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By Joe Cooke

RISMEDIA, Dec. 24, 2007- Whether you are an eternal optimist or a card-carrying pessimist, and whether you’ve been in the business for six months or six years, you will hit a slump. You’ll work until you’re burned out. You or someone you love will get sick and you will have to ignore your business for a while. Or, like many agents right now, you may be facing a depressed market and increased competition.

Two things can happen to you when you are in a slump:
1. You lose your focus
2. You lose your gumption.

Gumption is your ability to overcome the three biggest obstacles in your business: negative attitude; taking things personally; and procrastination. But even if you have the gumption to take action, if you don’t know what action to take, you may end up spinning your wheels.

Digging out of a Slump – Action Items

Tommy Hopkins used to say that there is only one way to get out of a slump-work your way out. For him, that meant prospecting, and when he was still selling real estate, that meant cold-calling on the telephone and going door-to-door in his geographic farm. With gated communities and national Do-Not-Call lists, times may have changed, but the fundamental technique for getting out of a slump is still the same: prospecting.

Prospecting in a Slump

In today’s market prospecting means networking, following up with your past clients, making the most of open houses and finding creative ways to get your name and your face in front of potential sellers and buyers.

Networking

Business connections are especially valuable in a tightening market. Make sure you are creating strategic relationships with appraisers, lenders, builders, county planning officials and anyone else who might feed you leads. Think outside the box-try to figure out who buyers and sellers are talking to-like the owners of a local paint store and the clerks at a home improvement store?

Try a speed networking group. Connect up with your local talk-radio host and volunteer to talk about the current market conditions. Find your own creative ways to connect with local business people.

Following up with Past Clients

Personal notes are a powerful way to follow-up with past clients. You don’t need to ask for business directly. Adopt a philosophy of give, ask and then receive. In your note, thank them again for a past referral, send a newspaper clipping that may be of interest to them or just tell them that you were thinking about them. Hand-address the envelope and use a stamp. Also, use a non-branded card, rather than a stock real estate card. It’s okay to drop your business card into the envelope, especially if your signature is sloppy. You want to make sure they know who sent the card.

Make your personal notes even better by adding something of value. For instance, you might slip a couple of packages of computer screen cleaners into the envelope. They’re inexpensive, fairly flat and lightweight, and everyone could use one. Or, spend a bit more and get a cloth screen cleaner with your name and logo embossed on it.

If you are already sending personal notes to your current database, take your system up another notch. Read through your local newspaper and business journal and then send personal notes to business people who made the paper.

Phone Calls

Using the phone to prospect is not illegal. There are legal rules that govern who you can call and there are common sense rules that govern when you should call, but as long as you follow those rules, the telephone is still a great prospecting tool.

If you are in a mental slump as well as a business slump (the two are usually closely related) you may have trouble picking up the phone to call your past clients. To overcome this gumption trap, search around for a new reason to call. Again, use the give, ask and then receive philosophy. Find something of value to give. For a phone call, it will be a piece of information. Keep your eyes and ears open. Make notes. If a local furniture store is going out of business, call your clients and tell them. “Say, John, this is Pat with Local Realty. I hear that 9th Street Furniture is going-out-of-business and that they’re going to be liquidating everything. Just thought I’d pass that along.” Find something you truly want to share and then pick up the phone and pass along your information. If you truly offer something of value, your clients will more readily share their information with you.

Open Houses

Apply the give, ask and then receive system to open houses as well. When you are preparing for your open house, rather than trying to sell the house you are presenting, think in terms of building your database. Prepare a list of comparable homes to hand out. When people are browsing, smile, be courteous, recognize them by saying “hello” and then offer them something of value-such as your list of comparable houses.

Once you’ve given them something of value, you’ll find them more responsive to your questions, such as, “Is this the kind of house you are looking for? Two bedroom and one bath?”

If they say “yes,” you can engage them in a conversation about the list you gave them. If they say no, you can offer to send them a list of homes that do fit their criteria. If they say they are just browsing, you can offer to send them your monthly market report. Again, get creative. Find things to give that are of value to your prospects.

A Final Word on Market Conditions

In the robust seller’s market of the past, prospecting was much easier. Listings sold quickly, buyers came pre-qualified and ready to sign on the line. For most of the country, things have changed now. There are a lot more listings, but there are also a lot more agents, fewer buyers and longer market times. f you’ve never faced a market slump before, the shift can be daunting.

Before you blame your woes on the economy and give up, take a look back in time. In 1982, after five years of rapidly rising interest, the average mortgage rate bumped up against the 15% mark. As the country experienced high unemployment and high inflation, home prices in some areas suffered greatly and borrowers who could no longer make their mortgage payments walked away from their homes.

Listings were plentiful but good buyers were scarce. In Portland, Oregon, S.J. Pounder Real Estate, a company that was over 60 years old at the time, toppled and fell. And yet, some agents survived the chaos. In fact, as the market recovered, one of the survivors, a rookie agent named Barbara Sue Seal, went on to create one of the largest and most successful real estate firms in Portland.

Barbara Sue Seal did two things better than most other agents-she spent most of her time prospecting and she never gave up.

If you are feeling the pressure of this new market, just remember those two things: the only way to dig out of a slump is by taking action, and in real estate, as in any worthwhile endeavor, failure is the path of least persistence.

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