Mailing It In

My first broker asked me in the early weeks of my real estate business how things were going, and I told him it was great and that I loved looking at houses.  He told me something sage-like that I’ve never forgotten: “Don’t love it too much- you don’t get paid for looking at houses, you get paid for selling them!”  Wish I had known that before I met the first buyer clients I ever had. We spent some real time together.  We’ve probably all got some early career stories, but my first client really shed a light on just how much of a rookie I was!

Now, before I get into it I should probably tell you that I loved my early clients.  Loved.  The high level of gratitude that I still have for those people who took a chance on me when I was brand new and learning on the job…  The only reason I’m able to love my job and my life today is because some of my kind young friends worked with me instead of with someone with actual job experience.  I’ll never forget them or stop appreciating them for that.  Remember those days?  You might be in that boat right now even- it gets better, I promise. I remember just hoping that nobody would be able to smell my fear and insecurity and that they’d somehow believe that I had any idea what I was doing. If I’m being honest, it was a little surreal. I was just waiting for someone to point at me and tell me what an idiot I was and expose my whole house of cards, but alas, no one did (at least not that I remember).

Anyway, my very first clients were some friends of mine from a previous job, and they were first time buyers. Perfect. They hadn’t experienced someone with experience, so if nobody told them I was bad, they wouldn’t know the difference!  In those days I had A LOT of time and almost no money.  So I spent most days just obsessing over them and their property search. I created a cute little “consult” form to interview them about their ideal property, and I had another form with the full spiel about what my “style” was and why I was trustworthy. In retrospect, I was pretty adorable. 🙂  I also poured through the MLS every 10-15 minutes to see if anything new came available. It was an exciting time!

I must have showed them 150 houses before they bought one. I counted once years ago and I know that it was over 100 for sure.  Thankfully I had plenty of time for that particular piece of education with these friends.  Early on that was most of the clients I was working with- friends and family, and a few open house leads I’d gained.  Obviously with the strangers I worked extra hard to appear very professional, hoping they’d believe I belonged in the industry, and praying that they wouldn’t ask me those very terrifying questions: “How long have you been doing this?” or “Have you sold a lot of houses around here?”  I spent so many hours working on the right way to cleverly answer those questions without lying…

After a couple of years, a pattern started to emerge in my business that I found a little baffling.  I would get referrals mostly from the strangers, but not from my friends and family. I would still do business with them, but it didn’t seem like they were passing my name along, and I couldn’t quite understand why.  I mean, wouldn’t my friends and family be the ones championing my budding business and supporting me with that sweet, sweet referral love? I spent some real time trying to understand what was happening and why it was happening, and really examined everything.

Finally one day it hit me like a ton of bricks: I was mailing it in with my friends! What do I mean by that? I wasn’t doing a bad job or trying less hard or anything like that, but I was definitely giving them the “friend treatment”.  And it was mostly their fault!  Wanting to help me feel more comfortable they would say things like: “You don’t have to dress up for us, we’re friends!” and “Just bring the kids along, we love them!” And so I did. I did showings in the summer in flip-flops and and t-shirts, I goofed off a little too much, brought my kids to showings, and just generally was far less PROFESSIONAL.

Here’s what I learned- your friends think that they want this- that and that they’re ok with it- and maybe they even are.  But, when it comes time that they could perhaps mention your name to someone else who is trusting their advice, they don’t have a professional image of you to fall back on.  They would be embarrassed if their referral got the same quality of service and professionalism that you gave to them, and they aren’t sure what the “real you” is like in your business.  The studies tell us that people are very careful about who they refer people to, as they attach personal value to the quality of the referral.

So, whether you’re building your career at the ground level, or you’re just looking to get more referrals in your business, avoid the temptation to mail it in with your friends and family. Even if they don’t require it, your business needs you to impress this group the most!  You’ll find people surprised by your professionalism and they’ll recognize your skills, and gladly refer you the next time someone is in need of an agent!