By Ross Wilson

Are you about to indulge in bombastic self-promotion with colossal photos and boastful, self-congratulatory slogans plastered everywhere? Or to encourage referrals and repeat clients, do you prefer to maintain a low-key style with regular contact – in person or digitally – with a “farm” area and/or warm sphere of influence?

Your choice will clearly depend on your belief system and personality type. If effectively executed, both methods – mass advertising and personal prospecting – can be highly productive. However, the former demands a substantial financial commitment combined with a co-ordinated long-term strategy, while the latter can translate into delayed gratification and initially, at least, an unspectacular income, not to mention possible conflicts with the privacy police. The personal networking method may not rocket you overnight to superstar status, but you could enjoy the benefit of a considerably longer career – with lower overhead.

Once on the self-promotion road, during a busy period or while on sabbatical, for example, you might suspend advertising. Ads are primarily designed to make the phone ring. And if you’re busy enough – or prefer to not be – why spend the money? But during such gaps, since you depend mainly on new client generation rather than referrals and returning clients, the public may, at least temporarily, forget about you. Any noted absence of your mug in the paper – no matter how brief – could be construed as failure. Therefore, to enjoy a durable career, personal promotion programs must be relentless.

On the other hand, regular contact grooming is not only less expensive than complex mega-campaigns, but if you temporarily suspend active connecting, since your business is based on personal relationships, contacts won’t necessarily assume you’ve quit. The bonus of working with friends – old and new – is that it can be both financially and emotionally rewarding. Familiarity and trust are common companions and trust breeds referrals.

A big name’s voluminous business is certainly a commendable goal. Nevertheless, after an expensive effort, if fame remains elusive, only their ego is fed – not their credit union account. Their face on a few park benches or a small weekly newspaper ad probably equates with a personal contact through their network every few years; in other words, not very effective. However, a carefully orchestrated and continuing strategic advertising campaign, with one medium consistently complementing and reinforcing another, generating a repetitive public perception of success, can achieve excellent results. But don’t stop until you’re ready to retire or you risk losing that coveted “front of mind” real estate known as public awareness.

When it’s time to move, though, no matter how much money you’ve spent in the neighbourhood, many homeowners will still turn to a friend in the business because they’re more moved by established, trusting and amiable association than by mailbox pomp and pageantry. Having said all this, if you expend neither time nor money, your old clients will likely call a local megastar or a new friend in the business who is making the investment.

To passively influence a small portion of the multitude, you can spend more money and less time. Or for active influence, you can spend less money and more time – possibly achieving the same net income. In my view, time is far more valuable than money since without the time to appreciate the quality of life to which money can contribute, digits in an account are essentially valueless. One could argue that investing the more valuable resource of time can achieve more valuable results. Intermittent investment of advertising dollars normally generates only short-term results, if any, whereas an investment of your time, because you’ve built lasting relationships, can produce sustainable, long-term results.

There’s no doubt that if done right, either style can be highly effective. It’s your choice, but whatever style you choose, be consistent. Also, keep in mind that we don’t sell real estate; only property owners do. We are actually people persuaders.

Do you think your business is all about money or people? Where are your priorities? It’s been said that it’s better to know a few people well than many people a little. Think about this; would you prefer to prospect in a crowd of 1,000 strangers where you’re forced to sell yourself in the hope of winning trust? Or perhaps in a group of 50, all of whom know your first name and have faith in you? I’d rather have one great friend than an endless list of casual acquaintances. I suggest that most people prefer to associate with someone they trust over another with a big mouth and deep pockets. Trust wins virtually every time.


  1. Ross, thank you for a well written and enlightening article. It is working out the balance you suggest “time vs money” that gives realtors the incentive to try one way over the other.

    I always suggest the “time” route because you’re more apt to build your business based on referrals that one-time clients, as heavily competitive real estate is, maintaining contact and offering the value of your service will always win over clients, past and future.

    I expand on this idea here:

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