Jun 142017

“There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” is often attributed to P.T. Barnum although there’s no hard evidence he said it. There’s no doubt, however, that he was a self-promoter extraordinaire. An interesting discussion is available for those engaged in the practice of real estate brokerage–how much self-promotion of ourselves should we be doing versus promoting properties?

During one of those discussions with a student, he was quite adamant that whether we are promoting properties or ourselves, we should be using every available means at our disposal–it’s a fiduciary duty to our clients! His twist was “There’s no such thing as bad advertising.” My tongue was only slightly in my cheek when I told him that I hoped he was taping his business card on the wall of every public bathroom he used since business cards are cheap and a lot of people would see them.

Seth Godin, in a recent blog post, notes that marketing used to be done with care and caution, but now that getting attention (publicity) is easy and cheap, we are “like a troop of gorillas arguing over the last banana.” For those unfamiliar, the gorilla reference relates to a series of books by Jay Levinson on “Guerilla Marketing.” The premise behind the popular book series was that small businesses could compete by adopting unconventional methods of promotion. For an effective program, you didn’t need a huge budget, you just needed to have imagination, energy and time.

But you also needed to think because guerilla marketing works best when it’s targeted. Just because you can tape your business card on the walls of public bathrooms doesn’t mean you should.

Guerilla marketing is creative and fun, but it is still about building your image in a strategic manner–not just doing the quick and easy. Let me give you one example that is a personal annoyance.

Technology now makes it very easy to email information to diverse audiences and lots of people. All you need is a mailing list, right? And best of all, email is free! (That’s actually not true, but it’s a different discussion.) So a lot of folks started playing the numbers game. Some guy in Nigeria figured out that if he sent out enough emails suggesting he needed help getting his family fortune moved to the United States, some small number of people would perhaps be willing to help him.

So, yes, it does work. It works really well for the short term. But for every willing victim, there are thousands–perhaps hundreds of thousands–of people who are simply annoyed by his constant badgering and desire to take advantage of people. (Robo-calls fall into the same category when you think about it.)

For those who are using technology–email and social media–as a vehicle for promotion, it might be wise to consider the full impact of what you’re doing. I don’t maintain counts, but every week I receive at least a dozen or so “ads” from real estate licensees. These range from announcements of open houses to brochures that tie up my server because they are megabytes in size.  Some are for properties over 100 miles away. But that’s not what really bothers me.

What really bothers me is how many of these emails are in direct violation of federal law. You might find it mildly interesting that the term”CAN SPAM” is an acronym for “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing.” So sending unsolicited email is considered an assault–I can relate to the term while I delete them from my inbox.  What might be more interesting is that if your marketing and advertising program includes assaulting people with email, you’re risking a $16,000 fine by the FTC for each email you send that violates the act.

We can debate the effectiveness of the act, but it is law and many people are at least mildly aware of it. So consider that sending email that does not comply is also advertising your willingness to violate the law. It’s actually not a hard law to comply with, so do a little research:

  • National Association of REALTORS® offers a number of articles and resources
  • HubSpot offers a short list of do’s and don’ts along with some FAQs
  • FTC (Federal Trade Commission) offers a compliance guide for small businesses
  • Comm100 provides some detail and unintentional entertainment by using the word “complaint” repeatedly when they mean “compliant” — an interesting error for a company specializing in communication!

What are you telling your prospects unintentionally? This really isn’t just about the law. If you find receiving SPAM annoying, you might not want to send it! And if you don’t find it annoying, remember that a lot of people do! That’s one reason the law was passed. You might just distinguish yourself by doing it right.


Nov 092016

Walter notes: I’ve occasionally observed that Facebook ads are a great place to find ads that do not meet the requirements of Maine License Law and Rules. Well, here’s another article (reposted courtesy of Tuesday Tactics) that raises a slightly different concern!

fair-housing-logoFacebook ads are a powerful way to generate leads, find prospective buyers and sellers, and optimize your marketing spend. There are lots of tips out there on how to maximize your ROI and craft ads.

But recently Pro Publica reported that Facebook’s ad targeting system may violate the Fair Housing Act of 1968. From the piece “Facebook Lets Advertisers Exclude Users by Race“:

“The ubiquitous social network not only allows advertisers to target users by their interests or background, it also gives advertisers the ability to exclude specific groups it calls “Ethnic Affinities.” Ads that exclude people based on race, gender and other sensitive factors are prohibited by federal law in housing and employment.”

Facebook disagrees. According to an article in Engadget:

“Facebook defended the practice, telling USA Today that “multicultural marketing is a common practice in the ad industry and helps brands reach audiences with more relevant advertising.” However, it added that “we’ve heard from groups and policy makers who are concerned about some of the ways our targeting tools could be used by advertisers. We are listening and working to better understand these concerns.”

If you use (or are considering) Facebook’s sophisticated ad targeting, you may want to keep this issue front and center in your mind. Be prudent how you use the targeting, and be aware that there’s a debate going on right now about the legality of the platform’s features.

Tuesday Tactics was developed in the Fall of 2008 and began publishing in the Summer of 2009 by Scott Levitt, owner of Oakley Signs & Graphics, to help real estate agents survive and thrive in an increasingly challenging market. In addition to Oakley Signs & Graphics, Scott is also the founder of My Real Helper, a real estate marketing content service designed to help agents market themselves and build rapport with clients. His newest company is Oakley Canvas Prints, a one-stop source for turning your photos into art you can hang on your wall.

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Jun 162015
Check out this resource!

Check out this resource!

I somewhat stumbled on to an interesting resource for real estate licensees this morning: The First Tuesday Journal. Let me quickly point out that this claims to be the “California real estate news source,” and, therefore much of the content is based on California law and practice. That said, there is enough general information to make this site useful, plus there can be some interesting comparisons to how things are done in Maine. (My bias is that just about anything that makes you think has value.)

There are some “FARM” templates that appear to be free for the downloading–and some of them are quite well done! Here’s a quote from one entitled, “How to gain an advantage when buying a home.”

Take an open house promenade. With the convenience of online browsing, fewer homebuyers are taking advantage of open houses. Visiting the home in person gives you the advantage of knowing exactly what you’re getting, instead of relying on stylized pictures and generic listing descriptions.

I use this particular example to demonstrate the need for caution when using material from the site. While there are no legal issues with this bit of advice, you might want to consider changing the word “promenade” (commonly used in California) to “tour” (commonly used in Maine).

This site is not recommended for sales agent students–my strong recommendation is those just getting started stay very focused on the “need to learn” material and avoid branching out into other resources. For others, you’ll want to use material from this site with caution, perhaps even to the point of reviewing anything you plan to use with your designated broker.


Let’s Talk About Rights!

 Posted by at 7:11 am
May 102014

line_figure_phone_400If you haven’t been around long enough, you might not remember what life was like prior to the “Do Not Call List.” The actual label for this is the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) and it first passed in 1995. Managed by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), the rule has seen numerous amendments and, in good government fashion, complications. The essence of the rule is that telemarketers are required to check the “Do Not Call List” prior to making an unsolicited call. As with most laws, there are numerous exceptions, exemptions, and a fair amount of fine print.

Prior to the rule, life included frequent interruptions at all times of the day from a wide variety of folks trying to sell something. About the only way to cope was to simply hang up as soon as you recognized the call’s purpose. If I was feeling particularly feisty and had the time I would occasionally engage in what I called “terrorizing telemarketers.” The TSR has, thankfully, significantly reduced the need and opportunity.

But it hasn’t eliminated it. I’ve been receiving an occasional call from somebody name “Ohan” who is quite sure he needs to help me improve my social networking to build my real estate business. I’m a bit intrigued that he starts out by claiming he’s doing some research — that’s one of the exemptions used to circumvent the rule. Of course if you stay on the phone, you’ll discover the research is answering the question “will you buy my product/service.” Since I’d had the call before, I interrupted, so stated, and requested I be taken off his list of people to call.

He replied, “There is no list. I got your phone number from the Internet.” Then I made a tragic error. I didn’t hang up. Instead I replied, “Well thereis a do not call list and I’m on it. You need to stop calling me.”

Then it got really interesting. Instead of accepting the fact I had no interest in talking with him, he decided to convince me of how stupid I am. What a smart sales technique! The essence of his argument was that since I’d listed my personal cell phone as a business contact, he could legally call me since “business to business” calls are exempt. Now I will freely admit I’m not sure on this one… if I list my personal cell phone number as a way to contact me for business purposes does that give him the right to call? It might.

But it doesn’t give him the right to ignore my explanation that I’m not interested in talking with him. He actually said he was trying to “educate” me. I replied that he was wrong–he was actually trying to waste my time. With that, I hung up while he was still. He did succeed in thoroughly annoying me–at least briefly.

I’m now amused. Clearly he wanted to convince me he and his company know how to increase my business through social networking. What he did instead was demonstrate his own lack of basic social skills. This experience reminded me of yet another self-appointed social media and coaching expert who, when challenged on a statement she made in a meeting, informed me I don’t understand coaching.

Ben Franklin said, “Ignorance is its own defense.” So assuming I am uneducated and lack understanding I think it’s my right to be so and to remain so.

As long as we’re discussing my deficiencies, another thing I don’t understand is why anyone would think this sort of behavior is endearing and likely to result in a sale–let alone a positive relationship. There have been some interesting things written about how social networking is changing the way we view relationships. Who hasn’t noticed the tendency to speak one’s mind on Facebook–even to the point of insulting others?  Maybe it does make sense that the social media experts (at least these two) believe annoying and insulting people is the way to go.

Thankfully, I’m not an expert on social media. I’ve always thought that having the legal right to do something doesn’t mean you should do it. Most businesses are relationship based. You won’t build much of a relationship with prospective clients by simply exercising your rights.

Footnote: I’m not suggesting we ignore the law! Violation of the TSR carries significant penalties in addition to potentially annoying prospective customers. The FTC has published a thorough online outline with clickable links that will help you understand complying with the Telemarketing Sales Rule.


It’s a #New World!

 Posted by at 9:03 am
Feb 152014

tweetEvery day is a new day; every day the world remakes itself in a myriad of ways–one of those truths that is both remarkable and at the same time stressful. Technology advances in leaps and bounds. Even how we view that new world changes. It seems the one thing you can be certain of is change. As a writer, I’ve always tried to stay very aware of how our language changes. An incident last week reminded me it’s tough to keep up.

A little background… as program director for Valley Grange, I get to work with third and fourth graders on an annual “Newspapers in Education” project. The short explanation is the kids design newspaper ads promoting Valley Grange. In an effort to make sure their ads contain the required information, we provide a “cheat sheet” that includes our official designation: Valley Grange #144. (The number indicates we were the one hundred forty fourth Grange to be chartered in Maine.)

The third graders had been designing and drawing intently with occasional requests for help when one called out, “Mr. Boomsma, do we have to include the hashtag?” I confess I suffered a moment or two of confusion regarding what she was talking about. (For those who don’t know, hashtags are words or phrases preceded by a hash or pound sign (#) and used to identify messages on a specific topic.) That symbol used to be the pound sign and somewhere along the way it became the number sign. But to this young lady it’s a hashtag.

I was in a meeting a while back during which a self-appointed expert took over the marketing discussion by assuring us all social media was the answer to every one of our marketing challenges. Those who disagreed were informed we “didn’t get it.” Contrast that with the person who proclaimed that there was no way she would ever have a computer in her home. I resisted the temptation to prove her wrong–she probably has several–a television and remote, maybe? I also haven’t told her she “doesn’t get it.”

Personally, I do have a love/hate relationship with social media and the talking heads assure me that I’m not an exception. There’s some data suggesting that people are becoming increasingly frustrated with Facebook. I do, however, accept the reality that it’s part of the new world order. I also believe that whether we love it or hate it, we really should be using it mindfully. To that point, I’d like to offer you some examples of “mindfulness” as applies to social media.

Do you know what (according to one survey) the biggest Facebook dislike is? Find out here! But don’t just read the biggest one, read the list. Even more importantly, ask yourself what you’re doing on Facebook? If you think you are using to build your business, are you also doing things people dislike?

At the other end of the spectrum, you’re eyes may glaze over at the detail included in this article about the seven biggest social media mistakes you may be making.  There’s even lots of information about hashtags.

Mindfulness and curiosity go hand-in-hand. After you read those two articles, why not google (a word that is a relatively recent addition to our vocabulary) “Common Social Media Mistakes.” And to be truly mindful, remember the age old wisdom not to put all your eggs in one basket. If you spend all day on Facebook, you won’t reach the woman who thinks she doesn’t have a computer in her home. The problem with marketing is it’s easy to forget markets don’t hire real estate agents and markets don’t buy things.





The 200 Letter Revisited

 Posted by at 7:22 am
Feb 042014

mailbox receiptFor those who don’t know, the 200 letter was for years a standard practice assigned to newly licensed agents. Many agencies would help promote the new licensee with a press release to the local newspaper and require the licensee to develop a mailing list of 200 people, then send those people a letter announcing his or her new role as a sales agent with ABC Realty.

There was nothing particularly sacred about 2oo–although there has been some research done indicating that most people do, in fact, know at least 200 people beyond a nod and a smile. You’re supposed to include everyone you can think of… your doctor, auto mechanic,  pet sitter, etc.

This does not exactly qualify as “targeted marketing” until you realize that we are in a relationship business. Fortunately (or unfortunately, in some cases) for many people considering a real estate transaction, they will first think “Who do I know?” and if they can’t come up with a name, they’ll start to ask their friends. (You’d think the question would be “Who’s the best in this business?” but it isn’t.) For the 200 letter  this suggests we include two business cards–“one for you and one for a friend” along with the hope of reaching upwards of 400 people.

Personally, I think it’s still a valid approach to getting started. It’s admittedly gotten expensive–mailing 200 letters is going to cost close to $100 just in postage. But that’s still a small investment in your future business. Some of the factors that “make it work” are not “cheaping out” when printing the letter and cards, writing a letter that makes a strong impression, and some degree of repetition or reinforcement. It’s not just about getting started if it’s done correctly.

An alumnus of a sales agent class once contacted me because she was having trouble with her 200 letter. It seems she couldn’t come up with 200 names of people she knew and she wondered if she might contact her 600 Facebook friends and request their mailing address. I replied that I doubted many would send her their address and suggested she put more energy into thinking about people she knew outside of social media. If you have a name and town, you can often dig out the address with some Internet research.

We can, of course, debate whether or not she should have a “600 Facebook Post.” But before we jump on Facebook (the good news is the bad news–it’s easy) let’s get a good solid list of people we know. Maybe you can’t come up with 200–there’s a message for you in that. As part of your business plan, you’re going to want to start thinking about how you will network and make contacts. Remember, this is a relationship business. The more people you know, the more prospects you have.

Just don’t be obnoxious about making those friends, please. Years ago I knew an agent (not from this area) who would clip newspaper obituaries. She would at least wait until the body was cold before sending a letter “Sorry for your loss… if your personal situation suggests it might be time for a change, I’d love to talk with you about listing your home for sale…” No, I am not making this up. Yes, there are better ways of meeting people.

(If you’ve taken a class with me, you’ve probably heard me describe “undertaker agents” — those who drive buyers around until they either buy a house or die. The above example represents the other side of the transaction. The seller undertaker agent waits until someone dies to start a relationship.)

One of the failings of the 200 letter is in its name–it’s one letter to 200 people. Why not have a plan that increases those numbers? “I’ll send a 200 letter announcing my new career. Six months from now I’ll have met another (pick the number–50?) people so I’ll send a 250 letter with some market updates and a reminder that my business is growing…” To be really sophisticated, collect the email addresses of these people and consider how email might support the program. The 200 letter is really about starting (or altering) a relationship on a professional level. The wise licensee recognizes the need to nurture that relationship on an ongoing basis.

I hear a lot of complaints from licensees about the lack of loyalty in our business–usually after they’ve driven by a friend’s home and seen a competing for sale sign on the lawn. One of the reasons it happens is we’re not reminding them we’re in the business and we’re not giving them reasons to turn to us when the need arises. What’s your plan for doing that?




Terrible Real Estate Photographs

 Posted by at 4:43 pm
Nov 072013

taking_pictures_PA_150_clrWell… it may not be nice to make fun, but laughter is good for the soul. So here’s a link to a blog/website where the theme is “Terrible Real Estate Photographs. The site owner assures us the photos are legitimate. I believe it. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Warning: Do not view this site unless you are sitting where you can laugh out loud, possibly until the tears start. Be sure you read the captions… and consider sending your “outtakes” to:

Terrible Real Estate Photos


News Flash! Rule Change from MREC

 Posted by at 8:52 am
Nov 022013

realestatenewsMaine Real Estate Commission Announces Rule Change

Rule changes to Chapter 410 concerning Advertising and Inducements have been adopted effective October 22, 2013. Click here to view the changes. You’ll see a PDF file of the original Rules and the changes in red. Those who are licensed should direct any questions to your designated broker!

These changes have effectively reduced the required information in ads, but have increased disclosure requirements when inducements are included. Please read the rule changes for the details.