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Taking the long way there



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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  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


    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.


  5. Austin Smith -

    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

    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    >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.


    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.


    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

How a Facebook boycott ended up benefitting Snapchat and Pinterest

(MARKETING) Businesses are pulling ad spends from Facebook following “Stop Hate for Profit” social media campaign, and Snapchat and Pinterest are profiting from it.



Phone in hand open to social media, coffee held in other hand.

In June, the “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign demanded social media companies be held accountable for hate speech on their platforms and prioritize people over profit. As part of the campaign, advertisers were called to boycott Facebook in July. More than 1,000 businesses, nonprofits, and other consumers supported the movement.

But, did this movement actually do any damage to Facebook, and who, if any, benefited from their missing revenue profits?

According to The Information, “what was likely crumbs falling from the table for Facebook appears to have been a feast for its smaller rivals, Snap and Pinterest.” They reported that data from Mediaocean, an ad-tech firm, showed Snap reaped the biggest benefit of the 2 social media platforms during the ad pause. Snapchat’s app saw advertisers spending more than double from July through September compared to the same time last year. And, although not as drastic, Pinterest also saw an increase of 40% in ad sales.

As a result, Facebook said its year-over-year ad revenue growth was only up 10 percent during the first 3 weeks of July. But, the company expects its ad revenue to continue that growth rate in Q3. And, some people think that Facebook is benefitting from the boycott. Claudia Page, senior vice president, product and operations at Vivendi-owned video platform Dailymotion said, “All the boycott did was open the marketplace so SMBs could spend more heavily. It freed-up inventory.”

Even CNBC reported that Wedbush analysts said in a note that Facebook will see “minimal financial impact from the boycotts.” They said about $100 million of “near term revenue is at risk.” And for Facebook, this represents less than 1% of the growth in Q3. However, despite what analysts say, there is still a chance for both Snapchat and Pinterest to hold their ground.

Yesterday, Snap reported their surprising Q3 results. Compared to the prior year, Snap’s revenue increased to $679 million, up 52% from 2019. Its net loss decreased from $227 million to $200 million compared to last year. Daily active users increased 18% year-over-year to 249 million. Also, Snap’s stock price soared more than 22% in after-hours trading. Take that Facebook!

In a prepared statement, Chief Business Officer Jeremi Gorman said, “As brands and other organizations used this period of uncertainty as an opportunity to evaluate their advertising spend, we saw many brands look to align their marketing efforts with platforms who share their corporate values.” As in, hint, hint, Facebook’s summer boycott did positively affect their amazing Q3 results.

So, Snapchat and Pinterest have benefited from the #StopHateForProfit campaign. Snapchat’s results show promising optimism that maybe Pinterest might fare as well. But, of course, Facebook doesn’t think they will benefit much longer. Back in July, CEO Mark Zuckerberg told his employees, “[his] guess is that all these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough.”

Facebook isn’t worried, but I guess we will see soon enough. Pinterest is set to report its Q3 results on October 28th and Facebook on the 29th.

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Business Marketing

Cooler temps mean restaurants have to get creative to survive

(BUSINESS MARKETING) In the midst of a pandemic and with winter approaching, restaurants are starting to find creative and sustainable ways to keep customers coming in… and warm.



Outdoor eating at restaurants grows in popularity.

Over the last decade we have seen a change in the approach to clientele experiences in the restaurant business. It’s no longer just about how good your food is, although that is still key. Now you have to give your customers an experience to remember. There are now restaurants that feed you in the dark, and others who require you to check all your clothes at the door. Each of these provides an experience to remember alongside food that ranges from good to exquisite, depending on your taste.

Now, however, the global pandemic has rearranged how we think about dining. We can no longer just shove people into a building and create a delectable meal. If you’ve relied mostly on people coming into your restaurant, you may struggle to survive now.

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The ties to the sun in some areas are so strong that cloudy days have been shown to drop attendance as much as 14% for the day. This will become the more apparent the colder it gets. For me, I always mention hibernation weight in the winter, when all I want to do is curl up and eat at home. Down here in Texas we are already finding cooler weather, drops into the 70s even in August and September. We are all assuming a cold winter ahead. So, a bit of foresight is finding a means of keeping your guests warm for the winter ahead.

San Francisco restaurants have started with heat lamps during their cooler evenings. Fiberglass igloos have also been added to outdoor seating as a means of temperature control. A few places down in the Lonestar state keep roaring fires going for their outdoor activities. While others actually keep you running in between beverages by encouraging volleyball matches. This is the new future ahead of us, and being memorable is the way to go.

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Business Marketing

Healthcare during pandemic goes virtual, looks to stay that way

(BUSINESS NEWS) Employment-based health insurance has already been through the ringer with COVID-19, but company healthcare options are adapting for long term.



Stethoscope with laptop, showing healthcare going virtual.

Changes in employment-based health insurance may end up costing employers more, but will provide crucial benefits to workers responding to the healthcare challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a recent survey by the Business Group on Health, a member-driven advocacy organization that helps large employers navigate providing health insurance to their employees, businesses will increase access to telehealth, mental health resources, and on-site clinics in the upcoming year.

Besides the obvious impacts of the coronavirus itself, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have also rippled out to affect other aspects of public health and how we engage with medical care. With so many people staying home to reduce their in-person contacts, there has been a significant increase in the use of telehealth services such as virtual doctor’s visits. According to the survey from Business Group on Health, whose members include 74 Fortune 100 companies, more than half of large employers will offer more options for virtual healthcare in the upcoming year than in the past.

The pandemic, resulting economic fallout, and dramatic changes to our lives have inevitably exacerbated peoples’ anxieties and feelings of hopelessness. As we move into cold weather, with no end in sight to the need to socially distance, this promises to be a particularly dreary, lonely winter. Mental health support will be more necessary than ever. In 2019, 73% of large employers provided virtual mental health services. That number will increase to 91% next year, with 45% of large employers also expanding their mental health care provider networks, making it easier for employees to find the right the therapist or other mental health service provider, and making it easier to access those services from home, virtually.

In addition, there will be a 20% increase in employers offering virtual emotional well-being services. Altogether, 9 out of 10 of the employers surveyed will provide online mental health resources, which, besides virtual appointments, could also include apps, webinars, and educational videos.

There has also been a slight increase the availability of on-site clinics that provide coronavirus testing and other basic health services. This also included an expansion of resources for prenatal care, weight management, and chronic health problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

These improvement won’t come free of charge. While deductibles will remain about the same, premiums and out-of-pocket costs will increase about 5%. In most cases, employers will handle these costs, rather than passing them on to employees.

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