Midwest Realtor Turns To ?Digital? For One Million Mark

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How accepting constant change and collaboration yields powerful ROI


Those in the marketing field are no strangers to small business syndrome. Whether a freelance professional or fledgling agency, countless hours have been spent courting, planning, and proposing a solid plan to that meets the organization's growth goals only to be told an office secretary or company friend would be ?doing digital? on their behalf. As is the reality of our field- Marketing will always be the hardest expense for business owners to justify


With the abundance of free tools, reporting software, and metrics available for anyone with an internet connection, business owners are often misled that marketing can be done during the spare fifteen minutes before a conference call, despite the overwhelming evidence that says otherwise. Truthfully, a ?jack of all trade, master of none? mentality won?t gain market share, revenue, or reputation, which is why in many cases it pays to outsource for extra help. 


Take for example Midwest real estate provider Sarah Bernard Realty. Owned by namesake Sarah Bernard, this local business exploration into the world of outsourced marketing has taken a one-woman shop into a regional commodity with net sales approaching nearly one million dollars. The Midwest Digital Marketing Conference recently chatted with Sarah Bernard on how small decisions quickly snowballed into sales success. Check out our recap below.



The Common Dream: 


Like many people, Sarah started her vision small. Fresh out of school with her Executive MBA and years of corporate experience, she found herself wanting to build her own vision not only for a career but to help and inspire others about the beauty of living within their dream surroundings. What started as a side hustle in 2008 running a vacation rental business ended up becoming a fully-fledged real estate boutique in 2014. ?We've always specialized in vacation homes since that is how we started but now 75% of our business is NOT vacation homes. We've expanded to include the entire metropolitan area in St. Louis and also help our clients with their vacation homes sales and purchases across the country.? 



The End Goal: 


Like any business owner, Sarah wants to streamline operations to ensure her clientele remains thrilled, without sacrificing business to do so. ?Our goal is to continue to expand both the real estate and vacation rental businesses. Our vacation rental business has expanded to include management of several properties. In 2019 we hope to break $1,000,000 in revenue on the real estate side with home sales exceeding $30 million. On the vacation rental side, we are looking to add five to ten more management contracts this year; we're expanding our staff, and expect revenue in the mid-six figures. The end goal? Continue to bridge both businesses so they seamlessly operate side by side and share a loyal client base. We will continue to expand each year with my personal goal being to maximize the income potential of each person who works on my business.?



Bridging the Gap through Marketing: 


Navigating a new real estate business within a crowded market opened Sarah?s eyes to realizing what all small business owners eventually face- She couldn't do it alone. ?Real estate is really a people business -- much more about generating leads than selling houses. Once we have a person's trust it is our goal to be their "real estate agent for life." Same with the vacation rental business -- we feel that if a person gets to know me and my team personally, they will trust us and feel like they are renting a vacation home from a friend. You can?t purchase relationships?. 


What Sarah Bernard Realty needed was a way to balance and organize the copious amount of prospects they had, regardless of stature or size. ?We have always kept a database as our vacation rental business has had hundreds of guests and just needed the database to keep it all organized. We started with an Excel spreadsheet but our database now numbers in the many thousands. We've migrated through different tools and sophistication as the business required?. 


As business began to grow and time increasingly became an issue, Sarah was forced with a decision: In house or agency? ?From the beginning, marketing has been a huge focus for us. The question simply became, how can we maintain that focus without sacrificing everything else?? 



sbTrusting the Experts: 


Outsourcing is never an easy task. Ultimately, Sarah and her team realized it was better to trust those who were qualified, while actively learning and leveraging the tactics. 


?We know that our time is best served with our clients, not strategizing our social media posts. This doesn't diminish the importance at all -- it's really the opposite as we like to have everyone working on our business to focus where their strengths lie. We know we can't do it all.?


Hiring an agency or freelance partner doesn't mean those in the organization can become passive. A successful marketing relationship is one of communication, trial and error, and careful coordination. ?It?s really important to us that the agency understands our business. Also, real estate changes daily so we must stay in constant communication. We like creative thinking, the latest knowledge, critical evaluation and an ability to make quick changes if what we are doing isn't working. Sarah also consistently checks performance metrics to ensure the cost of outsourcing and ROI does not become unbalanced. It's a team effort and just because we have a plan doesn't mean we don't think it needs to be scrutinized constantly. Our vendor partners are our potential client base so it's really helpful to have that outside perspective.? 



Proper Execution:


The business has put its efforts toward a few social media channels, rather than sacrificing quality or quantity. ?We could not survive as a business without our social media presence. We post on Facebook (Business and Personal pages) and on Instagram. We are making a concerted effort to be more active on LinkedIn with a business page this year, considering their current renaissance. Our goal always is to capture email addresses so we can get people on our drip marketing campaigns. We have used drip email marketing for many years and added targeted SEO. Basically, we review and use tools that will bring us success while avoiding unnecessary noise (And copy tools that some larger businesses utilize- aim high!). 


Everyone is busy. Regardless of how many calendar colors you apply to Google or Outlook, there will come times where you are on a conference call while walking into a meeting. Sarah Bernard Realty takes a simple approach to avoid content gaps- start early! ?We work with our video team with monthly strategy sessions to develop scripts and content; we have a monthly studio shoot during which we produce all of the videos for the month ahead. We also meet monthly to review stats to make sure we are achieving what we set out to do. It becomes a habit after a while?. 


Social media tactics are a game of trial and error. A defense contractor won?t have a holiday sale just as real estate won?t scan smartphones for coupons. By posting several times a week and maintaining consistency, Sarah Bernard Realty slowly began growing their digital presence. ?We work with our social media and a video team to ensure content is up to par. We continually look to improve by bringing more of ourselves and our personalities to our content. We meet by phone or video conference weekly. We have another team that works on SEO and linking visitors to our websites to our email marketing campaign. It?s a full operation and we love outside ideas?. 



Nothing Is Constant: 


Staying fluid keeps Sarah Bernard Reality on their toes, if not a bit anxious. For example, after investing heavily in video throughout the last two years, they recently decided to scale back. ?We usually post 3 videos per month. We were posting videos more frequently but felt it was too often. We?re still evaluating the future tempo of those?. More specifically, the type of video audiences have been warming up too has shifted. Sarah plans to shift into more personal marketing as consumers become saturated with bulk messaging. ?Custom video messages to new clients - this is hugely on our radar for 2019 using Bonjoro or similar tools. The cost to engagement advantage is unreal?. 


The constant tweaking and refining have worked, with message volumes increasing by over 233% in the past year alone, while total engagements soared to an increase of over 5000% since collaborating with outside partners. 


Can a business truly master digital marketing? Are marketing and digital even two separate words anymore? The answers may not be definitive, but putting your business first is universal. ?I am always so pleased to get positive feedback, yet I feel like we are just barely making a dent in the potential and possibilities. As a small business, we have to rely on experts who spend their days immersed in this type of marketing, allowing us to focus on the core of our business which is helping buyers, sellers, and vacation renters. With continued collaboration, we are looking forward to continuing to expand our digital footprint in 2019- Our business is dependent on it!?. 




*Sarah Bernard Realty is a proud party sponsor of the 2019 Midwest Digital Marketing Conference.