By Debbie Hanlon

Debbie HanlonWhen I started out in real estate I was 28-years-old. I was the single mother of three young children, living on social assistance, and I didn’t even own a car at the time. Yet within a year I was the top agent in my home province. Within a year I was No. 1 in buyer controlled sales across Canada out of over 6,000 in the real estate company I worked for. Within two years I owned my own brokerage. Just think about that for a second:  single mom on welfare, three small kids and no car, to No. 1 in my first year in the business. I went on to start my own real estate company. I was named to the top 50 CEO list three different times. I was named one of Canada’s top 100 female entrepreneurs out of hundreds of thousands.

Do you know how I accomplished that? I did it by readjusting my attitude about what I did for a living. Now, ask most real estate agents what line of work they’re in and they’ll tell you they’re in sales. Ask them what they sell and they’ll tell you houses, property – they sell real estate. It’s that attitude about what they do for a living that prevents them from doing as well as they can. It’s what keeps them from rising to the top where the real money is made. As strange as it sounds, thinking that you’re selling houses is stopping you from making it in real estate.

The first lesson you need to learn and one I learned as soon as I got into real estate is you’re not in the business of selling houses. You are in the business of selling yourself. Let’s face it; a house is the largest financial transaction most people will ever make. No one is going to buy a house with you until they buy into you. You will not sell a single house before you sell yourself. So sell yourself first. The houses, the property, the real estate and the money will all follow. Trust me, if a 28-year-old single mom on welfare can do it, you can do it.

They gave me an office where I worked. It had a desk, a phone and a phone book. It might have had a stapler, I don’t remember. I spent my first few days going through that phone book and finding the telephone numbers of everyone I could remember from my past. I called them and told them I was in real estate and would appreciate it if they used me when they bought or sold a house. I put all their names and contact information into a contact list I was building.

Once I’d gone through my sphere of influence, I added five contacts a day to that contact list. These contacts could be the bus driver (I still had no car), the girl who served me coffee, the woman at the dry cleaners, anyone and everyone I came into contact with. Real estate, more than anything else, is a contact sport.

I know agents who’ve been in this business for 20 years and have 100 people in their contact list. You meet more people than that in a month. Meeting people, saying hello I’m so and so and I’d like to offer my assistance if you ever need any real estate services, is a free way to market yourself. You’re selling yourself every time you say hello to someone new.

Building a contact list is the cheapest, easiest form of self marketing and it doesn’t matter what stage of your career you’re at, it will help you. There are many other ways of selling yourself that we’ll be getting into as we go along in future columns. The main thing to remember right now is you’re not selling houses, you’re selling yourself. You can do this. You can lift your career to a whole new level through self marketing. Don’t sell yourself short.

Debbie Hanlon is the president and founder of Hanlon Realty. She is a three-time top 50 CEO winner and was named one of the top 100 female entrepreneurs in Canada. She is currently an elected city official in St. John’s, Nfld. and is available for motivational and training seminars. Email [email protected].

Debbie Hanlon is the owner broker and Realtor at Debbie Hanlon Real Estate, a new boutique brokerage in St. John’s, Nfld. She is also a motivational speaker, real estate coach, author, former city councillor and children’s entertainer. She lives in St. John’s with her husband, Oral Mews and her dog Fisher.


  1. LOL – and, likely could apply to a guy with his shirt hanging out of his pants and yesterday's lunch on his tie and brown stained teeth – but it is important to note, Watson, that there is a market for everything, and apparently for every ONE.

    We had a local agent who sent out promo material with a pink condom attached telling the market he was "safe" to do business with, and another one with a baby suckling at its mother's breast, saying he could provide all the public needed.

    Some of us thought it was classless and made our industry look tacky. But there are no rules governing this sort of trailer trash approach to business. But he got a lot of business from it. So what does that tell you? On days like that some of us wondered what kind of business the real estate business really is/was.

    So – hey! I guess we can say: whatever works for you. Colleagues don't get to approve or not; and women just love that guy. So who are we to judge?

    There's a market for everything, and since it made him an area top producer, there's no denying what pleases the masses I guess. Some people call it thinking outside the box. If I tried some stunt like that I would be out of business. Depends on the kind of clientele you want to attract.


  2. Yeah, if you were a big boned lady with a face for radio this story never happens. Sorry if that upsets some people, but it's true.

  3. Carolyne, thank you for your interesting response. I am impressed by your accomplishments and proud of you. Proud of you because your accomplishments had little to do with "success" finding you or with "luck" as is stated by you. You sound like a fine lady to me, and that had EVERYTHING to do with your success. Keep up the good work darling lady and yes, we may even meet one day.


  4. Yes. Congratulations to Debbie.

    Likewise, John, my success found me. Just lucky I guess. As one of the top 5% of all earners nationwide year after year, business just came to me, immediately. Everyone thought the office was feeding me. Definitely NOT.

    In fact, unbeknownst to me, eventually my sign calls, ad calls, and promo calls got diverted to the manager's girlfriend, at his request. In fact, I was told there would be no business given to me, because I had too much already.

    Once I learned what was happening, as the region's top producer, that is when I had to make a terrible decision. You see I was quite literally a corporate animal. I loved the company to pieces.

    I left and in less than three weeks, I was up and operating; opened my own independent office. My success continued. I maintained my 24% marketshare in my trading area. People would ask my receptionist how I got my business.

    She said she had no idea. The phones just kept ringing off the hook. I continued until a family crisis happened that changed my life dramatically. But I still do receive wonderful testimonials from clients: Carolyne's Clients Speak (on web site).

    I believe you are so right about how we look. I used to laugh and say how is a REALTOR supposed to "look?" But apparently it is true. And when it is true, as you say – it works.

    Here is where I had a problem, especially in the first few years. I farmed, pardon the pun, religiously. I talked to everyone I met. I thought everyone in the business did what I did. All my clients immediately sent me referrals, as did agents across the country.

    I was not in the habit of watching the production of other agents (although I learned they were counting up mine). I was too busy looking after my own, and it never occurred to me; I never compared myself to anyone else.

    I did what I did and couldn't understand why I was such a curiosity. Like you, I put in the hours. The manager said I worked in an "unconventional manner," but that he never had to worry about my work. Once again, I didn't know what that meant.

    Typically I carried from 17-23 listings most times, working alone (no team); and I double-ended often as much as 60% of them. I did what you did; I called everyone I knew to let them know about a new listing. Often someone in the group knew a buyer. Done like dinner! often creating a chain where I had 5 ends out of a possible 6. It seemed so easy to me.

    Today one cannot do that volume alone. Computers make more work, not less; and the industry has changed remarkably. But I was one who did not ever set out to "grow" the (my corp.) business as such. It was never my intent to hire hundreds of agents. And that seems to be a demarcation line considered success in the industry.

    Since you are local, I would hope to perhaps meet you one day. It is always nice to put a face to a name; a real live real estate person; and if I can ever be of service to people you know in my trading area, I'd be pleased to assist.

    Carolyne L. (Burlington and Brampton)

  5. Debbie, firstly I want to congratulate you on your remarkable journey to success. You've certainly come a long ways. One thing you forgot to mention is appearance. Unfortunately, we are judged by the way we look. The better looking one is, the better the chance to succeeed. I've done things in a similar fashion as you, and the first ten years that I was in real estate, I was one of the top residential sales earners in Canada. I managed to get business no matter where I went. Be it while I was at an auto repair shop, visiting clients homes, at a barber shop while getting my hair cut, at some social function etc. It was all so amazing. Most of my business was referred to me and there was little need for me to advertize properties that I listed. (At one point I had around 40 listings on the board, and one day alone sold 4). Once I listed a property for sale, I simply picked up the phone and called anyone and everyone that I knew to let them know of my new listing. Eventually, most of my listings sold by such action or from a sign call. I was knowledgable of the real estate market, and most sincerely honest with all I did business with. Business simply poured in my way to the point that I had to work in many cases 9-15 hours per day 7 days per week . In my opinion, being a sales person is one of the most wonderful job one can have.

    I hope to meet you one day
    John (Toronto)


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