I received the bad news in my inbox this morning. It seems that because I failed to renew a certain subscription to a cool embeddable "thingy," a "thingy" that I had inserted in posts on my blog on more than a couple of occasions over the years, I was being canceled.

"As of today, no one can view the (thingies) you have created. Unfortunately, this includes (thingies) linked to any Web site, including Realtor.com and your (multiple listing service)."

Ouch. It feels like extortion, and I should have known better. I’ve seen the movies — the ones where some young kid with visions of riches and fame joins the mob. It seems like a good idea at the time — all the cool kids are doing it.

I received the bad news in my inbox this morning. It seems that because I failed to renew a certain subscription to a cool embeddable "thingy," a "thingy" that I had inserted in posts on my blog on more than a couple of occasions over the years, I was being canceled.

"As of today, no one can view the (thingies) you have created. Unfortunately, this includes (thingies) linked to any Web site, including Realtor.com and your (multiple listing service)."

Ouch. It feels like extortion, and I should have known better. I’ve seen the movies — the ones where some young kid with visions of riches and fame joins the mob. It seems like a good idea at the time — all the cool kids are doing it.

Then one day, when he realizes that he would rather be a firefighter or the night-shift clerk at the 7-11 — his own man — he finds himself in a shallow grave with his subscription canceled.

That’s me, all right. It’s a lesson I learned years ago, but occasionally I regress.

My daughter performed a supporting role in a school play this week. It was a light comedy about (go figure) the mob. "Video Vickie," it turns out, didn’t have many lines. A crime reporter, the script called for her character to have the depth of a crepe pan.

Despite this, her drama teacher required her, as he did all of the actors from leads to ensemble, to first write a paper on the character’s backstory.

The idea was that only by conceptualizing her one act in the context of a bigger picture would she be able to bring meaning to her performance.

Her drama teacher believes that before she can know where her character is going, she must first know where she has been and what she stands for — her motivation. In other words, Video Vickie needs a business plan.

Now, it’s not that my daughter can’t take direction. It’s just that she wanted more than a forgettable supporting role. The result was that one-dimensional Video Vickie was reborn as Lois Lane meets Valley Girl. Her vision involved a woman who had both cornered the market on hairspray and had been voted Most Likely to Anchor the Evening News by her high school class.

There could have been many interpretations, and none would have been wrong. But by allowing her bigger idea to drive the delivery of each line, she hit every mark with purpose. The larger play still worked but, while she is admittedly not headed straight to Broadway for a reprise, her own role was surprisingly memorable.

Own the role. Own your business.

As agents, we tend to relegate ourselves to forgettable, secondary roles early in our careers. We obediently use the company e-mail address, we plaster the front-desk phone number on our business cards and all of our marketing materials, and we promote the free Web page our broker has so generously given us.

Those things are fine if we are appearing in a one-act play. Most of us, though, will end our careers affiliated with a different company than the one with which we began. It’s not disobedient to think in terms of portability. Rather, it’s good business planning.

Agents are a part of a larger cast, but remember why you are on stage. It’s ultimately your career that matters, and you need to control the delivery of your lines. The alternative is to fade into the anonymity of the larger ensemble. …CONTINUED

With our first big move between brokerages, we felt the repercussions of having been branded. Our phone number changed, and we knew we would lose some business as a result. So we got a "vanity line," one that now forwards to our phone number du jour.

And if on the next "jour" our office number changes again, we won’t have hundreds of past and potential future clients wondering why we left the business.

Later in our evolution, after a couple of Web site hosting changes, we popped for a unique domain name that redirects to wherever our site may be residing at the moment.

We stopped promoting our real e-mail addresses in favor of snappy "ghost" addresses. Now, when we change providers, our e-mail follows. And when it came time to start a blog, we shunned "free" for self-hosted. Control is priceless.

These things may seem mainstream now, but the majority of business cards and signature blocks I see suggest otherwise. Tiff84@aol.com neither reeks of professionalism nor will it bode well for business when she changes her service provider.

"Visit my Web site at www.BigAwesomeBroker.com/FrankFinkelstein" is somewhat limiting when Frank finds that Big Broker is not so awesome as he originally thought. Fax numbers? Get an e-fax. It’s more efficient, and your number will live on.

Getting back to my embeddable thingy: The reality is that I had quit using the tool years ago, long before I was snuffed out, my privileges revoked. I had found less expensive and better solutions; I had moved on. But it is tough to quit the mob.

I forgot about the long-term consequences, and I now have many gaping holes in my blog to prove it. Unfortunately, my past will continue to follow me, because there are others out there to whom I am indebted; their offerings may be cheap or even free, but the minute I quit subscribing or they go out of business, there will be a price to pay.

Now, we are more cautious. As agents in business for ourselves, we owe it to ourselves to carefully consider the longer-term implications every time we choose a Web host, embrace a new widget, or commission a video. And it can be taken one step further.

Things as simple as filling our listing presentations with company propaganda, using a third-party application on our Web site, or writing for someone else’s blog serve to relinquish little pieces of ourselves — a little bit of control.

An agent’s broker’s motivation is to grow the brokerage. The army of companies offering search sites, agent tools and referral opportunities are motivated by growing their own bottom lines, most often through monetizing the agents. Each provides a service, and many are of great value to the agent.

But in deciding which tools and toys to adopt, we mustn’t forget that it’s our own business with which we are ultimately concerned.

We’ve each got a backstory and a motivation. Presumably, our motivation is to have successful careers in real estate. We can play a bit part or a leading role, and the choice is ours. And every time we sign up, buy in or subscribe, we need to consider not only whose business it is that we are really building by doing so, but also what the eventual costs might be.

After all, it’s easy to join the mob; it’s far harder to leave.

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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