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Taking the long way there

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taking the long way there

Chest forward, notepad in hand we walked into our web designer’s surprisingly large office in the heart of West University. I had researched numerous companies and their portfolio looked exactly like what we had in mind. The perfect antithesis to Realtor websites: Fresh, contemporary, functional. And in my pad, I had the intricate blueprint of how we were going to make it happen. The more specific I am – I thought – the easier their work will be which should be a relief to my trembling wallet.

“We start at $8,500”

Before I got too far down my bullet list, he stopped me and without wanting to offend me (or anything) told me their work started at eight and a half Gs, for a basic site. Thanking him for his time-saving honesty, we walked out of that office, our doubts about how they paid the rent fully answered. Destination: Barnes and Noble Geek Section for some HTML fun. Numerous picturesque heavy books and about four Video Professors later, I was staring at a blank 900px wide square on (queue the dramatic music) Microsoft Frontpage, so help me God. I present to you the (then) finished product.

It’s been a long way

At first, I hated the fact that I couldn’t just hire someone to do what I needed. Instead I was stuck making sure I closed my tags and validated my code, both of which ranked just above sticking a fork in my ear on the fun scale. But even though my knowledge is still very much limited compared to pros, I am better off today because I took the long way here:

  1. I am better off, because I not dependent on my webmaster (what an arrogant job title, btw) to make even the slightest changes. This allows us to be nimble and flexible when we need to adapt our marketing message to an ever changing market.
  2. I am better off, because our site today looks like this and I built everything in it. Could it be better? Of course. But I’m proud of how far we’ve come from that blank 900px box.
  3. I am better off, because now I’m more aware of what’s possible. Believe it or not, having some fundamental knowledge about how websites work can help you make better decisions and demands when you partner with a pro to take your site to the next level.

What about you? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.

Houston Real Estate Rainmaker and Uberproud Father/Husband (not necessarily in that order). When I'm not skinning cats or changing diapers you can find me on Twitter or Facebook. I blog about marketing, social media and real estate. I might not always be in agreement, but you can rest assured I'll be honest. Oh, and I can cook a mean breakfast...

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21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Ian Greenleigh

    August 13, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    Looks nice, Erion. If you’re savvy, quality web design is not as difficult as some may lead you to believe. I do, however, see a major benefit to having dedicated web guys, and that’s stability. I can make things aesthetically pleasing, but as far as the ones and zeros behind it, I’m an ignoramus. If errors were to occur, they would most likely be difficult to remedy.

  2. Seth Parker

    August 13, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Been there before! For the past 5 years or so, I’ve been doing all of my own web design/development. Because of that, the ceiling on what I can provide in my site is only limited by what I can learn, not cost. I don’t have to wait on anyone for anything. If I think of something new to add, I can do it ASAP.

    There’s also a downside to this, though. TIME. Time is very valuable, and the thought has crossed my mind many times during one of those 36 Hour web sessions “Damn, I should just pay someone to do this, and I could spend this time running my company/selling real estate.”

    I imagine things will stay the way they are for me for the time being, though. I’m one of those guys that can’t get past the “no one can do it better or faster than me, so why let anyone?” (even though that’s not true) thing.

  3. Russell Shaw

    August 13, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    Nice job, Erion!! I totally agree. My first websites were all designed by professionals at high prices. Now – but not to save money –I design my graphics and my new web sites and pages myself. I do have a “computer pro” I can call to fix things when I hit a snag (and I do hit those snags) but I just love the freedom of being able to conceive something and to be able to go from my idea to seeing it on the internet without having to wait forever for someone else to get around to it. One company that hosted my site took weeks and weeks to get anything done and I often had to call my sales rep so he could call the president of the company to get the IT department to actually do the work. Now, those changes happen in just a few minutes (okay, some take a LOT longer:-) after I decide I want them.

  4. Todd Waller

    August 13, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    Erion,

    Seth hits pretty close to an analogy we use as agents.

    As real estate agents, we run into folks that want to sell their home by themselves. We generally take the viewpoint that folks CAN sell their homes without our assistance, but they often save time, money and hassle by employing a real estate agent to do what they do best.

    I think the same applies to web design and upkeep.

    Your final point about knowledge leading to better decision making is bang on.

    Todd

  5. Austin Smith - Goomzee.com

    August 13, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    Nice job Erion! Some of the pix on your site didn’t load for me, but what I did see was impressive! I especially like the “Education Corner” and the mortgage rates on the left-hand side. Very informative!!!

  6. John Wake

    August 14, 2009 at 3:25 am

    Well done!

    The next challenge for us real estate geeks is to develop systems to convert more of those internet leads into sales, incoming referrals and long time clients.

    Generating internet leads isn’t the big problem anymore for many. Lead management is the main constaint and the solutions aren’t going to be purely technical despite the tendency of many of us who are good at generating internet leads to try to find technological solutions to all problems.

  7. Fred Romano

    August 14, 2009 at 9:19 am

    Why not just use WordPress and a nice theme? That’s a better start them messing with Html, then you can modify the theme to your taste.

  8. Matt Stigliano

    August 14, 2009 at 9:57 am

    @ErionHouston – I’m actually impressed with the first site you built (the second version’s not so bad either). It’s shocking what can be charged for a website and even more shocking what some of these companies charge real estate agents. I think our industry has a sticker on their foreheads that says “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout them computer machines. Please take my money.” The amount we as an industry spend on technology that we could do for less (or get for cheaper) is astounding to me.

  9. Laurie Matthias

    August 14, 2009 at 10:56 am

    Erion,
    You’ve inspired me to follow in your footsteps and try my own site.
    Thank you!
    Laurie Matthias
    Long and Foster Real Estate, Inc.
    Haverford, PA

  10. Erion Shehaj

    August 14, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    Something that would certainly condition the decision to fly solo or have “dedicated web guys” is the complexity of the site and its popularity (traffic). Having an esthetically gorgeous site that no one can reach because is down all the time in no way to play it either.

    @Seth

    The opportunity cost of time is definitely a valid argument. You could focus your energy on your primary business (RE) and leave the tech to the techies. But I would argue that taking the time to learn how your site works, is working on your real estate business. Because, if you know what’s possible, you might implement it on your site thus helping yourself save some time on generating business or converting more out of your traffic.

    @Russell

    The flexibility to change and try out different strategies on your site is key to getting it right, especially when you are a new agent. After all, no one comes in this business with clear ideas about what marketing message will surely work. We are always fine tuning, trying out new variations, measuring and fine tuning some more. Having to wait weeks for your webwiz to turn your changes around is no way to go IMO.

    @Todd

    If all we’re offering to our clients is time savings, we’re in trouble. Our value proposition should be that even if the homeowner did it themselves, they couldn’t match our results because of our expertise and market knowledge.

    @John

    >Generating internet leads isn’t the big problem anymore for many

    Generating leads, no. Generating clients, yes. There’s a difference. Most people’s troubles with internet leads is their quality or lack thereof, but that’s an entirely different post for a different day.

    @Fred

    At the time, I had no idea what WordPress was 🙂 And now that I love WP and I have about 4 blogs running on it, I’m still in favor of the idea that a company site, needs to be a site with a blog element, not just a blog. You can use magazine style themes that transform WP in a content management system but to get something that will work requires extensive customization.

    @rerockstar

    Thanks! If you only knew how long it was taking me to update it every day back then, you’d freak 🙂 You do bring up a solid point however. The “market rates” on real estate websites that are not template based are out of control. When I was considering an upgrade to my site recently, I was talking to a company which I will not mention by name. We were talking $9k website and this salesperson was treating me like I was buying a pair of tubesocks at a dollar store. On a different note, while I was following Inman Connect on Twitter, I found out that one of the real estate sites that I admire the most cost $40,000 and its owner could not change a thing – no copy, no pictures, nothing. You’d think you should get at least a t-shirt for forty grand…

  11. Erion Shehaj

    August 14, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    Thanks Laurie. You made my day.

    If you need any assistance while your go through your design, hit me up on Twitter @ErionHouston and I’ll help you out any way I can.

  12. Paula Henry

    August 15, 2009 at 12:03 am

    Erion – Very Nice! I paid the high price for one of mine and wouldn’t trade the freedom of time. I have a lot of freedom with it and only need to pay for custom work and design. It’s a fair trade off for me.

    OTOH – I have a couple of blog sites I am totally responsible for and like learning new things. When I get stuck, though, I need people who can help me.

  13. Gwen Banta

    August 15, 2009 at 1:22 am

    OMG – You mean my template SUCKS? I can’t take the pressure, Erion. …But maybe I don’t need to worry about it, because no one visits my website anyway. Or is that the point? 🙂

  14. David Sherfey

    August 17, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    Very nice site, Erion. My first impression is that it feels trustworthy. Very clean, not loud, just very cool.

    Of course, now you’re a web developer…. and now that you have done this you probably understand why web developers charge so much. They know how much work they are ‘saving you’ so there you go… If you add all the time you have spent and charge it out at developer rates it is a bunch of bucks.

    Much better to do it yourself and know what it takes. When you get so successful that it pays to have someone else do it, you will know how to supervise them.

  15. Duke Long

    August 18, 2009 at 10:14 am

    Oh the rant I could go on.I have been thru every scenario.
    I have told countless experts exactly who what how where when and why I want my site to be.
    Proposals not submitted e-mails not returned ,I got a guy I went to school with,my husband does that from home,Our company only works with 5 milllion and sales or up,we are a social media intergeator, web/social media expert or(insert the latest bs catch phrase)DOOOOD.
    I applaud your path and will follow and hopefully learn along the way with you. WOW I feel better already Thanks for the post.

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Business Marketing

10 must-listen-to podcasts for business owners

(MARKETING) If you’re a business owner and want to learn something…anything…give one (or all) these podcasts a listen.

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As podcasts grow more and more popular, it has become increasingly difficult to sort through the sea of excellent options out there.

From interviews with business leaders to industry-specific advice from experts, podcasts are an incredible free and convenient way to get a small dose of inspiration and knowledge.

This short list offers just a taste of the myriad of business podcasts available. Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur looking for some tips on breaking into a new industry or a seasoned vet hoping to get some new inspiration, we hope you’ll find something here worth listening to.

How I Built This, hosted by Guy Raz.

Podcast fans will recognize Guy Raz’s name (and voice) from TED Radio Hour. While that show can be a great source of inspiration for businesses, one of the most consistently inspiring shows is his new project that shares stories and insight from some of the biggest business leaders in the world. In just four months, Guy has talked to everyone from Richard Branson and Mark Cuban to L.A. Reid and Suroosh Alvi. While there are plenty of excellent interview-driven shows with entrepreneurs, if you want to hear about the world’s best known companies, this is your best bet.

The Art of Charm, hosted by Jordan and AJ Harbinger.

The Art of Charm is a business podcast by definition, but the advice it provides will definitely help you in other parts of your day-to-day life as well. With over three million listens a month, the incredibly popular show provides advice, strategies and insight into how to network effectively and advance your career and personal life.

StartUp, hosted by Alex Blumberg and Lisa Chow.

If you’re an entrepreneur, there is no excuse not to be listening to StartUp, the award-winning business podcast from Gimlet Media. The show’s talented hosts come from incredible radio shows like Planet Money and This American Life and bring a top-notch level of storytelling to the show, which provides behind the scenes looks at what it is actually like to start a company. Now on the fourth season, StartUp is one of those business podcasts that even people not interested in business will get a kick out of.

The Whole Whale Podcast, hosted by George Weiner.

One of the best things about podcasts is the wide variety of niche shows available that go in-depth into fascinating topics. One of those shows is the Whole Whale Podcast, which shares stories about data and technology in the non-profit sector. You’ll get detailed analysis, expert knowledge and can hear from a long list of social impact leaders from Greenpeace, Change.org, Kiva, Teach For America, and more.

Social Pros Podcast, hosted by Jay Baer and Adam Brown.

Navigating the surplus of social media guides online can be a nightmare, so look no further than Social Pros. Recent episodes talk about reaching college students on social media, the rise of messaging apps, and making better video content for Facebook. Plus, there are great case-studies with companies doing social right, like Kellogg’s, Coca Cola and Lenscrafters.

Entrepreneur on Fire, hosted by John Lee Dumas.

One of the original entrepreneurship shows, Entrepreneur on Fire has logged over 1,500 episodes with successful business leaders sharing tips, lessons and advice learned from their worst entrepreneurial moments. Sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, always inspiring, this show is sure to have at least one interview with someone you can learn from.

The $100 MBA, hosted by Omar Zenhom.

Think of The $100 MBA as a full-fledged business program in snack-sized portions. The daily ten minute business lessons are based on real-world applications and cover everything from marketing to technology and more. Cue this show up on your commute to or from work and watch your knowledge grow.

This Week in Startups, hosted by Jason Calacanis.

This is your audio version of TechCrunch, Gizmodo, or dare we say The American Genius. Each week, a guest entrepreneur joins the show to talk about what is happening in tech right now. You’ll get news about companies with buzz, updates on big tech news and even some insider gossip.

The Side Hustle Show, hosted by Nick Loper.

This is the show if you want answers for the big question so many entrepreneurs face. How do I turn my part-time hustle into a real job? Featuring topics such as passive income ideas, niche sites, and self-publishing, host Nick Loper is upfront and honest about the tough world of side hustles. The show features actionable tips and an engaging energy, and may just be that final push you need to grow your gig.

Back To Work, hosted by Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin.
Focused on the basics that you don’t think about, Back To Work looks deep into our working lives by analyzing things like workflow, email habits and personal motivation. Somewhere between self-help, and business advice, Back To Work takes on a new topic relating to productivity each week.

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Business Marketing

Why your coworkers are not your ‘family’ [unpopular opinion]

(MARKETING) “I just want you to think of us as family,” they say. If this were true, I could fire my uncle for always bringing up “that” topic on Thanksgiving…

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family coworkers

The well-known season 10 opener of “Undercover Boss” featured Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar. Brandon Landry, owner, went to the Lafayette location where he worked undercover with Jessica Comeaux, an assistant manager. Comeaux came across as a dedicated employee of the company, and she was given a well-deserved reward for her work. But I rolled my eyes as the show described the team as a “family.” I take offense at combining business and family, unless you’re really family. Why shouldn’t this work dynamic be used?

Employers don’t have loyalty to employees.

One of the biggest reasons work isn’t family is that loyalty doesn’t go both ways. Employers who act as though employees are family wouldn’t hesitate to fire someone if it came down to it. In most families, you support each other during tough times, but that wouldn’t be the case in a business. If you’ve ever thought that you can’t ask for a raise or vacation, you’ve probably bought into the theory that “work is a family.” No, work is a contract.

Would the roles be okay if the genders were reversed?

At Walks-Ons, Comeaux is referred to as “Mama Jess,” by “some of the girls.” I have to wonder how that would come across if Comeaux were a man being called “Daddy Jess” by younger team members? See any problem with that? What happens when the boss is a 30-year-old and the employee is senior? Using family terminology to describe work relationships is just wrong.

Families’ roles are complex.

You’ll spend over 2,000 hours with your co-workers every year. It’s human nature to want to belong. But when you think of your job like a family, you may bring dysfunction into the workplace.

What if you never had a mom, or if your dad was abusive? Professional relationships don’t need the added complexity of “family” norms. Seeing your boss as “mom” or “dad” completely skews the roles of boss/employee. When your mom asks you to do more, it’s hard to say no. If your “work mom or dad” wants you to stay late, it’s going to be hard to set boundaries when you buy into the bogus theory that work is family. Stop thinking of work this way.

Check your business culture to make sure that your team has healthy boundaries and teamwork. Having a great work culture doesn’t have to mean you think of your team as family. It means that you appreciate your team, let them have good work-life balance and understand professionalism.

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Business Marketing

Market your side hustle with these 6 tips

(BUSINESS MARKETING) It can be hard to stand out from the crowd when you’re starting a new side hustle. Here are some easy ways to make your marketing efforts more effective.

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Side hustles have become the name of the game, and especially during these turbulent times, we have to get extra creative when it comes to making money. With so many of us making moves and so much noise, it can be hard to get the word out and stand out when sharing your side hustle.

Reuben Jackson of Big Think shared five ways that you can market your side hustle (we added a sixth tip for good measure), and comment with your thoughts and ideas on the subject:

  1. Referrals: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask!
    If you’re going to make a splash, you have to be willing to ask for favors. Reach out to your network and ask them to help spread the word on your new venture. This can be as simple as asking your friends to share a Facebook post with information that refers them to your page or website. Word of mouth is still important and incredibly effective.
  2. Start Where You Are
    Immediately running an expensive ad right out of the gate may not be the most effective use of your (likely) limited funds. Use the resources you do have to your advantage – especially if you’re just testing things out to see how the side hustle goes in the real world. You can do this by creating a simple, informational landing page for a small fee. Or, if you’re not looking to put any money into it right away, create an enticing email signature that explains what you do in a concise and eye-catching way. Check out these tools to create a kickin’ email signature.
  3. Gather Positive Reviews
    If you’ve performed a service or sold a product, ask your customers to write a review on the experience. Never underestimate how many potential customers read reviews before choosing where to spend their money, so this is an incredibly important asset. Once a service is completed or a product is sold, send a thank you note to your customer and kindly ask them to write a review. Be sure to provide them with links to easily drop a line on Yelp or your company’s Facebook page.
  4. Be Strategic With Social
    It’s common to think that you have to have a presence on all channels right away. Start smaller. Think about your demographic and do some research on which platforms reach that demographic most effectively. From there, put your time and energy into building a presence on one or two channels. Post consistently and engage with followers. After you’ve developed a solid following, you can then expand to other platforms.
  5. Give Paid Marketing A Shot
    Once you’ve made a dollar or two, try experimenting with some Facebook or Twitter ads. They’re relatively cheap to run and can attract people you may not have otherwise had a chance to reach out to. Again, the key is to start small and don’t get discouraged if these don’t have people knocking your door down; it may take trial and error to create the perfect ad for your hustle.
  6. Go Local
    Local newspapers and magazines are always looking for news on what local residents are doing. Send an email to your town/city’s journal or local Patch affiliate. Let them know what you’re up to, offer yourself for an interview, and give enticing information. The key is doing this in a way that your hustle is seen as beneficial to the public, and is not just an ad.

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