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Opinion Editorials

Without My Blog, I Wouldn’t Still Be a Realtor

The truth is – I am far more tied to this profession now than I was four years ago, thanks in large part to the knowledge and relationships I have gained and developed from writing nearly every day, and I hear similar anecdotes from more people every week. … If real estate blogging were just about hanging out with other realestistas it’s be cool, but not that cool .    Blogging accomplishes several things, perhaps most of all a conveyance of transparency and honesty in a world of consumers who are desperately seeking both: Thanks for taking a couple minutes to speak with me.

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“It would be a lot easier to walk away if it weren’t for the blog.”

Especially this year.

That’s what a friend and fellow real estate blogger said to me a few weeks ago, and I agreed wholeheartedly.

The truth is – I am far more tied to this profession now than I was four years ago, thanks in large part to the knowledge and relationships I have gained and developed from writing nearly every day, and I hear similar anecdotes from more people every week.

Self-gratification and validation is nice, but more importantly – consumers are more tied to their favorite real estate bloggers because of their blogs. If real estate blogging were just about hanging out with other realestistas it’s be cool, but not that cool.

Blogging accomplishes several things, perhaps most of all a conveyance of transparency and honesty in a world of consumers who are desperately seeking both:

Thanks for taking a couple minutes to speak with me. I am so relieved to find that there is a realtor in the Charlottesville area that realizes that Charlottesville is not immune to the ups and downs of the market. I have talked to several agents thus far, most of whom giving me the speech that Charlottesville’s real estate market is steady and should hold solid regardless of what is happening on the open market.

Emails and conversations like the above as well as the constant innovations and lessons learned from friends around the RE.net, and provide the sustenance to continue.

Blogging allows one to differentiate oneself from the chaff. Those of us who have been doing this for a while know this; those who are just entering the real estate blogging world may need encouragement and validation that consistent writing is rewarding.

The blog ties one to one’s community in a public, persistent and sticky way that makes extrication much more difficult – and this is a good thing.

What’s the takeaway? If you’ve been doing this for a while, keep doing what you’ve been doing – look up to the leaders of our world and copy their successes at every opportunity. Having just finished Made to Stick, this statement stuck with me –

“We don’t want to be first, but we sure as hell don’t want to be third.”

If you’re new, do the same.

Dad, Husband, Charlottesville Realtor, real estate Blogger, occasional speaker - Inman Connects, NAR Conferences - based in Charlottesville, Virginia. A native Virginian, I graduated from VMI in 1998, am a third generation Realtor (since 2001) and have been "publishing" as a real estate blogger since January 2005. I've chosen to get involved in Realtor Associations on the local, state & national levels, having served on the NAR's RPR & MLS groups. Find me in Charlottesville, Crozet and Twitter.

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Jayson

    January 20, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Definitely true Jim, a blog makes it harder to just quit and walk away “what about the readers what would they think” it makes your footprint in the industry larger. As you mentioned, consistent writing truly pays off – it’s like anything else in life, practice makes perfect.

  2. Andrew Olson

    January 20, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    I have been a big proponent of blogs for real estate professionals but this is one area that I haven’t covered much. The illustration of “burning the ships behind you” through blogging about your goals, ideas, etc. is definitely something that can help you persist when you might otherwise have given up.

  3. Chuck G

    January 20, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Jim,

    I feel the same way about blogging. I started my main blog about a year ago, and I don’t need to tell you that blogging is a mix of fantastic highs and unbelievable lows. But when I get emails from clients who have taken the time to ask ME questions about real estate, schools, development programs, etc… I almost hear the voice in my head saying “You absolutely can’t walk away from this now..” No matter how bad the market gets.

    It has become the centerpiece of my marketing, and the very first thing I do every day when I wake up.

    Sounds like there may be a 12-step program in our futures…

  4. Chris Lengquist

    January 21, 2009 at 10:02 am

    Wow. I’d never stop to think it through but I just have to agree with about every word you said. Great post.

  5. Jim Duncan

    January 21, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    Thanks for the comments, folks. Everyone hears how important it is to write down goals – this is a way to publicly display one’s dedication and commitment to the business, profession and the community.

  6. David Pylyp

    March 9, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Where can I get a summary of those 12 steps again?

    Thanks for the smile!

  7. Steve Babbitt

    January 5, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    Thanks so much for your example to us old guys!!(32 years in the business) who are learning new tricks!
    I’ve been trying to write for the past year and it is just now starting to make sense and be a little easier. Thanks for setting the pace!

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Opinion Editorials

How to increase website engagement

(EDITORIAL) A website is vital to any business, but customer engagement guarantees success. Check out these powerful tips to boost engagement.

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Having a website for your business isn’t enough. If you want to grow your company, you need to maximize this digital asset by increasing user engagement. The question is, where do you begin?

What does healthy website engagement look like?

Launching a website is one of the quintessential first steps in building a business. It’s a new company’s way of saying, “We’ve arrived! See, we’re legit!” But the problem is that very few entrepreneurs and business owners know anything about building websites. So they use a drag-and-drop web builder to throw a few elements together and develop a site in a few hours.

Simply having a website isn’t enough. If it’s only a placeholder for your brand, you’re missing out on an opportunity to reach people and move them from awareness to purchase. You don’t need a website – you need an engaging website.

What is user engagement?

“Put most simply, user engagement is when visitors to your site appreciate your content enough to stick around, absorb, and convert,” web design and UX optimizer Rob Wells writes. “Most importantly, when user engagement is high, you’ll find that your audience becomes more loyal. You’ll notice more return visits and higher conversions, because your website simply works.”

Signs of high user engagement include reading and absorbing content, organic comments on blog posts, social media shares, watching videos, above average time on site, high click-through rates, and low bounce rates. We’ll tell you more about how to achieve these “wins’ in the following section.

5 Tips for Boosting Engagement

Every website developer, marketing guru, and entrepreneur has their own formula for boosting engagement, but there are a few tactics that everyone can agree on. If you want to see immediate results, start by doing the following:

    1. Make it About Your Target Audience: Too many businesses make the mistake of shaping their marketing messages around themselves. They mistakenly assume that customers care about them, when the truth of the matter is that customers only care about themselves.If you want to boost engagement on your website, start by transforming your messaging. Make it about your audience. Make the customer the hero of their own story. You’re just there to guide them along and point to solutions (products and services) that may help them get from where they are now to where they want to be.
    2. Tell Stories: Cut out the sterile corporate lingo and breathe a little life into your copy. Mission statements are lame. Tell stories!The Ward & Barnes, P.A. website is a perfect example of how storytelling can cause engagement to soar. They actually include client stories, testimonials, and quotes on their homepage. This helps visitors connect with the brand and immediately establish a feeling of trust and goodwill.
    3. Eliminate Distractions: “According to research by Google, people judge websites as beautiful or not within 1/50th to 1/20th of a second,” Website Magazine notes. “Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that visually complex websites are consistently rated as less beautiful than simpler sites.”Stop with the complex websites and sophisticated designs. You’re not a web design company – there’s no need for all of these bells and whistles! Eliminate distractions and simplify every page to one specific focal point. Anything more means you’re actually competing against yourself.
    4. Empower Your CTAs: Every page on your website should have a call-to-action (CTA). And when creating these CTAs, always ask yourself one simple question: “Why would anyone click this?”If you’re asking for an email address or sale without providing clear and direct value in return, you’re missing the point. You have to compel people to follow through.One of the best ways to empower your CTAs is to offer something in return – like a free eBook, a discount code, or a product sample. When there’s an enticing reward, people will be much more likely to follow through.
    5. Go Visual: The brain processes visuals much faster than text. Use this to your advantage by integrating visual content into your website. This means video, graphics, and original images. Skip the stock photos! However, don’t overdo it. Remember to keep it simple and avoid unnecessary distractions. Quality over quantity works every time.

Turn your website into a lead generating asset

Transform your website from a branded placeholder into a powerful, lead generating asset that procures leads, and converts them from curious visitors into profitable lifelong customers. This process can take time, but you have to begin somewhere. Start by leveraging the tips in this article and analyzing the data. Based on the numbers, you can optimize, iterate, and improve over time.

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Opinion Editorials

Improve UX design by tracking your users’ eye movements

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Research shows that the fastest way to determine user behavior and predict their response is by watching their eyesight. Use this data to improve your UX design.

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UX design being created by a designer on a laptop.

By design, an ice cream truck is meant to entice. It is colorful, stupidly loud with two whole songs from the 30s (usually off key because no one is left alive who can service those bells), and lots of colorful stickers that depict delicious frozen treats that look nothing like reality. If you need an off model Disney character that already looks a little melted even when frozen, look no further.

This is design in action – the use of clever techniques to drive engagement. Brightly colored decor and the Pavlovian association of hearing The Sting in chirpy little ding dings is all working together to encourage sales and interaction.

These principles work in all industries, and the tech sector has devoted entire teams, agencies, companies, groups, and departments to the study of User Experience (UX) explicitly to help create slick, usable applications and websites that are immediately understandable by users. Tools to improve utility exist by measuring user behavior, with style guides and accepted theories preached and sang and TED-talked all over.

The best way to check behavior is to observe it directly, and options to check where someone clicks has proven invaluable in determining how to improve layouts and designs. These applications are able to draw a heat map that shows intensified red color in areas where clicks congregate the most. An evolution of this concept is to watch eyesight itself, allowing developers a quicker avenue to determining where a user will most likely go. Arguably the shortest path between predicting response, this is one of the holy grails of behavioral measurement. If your eyes can be tracked, your cursor is likely to follow.

UX design can benefit greatly from this research as this article shows. Here’s some highlights:

Techwyse completed a case study that shows conversion on landing pages is improved with clear call-to-action elements. Users will focus on objects that stand out based on position, size, bright colors, or exaggerated fonts. If these design choices are placed on a static, non-interactive component, a business will lose a customer’s interest quickly, as their click is meant with no response. This quickly leads to confusion or abandonment. Finding where a person is immediately drawn to means you should capitalize on that particular piece with executable code. Want it boiled down? Grocery stores put Cheetos front and center, because everyone want them thangs.

Going along with this, Moz found that search results with attractive elements – pictures and video – are given much more attention than simple text. We are visually inclined creatures, and should never undervalue that part of our primal minds. Adding some visual flair will bring attention, which in turn can be leveraged usefully to guide users.

Here’s an interesting study – being that we are social animals, follow the gaze of others. If you’ve ever seen kittens watching a game of ping pong, they are in sync and drawn to the action. Similarly, if we notice someone look to the left, we instinctively want to look left as well. While this sounds very specific, the idea is simple – visual cues can be optimized to direct users where to focus.

The Nielsen Group says we look at things in an F pattern. I just think that’s funny, or at least a funny way to describe it. We follow from left-to-right (just like we read, and as websites are laid out using techniques first developed for newspapers, it naturally makes sense that we’d do the same). Of course, cultural or national differences arise here – right-to-left readers need the opposite. Always be sure to keep your target audience in mind.

Of course, there are several other findings and studies that can further promote idealistic layout and design, and it should always be the goal of designers to look to the future and evaluate trends. (Interestingly, eye tracking is the first option on this list!)

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Opinion Editorials

Easy ways to help an unhappy customer

(EDITORIAL) We’ve all had to deal with an unhappy client or two, and maybe some situations didn’t play out too well. Here are some simple tips that will help.

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unhappy client

Who here hasn’t had a client get aggravated for what seems like no good reason?

(Raise your hand!)

Who here hasn’t had that awkward “I hear what you’re saying, but…” conversation?

(More hands!)

Whether you’re providing marketing work, strategic planning services, graphic design ideas, or basic business advice, you’re going to run into the occasional client who Just. Is. Not. Here. For. It. And it can be so hard to help that unhappy client get back to a place where you can all come together to get the job done.

(Hands! Hands! Hands!)

Especially in this day and age of angry emoji reaction clicks, dealing with confrontational feedback can require a new level of diplomacy and tact. You’ve got an unhappy client who doesn’t have the ability to communicate their “why” to you, so instead, they go nuclear and your inbox is suddenly filled with the kind of unhappy vitriol you’re more used to seeing in your Facebook feed.

How do you handle it?

Because… you can actually handle it.

First and foremost, understand where the negative reaction is coming from. They’ve asked you for help with their cherished project. Maybe they wouldn’t be happy with anyone’s work. Maybe they can’t quite communicate what they want. Regardless of where the sticking point is, understand that the sticking point is (a) not your fault and (b) not going to be acknowledged by them.

So then, the second step… remove yourself from the criticism. Even if they make it personal, remove yourself from the situation. Look at it in terms of the work. The client wants X. You feel you have given them X, but they see it as Y. Can you see it from their perspective? Because if you can, you are way more than halfway there. Where are they coming from?

If this is an external review, on Google or such, just ignore it and move on. It’s done. You can’t argue it. But if it’s feedback you’re getting from a current client and your project is still in play… seriously, take a deep breath and give it a harder look. It might feel personal. But is it?

The best assumption to make is that there is something else going on. If you can keep your cool and work with your unhappy client to determine what’s making them uncomfortable, in a non-confrontational way, and to get them to an acceptable delivery — you’ve won. Because you’re continuing to provide them the service they’ve come to you for.

So take a look at the situation, and figure out the best response.

1. Is the argument clear?
Don’t waste your time trying to establish whether you’re right or they’re wrong. Instead, look at framing it in terms of what the client is trying to accomplish. Ask them to give you specific examples of what they hope to achieve. Allow them to tell you what they feel isn’t good… in fact, encourage them to tell you why they’re unhappy with what you’ve given them. All of this will help frame what they’re looking for and what you need to give them in round two.

2. Is their feedback relevant?
Well, yeah. There are times when you know that your client knows nothing. But they feel the need to demonstrate that They Know What They Are Doing.

Let them.

Just let them tell you, and let it go.

And… keep searching for that nugget of truth in what they’re saying. Their feedback may seem ridiculous. But what’s at the heart of it? Look for that. Look at this negative reaction as a signpost for what they’re truly after.

3. IS IT WORTH DEBATING?
This fits right in with number 2. They feel passionately that you need two spaces after every period. Is this something you really need to argue? CHOOSE. YOUR. BATTLES.

If your client really wants to engage on an issue … two spaces, or the use of a particular phrase … then let them say their piece. Then say your piece. But giving them room for an out. And once again, think about it from their perspective.

Maybe it’s someone who didn’t spend all their time in their first post-college job debating the niceties of the Oxford comma. Does it ultimately matter to the overall success of the project? If it does… go to the mat. Show them, with respect, why it’s important. But if it’s just a point of pride for you, the provider? Can you let it go?

I can’t sometimes. So I get it if you can’t. But still, it’s a good point to keep in mind. A good question to ask yourself, as a provider of a service. Which sword do you fall on… and why?

Clearly, you shouldn’t just roll over because a client has turned nasty. But neither should you turn every unhappy client response into your personal cause du jour. When you encounter negative, hostile client reactions, take a moment. Try to see it from their point of view. At the very least, the shift in perspective will help you handle their concerns. And at best, you’ll re-frame the discussion in a way that gives you both a handle on how to move forward.

You might learn from the exchange. Or maybe you’re just right, dammit. But you still have to think about what’s worth getting worked up over.

Finally, don’t let it bring you down. If it’s serious enough that you have to part ways over their reaction, help them do so amicably. Point them in the direction of someone you think might be able to accommodate their ideas. Stay positive for them, and for yourself. Then chalk it up to experience, and take the lessons on to the next client.

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