01All The Puzzle Pieces for Online Marketing & Management
Whether you're new to real estate, planning to become a real estate professional, or you're experienced in the business, your ultimate long term success will depend on several factors. Success will come from getting new business, performing in a quality manner, and generating referrals.
Performing in a quality manner includes making your customers happy, but also involves business practices that minimize your liability and provide for detailed record-keeping. No matter how well you do at getting new business, a lawsuit or two can end it all.
This tutorial isn't meant to teach you how to use each tool, but will describe them for you, and clearly set out the value of the tool in your business. Use the links at the end of each article to learn more, including some detailed tutorials on using the tools. So, let's go through a series of technology solutions that will allow you to accomplish everything you need, and even do a better job than many brokerage offices do in client service and business management. And, we'll do it all on a shoestring budget.
We're going to set up a complete system of real estate marketing and management using these technology solutions:
- WordPress for a successful Internet presence
- Using the Social Networks for generating business
- Gmail for email marketing and contact management
- Zoho Creator for website forms and lead generation
- Google Calendar for event, appointment & task management
- RTM (Remember the Milk) for transaction task management
- SugarSync for secure file backups & sharing transaction files
- Evernote for information capture, file retention, & liability reduction
- Faxing online with Myfax
There's not one facet of your real estate business left out. You'll be able to do everything you need to do to successfully market your services, work with prospects and customers, and manage your back office. Oh, and you'll do it all for about $0.81 a day. That's right, for about a third the cost of a fancy coffee, you can operate a successful and efficient real estate business.
And, there's yet another benefit. Almost all of these technology tools will help you to make your business highly mobile. In fact, I'm using all of them on an iPad in my travels. But, this isn't a mobile office tutorial. It's about using these technology tools to make your work easier, reduce your liability, satisfy your customers, and grow your business.
Since the first thing you need is a customer, we'll start with setting up a website with WordPress to market your services.
02WordPress as a Website and Blog for Real Estate
Cost = $6.95/month or 22 cents/day
Paying Hostgator.com for multiple years can cut this cost, but monthly is the least out of pocket from the start. There are other hosts for your site that have easy WordPress installation, and I've used three. But, I have settled on Hostgator for price and support reasons. You'll be using a tool called Fantastico Deluxe to install WordPress once you have your account set up, and their tech support can help you.
I've written a lot about WordPress, and my only personal local real estate website uses WordPress. It provides all of the flexibility you need for static web pages, IDX search, and the blogging piece that will position you as the real estate expert in your area. There isn't an easy or fast way to do that, as it's all about writing about what you know and what's happening in your market area. It isn't a case of "website or blog." It's a website, and many sites you visit on the Internet are WordPress sites, even though you see them as a normal website.
What does the real estate professional want from a website if it's to become a lead and income generator?
- An online place to market their services.
- A site that gathers visitor information through opt-in and provides leads.
- More listings through good online listing marketing.
- The site is SEO-friendly and gains good search engine positioning over time.
Article links at the bottom of this page will give you more detailed information and some instruction on how to use a WordPress site to become a real estate expert in your area, and generate leads through friendly opt-in methods. You'll learn what site visitors want and expect to find on a real estate website, and how to provide it.
03Using Twitter and Facebook to Generate Real Estate Business
Cost = Free
While the cost to participate is zero, there is a way to do PPC (pay per click) marketing on Facebook. You can get more information at one of the links at the bottom of this page, and you may want to give it a try. There's no other PPC program out there that allows you to target who sees your ad as tightly as Facebook. But, we're talking here about the general use of social and business networks to grow your business.
Again, this isn't to instruct you in how to use Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, as they all have really great Help files, and there are also links below to help. But, for our purposes here, it's important to learn how they interact with your website, why they're important, and how to use them efficiently.
There's no cost to use Twitter or Facebook, as well as the basic level of LinkedIn. LinkedIn is more business oriented, but you can make great mortgage and other real estate related business contacts with LinkedIn. I have picked up real estate clients who are business professionals who found my profile on LinkedIn.
Why use Twitter and Facebook? Simply, it's because your prospects and clients use them. I'm not talking about hours a day on these sites. I actually don't spend even an hour a week on both of them together. With a WordPress Plugin, you can have your blog posts fed automatically to both a Twitter account and your Facebook page. Or, if you want to take more time, you can write specific posts on each. I prefer to feed my blog posts, as it's automated and people can then read my blog without visiting it on Facebook. Or, if they prefer to get their daily news and information with Twitter, they get headlines for my posts and can click to read them if they have an interest. I have some site visitors who come from Twitter when they see a price or market alert Tweet.
Set up a Twitter account and a Facebook page for your business, and have your blog posts sent there automatically. Join conversations on Facebook if you have time, but don't make it a time-waster. Definitely answer questions about your area and real estate on these sites if you see them. Be helpful and conversational, but not pushy. This is an important piece of your marketing plan, and valuable, especially when it's free.
04CRM, Customer Relationship Management With Gmail & Gmail Contacts
Cost = Free
Before you skip this because you don't like the limited custom field offering in Gmail's Contacts application, I'll show you a way to get those buyer and seller information items into a system that's easier to maintain and more "on-demand" oriented. If you become a Gmail user, you can manage your prospects and contacts information inside Gmail quite efficiently. Remember that this series is about free or very low cost real estate business management solutions. And Gmail is a big piece of this whole office solution.
You may not have similar needs, but think about how you communicate with prospects, business contacts and transaction participants. I do it mostly with email, as I like that written record better than a "he said-she-said" recollection of a phone call later. If there is texting involved, I can have them forwarded as an email, as well as send out of email, to get them into an email system for storage as well. So, I found that almost all of my daily business and communications were ending up in email. Since I use Google Voice and have voicemail transcribed and sent to my email as well, there's not much that doesn't end up in my Gmail account.
Since the Gmail Contacts application is very efficient at the basics of Names, Addresses, Emails, Birthdays, etc., that takes care of the vast majority of my CRM daily activity. The only thing missing is a set of custom fields for buyer and seller preferences and real estate related information. Well, I found a way to work that out as well, and have everything in Gmail. No, I didn't find a way to add a bunch of custom fields to Contacts, but I did find a way to get them into Gmail in an efficient way that allows easy look-up later. Here's a link to instructions and a set of email fields you can copy if you want.
That article will take you through how I have all of my contact/prospect information and special real estate information items in Gmail. Then it shows you how easy it is to access every bit of information about a contact, as well as every communication you've had with them. Considering the fact that emails with attachments are there as well, documents will be available with a click, without extra effort to upload them to another contact manager.
If you're also doing snail mail for marketing, it shouldn't keep you from adopting these methods. Keep another mailing list database, or if you use a vendor, just email them an export out of Gmail before new mailings. Keeping your Gmail Contacts up to date will allow you to export a fast .csv file of mailing addresses for that purpose. Since fewer of us are doing snail mail on a regular basis, it's a small trade-off for a free and fast CRM data system.
05Real Estate Lead Generation with Website Forms from Zoho
Cost = Free>
A basic Zoho Creator account is free. Once you have your account started, you'll be able to use my free application forms to add lead generation and statistics forms to your website. Then, just follow the instructions in this article to set the forms up on your site.
We all know the value of a form to bring in contact information from our websites. And, if you read my article at the link above, you'll see how I use the statistics to generate interest in my market on my website. It isn't an accident that my site gets 147% of normal site traffic from post graduate degree visitors. I tend to attract analytical people, accountants, attorneys, judges, etc. They're great clients who appreciate someone who knows how the market is performing. So, all of the free forms I give you are of value on your site. But, there's more.
The simple lead form that gets their Name and Email address can be used in multiple ways. Remember that Gmail allows you to use the "yourname+[something]@yoursite.com email format. You can put anything you want after the "+," and the email will still come to your main email address. But, with this special word(s)after the "+," you can build a filter to do something special with that email that the form delivers. If you use that same form on a post or page that promises to deliver a "special report" or statistics report to the visitor, you simply add something to the email address. Example: You want to offer a quarterly statistics report with this form and have it automatically delivered to the visitor when the form is submitted:
- You create the report and save it as a PDF file.
- You then create a Gmail "canned response" email that thanks them and delivers the report as an attachment.
- You build a Gmail "filter" that recognizes the special email address, something like "firstname.lastname@example.org," and the filter automatically replies and delivers the report.
You can set this up for multiple different report deliveries, and never have to do a thing. But your visitor will be impressed with an immediate delivery of what they wanted. And, you get that valuable name and email contact information. Not bad for a free solution!
06Google Calendar for Time and Appointment Management
Cost = Free
Just like Google Contacts, Google Calendar could be a better solution for event and appointment management. But, because it can be accessed in the sidebar of Gmail, it becomes very easy to have your appointments on the screen where you'll be spending most of your time. Besides that, the calendar can understand appointment type statements in email, giving you an option on the right to "add to calendar" when someone sends you an email that has something like "let's have lunch on Thursday" in it. You can have multiple calendars with different purposes, such as personal, business, a transaction calendar, etc. Other ways to get appointments into Google Calendar include:
- Email them in.
- Import them automatically with calendar feeds.
- Appointments emailed to you as invitations from others.
- With a Jott.com voice entry converted to text and automatically posted to the calendar.
- From other calendar applications or scheduling systems with feeds.
- Entered directly into the sidebar in Gmail.
If you haven't gotten the basic concept I'm shooting for yet, it's getting as much of what I do every day and the information I need into one place for easy access, even from mobile devices. Google has an application that runs on just about everything. So, now we have our email, contact and prospect information, and appointment calendar all accessible in our one Gmail screen. Google Calendar also offers multiple customized alerts. I can have an email reminder of an appointment two days early, another a day early, and a text message an hour before if I want.
Though Google's Calendar has task management, I don't like it for transaction tasks for a number of reasons. The biggest is that I can't get a whole list of due-dated tasks in at once. So, in our next step, I'll give you yet another free solution that makes that happen and gives me even more options for separating out tasks into individual calendars with RTM, Remember the Milk.
07RTM Remember the Milk & Google Calendar for Task Management
Cost = Free
With a weird circular approach, I can feed a whole list of dated tasks to RTM, Remember the Milk, with a Gmail. Then, once RTM posts them to the appropriate list or transaction from the email, they'll show up in just a little while in my Google Calendar on the appropriate due dates. Then the calendar will send me my default reminders and keep track of them. Also, I can install a plugin from RTM that will display my RTM tasks to the right of my Gmail if I want.
I ran out of space for this page, so in the next step I'll give you the body of that email list of my tasks for a transaction, and you can modify it and put it into a Gmail canned response, just like we did the contact info in a previous step. Your RTM account will provide you with an "Import" email address to which you'll send this email. Just call up the canned response and type in a date in front of each item. It won't take but a few minutes. Then, RTM will receive the email, put the tasks into your system, and Google Calendar will pick them up in a calendar from the feed RTM gives you. It sounds complicated, but it's not, and will get everything automatically posted to the right place from then on. If you postpone a task in RTM, it will move in Google Calendar as well.
If you have several transactions going on at once, you just make each a separate "list" in RTM. Import the tasks into that list by using the list name as the subject of this import email. Then, when you set up the calendar with the feed in Google Calendar, it will have it's own color code for the tasks, and you can display each calendar independently or merge them into one display if you want.
08Task List to Copy Out and Edit for Your RTM Import Email
Deliver Pre-deal PA copies to all parties
Follow-up Memo for PA page initials and title co. info
Copies of signed purchase agrmt to all parties
Procure earnest check from Buyer(s)
Deliver Earnest check and file/transmit receipt
Deliver Buyer Prep Doc w/inspect waiver & early lock
Property disclosure delivery deadline
Procure property disclosure
Prepare and deliver property disclosure objections
Condo documents delivery deadline
Procure condo documents
Prepare and deliver condo documents objections
Road documents delivery deadline
Procure Road documents
Prepare and deliver road documents objections
Procure signed septic contingency addendum
Well Documents delivery deadline
Procure Well Documents
Prepare and deliver well documents objections
Water Rights Documents delivery deadline
Procure Water Rights Documents
Prepare and deliver water rights docs objections
Determine whether client is closing local or remote
Give Client Funding/Wiring Instructions
Property disclosure objections deadline
Road documents objections deadline
Well documents objections deadline
Water rights documents objections deadline
Follow-up memo for utilities disconnect
Disconnect and utilities memo info to buyers
Property disclosure objections resolution deadline
Road documents objections resolution deadline
Well documents objections resolution deadline
Water rights documents objections res. deadline
Follow up on insurance purchase
General inspection delivery deadline
Well inspection delivery deadline
F/up Memo for septic cert./survey/inspector/surveyor
Set closing time and directions to client
General inspection objections delivery deadline
Well inspection objections delivery deadline
F/up Memo for septic cert. progress
General inspection objections resolutions deadline
Well inspection objections resolutions deadline
Survey delivery deadline
Survey objections delivery deadline
Survey objections resolution deadline
All objections resolution deadline
Determine inspector and contact/coordinate
Determine lender and send documents
F/up Memo for septic cert. progress
Prepare survey objections
F/up memo for survey objections resolutions
Lender/Title Co. Progress Check
Lender/Title Co. Progress Check
Lender/Title Co. Progress Check
Get Lender info and send lender pak w/documents
Check on objection credits on HUD
Inspection Objection Credit Info to Title Co.
Change these to your typical transaction tasks, and don't worry too much about order, as you'll be due-dating them and RTM will put them where they belong. Just type the due date on each line, either before or after the task and send the email to RTM. It will all get done.
09Toodledo for Real Estate Transaction Tasks Management
I wanted to give you another option here for free online real estate transactions task management. It's Toodledo.com.
At the free level, the services and features most real estate professionals need are available, and really very similar to those of RTM. But, if you're willing to spend an extra 4 cents/day, or $14.95/year, Toodledo makes getting multiple tasks into the system a bit easier with task "cloning." I've created a short two step tutorial to show how it works here.
10Sugarsync for Online Backup and Client Transaction File Sharing
Cost = 13 cents/day for 30 GB
Sugarsync is an amazing online backup service. Once your account is set up, and a 2 GB account is free, you can have Sugarsync keep a copy automatically and continually updated of folders and files on your computer. Some may be able to get by with the free account, but for all of the features and enough room for extensive document backup and sharing, the 30 GB account is just $49.95/year.
As you work on files on any of the computers you've set up to sync, the service updates the online file. You then have access to it via login from any internet computer. Plus, if you change a file online with your office computer, if you've set up your home computer to sync, the latest version will be there as well. It's inexpensive and very efficient, and you'll be comfortable in knowing that you're backed up if something happens. In fact, when I switched to my netbook, I merely identified it to Sugarsync, and all of My Documents were downloaded to it that the other computer had on the drive.
Since many of my real estate clients are vacation home buyers, they aren't local. They really appreciate that I can share their document file with them, and they have free access to pick up their documents without extensive email downloads. Couple that with digital eSignatures, and you can really rock with online filing.
11Backing Up Your Gmail with Thunderbird
Cost = Free
This is a short step, but important. With email becoming the most-used form of communication, especially in real estate transactions, it's critical to know that you have a backup of that online Gmail. By installing free Thunderbird software, and setting up IMAP to communicate with your Gmail account, all of your Gmail, incoming and sent will be copied to your hard drive. That's peace of mind we all can use.
12Evernote Captures Everything & Makes it Easy to Find Again
Cost = 12 cents/day
While you may be able to get by with the free version of Evernote, the upgrade to Premium is just $45/year and provides a lot more storage and more features. The greatest value to me is in the ways that Evernote allows me to capture information from the Web, my cell phone in the field, and via email. I have a system you'll learn at one of the links below to capture the emails and documents from a transaction and print out all of the emails into a PDF after the closing for the file. But, there are so many more uses for Evernote that I wrote a separate article at the first link below.
13Real Estate Online Faxing Solution
Cost = 32 cents/day
It's a shame that the most antiquated office requirement is also the most expensive here, but as long as faxing is around, a real estate business will need to send and receive faxes. But, doing it online is far better. I like MyFax for incoming and outgoing online faxing, because you can:
- Receive faxes as PDF attachments to email.
- Send attached documents as faxes right out of your email.
- Forward a received fax by just forwarding the email that delivered it.
No paper unless you want to print it, and a more legible copy than most fax machines used to print. While you can get cheaper services, many only provide incoming faxing, not outgoing. And, check allowed page counts as well.
There you have it! The 81 cents/day real estate marketing and management solutions tools will help a new agent get started at the lowest cost. But, I've been around a long time, and they're what I'm using.
World-Class Business Management & Marketing for 81 Cents/Day
You may be looking for alternatives to normal advertising channels, or simply can't afford to spend advertising dollars. What this tutorial is going to do is to present to you established and effective online and software tools to market and manage a real estate business. You can take what you learn here and leverage it, spending money in conventional media as well. Or, you can focus on the online marketing potential and spend less, but it takes time and dedication.