I’m coming full circle. It’s sad, scary and liberating all at once. And I am making the roundtrip in more ways than one.
First, there is the fact that both of my tax deductions will have flown the coop by summer’s end. It’s sobering to think that after years of fretting and obsessing, of nurturing and, yes, sacrificing (mostly my sanity), things are about to change. I will end up exactly where I started, albeit wiser, stronger and a little lighter on disposable income, for having been there and done that.
Ditto my approach to this real estate thing. When I started my little homegrown blog over four years ago, it was a novelty. Few were doing it, and there were fewer rules. So we just ran on instincts and had fun — kind of like parenting. Fast forward to today.
Today, all of the talk is about cultivating that online presence. Initially, the list of new media must-haves was manageable enough. But the "essentials" have proliferated to the point where the agents and brokers are left feeling like they are standing in a batting cage where the pitches are thrown with ever-increasing frequency.
The whole game has become a bit unmanageable. Suddenly, hitting a home run is no longer the point; we’re simply trying not to get beaned by the next incoming fastball.
And through it all there are so many out there giving their prescriptive recipes for online success and so many others dutifully following the recipes to the teaspoon that the whole concept of uniqueness, of individuality — of truly creating something — has gotten lost in the revolution.
Make no mistake. I am a big fan of social media. It has become essential for marketing our services and for connecting with customers, not to mention for maintaining relationships with our past clients. It’s the language the world speaks, and we need to continue to be a part of that conversation if we are to eat tomorrow.
The problem for me can be summed up by the World Cup.
Two months ago, to me, football was the San Diego Chargers. And then the World Cup reared its head. Daughter No. 1, in London for the summer under the auspices of having some silly broadcast journalism internship, got caught up in the World Cup fever — because her host country cared.
Then, Daughter No. 2 headed off to an exchange program in, of all places, the Netherlands, and soccer became our family’s second language. Suddenly, I was thinking too hard and caring too much about yellow cards and bending like Beckham.
The funny thing is that I’m not inherently a soccer fan. I can’t even profess to truly understand the game. Yet last week, as my final flight risk was being treated to a night of wooden shoes and vuvuzelas in some faraway venue, the whole winner-loser concept started weighing heavily on me. And by the time the Netherlands lost, I had lost all perspective. I was bummed beyond belief, certain that my life had changed.
It hadn’t. After all, this was never my game. I made it my game because the world told me I should. And so goes social media.
Jim Murray, former sportswriter and Los Angeles Dodgers announcer, once said, "In the great department store of life, (sports) is the toy department." Along those lines, who won the soccer match will not change our lives nor, dare I say, will our Google placement, the number of Twitter followers we can boast, or the number of times someone "liked" our Facebook page.
Those things are important, but they are the icing on the cake. The "cake" is our business model; it’s our business of helping real people, in real time, consummate a purchase or a sale. Sometimes we tend to get caught up in the roar of the crowd, placing too much emphasis on this game being played — the race to conquer the great digital divide.
Social media is important; it’s as important as the English language. And, yet, you needn’t embrace Shakespeare to connect. And you certainly need not immerse yourself in every genre to be well-read.
Ironically, I write this as I am returning from the Inman Real Estate Connect conference. This conference is a lot of things, but it is best known for its tech bent, and social media continues to monopolize the conversation. So let me come full circle.
When I didn’t have so many voices in my head and in my feed reader, I was better. I was a better blogger, I was a better communicator, and I was a better agent. Like a parent, I ran on instincts. The largest part of our job as agents is marketing our services and ourselves.
We are engaged in both a financial and emotional transaction. Accordingly, our marketing has to be geared toward both. And you can’t connect emotionally without being authentic.
So, as I sat in on presentations at Real Estate Connect on how real estate marketing should be done, presentations where the presenters drew from their own successes using this tool or that approach, I found myself taking a step back.
As agents and brokers around me furiously scribbled down each idea, presumably so they could return to their markets and arm the torpedoes so that they might replicate those successes, I considered my own journey and reconsidered my own future.
In "Rework," a book by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the authors wrote, "Copying is a formula for failure … The problem with copying is it skips understanding — and understanding is how you grow. When you copy and paste … you just repurpose the layer instead of understanding all of the layers underneath."
I have seen this happen in our business. When the local agent "copied" our custom yard signs, he was trying to build on our success. But, instead of displaying photos of the home’s interior and the backyard — images that might have given the customer some new information — his own sign included one picture of the front of the home. In other words, he skipped that part about understanding the whole point.
That’s just one example. I see many others — online examples — where agents attempt to replicate others’ success stories by being more like them, only a little better. But in manufacturing a knock-off and attempting to script success, the understanding is lost.
From "Rework," "If you’re planning to build ‘the iPod killer,’ you’re already dead. You can’t beat someone who’s making the rules. You need to redefine the rules, not just build something slightly better."
But you can’t redefine, you can’t truly create, when you dress your business plan in the concrete shoes of so much well-intended noise about how you should be doing it. No one wins in a game of Follow the Leader except the leader.
I call it Broker Unplugged. My revelation this past week was this: I need to get back to the basics — my basics. Yours will be different. I am going to start methodically unplugging the various components of my marketing strategy and, in a sense, start over.
When I was growing up, my grandmother frequently made stew, and she made it up as she went along. She would go to the pantry, grab everything within reach, and proudly exclaim, "It all tastes good by itself; it should taste even better together!" It rarely did.
At some point, I now realize, I jumped the shark. I tuned in to others at the expense of trusting my own instincts. I turned my back on the few, key ingredients that were working in my haste to add all of the other stuff from the pantry. I allowed myself to be distracted and influenced too much by the roar of the crowd.
Going forward, I am going to return to what worked for me and focus first on those things. I will continue to listen to the experts and learn, of course, but I am going to resist the temptation to turn my business plan into messy gumbo with too many flavors and an uncertain outcome.
Call it coming full circle, but I am going to take a couple of steps back to allow myself the breathing room to continue the forward march. To do that, I need to temporarily unplug.