Report on a real estate investing conference in Columbus Ohio

One of my clients, Mark Evans, is a real estate investor and I’ve been working with him since 2008. We talk frequently via email, text, and phone but I’ve never met him in person.

So when I heard that he was holding a conference in Columbus Ohio (a really cool conference — more on that in a moment), and since my schedule allowed it, I jumped at the chance to go.

EVENT DETAILS

The event was actually two separate “mini-conferences”, scheduled consecutively; and I attended both. I flew in on June 17, stayed until June 21, and the event was held at the Columbus Airport Marriott (nice hotel!).

Here’s a picture of me at an airport enroute…

AaronHoos-airport

June 18 – 19: The first mini-conference, called a Deal-A-Thon, was more like a 2-day workshop/coaching session for 12 real estate investors. We spend both days building our investing businesses and working through the intricacies of doing deals. This was a super-hands-on invitation-only experience among real investors and we actually did some deals while we were there. I don’t have any pictures from it but just imagine a dozen people sitting around a room with notebook and laptop and phone.

June 20 – 21: The second mini-conference had a much larger attendance — approximately 200 people. We spent the first day in a super-long marathon session in the hotel auditorium going through the steps of building a real estate investing business. With the large number of people, the information was useful but at a much basic level. The second day included a bus tour as we drove around Columbus looking at properties and discussing property valuation and exit strategies. On the afternoon of the second day, we went to a house giveaway event, in which my client partnered with former football player, ex-con, Comeback Project founder Maurice Clarett to giveaway a house to a family in need. It was a really cool experience. Here’s a pic from the house giveaway ribbon cutting ceremony…
MEDM-housegiveaway2
By the way, if you ever want to sponsor or donate to this worthy cause, go over to the HouseGiveaway.org.

WHAT DID I LEARN?

I went for a few reasons:

First, I finally wanted to meet my client.

Second, I wanted to participate in the House Giveaway (I’ve been a sponsor for a couple of years and I wanted to go in person).

Third, I wanted to attend a conference for the networking opportunity. I’ve attended a couple but I’m started to ramp it up a bit more.

Fourth, I wanted to fill in some gaps in my knowledge of real estate investing.

I got all of that… and more. It was an insanely good time. Not just because I ate more steak and drank more beer than someone should drink. But more-so because I went totally focused on building my business, as my game-face indicates…
AaronHoos-gameface

… I learned a lot and what I particularly liked about the Deal-A-Thon (the first mini-conference) was how hands-on it was. It’s very common in conferences to get information and to file it away in the “nice-to-know” section of your brain, only to completely ignore implementation. But this Deal-A-Thon was all about implementation. And since it was invitation-only, the people who showed up were high-achievers and were all interested in succeeding in their investing businesses.

I also made some amazing connections with other real estate investors — not just new friends but prospective new joint venture partners for any real estate investing I do, as well as new clients for my Real Estate Investing Copywriter brand.

This was a business-changing event for me. In just a couple of short days, it skyrocketed different parts of my business to a new level that I didn’t even dream of achieving. I’d like to attend other real estate investing conferences in the future but I intend to attend this particular conference again.

We run toward comfort but we should really flee from it

Humans run toward comfort. We always have. From our most ancient ancestors to today, we work our entire lives to achieve and enjoy comfort. It’s a reason why nomadic cultures become permanent cultures and it’s a reason why stone age cultures become bronze age and then iron age cultures and it’s a reason why individuals join with others to become communities.

There is comfort in strong, secure, permanent lives. And that desire for comfort is as important to us today as it was in our ancestors. It just looks different for us, of course.

In my own life, I have almost always run towards comfort: During high school and college, I was obsessed with getting a degree so I could get a good job. I worked hard at part-time jobs and ignored most extra curricular activities and other personal develop opportunities so I could save up money for school. It’s not a surprise that I ran toward the psychological comfort of a steady job. I was one of the first in my family to get a college degree and enjoy the prospect of a career that wasn’t a fickle trade.

In my junior year of college, I realized that I didn’t want a “job” but I completed my degree just to be able to complete it. That decision was incredibly freeing and helped me enjoy my college experience considerably more. And right after college I started my first business. Although it failed, that failure was an invaluable education that I value as much or more than the degree-achieved letters behind my name.

After the failure of that first business, I ran back to comfort again and got a job. My wife and I had been living in rentals the first couple years of our marriage and we wanted something permanent and comfortable. I worked for a couple of years and got that house in the suburbs and the car.

Then I grew restless again and fled from the comfort of a job and started another business. This time it did well and we’ve been enjoying the success of that business ever since. But business success, although wonderfully fulfilling, comes with an often overlooked negative: I become comfortable. I build systems and processes in my business, along with a measure of expertise and customer loyalty, all of which combine to allow me to run my business almost in my sleep.

Comfort sounds good but there’s a problem with it. We become dull, lazy, weak. We let our guard down. We don’t push as hard. We become in-grown. We become fat and soft.

It reminds me of those times when you sleep too much. You end up struggling through your day in even more of a funk than if you didn’t get enough sleep the night before. That’s what comfort does to our entire lives.

In spite of the way comfort makes us, I think it’s in our DNA to struggle to achieve comfort. We work for job security and a nice house and a comfortable retirement.

But I don’t think that’s how we should really be living our lives.

Consider anyone who has ever done something great. Consider anyone who has ever achieved success (however you define it) in your field of interest. Consider those whose names become the stuff of legend.

None of them ran towards comfort. They fled from it. They ran towards the unknown. They learned to tolerate risk. Anyone who has ever achieved a goal or dream in life did so because they stretched beyond their zone of comfort and risked something…

… while the rest of the world looked on in awe from our comfortable lives and proclaimed “I wish I could achieve something similar.”

As an example, consider something as simple as someone who has achieved a healthy, fit lifestyle. They didn’t do it by being comfortable — on the couch, eating chips, watching TV. They fled from comfort and sweated through the consistent discipline of eating healthy and working out… and the results are obvious.

If you have a goal or dream or desire in your life, you won’t get it by pursuing comfort. You’ll only get it by fleeing comfort.

I’m not saying that you need to sell your house or quit your job (but maybe you do need to do that). I’m not about to sell my house or shut down my business because it’s successful. And I think it’s good to have some sense of security — a sort-of “homebase” in life that you can return to when you’ve been battered by the storms.

BUT…

I am saying that you need to consider your goals and realize that comfort can actually keep you from those goals.

Maybe you should keep your house (especially if you have a family) but maybe it’s time to cut back on the hours you’re working at your job or putting in front of the TV and explore how you can redirect that new-found time toward the goals you’ve been delaying. Yes, it will feel uncomfortable to make that change… that’s the point.

I’ve been complaining for a couple of years that I’ve reached a plateau in my business that I need to break free from.

And in the past year, I’ve tried to break free by doing different things: Building new brands, implementing new business models, investing in real estate, refining my target market even more, publishing a book, pitching more aggressively, implementing more joint ventures, studying like crazy… and more. It’s been good and the results are there. But when I am completely truthful with myself, I realize that I’m not really stretching beyond that zone of comfort like I should be doing. I’m not really fleeing from comfort. I’ve been doing all of these things from the relative safety of my comfort.

And that needs to change.

So this week, I’m pushing myself even further. Further than I ever have before. I’m stripping my business of a variety of comfortable aspects and I’m implementing some entirely new systems and methods for growth. As I write this blog, I’m super-nervous, almost to the point of not sleeping at night.

And that’s awesome! I haven’t felt this way in years about my business and I love it. I feel like I’m on the cusp of something exciting but I’m also worried that if I find it to be too much of a challenge, I’ll slip back toward comfort in my business.

I need to think on this more. And I’ll tell you more about it at the end of the week. (Right now, I’m up to my eyeballs in change).

In the meantime, I’d like you to think about what you’re doing to run toward comfort and whether your dreams and goals are actually only achievable if you flee from comfort.

Case study: Writing to create a brand

When you have a product to sell, you sell it once and the client takes ownership of that product. But with software as a service, you are creating a product that you “sell” over and over again. Every time the payment is due, you need to re-sell why you provide the service that you do. And when there are other competing products in the marketplace, you’d better step up with something different of your own.

I had an opportunity to write for a client who was selling financial software as a service. They were a brand new product competing in a space already dominated by several other names.

With a total blank slate, I set out to create the brand. I knew that we’d never be able to compete on an equal plain with the other established service providers in the category. They had already locked up the ideas/concepts/terms that they stood for. So we found our own idea and I wrote all the content around that one idea. I recommended a mascot to be created and presented frequently on all the pages to give the brand its identity. All content — on every single page, as well as the blog — was designed to support the one idea or key theme we chose as the idea for our brand. We even changed the pricing model to reflect the brand that was built.

I couldn’t have been more pleased with the result: The site looked sharp, attracted subscribers, and became a solid player in the industry with a healthy base of subscribers. I wrapped up my agreement with them when they were acquired by another company.

This project was the project that ultimately “sold” me on the value of the subscription payment model. I’d seen other companies do it, of course, but was never on the inside before, and this company put together an offer that worked really well.

And, this project was thrilling to participate in because it truly was a “from-the-ground-up” project in which I started with an entirely clean slate and could build it almost in any way that I thought best.

10 best practices of freelancers

For over a decade I marketed my services as a freelance writer. Today, I’m a lot more specialized but technically I’m still a freelancer (because I’m not an employee).

I’ve been at this game a while and I love it. And, unfortunately, I’ve seen many others come and go.

Here are 10 best practices of those who freelance or are thinking about it:

1. Work at home.

When I tell people I write for a living, many tell me how envious they are that I can go work at a local park or a local cafe whenever I want. They picture me sitting there, sipping my frappa-mocha-cappa-whatever while I think about the perfect word.

It doesn’t work that way. You get paid to produce, not to mull over the perfect word while you sip a barista-pulled dark roast. Work in a very focused home office (or, occasionally, at a client’s office). Save the park and the cafe for client meetings or breaks.

2. Freelancing is selling.

Your ability to write will not get you hired. The only thing that will get you hired is your ability to find people who need content and to present yourself as the very best option for them. Most freelancer I know who have failed or struggled or given up, have done so because they didn’t realize how much selling was required.

That happened to me the very first time I started my freelancing business. I simply wasn’t prepared to sell. So when my first freelance biz folded, I got a job in sales, learned to sell, and then restarted freelancing when I was ready… and the difference was profound.

3. You need to master your time.

No employer is looking over your shoulder. You’re the last line of defense for your own productivity. So when you set a deadline, work toward it. Put in time every day until you are done. Projects don’t write themselves and you’ll get even more productive work done when you do a bit every day instead of piling it all on just before it’s due. Set a timer and write for that period of time each day.

Full disclosure: This is a best practice that I have not yet fully achieved.

4. Figure out what gets you paid and do it over and over.

Newbie freelancers spend too much time researching, thinking, crafting, pondering. Stop doing that. You get paid to produce. You get paid to write. Of course you need to research and think and craft and ponder but the money is in the handing over an excellent piece of content. Therefore, you need to think very carefully about what you do that actually gets you paid and focus on that.

Systematize your research by building a research checklist and a library of categorized links to great content. Become good at thinking quickly about the project. Stop trying to craft something clever and instead work on something effective. Focus on what gets you paid and minimize, automate, or delegate the rest.

5. Protect your body.

You’re sitting all day, writing. That can be bad for your weight, your back, and your wrists. Invest in a good chair and an ergonomic keyboard. And maintain good health by eating right and working out and getting a good sleep. You don’t need to invest in a lot of stuff to get started as a freelancer but you’ll be far more productive when you invest in these things.

6. Build a marketing system.

Freelancers can too easily fall into a boom/bust business. When times are good, they focus on writing for their clients and they skip out on the marketing. This is fine while they have clients but once those clients’ projects wrap up, they need to be replenished with something else… and until they are, it can be a very dry period.

A strong marketing system (emphasis on SYSTEM) ensures that new clients are always coming in and replacing those that leave. Keep it simple and work on it every single day.

7. Raise your rates.

One of the things that saved my business early on and convinced me to make a living as a freelancer is a practice I adopted with my clients: To replace my lowest paying client with a highest paying client. So if I had 10 clients, I would wrap up my lowest paying client and try to find someone who paid even more than my highest paying client. This ensured that my income always trended up. Sure, it didn’t work that way all the time, but it’s still a practice I adopt to ensure my income is headed in the right direction.

8. Start early.

When you get a client project, do something big on the project within the first 12 hours. Just get started. Do some research, crank out an outline, maybe write the first chapter. Whatever. Just get some action on it in the first 12 hours and that will help you think about it when you’re not working on it, and you’ll complete the project sooner and at a higher quality.

9. Specialize fast.

If you start out as a freelancer, that’s fine. Nothing wrong with that. But my recommendation is to find a specialization as quickly as you can and zoom in on it. You’ll get paid more and the work is actually easier (because you’re not starting at zero with every project).

Sure, at the very beginning it doesn’t hurt do be a generalist — just to get your feet wet and find out what you’re interested in writing about. I would have never discovered my niche if I hadn’t done that. But as soon as I specialized, everything changed for my business.

10. Write, dammit.

I don’t believe in writer’s block. Never have. Maybe it exists for fiction writers, I’m not sure, but it doesn’t happen to me. Am I lucky? I don’t think so. I understand that freelancers get paid to produce. So I sit down and write. I start typing, even if I’m not 100% sold on what I’m putting down. That first paragraph might be rough but I can always go back to fix it later. The most important thing is getting started and building momentum. The rest gets fixed in the editing process. So just write, write, write, write, write, write, write.

Go after your leads BEFORE they become leads: How to convince buyers that they want more than a faster horse

I’ve been writing about sales funnels for a while. And if you’ve ever heard me speak about them, or you’ve read my book The Sales Funnel Bible, you’ll know that one of my favorite sales funnel speaking points is this:

Your sales funnel starts earlier than you think it does.

Unlike how most people view their sales funnel, it doesn’t start with marketing to get leads.

Your sales funnel starts earlier — with your audience.

You should be marketing to them long before they realize they have a problem that you can solve. You should be marketing to your audience to let them know that they have a problem.

A great example here is from Henry Ford. He famously (and apocryphally?) said that if he had asked his customers what they needed, they would have said they needed a faster horse. He needed to find potential car buyers and let them know that they had a problem they didn’t even realize they had!

The same thing is happening in your business. You solve a problem — great! — but there are people who don’t realize that they even have a problem. If you market only to those who already know they have a problem, you miss out on a huge market of people who are only a small decision-point away from discovering they have a problem that you solve.

So build your sales funnel “taller” and “earlier” by educating people who don’t realize they have a problem.

Imagine my delight when I saw that Moz (formerly SEOmoz, whose content I find so damn interesting) wrote about this exact topic on a recent Whiteboard Friday post. That’s validating because Rand Fishkin is smarter and more popular than I am… so maybe I’m kind of on the right track. :)

Check it out here:

Targeting your audience earlier in the buying process

This is such a huge opportunity for business owners. If you’re not paying attention to your audience, start today!