Tools to Go Solo
CCIMs share the technology they use to grow their companies.
After working in commercial real
estate for 13 years, Chad Grout, CCIM, principal broker at Urban Grout
Commercial Real Estate, in Nashville, Tenn., started his own business in 2011.
He was driven not only by the challenge and opportunity of being a principal
broker, but also by the potential to grow his business using technology. “I was
at a firm that was in the dark ages as far as connectivity and interactivity
were concerned,” Grout explains. “I wanted a platform that would enable me to
communicate my brand.”
that entrepreneurial spirit sounds familiar, it’s because 27 percent of CCIM
members identify themselves as owners, partners, or principals. Like entrepreneurs
in other industries, they are not only CEOs but also CMOs, COOs, and CFOs. For
Grout and others, technology lowers the barriers to entrepreneurship and helps
them to balance the various roles.
File Sharing and Project Management
only take one person to start a business, but making it successful involves a
team. Email, especially Microsoft Outlook, remains an important tool for
directing team activities, sharing files, and managing projects. But cluttered
inboxes have caused commercial real estate professionals to explore other
team uses Basecamp, a Web-based project management and collaboration tool.
Starting at $20 per month, Basecamp gives users permission-based project
access, the ability to assign tasks, file-storage space, and mobile access via
an iPhone app.
we get an assignment, we start a Basecamp project and invite all stakeholders
to participate in our process so they never have to ask what’s going on,” Grout
says. “It’s also useful for contract management and tracking due diligence
milestones. Buyers and sellers participating in the process always have access
to contract documents, due diligence materials, and outstanding items for
file attachments is another common problem when collaborating via email.
Assuming the message with the attachment is found, users have to verify that
it’s the latest version. File size limitations may also prevent the email from
reaching its intended recipient. And when it arrives, it takes up storage
and its competitors (see sidebar) address these problems by allowing users to
share files on the cloud and organize them in topic-based folders rather than
by email delivery date or sender. File owners can share single files or folders
of files, give read or write permissions to a team or individual, and email
links to individual files. Collaborators can view shared files online or
Collaborating Over Video
Wimberly, CCIM, managing director of Noble Crest Property Group/KW Commercial
in Arlington, Texas, joined KW Commercial three years ago, he was the only
person in his office. He saw an opportunity to grow not only his office but
also KW Commercial’s regional presence. “We now have six people in my office,
and by the end of the year we should be at 10,” Wimberly says.
of those 10 will be a Philippines-based virtual assistant, whose main job will
be to manage listings and create property packages. While offshoring is nothing
new, free or low-cost tech tools make it accessible to small businesses. “We’ll
communicate via Skype and work over instant messaging,” Wimberly says.
selected the assistant from MyOutDesk, which specializes in placing virtual
assistants in real estate firms. Hourly rates range from $7.60 to $8.60 per
hour, and more-complex work is billed at $1,536 per month. To find a good fit,
Wimberly identified skills and tasks and used a personality profile to narrow
down the list of candidates.
small and solo business owners save money and travel time using Skype for video
meetings. But the Microsoft-owned Skype is facing a challenge from Google,
whose Google+ social media platform includes Hangouts, a video chat feature.
Celebrities, businesses, and government officials have used the feature to
publicly communicate with their fans and constituents. But teams can also
conduct invite-only Hangouts.
participants can share their desktop and collaborate on files stored in Google
Drive, a cloud-based competitor to Microsoft Office. “I am examining how to
fully utilize Hangouts for a meeting area,” says Burt Polson, CCIM, commercial
real estate adviser at Strong & Hayden Commercial Real Estate in Napa,
Calif. “It is a great feature that is just waiting for us to embrace it.”
A Marketing Department of One
near Silicon Valley, Polson is no stranger to technology. He started his career
as a tech engineer, owned an electronics business, and moved into commercial
real estate in 1995. His office is still small, but business is growing.
attributes the growth to economic factors. “I am getting considerable interest
from investors in syndications. High-net-worth individuals had substantial cash
on the sidelines and are now looking for quality investments,” he says. The
fact that he spends about 30 percent of each day on marketing might have
something to do with that growth too.
blog and website are a great means of grabbing a prospect’s attention,” Polson
says. He uses HootSuite, a social media dashboard, to share his blog posts on Twitter,
LinkedIn, and Facebook. His content marketing strategy extends to CCIM
MailBridge, where he shares his blog posts through CCIM Institute’s
members-only email distribution list.
also sends a monthly email to prospects using MailChimp, an email marketing
service, which integrates with his customer relationship management system.
Grout uses Emma, a MailChimp competitor, for his email marketing. Pricing for
both services is based on the number of addresses on the distribution list.
the return on investment in digital marketing is an elusive goal for Polson, as
it is for large corporations, but he isn’t too concerned. He says his blog and
social media marketing supplement traditional marketing efforts. “As I market
myself through other means, especially in-person contact, my online presence is
used to provide additional information on who I am, how I work, and my major
presence in the market,” Polson says.
Closing the Sales Cycle
feature sheet of most customer relationship management systems reads like a job
description for an administrative assistant, marketing coordinator, and an
operations administrator. The ability to outsource various job functions to a
piece of software is what makes a CRM system so important to independent commercial
real estate professionals.
estimates that about a quarter of his time is spent on client relationship
development, and much of that time is spent using REA9, his CRM system. He uses
it to communicate with his team, contact prospective clients, and follow up
with existing clients. By having all his contacts in one place, he’s able to
automate processes and remember important action items. “I get a reminder of
who I need to follow up with that day,” Wimberly says. “And I log the
was an important feature for Polson when he selected his CRM, Solve360. The
cloud-based system connects to Google Apps, which Polson uses to manage
contacts, documents, and email. By integrating the two systems, his client
interactions, including phone calls and text messages, are automatically logged
in the CRM.
can track all communication for a particular listing in my CRM and give clients
access to specific data so they can view my progress in real-time,” Polson
Data in the Cloud
cloud-based systems, business owners don’t have to worry about application
hosting, troubleshooting, and development. And with a data connection, they can
access business information anywhere.
constant access to all of your prospects, customers, and deals at all times and
communicating with them as effectively and efficiently as technology will allow
is the key to increasing your productivity,” Grout says.
growth of cloud-based applications has coincided with the evolution in mobile
hardware. Smartphones and tablets allow users to connect to project management,
file sharing, and CRM systems away from the office. “I use an iPhone, iPad, and
laptop, but the iPad has been an extension of my life,” Wimberly says. “I use
it every single day to access apps like UPAD, Dropbox, and Evernote.”
hardware and application preferences vary, but commercial real estate
professionals who use these tools have the same goal: Provide outstanding
client service. “The more customer relationships you can create and manage with
less time and effort, the more deals you will close more quickly,” Grout says.
Dennis LaMantia is
interactive marketing manager at CCIM Institute.