What do you do when you’re looking for a new job opportunity? Besides checking the job boards for postings, you often reach out to your network to see if anyone is looking to hire. It’s one of the things the career center at any university will tell you — network, network, network. Your fellow alums, former bosses and friends of friends will be more willing to offer a position if a mutual contact recommends you and vouches for your skills.
The idea of having a network to share information and use as a resource is important as a real estate agent. Not just for finding clients in the near term, but also developing a group of trusted service providers who ultimately can fuel business growth. According to NAR, referrals account for more than 21 percent of all real estate activity.
Here are four ways to build your network and make it a competitive differentiator, especially if you’re just starting out.
1. Ask your peers for recommendations.
Who are the first people you ask when you need a referral for a doctor, a hair salon or a dry cleaner? Your friends. When it comes to building a professional network, the process shouldn’t be any different. Start by asking your friends and fellow agents who they recommend.
Being able to share your digital Rolodex is helpful when you’re dealing with the most important service providers during the home buying and selling process: inspectors, mortgage lenders, title companies and attorneys. These people are handling very sensitive parts of the transaction and can make or break your deal and impact your clients’ experience either negatively or positively. That’s why it’s crucial to work with people you and your colleagues trust.
Let’s say you’re looking for a lender who specializes in working with military veterans and their families. Or maybe you have a client with a lower-than-required credit score due to a sticky personal situation with high medical bills. Having the “right” lender who has the appropriate products and a proven track record of success can be the difference between homeownership or not. Ask your fellow agents: Who do you know who specializes in this? Chances are they know someone, or know someone who does, who can help.
2. Get involved in the local community.
If you’re preconnected in a community, say for example in the area where you grew up, you might already know the best local professionals and service providers. But in most circumstances, it takes a significant amount of time to build a solid network. When you’re just starting out, and you’re not working with a lot of people, the process frequently takes even longer.
One way to accelerate the process is to attend networking events. Some great options are to join the Young Professionals Network, which is built specifically for young, innovative real estate agents. Or check out Meetup.com for relevant, niche groups in your area. Maybe join the young professionals groups at your local religious organizations, or volunteer to serve on the board of an organization in town that fits one of your passions.
But, if you’re going to make a commitment to one of these groups, it’s important to follow through because often your connections are building their networks on trust, as well. Attend the meetings or social events, be personable and helpful, and volunteer the knowledge you have when it comes to real estate, so colleagues will see you as an expert. These things will help you meet potential clients as well as potential service providers, both integral parts of your network.
3. Find uniquely qualified service providers.
Many first-time buyers are in unique situations. Maybe they have little to no credit history, or they’re only able to afford a home that needs significant rehabbing. It’s at these times when having an established network is extremely valuable. You need to be the central source of information for these new buyers. If you’re able to find uniquely qualified service providers who can contribute to a delightful experience, they’ll likely come back as a repeat buyer and tell their friends, too.
Unfortunately, success in this arena sometimes comes down to trial and error. Do you ever get that bad feeling in the pit of your stomach after working with someone for the first time? There’s just something that seems off to you.
Often, it’s best to go with your gut. In Entrepreneur, I recently read an article that talked about the importance of listening to your intuition in business — those feelings you get in the pit of your stomach, both good (butterflies) and bad (doubt).
Some of the most successful people including Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Donald Trump all said they tapped into their intuitive sixth sense, which helped them make important business decisions. Use your instincts, and be willing to give people a shot, and if they don’t meet your expectations, simply remove them from your network.
4. Practice the law of reciprocity.
Once you trust a handful of mortgage brokers, inspectors, moving companies, etc., to provide an exceptional experience for your clients, share their names, and just as importantly, encourage them to share yours. When I was previously running a high-producing team, we could attribute upward of 5 percent of our business to our service-provider network.
Just as it takes time for you to trust a local professional enough to recommend them, it takes time for service providers to trust you. Building that trust can happen much like you build trust in a personal relationship. Make sure you’re honest and up-front through every transaction. Do what you say you’ll do, and be where you say you’ll be. Make working with you easy. That’s as simple as being nice, being available and being clear in your expectations and communication. Reciprocation in referrals won’t happen overnight, but it will happen over time.
Building up a network of trusted partners makes the real estate process easier and effects the entire experience for your clients, your trusted partners and you.
A woman whom I admire, Maya Angelou, said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Think about that as you build your network, and strive to make people feel good about the entire real estate experience. From what I have learned and seen throughout my career, a strong trust-based network typically gets rewarded in the form of referrals and repeat happy customers, and ultimately, sustainable business success.
Joelle Senter is the vice president of marketing development at dotloop.