I have good news and bad news.

Here’s the bad news first: When it comes to building that real estate app or website, you can’t compete with Zillow at its core competencies. For one, it has data on 110 million homes in America, including comprehensive, detail-specific information that enables your client to completely school you on the property you’re about to show. Zillow also has brilliant mobile functions and tools that make it downright addictive. One can argue that it has completely revolutionized how consumers approach buying and selling (and snooping on neighbors).

Even if you do have the big money to throw at making a multi-faceted mobile app, why copy Zillow? Chances are you didn’t get into real estate because of your amazing computer programming skills, to generate web traffic or to be everything to everyone who might be curious about what their home is worth.

Instead, why not focus on your innate strengths, flush out your unique offering, and then build a web presence that conveys all of that with laser focus? You need to find your “human factor,” the thing that sets your service above and beyond the information-dump available on an app, and then infuse it into your online footprint.

Focus on your strengths

Focusing on one’s strengths leads to much greater success than relentlessly struggling to improve weaknesses. Harvard Business Review has a great article on Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS) called “How to Play to Your Strengths.” It outlines the research that shows how focusing on positive traits leads to much higher productivity and achievement than flushing out negative ones. Basically, the article says you won’t complete more transactions just because you get better at organizing your files! Hire an assistant to help you with your weak areas and move on. Because, as the article says, “Why should a natural third baseman labor to develop his skills as a right fielder?”

Flush out your unique offering

A great way to hone in on your strengths is to utilize Jim Collins’ “hedgehog concept.”  (You may have heard of his book Good to Great.) 

Your mission is to find the intersection of your passion, your skill and your profit. I will use my own thought process as demonstration.

Passion: My passion is being of service. Lighting up someone’s day just makes me tick – it’s the best feeling in the world! Do you know what your passion is? Sometimes it’s hard to identify, but it’s in there somewhere!

Skill: What can you be the best in the world at? I can be the best in the world at making the real estate transaction an approachable process. In my former life, I was a kindergarten teacher, so I excel at patiently breaking down an insurmountable task (like learning to read) into manageable and fun bites. I also studied improv comedy for years, so I can listen and respond in the moment with playfulness. Today, I can be the best in the world at helping people make huge life decisions with ease and grace.

Profit: Collins refers to this as your economic driver: How does your business break down as “dollars per x”? For me, people are my economic driver. When I was a rental agent in Manhattan, my manager joked that she could always pick out my clients in the lobby: 26- to 35-year-old professional, glamorous women and guys in baseball hats. 

Who do you naturally attract? It might change and develop as you mature in your practice. For example, my clients have naturally shifted from the “first apartment out of college” kids to the “buying my first city condo” and “outgrowing my first city condo” young(ish) adults. Yours might be a specific architectural type of home or luxury penthouse; the key is to figure out your economic driver.

Now, put this all together to articulate your unique offering. I brainstormed with a few of my past clients and family members to make sure what I was thinking resonated with the rest of the world, and I knew it was a hit when the words “refreshing” and “genuine” came back. Using this positive feedback, I came up with the tagline, “A fresh and friendly approach to real estate.”

Take it to the web

The key to all this planning is to develop a web presence that delivers your message in an elegant manner. Here are a few suggestions for places to start:

Bio: Does your bio reflect who you are as an agent, who you like to work with, and what it’s like to work with you? Or does it induce a snooze? I just reworked my bio to make sure it reflected my unique offering and delivered my message of being a  “fresh and friendly” agent. Be sure to update all your profiles – your website, company website(s), Zillow, Trulia, realtor.com, Facebook (personal and professional), LinkedIn, Google+. And update your catchy tag lines on Instagram and Twitter, too!

Headshot: Keep your ego in check and update the old headshot. Yes, my picture from 2008 was downright adorable … I was 26! Make sure the picture shows you in an authentic light. If you’re a serious analytical agent who works with numbers-focused investors, make sure your pic doesn’t present a cheesy, fake smile. And don’t be afraid to re-shoot if you didn’t get the result you wanted. I did one photo shoot that made me look too stilted and professional, so I re-shot with another photographer the very next day, and she was able to capture the friendly, vibrant image I was seeking.

Blog: Here’s where you can really let your personal brand shine! What are you seeing in your day-to-day life? What problems are your clients running into? Your real-life thoughts and experience will resonate with exactly the people you want to work with. Sure, they might go back to Zillow for their pre-market listings and whatnot, but Zillow just can’t deliver these human qualities.

Website: If I’m going to be a “fresh and friendly” agent, then my site had better reflect that. I just dumped my pricey site with all sorts of fancy search options and intricate design for an easy, breezy Placester site. I’m a downtown Boston agent, so I only include listings in downtown Boston. I picked a design that features great images and a simple layout. Next up is to generate consistent blog content that focuses on making real estate fun and manageable.

Testimonials: Get them! Bribe your past clients with Starbucks or cupcakes or whatever it takes, because real user reviews demonstrating what it’s like to work with you are worth their weight in gold. Ask them to post via Zillow, and then you can upload to your website, Trulia and Realtor.com. Trulia sends them a confirmation email and it magically appears, while Realtor.com just lets you post it. 

Social posts: These days, you are what you post. (And if you’re not posting, are you even relevant?)  Are you sharing interesting real estate and market content consistently? Sure, you don’t want to beat your followers over the head with “SELL YOUR HOME NOW!” messages, but make sure you’re known for your unique offering. I’m all about a fresh and friendly approach to real estate, so I’m all over KCM [Keeping Current Matters] content and infographics. That said, I make sure I’m careful of my tone and content. Nobody wants to work with someone who complains all the time or shares too many Buzzfeed quiz results.

And that’s it! Taking these steps to find and implement your ‘human factor’ will help you outsmart the competition by offering your clients something exclusive – yourself, a human being with actual passion, skill and talent. Take that, technology!

Jacquelyn Leahy is an upbeat and dedicated Realtor with experience in the Manhattan and Boston markets. She’s known for her fresh, friendly approach and ability to help her clients navigate pivotal decision making.

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