As we’ve touched on many times in these articles, it’s imperative for a small business owner to stay current on the constantly changing landscape of their industry. Continuously educating yourself is almost a requirement if you’re to have a chance to remain relevant in your niche. Being part of the digital age has certainly made it easier for us to keep ourselves educated, as almost anything we want to know is available at our fingertips. It’s up to us to make sure that we’re putting that knowledge to good use.
As a source of education, I enjoy the world of podcasting more than almost any other medium. It’s (mostly) free, it’s easily accessible, and unlike reading, can be enjoyed while engaged in other activities, like driving or exercising. The amount of information available through podcasting is almost endless. We can listen to topics as wide-ranging as we can imagine, with plenty of options to choose from that focus directly on our industry.
While it’s certainly worthwhile to listen to podcast devoted directly to our careers, it can be just as instructive to listen to other types of content, as a varied education is always a good way to increase our overall knowledge. We never know when we may come across something totally unrelated to our business that can influence us in unexpected ways.
This morning I was listening to a podcast about the book publishing industry, and how, in an effort to keep up with its digital competitors (i.e., Amazon) it’s been shifting toward consolidation of the larger publishing houses. The host was talking about how book publishers marketed their products. Obviously, publishers need to market their products (books) in order to sell enough of their products to stay in business.
Initially, the publishers thought that marketing their books to the consumer would be a great idea. After all, the consumer was the one who’d be buying and reading their books. It only made sense that the publishers would be targeting buyers through their marketing efforts. This approach worked, as showing the consumer exactly what they’re getting for their money is always a good idea.
Eventually, some marketing guy, locked up in the back room of a giant publishing company, had an idea that would forever revolutionize the way that books were sold. Instead of focusing their marketing efforts on the individual end user (the book buyer), why not focus their efforts on the intermediary between the publishing company and the buyer: the book seller?
What probably seemed like a hair-brained scheme back then is now standard operating procedure in publishing industry. Book buyers are likely to only purchase a single copy of the publisher’s book, while the book seller is the one who’s going to be responsible for the sale of hundreds (or thousands) of books. The book seller is the one who brings buyers together in one location, markets the books by strategic placement in the store and is ultimately responsible for getting the buyer to make that purchase.
The publishers eventually figured out that the person (in this case, the store) with access to the customer is many times more valuable than the individual customer.
If you want to sell something, go to where the buyers are.
While this may seem like common sense, all too often, small business owners neglect this concept. Too many times, we ignore the facts right in front of our face. We become so enamored with our “brilliant” marketing ideas that we ignore our common sense. We buy into the belief that we’re marketing geniuses and think that just because we’ve come up with a new foolproof marketing scheme, our business will blow up overnight.
Never let your education get in the way of your common sense.Cal Grevemberg, retired LA home inspector
What we, as professional home inspectors, often fail to realize is that there’s a middleman right in front of us, just waiting to tell customers all about our wonderful product. Just like that book seller, who has access to all the book buyers, our local real estate agent knows exactly who’s buying a house and when they’re going to need a home inspection. In most states, they’re even responsible for recommending service providers (like home inspectors) to their home buying clients.
Amazingly, there are a certain faction of home inspectors that hate real estate agents and wouldn’t associate with them to save their lives. They believe that real estate agents are constantly working against inspectors, seeking to undermine their expertise and contradict their every recommendation. They consider the agents to be an adversary and would never consider marketing their inspection business to a real estate office.
In reality, there’s no shortage of real estate agents that operate exactly like this, doing everything in their power to push a sale to the closing table, regardless of the problems discovered during the inspection. And yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to consider these types of agents as adversaries, as they’re not looking out for the best interest of their/your clients. These types of agents are a problem waiting to happen and will undoubtedly roll the home inspector (and everyone else) under the bus as soon as they get the chance.
I can certainly empathize with this mindset, as I clearly recall starting out in the inspection business and being overwhelmed by the amount of dishonest and underhanded real estate agents that I had to deal with on a daily basis. It seemed like every time I walked up to another home inspection, the agent sitting there waiting for me was trying to outdo the previous client’s agent in a race to the bottom of the ethical standings.
What’s an inspector to do if every agent they encounter fits this mold? Does this mean that every real estate agent is a snake in the grass, concerned with nothing but a commission check at the closing table? Or is it possible that there’s something else at work here? Could there be something that’s being done by the inspector that’s drawing this type of real estate agent to them, like flies to shit?
Whether we believe it or not, or whether we want to believe it or not, the quality of our clientele is determined by the quality of our product.
When we produce a top-quality product, we tend to attract top quality customers. If we’re doing a thorough inspection and providing our buyers with a high-quality report, the odds are that low-quality real estate agents aren’t going to want to have anything to do with us and our company.
Just like the fact that there’s not too many people wearing flip-flops, cut off jeans and a wife-beater t-shirt walking around in white tablecloth restaurants, underhanded real estate agents aren’t going to want to do business with high quality, professional home inspectors.
The question then becomes, if our business is consistently attracting customers and real estate agents of questionable ethics, where does the problem lie? Is it because everyone in our service area is a self-serving piece of crap, or is there something else that’s causing us to attract the dregs of the real estate industry?
All too often in our lives (business and personal), we’re the source of most of our difficulties. We need to step back and take a look at our situation from an objective point of view; to stop and think about the problems that we’re experiencing in our life. Can we identify the things that are causing most of our difficulties?
If we can’t identify an outside influence causing our troubles, maybe we need look no further than our bathroom mirror to find the source of most of our problems.
In a quote attributed to motivational speaker Jim Rohn, we’re told that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” meaning that the way we act is heavily shaped by the influence of our most intimate circle. This holds true for our personal as well as business lives.
If we’re consistently working with real estate agents that we wouldn’t trust to watch our dog while we went to the grocery store, that toxic influence is bound to rub off on us. We can’t help but stoop to their level, providing a product that will keep those bottom-of-the-barrel agents happy. And producing a crappy inspection product is sure to attract even more crappy agents looking for crappy inspections. It’s a never-ending cycle.
If we want to level up the quality of our associations, we need to start by leveling up the quality of our own product.
When I first started out in the inspection business, I was obviously providing an inferior inspection report to my clients. I was a rookie, and had no earthly idea what I was doing, just like every other newbie in the business. Of course, I was going to attract the dregs of the real estate industry; no quality real estate agent in their right mind would recommend an inexperienced inspector to their valuable home buyers.
I was stuck with the bad agents, and it was up to me to figure a way out of that predicament. It was easy to see that those agents were bad news. I knew that if I didn’t quickly do something to change the quality of agents I was dealing with, I would be out of business in short order, having been sued so many times I would be uninsurable.
The quickest way out of my predicament was to increase the quality of my product: my home inspection, my process, my persona and my report. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t cheap, and it didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen. Eventually, the bad agents fell by the wayside, replaced by quality Realtors who cared more about their clients’ wellbeing than about their own pocketbooks.
It’s up to us to decide how our business is going to look. Are we going to be satisfied with working for the dregs of the industry, looking out only for our bank account and not giving a damn about our reputation? Or are we going to focus on becoming a professional home inspector, providing our clients with the best quality product we can and relying on those satisfied customers (and their agents) to help grow a business that we can be proud of? The choice is ours to make. Only we know which one is right for us.
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