Picking the right business model for Estate Agency

Hybrid Estate Agent

Like most businesses, the death knell for Estate Agency was rung by the emergence of online portals which promised to allow the seller to cut out the middle man, with transparency of the transaction through sophisticated online portals, essentially facilitating a DIY approach to real estate sales. 

But did it ring too soon?

Online builds for the future

The online market was touted as the future, and major brokers like emoov and Purplebricks captured market share, especially at the lower end of the scale, being able to offer consistency and low costs through economies of scale.

However, building a new business model, especially one based on huge upfront investment in technology and marketing, is not without its issues as seen by profit warnings from large player like Purplebricks, and the high profile administration of eMoov, who cited cashflow issues even though listings were paid upfront, demonstrate online agencies are struggling to find traction in a largely people-based business.

Purplebricks Accounts for 2018 show marketing spend of £382 per listing on marketing, up 25% on prior year, showing how expensive it can be to build brand awareness and engagement in a business traditionally dominated by high levels of service and personal reputation.

Ultimately, your house is the most expensive transaction you will ever embark on, so trust is essential, and as yet, a large proportion of the public is still not comfortable trusting an online agency with the such a large transaction

Purplebricks is undoubtedly playing the long game, it knows that combining a strong brand awareness with a growing customer business will translate into higher lead flow in the future, so it’s prepared to invest in the short term to reap rewards for the future, but many businesses are not in the same boat, especially the traditional High street agents.

The future for the high street retailer?

With falling prices and lower commissions, high street estate agents are finding revenues declining at a time when costs, especially retail lease prices are climbing at up to 5% per annum, the pinch coming for the high street agents.

The decline of estate agents has been forecast for years, as online businesses with low operating costs drove down the commissions much to the benefit of homeowners, but there was still a strong market on the high street with footfall driving walk-in enquiries and acting as a strong shop window for local listings.

But the economics are changing.

High street footfall is declining, which is leading to lower occupancy rates, as the High street becomes a less attractive retail destination for consumers. At the same time, retail leases are becoming more expensive, with a growth of 5% per annum in lease costs alone.

As the housing market begins to slow, average house prices are dropping at 2.5% per annum, and commissions are dropping closer to 1%, further squeezing the margins for independent estate agents around the country.

The rise of the Hybrid

In the US, hybrid estate agency models, where self-employed agents are supported by third-party shared service providers are the norm, with centralised offices hosting 100+ independent agents offering significantly diluted costs for the selling agent.

Businesses like Keller Williams have recognised that in order for agents to be successful they need to deliver across 4 fronts.

Help agents create a strong personal brand

Keller Williams is not a real estate company, it’s closer to the traditional model of a shared services/BPO provider. This means, that, unlike other franchise or national brands, it’s agents operate as separate entities and brands with Keller Williams providing the support and infrastructure to develop those companies.

This means that the agent’s personal brand is at the forefront. The company encourages each agent to develop and promote this brand to the marketplace, rather than a dry, generic corporate brand. The agent is the focus.

Operate in a low-cost environment

Hybrid estate agency models tend to be based on a centralised facilities model, meaning that fixed costs such as rent, utilities and IT management, key holding etc. are diluted substantially across a much larger agent base, with 30-50 agents bearing a fraction of the total cost of a location. 

Such central locations also offer marketing, IT, Business and Admin support at low costs, as the services can be provided more efficiently and effectively.

Clear focus on relational vs transactional selling

Purplebricks and hybrid estate agent facilitator Keller Williams are obviously focussing on the long term, knowing that the value of businesses is more closely linked to the size of its contact base than it’s immediate transactions.

Focussing on minimising the cost structure takes away the cashflow risk and allows Estate agents to focus as much on building a pipeline for the future, leading to referral and listing business, as marketing existing listings.

A strong scalable technology platform

Technology will become the backbone of the offering going forward, with expert systems and simplified UI delivering efficient management from the initial listing through to sales processing and billing which lets the agent spend more time actually selling and providing service. 

Increased adopting of AI has created new offerings and services, with companies like Nextdoor seeking to own the consumer by providing predictive hyperlocal service offerings tailored to the individual needs of the consumer, based on their user history and location.

Inbound marketing flavours. Am I a growth hacker or a demand generator?

And does it matter????

As an entrepreneur, the range of inbound marketing approaches can be confusing, but what is the real difference and which one is right for me?

Inbound marketing has a reputation for buzzwords, from Aida to Zeitgeist the marketing world naturally creates niches within itself, replete with its own language and cachet.  

Demand generators look down on lead gen specialists, whereas growth hackers are the new hipsters.

But what really is the difference, and, for small businesses, does it really matter??

The short answer is yes and no. 

Yes, because it’s important to apply the right tools to the right problem.

No, because we have to be able to jump from one mindset to the next as required. 

Inbound marketing has the potential to drive growth faster and at a lower cost than traditional sales activities or outbound marketing, but has become a complex field with lots of subtle flavours.

Growing your business fast requires an understanding of these flavours, and which ones are right for your business now.

Inbound marketing vs outbound marketing

The umbrella term for this is inbound marketing, which is business methodology aimed at attracting the attention of individuals with a level of interest in a particular subject through content and experience that they will value and enjoy.

It’s the opposite of the invasive sales and operations led approaches like spam emails, mass, untreated advertising and cold calling. Tools which are being progressively legislated out of existence.

Inbound marketing puts control in the hands of the consumer, and asks their permission to receive information, whether through explicit opt-in statements or by making consumers actively decide to view the content. 

The first soap operas are a great example of inbound marketing. The messages were clear, “our products are an essential part of the modern domestic lifestyle’, but the media was more subtle and in a form that viewers enjoyed consuming.

Nowadays this has become search marketing, content marketing, social media, all of which require the audience to find and consume the media to receive the message. 

Whilst this may seem an expensive and risky communication strategy, the payoff is much better engagement, offering greater influence and higher conversion.

However, it needs to tie together and have a clear focus on the endpoint of repeat sales, rather than pure brand awareness.

The importance of the inbound marketing funnel.

The inbound marketing funnel is a great tool for two reasons:

  1. It acknowledges that there are different audiences out there with varying degrees of interest and motivation
  2. It recognises that a percentage of these audiences can be motivated to move towards an end goal with the right process

What this means is that we need to link together a series of relevant marketing tools to migrate people through to an endpoint.

We start with educational, informative and engaging content to reinforce interest in a problem attracting a wide audience and gaining their permission to communicate with.  

This is classic demand generation, which raises the profile of the problem, not it’s solutions, placing the need top of mind for consumers, priming the pump and creating the demand.

This leads to more specific, connected and solutions-focused content to guide users to narrow their solution set. 

Finally, relevant and timely content on how our specific product and provider are the solution of choice leads to one to one communication, creating an opportunity to sell.

This level uses valuable calls to action to either create a conversation, or prompt buyer behaviour and is modern lead generation.

The funnel also recognises that the customer has to buy into the process. They need to engage and want to take the relationship further, so marketing becomes more about influence than interruption, asking people to opt-in, rather than trapping them into a relationship. 

This means it needs to be subtle, add value as part of a product and consistent with the company’s ability to deliver on promises made.

Inbound marketing people are engineers

Marketing is complex. It uses a wide range of tools to accomplish different tasks, using well thought out messages to influence its audience in multiple ways. 

Large enterprises and small start-ups have disparate needs, objectives and resources, which also require different skill sets. Growth hacking and Viral marketing emerged from the need for startups to achieve rapid scalable growth with little or no resources and championed the inclusion of marketing in the product itself.

Linkedin’s email upload which allowed you to invite all of your contacts to join Linkedin or Hotmail’s inclusion of a subscription link on each of its users’ emails being obvious examples. 

In this respect, marketing has become like engineering. It’s not about inventing something new each time, but measuring performance and making small iterative improvements using a range of specialist tools. In fact, part of the original definition of growth hacking included the ability to code and create products, not just market them.

So where does that leave me?

As a small business owner looking to expand their marketing activities with limited resources, getting the right strategy is key and should dictate the skills and competencies you want to recruit.

If you have an original, easily amendable product or service with a freemium option and little money, then growth hacking will fit your purpose, as it’s the focus is on creating a viral product, instead of a viral message.

If you struggle to gain traction for your product because the problem it solves is not a high priority, or the solution too complex to explain, demand generation is where you need to look, as you need to raise the profile of the issue and build authority and credibility before you can sell the solution.

If you’re operating in a mature market and looking to build market share, your focus will be on creative positioning and promoting conversations, hence lead generation is the key priority, although you may need to incorporate other approaches to give you an edge.

Even if you’re not in a position to hack your product to make it viral, Growth hacking’s marketing approaches and focus on growth are still worth looking at. It acts as a type of lean marketing which and can drive fast growth and create cut through, so definitely worth a look.

Location, location, location…The importance of hyperlocal marketing in local businesses

The Internet is full of people willing to tell you how to leverage globalisation and advertising to create niches giving you a global reach, but for the vast majority of businesses, their customers are more local and time-bound.

With banner blindness growing and voice searches increasing, marketing and sales will become more “hyperlocal”, so it’s time to optimise your marketing to capture the fastest-growing search term – “near me” which are growing by over 250% each year.

What's driving the growth

The general model of marketing suggests that people will identify a need, spend time researching for a solution and then make a choice from a set of product and supplier options. 

However, consumers are becoming less patient and more impetuous. We know what we want and we want it now, and, as we’re searching on our mobiles, we want it here!

Time has become a factor in decision making, and consumers are willing to pay a little more and travel to collect goods, rather than pay for shipping and wait for delivery, which has lead to the growth of “click to collect” delivery option, as people become more time-constrained. Therefore distance to the product has become more relevant. 

This is obviously true for restaurants and events, where the opportunity exists now, as people make snap decisions to eat out or find a different pub or club when out. 

Marketers are now talking about “micro-moments”, opportunities that exist now, but won’t be repeated, so you need to structure your marketing to capture them.

How does this work?

Whether you’re on your phone or desktop, your ISP needs to know where you are, so records your general location, unless you tell it not too, and most people don’t.

When you conduct a local search, for example, “ restaurants near me”, Google prioritises results close to your location and will rank these higher than the more general results. In addition, Google gives the user the option to view locations on a map, making results easier to navigate to. 

Your webpages and site need to be optimised to catch this traffic. If you have a physical location, you need to make sure this is reflected on Google maps. If you’re servicing a specific area, your SEO needs to reflect this.

So how do you go about making your site Local Friendly?

There are lots of obvious ways that you can tag your location, from simply tagging your location on Google maps and setting up a Google MyBusiness Profile to including location-specific code in your Header which will be categorised by search engines to recognise your location.

Obviously, as location-based searches are most relevant to mobile users, making sure your site is mobile friendly is a must.

But, like all websites, optimising the content is by far the most effective tool to make your site hyperlocal.

This means making sure your content is relevant to the area you are targeting and the people who’re living there. Make sure you link to local businesses and reference local events and example. Include local pictures rather than generic stock images, as these are instantly recognisable to local searchers, and familiarity breeds comfort!

See past the organic. Hyperlocal as a brand value

If Estate Agency is all about “location, location, location”, then having a reputation for being the leading agent in that location is obviously going to position you strongly with prospective buyers and sellers.

Castle Estate Agents espouses the Keller Williams touchpoint culture which emphasis nurturing relationships with a discrete audience who are likely to either be in the market for a home in the future or be in a position to influence other potential buyers and sellers.

With a large database of contacts, the company make extensive use of targeted, engaging email content to both keep contact and reinforce the company’s positioning for professionalism and local knowledge within specific geographical regions.

Castle segments its audience based on geographical interest and sends regular emails that provide relevant local content to residents, whether it’s showcasing new or popular restaurants, highlighting upcoming events or discussing matters of local importance such as major planning approvals or infrastructural work.

Buying or selling homes isn’t mentioned once. It’s all focussed on what’s relevant to the audience at a hyperlocal level.

And it’s paid off considerably.

Open rates have more than doubled across the board ( trebled where video content is used!) and unsubscribe rates are non-existent, so the base is growing rapidly and more engaged than before.

This success has migrated down the funnel as well, with listings up more than 55% since the campaign began and an increase in referral business

Location is going to be one of the most important criteria for customer-facing businesses over the next few years, as consumers seek the fastest need fulfilment, so optimising your presence for hyperlocal searches will position your business as the supplier of choice for the local minded consumer.

Holes not drills

Coaching and mentoring

Customers are looking for solutions not features, so your comms need to talk less about what you do and more about how you solve their problems.

One of my favourite comments about marketing is from Thomas Levitt, who said “People don’t want 1/4″ drills, they want 1/4″ holes”.

What he’s talking about is the importance of understanding why your potential customer is looking for a solution, what motivates them to either seek a solution proactively either online or by visiting your store, or makes them receptive to your call. It also helps to define whether they see value in what you’ve got to offer.

Taking Levitt’s analogy a stage further, we know instinctively that the vast majority of people don’t wake up in the morning with an overriding urge to buy a drill bit ( if you do, then great! more power to you!), what they want to do is hang a picture or put up a shelf and buying a drill is just one solution.

One of the most common mistakes entrepreneurs face when selling is knowing the difference between the features of a product and its application. They feel that the features they’ve developed and the hurdles they’ve overcome have value and this is generally related to how difficult they were to develop or how clever the solution. However, this misses the fundamental reason why people buy things, they want to solve their problems.

Regardless of whether you are B2B or B2C, your potential customers are people.

They wake up in the morning (or in the middle of the night) and have problem they need to solve or an objective they need to reach. How you help them achieve this is your value, your benefit.

This has implications in a number of areas. If affects your communication, your product design and your sales approach.

How easily and completely you deliver the solution is the level of value that you provide, and will define what people think your service is worth, so it is essential that you understand  customer needs and how you can meet them

Effective Startup marketing – 6 major mistakes and how to avoid them

Effective marketing can be the difference between success or failure for startups, so getting your startup marketing right is essential.

It’s a scary fact that more than 90% of startups fail according to Failory, whether it’s through lack of funding, a product that doesn’t meet expectations or simply because they don’t get the right message out to the right audience.

Proper marketing sits are the heart of these tasks, as it involves understanding your audience’s needs and expectations, communicating on their terms and fulfilling their requirements, whether they are customers or potential investors.

But it’s not all about Google ad words, Instagram feeds or hype, it’s about building a clear picture of how you want your product and company to be seen and interacted with and onto how you actually want to make money from the relationship.

Here are some of the major startup marketing mistakes and how to avoid them.

What am I trying to do?

There are a huge range of tools, techniques, channels and approaches that form part of the marketing toolkit and an equally large number of people that will tell you their approach is the right one.

Effective marketing starts with an understanding of what you are trying to achieve both at a strategic and tactical level. Building a consumer-facing brand requires a very different approach to selling a complex tool to Corporates and a very different expectation of success.

Equally, your objectives today will be very different from those 3 years from now, and there is no point in getting ahead of yourself.

Are you looking to build exposure for your brand or product? Are you ready to promote engagement and create demand for your concept or category? Is a strong lead flow your primary objective as you’re in a competitive space? Is your business transactional or relational?

Clearly identifying your business needs today will let you select the right tools and channels and build an efficient marketing plan.

Who's my audience

All marketing starts with the customer, and if you can’t clearly identify who they are and what they fundamentally need, then you are in trouble!

How do you know whether the product will have a need?

Where do they go for information and what language do they use to discuss their problems?

Who else do I need to influence and in what way?

eLearning

Startup marketing has to be efficient and effective, as you don’t have the time or resources to waste, so you have to say the right things to the right people in the right place a the right time. And you can’t do that if you don’t understand your customer.

Chances are you know the answers already, that’s what drove you’re to set up in the first place, so just make sure you have that picture in your head at all times when planning your marketing content, tools and channels

Don't be a startup marketing magpie!

Startup marketing is an everchanging industry, and obviously one that’s very good at self-promotion! Every company out there wants to be the next Google or Facebook and will bombard you with reasons why their approach is the only approach that you need!

Investors can be as bad. Constantly being asked “why aren’t you on Google ads??”, ” What’s your plan for Instagram?”, “Why aren’t you on Youtube??” can be disheartening and make you question your strategy, but you have to avoid putting the cart before the horse.

Too many companies see using marketing channels as the objective, rather than recognising that they are a tool. They are not the reason you are in business, they are there to help you achieve your own goals.

Magpie managers are always chasing the shiny! They read an article and think “I must do that” instead of thinking about whether it will help you achieve your startup marketing objectives.

Start from the top down. I want to achieve Authority or Awareness, how can I do that? Will Youtube help me to become recognised as an expert or communicate a complex idea? Will Linkedin let me reach my target audience?

Choose the tools that help you achieve your strategy, not the other way round.

Where do I want to take them?

Understanding the customer journey is essential when planning your startup marketing tools and content. This is especially true with social media, which has the potential to create a niche audience for Instagram instead of your brand if not used correctly.

You want to guide your customers through a path that will ultimately lead to them being highly satisfied with your product and service, but they will start from different points on the spectrum.

Many businesses fall into the trap of thinking that they need to sell the features of their product without first selling the need for the product in the first place, which misses the opportunity.

The marketing funnel concept demonstrates that your audiences need to go through distinct steps from awareness to action and many won’t get all the way through.

Putting it simply, you’ll have a lot more people interested in understanding the problem you can solve, than in understanding why you’re is the best solution, giving you the opportunity to build a much bigger potential audience for the future.

The next phase is to understand how to transition people from one stage to the next, and that requires an integrated approach to your marketing and patience.

Building the right brand in the right place

Social media is brilliant for building and spreading influence, but it can be misplaced. Sharing and linking from a personal profile rather than a corporate profile can shift the emphasis from the corporate brand to the personal.

That’s not always a bad thing though, but it does mean you need to be very clear on what brands you want to build and what you want each of them to say.

In the B2B world, Linkedin is very good at building personal profiles, and you can use this to provide different voices to support your brand. What a Sales rep might say will be different from the interests of the Financial or technical teams, and most likely aimed at a different audience.

This lets you communicate different facets of your story and proposition to relevant audiences, building up a more complex and deeper picture.

However, all of this needs to be tied back to a central, corporate profile and preferably one that will let you develop a subscriber base that you control, rather than leaving all that rich data on Facebook’s site! Try to push people to landing pages on your site and offer subscription options to build your own subscriber lists.

Fish where the fish are

If you know who your customers are and what they need, this should be easy. But if not, you need to go back and do a bit of research.

Most sales cycles start with a problem followed by a search for a set of possible solutions, of which, presumably, your product is one. This search will take place in a particular place and using a particular language, which is relevant to the problem.

As an example, a call centre is unlikely to be looking for a new automated phone system which can route calls, as this is only one of a range of solutions, whereas the product is in fact, one of productivity and man-management.

“How can I increase call volumes?” “How can I route calls more efficiently” are more likely to form the search than ” Automated phone system” for example.

Similarly, people looking for professional and technical advice are as likely to search Reddit or Quora as they are to go to Google. Specific sector and competence related sites and groups are also a major source of information and can be a rich source of leads.

And don’t forget, Youtube is the 2nd largest search engine in the world!

You need to know where your customers go for advice and knowledge and make sure you are active in those locations. If you aren’t answering your customer’s questions, you can bet someone else is!

 

And, as Voice is expected to account for over 50% of all searches next year, the idiosyncrasies of the search language are only going to get more critical!

Effective communications are customer-centric

communication

If you are selling or marketing, your aim is to win the resources of the customer and the most precious commodity is their attention. Good communication is key

Whether you are selling or marketing, your aim is to win the resources of the customer and these days, one of the most precious commodities is their attention.

From lead generation onwards, your most important task is to get the customer to engage with your communications, to give you their attention and as media becomes more fragmented it’s just becoming harder.

Unless you are a commodity, your proposition probably needs to be explained.

If you’re business is set up with a single purpose around a specific problem, it’s easy to explain to someone what you do and why you are relevant, but for most business, its often not clear what the benefit is and there is a tendency for business to focus on the features of the product and assume that the buyer can see why that’s relevant to them.

Buyers don’t have the time to sit and think about what a feature might mean in the context of their business and how this might translate into tangible business improvement that would justify an investment. You have to do that for them.

I do a lot of lead generation on LinkedIn, where you only have 300 characters ( including spaces) to grab the attention of the prospect, so it’s essential to make them instantly see what the value of the product is to them.

Put yourself in the shoes of the prospect and consider how their lives will be better if they buy the product and paint a picture for them.

  • Understand what issues face the industry you are targeting and what the trends are
  • Understand how your product benefits the target company and collect any tangible supporting evidence you can find
  • Understand who owns that benefit, who might have an objective that requires the benefit to be delivered.

If they are passive customers you need to ensure that your outbound communications get straight to the point

Communicate context, solution and include a call to action that lets you retain control. “x is a major issue for Irish companies, but by doing Y, we can deliver a 50% improvement in X, would you be free for a call to discuss?”

If the customer is active and searching, then chances are they are searching on the internet, so it’s important to remember that they are likely to research from the perspective of the problem, so ensure that your keywords cover the problem set, not just the solution, and that your communications are written with the keywords in mind.

Consider what questions you would ask if you have the same problem. If your computer fails, you don’t search for data recovery services, you are more likely to be searching based on what the symptoms are.

Remember, whether B2B or B2C all consumers are time poor, so anything that you can do that simplifies their research and decision making is going to increase your chances of delivering leads and sales

6 steps to building a strong personal brand

Helping you stand out in an increasingly crowded market place

The development of social media and online sharing platforms was supposed to make marketing easier, but it’s just increased the number of potential competitors for a share of your customer’s mind.

And it’s shifted the focus from the company to the individual

We all now need to become influencers and having a clear, relevant and effective personal brand is an essential tool in capturing the hearts and minds of today’s consumer even in a B2B Marketplace.

Media was the first industry to pick up this trend, positioning the actors, musicians and increasingly journalists as the “product” and the film, show or newspaper as the channel. Showrunners are now the draw to watch a new TV show and papers are marketing themselves as the exclusive source of a celebrity columnists insights and knowledge. 

But how do you go about creating a strong, relevant personal brand?

Know what you stand for

We are naturally social animals and tend to avoid rejection at all costs. This can lead us to avoid alienating people meaning we try to be all things to all people. But this will muddy your brand.

Your aim is to be seen as an authority and advocate for a clearly identified message. So what do you want to be known for? A good rule of thumb is to have three clear messages that you want to portray in your content, that reinforce your brand consistently. This is your brand fingerprint that lets people recognise your work and what you stand for.

Think of these as the triggers that will lead others to refer you to people interested in that specific subject area. You’ll build on this to establish your reputation over time

Look to the experts for tips and tricks.

As you build your personal brand, be on the lookout for new approaches

It’s worth following some of the more established through leaders and influencers, whether on Instagram and youtube or more professional influencers on LinkedIn. 

Seek out those influencers in your industry and the wider media environment and follow them

See if you can identify their core brand messages, are they clear and consistent? What tools do they use and what style is their content written in. What have they done wrong?

Consistency is key

Brand building is about repetition. There’s a good reason that Coke repeats it’s Christmas ad each year, and it’s not to keep production costs down! Coke wants to be associated with the Joy that children feel at Christmas, knowing that this will act as a buying trigger throughout their life.

Similarly, you need to consistently repeat your messages. This doesn’t mean sending the same article out over and over but making sure that each post reinforces your message in the mind of the readers, and that you provide a regular stream of relevant content to reinforce your position.

Honesty and integrity must be at the core.

Building a brand is a relationship.

You need to be diligent about putting content out there, but unless your audience stays with you over the long term, your message just won’t get through. To commit to your brand they need to be interested, but, most importantly, they need to trust you. 

In sales and Politics, people buy from people they trust, so avoid making claims you can’t stand over, be objective and use evidence to support your arguments. 

Be open to the other side of the argument and acknowledge it has value, as you may find you learn something which strengthens your own position

You’ll be surprised how compelling your arguments will become if you are open to acknowledging contradictory positions or weaknesses.

Be an advocate for your position

Whilst we enjoy a bit of schadenfreude from time to time, we tend to gravitate towards people who reinforce our own perceptions and beliefs rather than those that denigrate them.

You are an advocate for your chosen message, so it’s your duty to be uplifting in your approach, highlighting the positive aspects as much as possible.

Sell your ideas and give your followers positive messages they can use to help sell your idea and brand on to others.

Be human

Corporate communications are often dry and lifeless. It’s clear, concise, informative and bland. It doesn’t have a personality.

Your content needs to be different. People aren’t buying into your posts and videos, they are buying into you as a person, so you need to let your personality come through and make your message human.

Your content should be educational and persuasive, but mostly it needs to be enjoyable! This isn’t a lecture, its two people sharing a conversation, so let your own personality come out in your content.