This article is a guest post provided by Jonathan Wasserstrum, CEO, SquareFoot. Occasionally we post guest post content on our blog that we feel has value to our readers. We were in no way compensated for this guest post or guest post opportunity. The views and opinions expressed in this post are the views of the author and the organization they represent.
When I first began my career, I had only a fleeting idea that I might someday start my own shop. I was working in real estate and finance, learning about the traditional ways of doing business. I was intrigued by what I discovered, and I was eager to learn more. Then the entrepreneurial bug got me. I saw the wonderful parts about the commercial real estate industry, and I relied on those who helped build those standards to get me into shape. But I also spotted inefficiencies and gaps in the market that were largely being unaddressed, and I realized that I might be the right person to tackle and take on those opportunities.
If you’re a big company, you probably have no shortage of options when it comes to finding and negotiating office space for your team. However, those who are first setting out or who have yet to reach their stride in terms of size will struggle to find a broker to work with or an office space that is geared more toward their needs and their expectations. I had a vision to adapt the same customer service I witnessed and modeled my own behavior from working on deals with larger clients and to apply that methodology toward the smaller companies, especially startups that were taking off at the time in 2011.
The idea was strong, I felt, but when I sat down to get started, the primary problem I ran into was identifying and finding those targeted companies. I knew that my strategy and approach would appeal to them, should we find one another, but going about prospecting and locating clients that fit this demographic was a challenge at first to say the least. I had read online and heard from others who were more well-versed in the industry and those tactics that digital marketing was a reliable and recognized method to achieve success. The only thing was that as a real estate obsessive I didn’t know a thing about how to attract clients through paid ads or to reach them via organic search.
So I started to read up. I knew that if I could get the right people in front of me, and in front of my website, that I could convert them into clients for SquareFoot. So I invested a small amount into technical SEO and into performance marketing and I also invested a lot more in giving myself an education about how the web helps companies like mine to win over clients.
With talented marketers, I brainstormed what people might search for when they were beginning their office searches. In the world I had come from, that would start with a phone call to a select broker. Yet, amid this emerging digital era where people Google to solve all of their issues, I knew I needed to tactfully build a solution to their searches. So, instead of making a website that listed self-promotional materials about what I and my team of in-house brokers would offer to clients once they walk in the door, I made the first-of-its-kind online listings platform focused on commercial real estate, in hopes of not only driving people to our website but giving them something to look at and to engage with. For a long time, residential listings were available similarly, however nobody was giving people more access and more transparency to what was available on the market. I decided to change that.
What resulted wasn’t just that people found and stuck around on our site. They also came to us when they were ready to tour spaces or to learn more about neighborhoods in their area. We hadn’t cannibalized the business by offering people more information. Rather, by informing them about what was happening, and making them valued partners in their searches, we earned their trust. This meant also that our brokers would start their conversations with prospective clients further down in the pipeline, as clients were coming to us with ideas and insights in mind that would lead to faster transactions and more satisfying interactions.
The company I wound up building fits on the face of it what I envisioned long ago – a new way of going about real estate in the modern era. What I didn’t know then, though, was how much impact digital marketing would have on our ability to grow in the early days, to develop a high-quality reputation over time, and to look ahead at the future of what else we can offer. So much of commercial real estate and building your client base has always been about marketing. I am not doing much that is different from those in different generations have done in the past. It’s in the execution of that marketing – bringing people to the website through organic search, giving them something sticky to see and to use on their own – that is notable.
There are countless other industries, similar to real estate, that continue to operate with old norms and standards when they should be thinking, like I did, about what today’s approach should look like instead or in addition to common practices. Nobody was addressing this ‘type’ of consumer, who searches online for solutions, and every company would be wise to think about who is finding no or poor results when they go out and seek those solutions with the only path they know how. I encourage all young entrepreneurs to think along these lines. Whatever you’re an expert at, and whichever industry you currently call home, consider carefully what the overlap with digital marketing might look like and how you can offer more than anyone else to reel in business online. Not only have I depended on this style of thinking to build my business, it has continued to push me, personally, to new horizons and to stay curious about where the next deal will come from. My company can only innovate if I lead it that way.