fake-written on papyrus. I’m not saying that you should NEVER post them. Just take it easy. One a day is probably way more than we need to see. Remember: You’re not the only one posting them. A good rule of thumb is: If the picture says something like “like if you like this; ignore if you don’t have a heart” then you can probably ignore it. I won’t think less of you!

3. Please don’t complain about Facebook… on Facebook

Every time Facebook changes its interface or some other aspect of how it runs, my newsfeed fills up with complaints about it. But the people who hate Facebook are still on it, years after Facebook enraged them with a UI change. Hey guess what. Every company makes changes. If you really don’t like it, sign out. I’m not sure why this one throws me into a rage but it does.

4. Stop sending me invites to your games

I don’t care if you spend all frigging day playing games on Facebook. But take it easy on the invites. The daily invites are getting to be a bit too much.

I guess what I want is a newsfeed of, well, stuff about you. Even if it’s a vacation pic or an Instagram of your awesome lunch. Facebook is a valuable tool for sharing our thoughts and feelings, and all of life’s wins and fails. And it’s a great way to rapidly spread a bit of news that is worth spreading.

Think of Facebook like a big get-together. The same rules apply there. You don’t want to be the guy spouting fakes stories as if they were real, you don’t want to be that annoying jerk who just gives empty inspirational answers to anything people say, you don’t want to complain about the party itself while the host is within hearing distance, and you don’t want to be the person shouting from the recroom that everyone needs to see your high score in Mario Bros. Be cool like a party and we’ll all enjoy Facebook just a little more.

Rant: Complete.

Aaron’s Answers: Should I buy an existing business, buy a franchise, or start my own business?

There are a lot of choices to make when starting up a new venture. One of the things that entrepreneurs have to decide is whether or not they should buy an existing business, buy a franchise, or start their own business. Each one offers advantages and disadvantages that must be weighed.

BUYING AN EXISTING BUSINESS

Buying an existing business is one that has already started; one that has been marketing, selling, and earning revenue from a client-base. It might be in various stages of start-up — perhaps a relatively new company that the founder is selling, or perhaps a well-established company from which the founder is looking to retire and move on.

I think you’re looking for two types of businesses: Either, you’re looking for an established clientele, positive word of mouth, a strong supply chain, good processes, and strong financials that you can buy, walk in on day one, and continue earning profit; or, you’re looking for a business that is currently struggling but has potential to grow.

Compared to the other two options (buying a franchise or starting your own business), you’ll need a comparatively large amount of money up-front to get into this business because it’s established already. But the advantage is, you can potentially start earning an income almost right away (depending on the stage of the business and whether or not the previous owner was active and successful in the business prior to your buying it). Expect to pay more for a healthy company that has existing cash flow.

BUYING A FRANCHISE

Buying a franchise is when you buy a brand and marketing system from a company for a business that hasn’t yet started. This is a nice hybrid model between buying an existing business and starting your own. The business may not be started up yet but you are shortcutting the process with an established and recognized brand, and a business system already in place.

You’re looking for a company that has a strong, positive presence on a larger scale (i.e. in the national market) but has not saturated your marketplace. Look for a franchise that provides support and education and all of the marketing tools you need. Perhaps compare several franchises within the same industry to identify the best one for you.

Expect to pay a franchise fee for the right to use the brand and the business system, and expect to put in time to grow your business. Depending on the franchise, the up-front fee and the ongoing fee could be small or large. If you have some money and some time, but you want a slightly faster start with an established brand, this might be a good option for you.

STARTING YOUR OWN BUSINESS

Starting your own business is the third option. It’s when you create a brand from scratch and build your own business model and products or services.

You really are starting from zero and building it up from there. Not surprisingly, it can take longer to do but many entrepreneurs prefer it because they have the most control over the process plus it generally has a lower “cost” to start.

There are costs, including financial costs, but most of the costs are likely going to be your time. And it might take a while before you establish your brand and start earning money. This is an advantage for people who want to start a business part time while they are working. But be prepared to spend a lot of time! The fail rate is potentially higher with these types of businesses because they can take a while to get off the ground and there is a lower-perceived cost to start them.

SO WHICH ONE IS RIGHT FOR YOU?

The short answer is: It partly depends on how quickly you want to earn money, and it partly depends on how much money and time you have available. (There are other considerations but these are the big ones, in my opinion). If you want to earn money as quickly as possible, buy an existing business; if you have time, start your own business. If you have more money than time, buy an existing business; if you have more time than money, start your own business.