"Scotty, I need warp speed in three minutes or we’re all dead!"

"But, Captain, I’m givin’ ‘er all she’s got!"

My husband, a big fan of the arts, one who considers "Star Trek" to be our generation’s greatest cinematic accomplishment, uttered these lines in response to another of my too-frequent meltdown moments.

He was laughing at me.

"Scotty, I need warp speed in three minutes or we’re all dead!"

"But, Captain, I’m givin’ ‘er all she’s got!"

My husband, a big fan of the arts, one who considers "Star Trek" to be our generation’s greatest cinematic accomplishment, uttered these lines in response to another of my too-frequent meltdown moments.

He was laughing at me.

"I can’t do it!" I exclaimed, exasperated, a beaten pup facing too many deadlines with too few woman-hours at my disposal.

What "it" was this time is not important. He knew that I would ultimately dispense with this obligation — alive and on schedule. Just like the Starship Enterprise seemed to escape the alien tractor beams each week with nary a moment to spare, I too would emerge from this episode unscathed.

Time. It’s that thing we value most. It’s a finite thing and, as Scotty liked to say, "You can’t change the laws of physics." Why, then, do we tend to treat it with such contempt? Why do we tend to devalue time where our business is concerned?

The answer, I think, is that throwing our checkbook at a problem, while costly, is easy. Investing our time is more deliberate, more difficult. Time is effort.

I was on a conference call last week with some gentlemen who were introducing me to a product designed to make my print marketing efforts more targeted and effective. I get a lot these invitations, most of which I politely decline. Investigation takes time, implementation takes money, and I have limited amounts of both. I have to chose my undertakings wisely.

But there was something about this particular product that intrigued me enough to engage in further exploration.

I came to the call having done my homework, armed with a very impressive spreadsheet detailing the costs per rooftop of my current print marketing activities in which I used a lot of snappy scientific functions like "product" and "sum." And, as we discussed the costs versus the potential benefits of their offering, one of the gentlemen asked me about the return on investment of my current marketing efforts. Specifically, he asked about source of business.

That’s the punch line, I explained. While approximately 80 percent of my marketing dollar goes toward print marketing, more than 80 percent of our new business is derived from online activities. There is an impressive disconnect, I pointed out, and I have to consider each dollar I spend from the pot labeled "business development" very thoughtfully.

"Well, sure. But how much time do you spend on your online activities?" he challenged, uttering "time" with special inflection as if he had just said the naughty word.

And as I considered how preparing for this call took time, thoroughly and thoughtfully evaluating the potential of his product, the one that would cost me money, took time, his words rang familiar.

We get it a lot these days — the time versus money argument.

From one side, we hear, "Blog, improve that SEO, connect online. It’s free!"

Meanwhile, another camp is calling foul for delay of game. Those things are "time sucks," they remind us, arguing that our time is better spent doing other things, like just paying to play — for sidebar ads, featured site placement, or just someone to do the blogging and thinking for us.

The reality, though, is that where marketing and prospecting are concerned, neither time nor money can replace the other. And you can’t spend one without spending the other, at least not if you expect a return on your investment.

I look at it this way. As an agent, I am a business; I am the Enterprise. I am employer and employee; I both make the decisions and take direction. I am CFO, CEO and chairman of the board. And then I do the work.

I am capitalized with my own personal resources. And, if I am thinking like a businessman, while I have a budget for cash expenditures, it is a budget after all. The well is not bottomless. But, my real venture capital is in my intellectual property and my time.

Like most other real estate agents, I struggle daily with the big "time versus money" balancing act. Therefore, any advice I might offer is born from my own circumstances and experiences, and should be considered in the context that I am clearly not retired yet.

But with that most-humble qualifier, following are some of my thoughts on allocating the resources from our time and money business accounts:

  • Think before you leap. That’s not to say that every idea you have or opportunity that presents itself should be stuck in committee indefinitely. Rather, take the time to evaluate and consider the hard costs and the potential long-term benefits. It’s got to pencil out.
  • Once you do commit, commit. Some call it the six-month rule; for others, one year is the litmus test, but test. Both marketing and prospecting require consistency. Before you throw either your money or time at an undertaking, be certain that you can and will devote the resources long enough to come out of Beta.
  • Hire slowly but fire quickly. Once you have invested the time (there’s that word again) to a strategy and given it a fair shake, kick it to the curb if it’s not working. Our tendency is to get emotionally attached to our tactics, whether they be that shiny widget on our website, that clever ad campaign, or just the design of our business cards. But it’s not how much I like my imagery and message that matters. It ultimately needs to resonate with the customer or it’s a waste.
  • Outsource, but don’t cop out. Anything in your business that can be automated or equally accomplished by a teenager for gas money should be summarily delegated, of course. But in doing so, the goal is not to generate free time, because time is anything but. You are buying time so that you can invest your intellectual property where it is needed — in research and development, in the heavy lifting.
  • Get creative. Take time to think. Just because the bandwagon is crowded doesn’t mean it’s going any place. Maybe it is, or maybe it is just packed with a lot of people who heard the music but couldn’t quite name that tune. Sometimes I find that the best use of my time — the most important use of my time — is to sit back, watch and think. Go for a run, visit your feedreader, or just stare out the window. There are no new ideas, just old ideas adapted, developed and improved by those who took the time to consider the question rather than simply latch onto the "answer."
  • Budget your time the way you budget your money, and value each equally. Some of the money we spend marketing is for simple exposure, to build a brand and name recognition. The return on investment related to these activities is intangible, yet the investment is necessary. Similarly, time we spend online or off, on networking, reading, writing — on creating — is not wasted simply because we can’t quantify the resulting return with dollar signs.

Other funds are targeted, and the results are measurable. The two hours spent on a blog post are no more or less valuable than the several hundred dollars spent blanketing a neighborhood with promotional material, assuming, of course, they each produce results; the investment was simply withdrawn from a different account.

As I wrapped up the call with the nice men with the new product, the marketing solution that would allow me to pay money in order to maybe buy some time, I concluded that the price was too steep. For me, the return on investment didn’t make sense.

"But I suspect there will be agents who will jump on this," I conceded. "So many agents just don’t take the time to think."

And everyone laughed.

Kris Berg is broker-owner of San Diego Castles Realty. She also writes a consumer-focused real estate blog, The San Diego Home Blog.

***

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