It’s All About Who You Know

by Chicago Agent

Everyone in Hollywood says talent doesn’t matter; it’s all about who you know. While some feel the same about the real estate industry, in truth it takes talent in addition to knowing the right people. But if you’re a rookie or on the on the shy side can you still make networking waves? We spoke with some networking-savvy members of the industry to find out what tactics they’ve used to get out there and meet people, and how to translate that into more business.

By Zipporah Porton

Real estate is not the industry for the shy or faint of heart. Aside from interacting with existing clients on a regular basis, you need to be constantly scouring for new clients. One of the best, and often free, ways to find new clients is to network, and do it often. Potential clients can be found around every turn, and if you know how to network it will become easier to snatch them up and call them your own.

Networking is key because it can increase your exposure. “Connecting and reconnecting with people on a regular basis expands your sphere of influence in the areas you serve,” explains Lynn Walsh, president of Walsh Communications, a PR and marketing agency for the real estate industry. “The world gets smaller as time goes on, and you’d be amazed at the number of small-world scenarios that arise and benefit everyone who networks.”

Maureen Brand, an agent with RE/MAX Suburban in Schaumburg, has always believed that Realtors should network, but feels it is especially important in today’s market. “In almost every networking situation, someone wants to know the Realtor’s thoughts on the market,” says Brand. “If we can answer their questions with a positive attitude, we could have a client for life.” Additionally, if a potential client is in a dire situation, Realtors can offer several viable options before that person actually faces foreclosure. “We can walk them through whatever process is necessary,” says Brand.

Another way these interactions can help with your business is that it is a great way to know exactly what is going on in the industry. You’ll have a leg up in finding out who’s marketing what, how many units are left, etc. When you are educated about the projects that are out there, not only will the buyers be impressed, but other agents will notice you as an expert as well.

Where to Network
Obviously, one of the best places to network is at events specifically geared toward making valuable business connections. Any week there are numerous events throughout the city and suburbs geared toward Realtors for the sole purpose of meeting others with similar interests. Some of the connections made at these events won’t last, while others can lead to a lifetime of business.

“Recently, I was able to expand a long-time client into other business categories our firm offers, which all started at an industry networking event,” says Walsh. “Networking is not only productive for growing new business, but it can solidify and expand your existing client base.”

Networking comes in a lot of shapes and forms, and make sure you always have a business card handy, or you might be missing out on networking opportunities that are staring you in the face.

“Any event where people interact is a networking opportunity, and I try to make myself accessible through involving myself in various activities that I enjoy,” says Mike Kelly, a Realtor with Sudler Sotheby’s International Realty in Lincoln Square. “I attend alumni association gatherings, charitable events and industry seminars. I also participate in recreational sports leagues and rarely turn down an invite to a party.”

Brand has a similar attitude, and admits she sees every event as a chance to network. “I network everywhere,” she says. “Weddings, parties, Realtor events; I like to have fun.”

Speaking of weddings, that was the spot where Kelly was able to nab the listing that appears on the cover of this issue. While attending a friend’s wedding, Kelly was introduced to a developer, and the two struck up a casual conversation that led to a discussion on current market conditions. The developer was trying to sell his personal residence, and Kelly gave him an honest assessment of his marketing strategy and told him about the services he provides. “After our brief discussion, I handed him my business card and we both went on enjoying the reception,” says Kelly. “A couple weeks later he called me to list his condo and we have discussed future listing opportunities.”

Making the Most of Networking
Once you realize how many shmoozing opportunities are out there, the endless possibilities can seem a little daunting. Though experts agree Realtors should get out there as much as possible, everyone has a busy schedule. Therefore, it is important to discern which events are the most effective for you to attend, and make them work to your advantage.

“I am currently working with two buyers that were referred to me from a Realtor that had to get a full-time job because of the current real estate market,” says Brand. “You just never know where your next referral may come from.”

There is no right or wrong way to mingle with others in the industry, but after attending a few events, you’ll know what works best for you. From the start, it is important to be open minded. Diane Diedrich, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker in Lincoln Park, believes that “any networking event is worth the try.” With over 10 years of elbow rubbing under her belt, Diedrich has learned that morning events are more focused, and for her, evening events lead to more business. Walsh agrees that mornings are more focused due to a time limit, but she doesn’t feel that is a bad thing. For Walsh, the loose timeframe of evening programs makes them more like social events. After experimenting with a few events, you’ll see what type works the best for your style.

If you are on the shy side and worried about attending events on your own, try bringing along a friend who is also in the industry. Kelly agrees with this tactic, though warns: “it’s a good idea to bring along friends as long as you don’t spend the entire event with them.” While Diedrich prefers to attend events alone, Brand also recommends bringing a friend to “take the edge off until you start to meet people and get comfortable going to a few alone.”

Across the board, everyone agrees that you should carefully consider your outfit when attending events. “Wardrobe choice is important, as it is a reflection of your professionalism,” says Walsh. It is imperative for agents to wear appropriate clothing for what the occasion requires. If the invite says cocktail attire, then business casual could demonstrate disrespect.

Sometimes it is hard to tell if an event is actually worth your time. To avoid wasting an evening, make sure you are not joining an organization or attending an event for the sole purpose of shmoozing, Kelly advises. “It’s important to have a genuine interest in the group beyond the networking opportunities. If you can’t identify with the organization, you will have a difficult time connecting with its members,” he says.

Now What?
Once you find a group you feel might be a right fit for you, what next? Our experts agree that moving forward with a positive attitude is a great way to ensure success at any event. “Mental attitude is everything,” says Brand. “If you’re feeling good you will have a great time.” Walsh agrees that a positive attitude is important, and advises agents to work the room. “Don’t get stuck in a corner speaking with the same people during the entire event,” she adds.

Diedrich’s words of advice are to simply listen to anyone you meet, as that is the way she makes lasting connections. Brand agrees: “I find the best way to make some real connections is to be yourself and simply introduce yourself to those you don’t know. I tell them a little bit about myself and then I listen to their story as though it were the most interesting story ever. Be present when you are listening and people will notice.”

Kelly believes in quality over quantity. “It won’t do you any good to get 25 contacts from an event if no one remembers you when you follow up,” he says.

Once you leave the networking event, your job is not complete. Not only can you follow up with those that you hope to work with in the future, but you have the opportunity to connect others as well. “Sending out e-mail introductions also is a good way to connect people following an event,” suggests Walsh. “Attach V-cards of each person along with a message explaining why they should get to know each other … Remember that networking is a two-way street. The more people you sincerely try to connect together, the more you’ll be rewarded with new contacts, leads, ideas and friends.”

Starting Your Own Group
If existing groups don’t provide exactly what you are looking for, then start your own. Both Diedrich and Walsh have started their own groups and have reaped the business-connection rewards.

Ten years ago, Diedrich helped start up Chicagoland Home Connection for the purpose of exchanging referrals and making sales. Currently, there are just 12 members in the group, all Coldwell Banker agents. Members are required to be in the business for five years, and must sell at least $5 million. The group only adds new members if one of the others drops out, leaving the total number at 12 at all times. Diedrich highly recommends others start their own group “to expand yourself and your business.” She reports that being a part of Chicagoland Home Connection has helped her in “100 ways,” including “friendship, loyalty, trustworthy, giving, sharing, caring, experience, knowledge and on and on.”

Walsh is the public relations specialist member of the Oak Brook chapter of LeTip International (letip.com). LeTip meets weekly and is focused specifically on sharing tips and referrals. “Conflicts of interest aren’t allowed,” says Walsh of LeTip, “so I don’t have to worry about my competitor sitting across the table from me.” Walsh has also recently started an informal networking group, made up of “industry friends and contacts made over the years.” This group meets periodically in the suburbs. To make people aware of her groups, Walsh relies on “word of mouth, e-mail and Chicago Agent for our informal group. For LeTip, we issue press releases about networking events that are held outside of regular chapter meetings.”

Though Diedrich and Walsh have started their own groups, they still enjoy getting involved in numerous other organizations as a way to meet people. For example, Diedrich is active in the Lincolnwood chamber of commerce and is the chair on one of the committees. Walsh has participated in the suburban RE Connect group, and is active on LinkedIn. Other groups that our sources belong to include Kelly’s involvement in the Young Real Estate Professionals networking group (YREP) and Brand is “a part of two mastermind groups made up of entrepreneurs, each in a different business.” Brand says you can also find her on LinkedIn, Facebook, Active Rain and Bigger Pockets.

Taking it Online
It is impossible to discuss networking in 2009 without addressing the phenomenon of online social media. From Facebook to LinkedIn to Active Rain, today’s Realtor needs to have an online presence to keep up with this industry. Clients are becoming more and more attached to technology, which breeds a fear of talking to people face to face. Potential clients will want to know as much about you as they can before signing on to your business, which means the more positive information out there about you, the better. See our sidebar on social media to see how you can make the most of your online presence.

“With the Internet it is easy to stay connected to current as well as past clients,” says Brand. “Continuing to network with people you already know will provide them assurances you are around for the duration.” Even though Brand is on a variety of online venues, she feels that “getting face to face [time] with people is still the most powerful.” Spend time padding your online profiles, but do not let that replace good old-fashioned face-to-face contact.

Making Connections for Life
If something so simple as attending a fun event where you can meet people and enjoy free beverages can help your business, why wouldn’t you take advantage? Realtors are in a people-pleasing industry, and it is hard to exist without actually communicating with other people.

“There is really no serious potential risk to networking,” says Kelly. “There is a very small probability that you will lose business through attending a networking event.” Kelly has also found that approaching events with this “nothing-to-lose” mentality helps him feel more comfortable.

Also, keep in mind that all of your time can’t be spent meeting new people, it is important to maintain the relationships you have made, whether they were through networking or just keeping up with friends. “Effective networking is about building relationships,” says Kelly. “While meeting new people is essential, I think it is equally important to maintain and develop your current relationships. Through tracking my lead sources, I’ve discovered that the majority of my referrals come from my closest friends and clients.”

In general, networking is a win-win situation, and you might just make a friend in the process. “You will always learn something new,” says Brand on her reason for networking. “You are very likely to make some real friends through networking, and several people even find their soul mates. My best friends today came from networking.” C.A.

Maureen Brand
RE/MAX Suburban

Diane Diedrich
Coldwell Banker
Lincoln Park

Mike Kelly
Sudler Sotheby’s International Realty
Lincoln Square

Lynn Walsh
Walsh Communications, L. L. C

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