The basics of moving your real estate business online

You may also consider promoting your website and social media pages through paid click ads to boost visibility. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Simply identify your target audience, their demographics, where they spend their time and choose your market wisely.
  • Excellent communication skills are a must if you operate a real estate business online. And that includes visual communication which covers how you look.

“It’s hard to find things that won’t sell online” - Jeff Bezos. Running a business in the real estate sector or elsewhere has never been more frustrating.

It is especially harder when you have to pay bills that do not match the business’s proceeds. Besides, many are working from home; therefore, the rental office spaces are meaningless at the moment, after all you do not expect walk-ins or clients to visit.

To cope with the situation, some small business owners are closing offices and relocating to the digital space. This way, they are able to channel funds used for rent, cleaning and other service charges into marketing their businesses.

But before you rush to create that Facebook page, it’s important to learn the basics of running a business online. Here’s what you need to know:

Where to start

There are plenty of digital channels that can help you sell services and products to customers. You cannot possibly use all the channels lest you spread your budget and resources too thin.

Basically, you will be operating on search engine platforms such as Google and social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. On Google, you will need a professional website, which will act as your virtual office.

This is where potential clients will find more information about your business and services. It is one of the most important digital assets since it shows some level of seriousness, given that there are so many businesses run on social media.

Mbugua Kiarie, the director, Centex Properties, started his real estate business 12 years ago. Even though he started the business in an offline office, two years later, he saw the need to try out the opportunities on the digital space.

He says that investing in digital marketing expanded his clientele base for his business. “We were able to tap into the diaspora market and had more leads in general,” he explains, adding that digital platforms have the power to earn more leads compared to offline sales.

“A post or a listing can attract over 100 views at the same time, but when conducting sales in the traditional manner, whereby you walk around with promotional material, it would take more time and effort to attract the same number of people,” he explains.

The business’s first channel was a professional-looking website, which cost him Sh50,000. However, that was 10 years ago; therefore, one would cost significantly less depending on whom you work with.

In fact, you can easily create your own website if you have basic tech skills, and make use of YouTube tutorials, though it may not be as appealing as a professional one.

The perfect real estate website should entail an e-commerce listing if you are selling properties. A listing provides room for photos and property descriptions.

Other important pages include, the ‘Contact Us’ page and a home page that gives basic information about the business, services/products offered as well as testimonials from clients and location if any.

Kiarie and his team also used the OLX ecommerce website, which was a hot market at the time. Once your website is up and running, you can create social media pages.

It is, however, important to research about the channels that work for your type of business. Simply look into where competitors are gravitating towards and camp there.

Each channel has an audience and different businesses thrive well in different channels. LinkedIn, for instance, is built to support businesses that target other businesses, while Instagram is highly visual with a relatively high-end consumer fan base; therefore, businesses in the fashion, food, house designs or home décor niches would flourish there.

It is the perfect channel if you are selling furnished apartments of properties in the upmarket locations. Twitter is all about influencing popular opinion, hence a playground for politicians, celebrities and media personalities. Lastly, Facebook is a mass market.

This is where you go when you are targeting the average consumer. Regular rental properties and plots would do well on this platform.

Simply identify your target audience, their demographics, where they spend their time and choose your market wisely. Kiarie also recommends online property listings, which generate a good percentage of leads for many agents. Some listings are free while others require a small fee to join. Note that some listings are trustworthy to consumers while others are flagged as breeding grounds for scams. There is no harm in asking a potential customer or even a friend where they prefer to shop for properties and why.

Making sales vs creating awareness

Creating a website, joining listings and social media platforms is a big step but it is just a tip of the iceberg. Studies show that there are over 1.5 billion websites in the world, a figure that keeps changing every day.

Getting noticed, therefore, will take more than owning a business website. You have to drive traffic to your website by blogging about property, sharing informational videos or paying for click ads as discussed below.

Social media is also overwhelmed with content every second of the day. For instance, Facebook, which has the highest number of users, receives over 300 million photo uploads every day from its two billion users. To stand out, you need to post engaging content and be consistent at it.

For a real estate business, you will need to share good quality images if you want properties to sell. Images are powerful and can lead potential clients to notice your business.

However, be careful not to mislead people with fake images downloaded from the internet. When potential clients conduct site visits only to see a totally different picture on the ground, they will feel deceived.

That alone might ground your business. Creativity also goes a long way when sharing content on social media. Avoid pushy and spam sales messages as they can put off potential clients.

Find a way to entertain, challenge, motivate, and educate potential customers. You may also consider promoting your website and social media pages through paid click ads to boost visibility.

Digital platforms offer flexible and relatively affordable advertising plans. Google, for instance, allows businesses to promote their websites so they can appear at the top of searches related to the services or products they are selling.

Think about it this way: you are selling houses in Kiambu. If you activate Google Ads, anyone who searches for the words “properties in Kiambu” will see your website at the front page.

Google ads provide the perfect opportunity to attract clients who are seriously looking for what you have to offer as opposed to showing your adverts to a general audience.

The beauty about such ads is that you only pay when someone clicks on your advert. In a nutshell, you are paying for a potential customer.

Remember to create a clear Call to Action (CTA) on the website, so that a customer knows what to do. You could direct them to fill a contact form that specifies the details of what they are looking for or ask them to call you for enquiries.

Think of your website as a physical office - imagine if a customer walked in but did not know where to proceed for assistance. Imagine an office without a receptionist or doors without labels.

Your website content should offer clear guidance for customers to follow without being pushy.

On social media marketing, Kiarie, advises beginners to manage their expectations. A thousand clicks do not always translate to a thousand sales.

Social media helps in creating brand awareness, but sales are not always guaranteed. Moreover, posts may get likes and comments but the leads may not call to enquire or visit the site.

A study conducted in 2016 and published on the SAGE Journal, an academic publisher, concluded that people mostly engage with social media posts due to influence, rather than personal preference.

The study entailed studying the brain activities of teens while they viewed posts on Instagram. The researchers revealed that posts with more ‘likes’ were likely to compel viewers to like and comment on them.

Also, posts endorsed by people with influence were more likely to attract attention that those without. Therefore, the people ‘liking’ posts on social media do not necessarily find them interesting.

Likes, comments and shares are normally referred to as vanity metrics because they do not add monetary value to a business but help in creating brand awareness as well as boosting engagement between a business and its stakeholders.

You can use such metrics to gauge your brand’s visibility and customer’s thoughts on it. They are therefore not entirely useless.

Managing leads

Kiarie also cautions that how you handle leads determines your actual sales. When the marketing strategies work, people will want to view properties before making purchase decisions.

“It’s challenging when we’re trying to sell a property in, say Mombasa, and someone wants to view immediately, yet our team is based in Nairobi. Also, from time to time we come across jokers who just want to view and admire houses, especially in the upmarket locations, but do not intend to buy,” he explains.

However, with time one gains enough experience to tackle these challenges wittingly.

Still on handling leads, Kiarie says that journeying with a customer from the virtual space to the offline world when viewing, buying and handling paperwork is a long process.

The process often begins with a phone call, an email or a text message, which will then transition into a meetup.

Potential customers will judge you from how you communicate on the phone (when they call to enquire), how you present yourself when you meet them for viewing and even the place you choose to meet them.

Excellent communication skills are a must if you operate a real estate business online. And that includes visual communication, which covers how you look.

There shouldn’t be a disconnect between how you present yourself online and offline. Property transactions usually involve large sums of money and investors want to transact with people who measure up to the worth of what they are selling.

With so many cons on the digital space, a simple misstep can lead to loss of potential clients.

It’s a dynamic world

Success on the digital landscape is often two-sided. Once people get to know your business, you should expect more engagement.

People will enquire, compliment and at times complain about your services. Handle positive comments as promptly as possible.

The more you engage people, the more they feel valued. One of the most common mistakes businesses make is to give vague responses such as asking people to ‘inbox’ for prices.

It’s simply off-putting and discouraging. When handling negative feedback, remember you have everything to lose while the other person has nothing to lose.

Do not ignore such comments but keep your responses professional and calm. Also, avoid engaging the complainant through the comment section as that brews drama, which then attracts more people to chip into the conversation. People are attracted to drama like bees to honey.

Lastly, bear in mind that the digital world is extremely dynamic; therefore, you will need to revise your strategies often. Platforms come and go as their effectiveness wear off.

You need to be on the lookout for what is new and how you can use it to your advantage. For instance, 10 years ago, websites were just basic, but today businesses are incorporating more tools like chat bots, which assist in handling customer enquiries and delivering messages to business owners promptly as opposed to emails on the ‘Contact Us’ pages.

Also, the formats in which businesses relay messages have transitioned from mere photos to videos, doodle videos, memes and live social media shows.

Keeping up to date with the trends will help your business survive in the overly competitive digital space.

Four pointers to get you up and running

When coming up with a digital marketing strategy for your real estate business, you may opt for the free platforms or invest in paid ones. However, be careful not to invest in the wrong channels.

There are a number of experts you can engage if you have the budget. Some of the most essential ones include a website developer, content creators, social media managers, strategists and consultants.

Remember to review your strategy every few months by evaluating the channels you are using. How are they impacting your business and are they leading to a Return on Investment?

Differentiate between the channels that lead to sales and the ones that create brand awareness. If just starting out on a small budget, focus more on sales rather than awareness.

When multitudes know of your brand, their expectations expand and the pressure to live up to their expectations can be too much on your end if the sales do not match up.