For the past six years, my March has been filled with sparkles, sequins and smiles. Every spring, teens from all over the Bay Area come to the San Francisco Princess Project to get a free prom dress and accessory. (Check out this video about the Princess Project.)

Unfortunately, just like real estate in much of the country, prom has become unaffordable to many since the average teen spends nearly $1,000. Last year, we helped over 2,500 teens.

My experience — as a volunteer and co-president — has helped me become a better leader, mentor and person. Below are some of the lessons I’ve learned that apply to the real estate industry.

1. Be fearless

During my first year as co-president, we needed to find new space for our pop-up boutique. Finding 10,000 square feet of donated space for a month in San Francisco was challenging, and we had contacted nearly every property management company with no success.

Finally, I called Boston Properties who managed the Embarcadero Center. Not only did they give us a prime location, but they’ve become an amazing partner — promoting our organization to their tenants, organizing dress drives and even donating the janitorial and utility costs.

You don’t get to “yes” without asking the question.

In real estate, you absolutely must ask for the business. The worst thing that can happen is that someone says no — but they definitely won’t say “yes” if you don’t ask.

2. Be grateful

Someone else always has a higher hill to climb

During one of our giveaway seasons, I was facing some personal challenges and felt a bit sorry for myself until a teen came in whose mother had recently passed away.

Her chaperone was helping her apply to college, get a part-time job and find a place to live. I helped her find a great dress, and the chaperone told me it was the first time she’d seen the girl smile since her mother had died.

Being an agent is tough. You’re at the mercy of clients — and your pipeline. Deals fall through or don’t go the way you hope. The good news is that if you stay focused and keep trying, eventually things get better.

3. Be mindful

Your moment is someone else’s milestone.

One evening, we had a special needs teen come to the boutique. While we were having fun making her look fabulous, I realized that her mother was crying. She had never anticipated having that “prom dress shopping” milestone with her daughter, and it was tremendously emotional for her.

Real estate agents help people with the largest purchase of their lives. And it’s sometimes hard when you’re crazy busy and handling multiple transactions to remember and appreciate that.

Even if the clients are difficult, you get to be the person who makes it happen — and that’s one of the biggest rewards of being an agent.

4. Be joyful

Happiness yields positivity.

Every year, Job Corps brings a huge group of teens to get dresses. They give them a place to stay, food to eat, clothing, healthcare and job training. While their lives are challenging, the shopping experiences enable them to have fun and celebrate — and that’s OK.

Buying or selling a home is stressful, but it can (and should be) fun. By bringing a sense of excitement and “fun” into a transaction, you’ll have happier and more grateful clients in the long run because you helped make their experience a positive one.

5. Be passionate

Let your passion drive your legacy.

I was on the train coming home from work several months ago, when a young woman came over and said, “You’re the prom dress lady.” She had found her prom dress through the Princess Project and wanted me to know how grateful she was for our program. She also wanted to help volunteer during our next giveaway. I felt like a proud parent.

Real estate can be a passion and mission rather than simply a profession. You are the subject matter expert of your business, and people will respect you for it.

Your passion can drive your legacy — for both your team and the clients you’ve helped — you just need to channel your energy and drive to make it so.

The Princess Project promotes self-confidence and individual beauty by providing free prom dresses and accessories to high school teens who cannot otherwise afford them. Our effort is made possible entirely through invaluable volunteer, donor and community support. For more information, please visit or email

Lisa Fettner is the VP of marketing at ReferralExchange in San Francisco. Follow ReferralExchange on Facebook or Twitter.

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