- Building a business exclusively around real estate referrals is possible if you focus on marketing and connecting.
- Marguerite Giguere created a website celebrating her city, a podcast interviewing local celebrities and tackling local issues, and is establishing herself as Tacoma's real estate "matchmaker."
- By understanding the agents' skills and bandwidth -- and the client's expectations -- Giguere can connect the right agent to the right client and reap the referral reward.
DENVER –“I don’t talk about real estate very much at all, but I do generate a lot of business from the internet,” Marguerite Giguere said today at the Real Estate Webmasters Summit. How?
The Windermere agent and active blogger and podcaster discussed how she uses her website to both educate visitors and generate business.
“We need to reinvent the wheel,” she urged. “You need a different wheel for your motorcycle than for your Ferrari and than you need for your wagon.”
Giguere’s business model is currently focused more on referring clients to the right agent instead of helping them out herself — but that’s the point. She’s used her marketing campaigns to generate enough referrals that she can focus on the marketing more than sales.
“In the beginning I was a normal agent, mostly getting my clients through sphere and postcards,” she explained.
Then after discovering in the mid-2000s that real estate agents were finding clients through blogging, she decided to jump in with both feet and launched GetRealTacoma.com. “It didn’t occur to me that you could talk about real estate on the internet and have people reach out to you,” she said.
Then in 2013, she started doing video with Anne Jones, her “work wife.”
“Meeting her put a whole new fire into the creative aspect of my business,” she explained. “The way we started with video was different. People would sit down at their laptop and say ‘I would like to tell you about our market statistics,’ and we didn’t want to be awkward like that.”
Instead, they tackled controversial topics or explained gnarly transaction details to consumers who were interested in learning more about how the process works.
They started with a video on client agency and their personal policy to never double-end — represent both the buyer and the seller — a transaction deal .
“We shared this on our Facebook, and all of our clients were like ‘What?! Realtors do that?!’ And then the Realtors came into the comments and said, ‘you can double-end deals, it’s not that bad.'” The video was a success in terms of attracting attention from both potential clients and colleagues.
Future videos informed buyers and sellers of the basics, including the fundamentals of a foreclosure, what happens during the inspection process and more.
“These videos are long; they break all the rules,” she said. “We get views on them anyway because once someone needs to know this information, they take a deep dive.”
The videos marked a “shift” in how clients began using her services, Giguere explained. “The shift in the way we started attracting business at this point was huge, because what started happening was clients showed up to meet us.”
Those clients had self-selected as consumers who knew, liked and trusted Giguere already. “Most importantly, they were fully indoctrinated in our philosophy of doing business,” she added. “When we told them that appraisals were a problem and coming in low and here’s how to handle them, they already knew that.”
So she was reaching more people through the videos — and the ones who watched the videos and decided to reach out were self-filtering as ideal clients.
Building the ultimate local website
The next step was a website she built to make Tacoma seem like an ideal place to live — MoveToTacoma.com.
The idea, she said, was to “put the beautiful parts of Tacoma on display so when people find out they’re being relocated here, they have something to rally around and be proud of.”
She wanted better neighborhood guides and a deep dive into micro-neighborhoods. So she launched MoveToTacoma.com with no calls to action on the pages, just a footer that identifies who she is and what she does.
“When the website launched, I got a bunch of phone calls from Realtors first of all saying that I was out of compliance, and they also said ‘It’s not going to work, you’re just talking about the neighborhoods and you’re not explaining what you do,'” she said.
But the point was to create something valuable.
Giguere also started a “Move To Tacoma” podcast, where she invited several people with local cachet to participate: the mayor, a successful restaurateur and more, who discussed everything from commute hacks to how to build a successful eatery.
“I had a lucky break right at the beginning,” she recalled: A Seattle television reporter reached out to talk about people from Seattle moving to Tacoma for the cheaper real estate prices and featured the podcast and website in a three-minute clip on the news.
“This was a very powerful experience,” Giguere noted. “Creating good content — even if it didn’t talk about what a great agent I am — led to the most powerful marketing of all: press.”
You can’t pay the news to talk about your website and business launch, she added. “You have to talk about something interesting for them to be interested.”
From sales to referrals
“With all of the blogging and podcasting and marketing, when do I really sell houses?” Giguere asked rhetorically.
“The answer is, I really don’t anymore. I’ve worked to get out of transacting.”
She noted that many real estate agents shape their business models around their superpowers or whatever they were doing before they entered real estate. “All of us bring in our superpower and mold this job to be what we need it,” she said.
“My superpower is getting attention and making connections,” she added.
So that’s why she’s become the “real estate matchmaker” in her area. She takes a 25-percent referral fee and has determined that four closed referrals equal one closed deal. She has also figured out how many referrals she needs to make every year in order to meet her income goals (110 closed referrals plus no more than 5 transactions that she oversees personally, in case you were curious).
Giguere has an assistant who’s an employee. She tracks referrals, sends gifts and manages event logistics for Giguere’s speaking and networking opportunities.
She also hired a podcast producer and a freelancer, who helps her record and edit podcasts and is also involved with her monthly newsletter.
A freelance copywriter crafts Giguere’s blog and posts to Facebook and Instagram.
How do you give a client away?
“I came out of the closet as a matchmaker,” is how Giguere puts it. “If you tell your clients what you’re doing, it turns out most of the time — unless what you’re doing is real sketchy — they’re going to be into it.”
Giguere’s clients know that she knows everybody and she’s a connector — so they are OK with being passed along to a qualified agent. She also created what she calls a “propaganda piece” that explains who she is and what she does.
“Instead of using a business card, this is what I do,” she explained.
The key is connecting the client to the best agent for that client, she added.
“The best agent is not always with the particular brand I’ve affiliated myself with,” she said. “So how do you choose which agent inside or outside your office to refer to?”
It’s part of Giguere’s job to understand the strengths and weaknesses of any agents she’s referring business to — and sometimes that’s not easy.
“I have discovered that agents do not always see themselves clearly,” she explained. “If you ask a real estate agent what they do best, they say they do everything best.” So she suggested asking agents about their favorite or least favorite clients to help understand which matches would be beneficial for both agent and client.
Posting on Facebook to find a local connection is a bad idea, she said. You need to actually know and understand the agent who’ll be taking over the client.
And talk to the client about their expectations, she suggested. “Sometimes that does involve telling them that the transaction they’re looking for is difficult,” she said. If that’s the case, she’ll tell the client, “you’re probably going to have to write a zillion offers before you find that property.”
She also said that it’s the responsibility of the referrer to put your client’s interests ahead of your close rate — and to stay in touch and be available to clients and agents alike.
“I say to the agents: ‘I don’t want you to kill yourselves working with jerks. I want you to love my referrals.’
“Tell me if there’s a problem and I can help,” she added. “It’s not like I want a bigger referral fee; I want the deal to close.”
However, she said, there is a limit. “There’s a reason I’m not transacting and that’s because this shit gives me a nervous breakdown,” she explained. “Save your drama for your therapist.”
Gigeure’s assistant logs her referrals in a spreadsheet. Most of them come in via email or text, so Giguere will cc her assistant on email leads or take screenshots of text leads and send them to her.
Then it’s the assistant’s job to check in with the agent shortly after referral and follow up with the agent every two weeks or so. She also sends Giguere regular reports so the real estate matchmaker understands what’s happening with all her leads.
Once the sale has closed, the client goes into a database so that Giguere can continue to follow up with the client. She sends a gift box with “Tacoma Loves You” swag because she wants to stay top-of-mind with those clients even though she wasn’t the agent on the transaction. “I want them in the habit of reaching out to me because I know the best Realtors everywhere.”
She makes sure to take care of the agents she’s referring to — the referees — too. She hosts lunch-and-learns for her referees with marketing tips and tricks, and she also invites them to one-on-one happy hour and coffee dates.
“This is good because, first of all, it shows that you appreciate people and, second of all, it tells me what’s going on in their life,” she explained. “It’s very important that you understand what their bandwidth is.”
And she’s continuing to think of new ways to reach new potential clients. She’s beefed up the podcast with more political news and has started hosting an “Adult Civics Happy Hour” that covers such topics as how to get laws passed in Tacoma.
“The demand has far exceeded any bar we’ve had it in,” she said.
“GetRealTacoma’s been languishing there without a lot of love,” Giguere admitted. Her plan is to revamp that website and turn it into a more traditional content marketing/lead generation attempt. She’ll post real estate-related content and use traditional calls to action, and then compare that to what she’s doing with her other outlets.
“I’m hoping next year I can come back and tell you what’s the difference,” she told the audience.