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Are you getting the most out of digital?




Are you getting the most out of digital?

We talked to brokers to find out how they’re keeping pace with what customers expect from an online experience

Danielle Kubes on July 18, 2018


Jennifer Pugsley used to bang down doors to get business when she was brokering deals in commercial oil, gas and trucking.


She would get into her car, turn the key and drive the long expanse of highway and rural roads out to the dusty industrial areas of Alberta, where she would then show up unannounced at potential clients’ buildings.

That worked well for a few decades. Until it didn’t.

She says her bosses finally asked themselves, “How can we leverage digital? Because people are just slamming the door in our face or not picking up the phone.”

That conversation happened more than a decade ago, but it’s a question brokers are still asking themselves today.

Traditional brokerages are facing these challenges because sourcing and converting online leads is still largely a new frontier—the rules change every year and everyone is figuring it out as they go along.

“A lot of brokers don’t even have the infrastructure to handle the leads that they want.”

So Canadian Insurance Top Broker decided we wanted to help. We spoke with experts and brokers who have successfully gone digital to uncover advice and tips to help other brokers upgrade their online presence, improve their SEO and stay relevant in 2018.

Pugsley figured it out by accident—her genius-ofa- nerd brother had founded an e-commerce site in Toronto that was doing well, and she was intrigued.

Long story short, she went back to school for digital marketing and joined him. Their company evolved into Goose Digital, a marketing automation agency that brings on bricks-and-mortar insurance brokerages and holds their hands while helping them build an omni-channel framework.

‘Omni-channel’ simply means that a business services clients the way the client wants—whether that’s a faceto- face meeting, on Facebook, or through a website, to name a few options. And any broker in it for the long term is going to have to evolve to provide those services.

The average storefront brokerage can finish a quote in 40 minutes. But Matt Alston’s online brokerage, for example, can complete a quote in as little as a quarter of that time.

Alston knew he wanted to stay in the small town where he grew up in Alberta, near the Montana border. But with a population of only 2,500 people, and being a two-and-a-half hour drive to Calgary, there wasn’t exactly a bustling local economy. Still, he was determined to provide the same warm, wholesome and community-minded environment that he grew up with for his four children.

An online business was the answer. He teamed up with a partner who owned a traditional insurance brokerage, and in 2012 they opened Surex Direct, an entirely virtual brokerage.

“Online insurance didn’t put a ceiling on how big we could get, and we could compete with all the brokers in Toronto and Calgary and Vancouver, but do it on our terms,” Alston says.

Since 2012, they’ve managed to grow the business by 8,000%, without ever seeing a client face-to-face.

of desktop search traffic came from Google in 2017.

Source: NetMarketShare

of small businesses in the United States did not have a website in 2016.

Source: Clutch

That incredible growth proves there’s leads to be had and money to made in the still-fresh world of digital brokerages.

But there’s a major caveat—unless you’re able to commit wholeheartedly, don’t do it.

That’s because a physical brokerage is a completely different business than digital—you can’t simply pop a database up online, create a website, hire an intern to do your Twitter and expect to capture clients.

If only.

If you do plan to take your business entirely online, you must be prepared to spend a mint, along with all your time, on strategies, staff and preparation. Anything less is a waste of resources.

“It’s a viable business, but so is making parts for nuclear manufacturing. You can do it if you understand what you’re doing, and you could also lose your shirt if you don’t,” says Adam Mitchell, who’s grown his brokerage, Mitchell and Whale, from two brokers to 45 in just eight years. The Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario awarded them the Innovator of the Year in 2017, and made them finalists for Brokerage of the Year the same year.

Mitchel has put considerable effort into growing digitally and focusing on long-term growth—as opposed to shortcuts that get him through to the next quarter— and understands that going online won’t matter unless you ensure your processes are running smoothly first.

Handling online leads

“A lot of brokers don’t even have the infrastructure to handle the leads that they want,” Pugsley says. “They’re not even servicing their existing book the way that they could be. Have you considered opening your hours until 8:00 p.m., like Sonnet does?”

A $20,000 website, Pugsley says, is not going to solve a broker’s problems—not if they don’t know their business inside, out and under.

“Do you know your cost per acquisition? Do you know your cost per lead? Your cost per quote? Do you know how many leads are coming in? Do you know how many leads are getting closed? And why not? Do you have a good handle of your retention rate?”

Even if she dropped 100 qualified leads into a brokerage’s lap, Pugsley says, most would not be able to keep up. The brokerages that are able to handle the number of leads generated online have a thoughtout funnel system. Some offices, for example, have a whole sales team that is watching screens scattered all over the office. As soon as a lead comes in, it goes onscreen and hits the marketing automation platform, and the team has immediate response-time goals.

“It’s a viable business, but so is making parts for nuclear manufacturing. You can do it if you understand what you’re doing, and you could also lose your shirt if you don’t.”

There’s no sense spending money on trying to attract online leads unless your office and team is 100% primed to handle them in the swift—yet personal— way that everyone, from millennials to boomers, now expects.

If all this sounds too overwhelming, it should. Capturing online leads is not for the timorous.

Going digital

Here are some basic strategies for the brokerage that wants to present a polished online presence to encourage and assure new clients, but isn’t prepared to create a cyber infrastructure.

First, get rid of your GeoCities website (remember those?). At the very least, says Pugsley, your website needs to look clean and be optimized for mobile. Alston recommends hiring a recent grad as a developer.

Secondly, do some digital housekeeping. That means bringing your Yellow Pages marketing up to date and setting up a Google business account with local keywords.

Third, if you do plan on creating a blog or social media content, hire a marketing coordinator.

“[Some brokers are] like, ‘Sally in the corner can do it,’” Pugsley says about how most businesses react when she tells them she needs a single point of contact when rolling out a website. “Sally has a full-time job, actually, and Sally doesn’t know how to write—she’s not a copywriter. If you’re asking Sally to do the Twitter just to keep the lights on, and you don’t really care about the ROI of Twitter, then don’t ask Sally in six months where our tweets are getting us.”

Sadly, digital has a reputation for being easy, and that any young person naturally knows how to do it. That’s incorrect.

The truth is, social media rarely has a direct ROI. Instead, it has rather the same effect as when auto dealerships wash their cars. Does it help actually sell the vehicles? Sometimes, maybe, not really—but it definitely adds to the whole transaction.

So don’t take social media too seriously or post too many facts about the insurance industry. Instead, use it to showcase your brokerage’s personality, and maybe try what Mitchell does. Social media strategy for him is the equivalent of “cats chasing lasers,” he says. “It’s informative, yet irreverent and fun. We almost avoid the insurance side of it.”

“Online insurance didn’t put a ceiling on how big we could get, and we could compete with all the brokers in Toronto and Calgary and Vancouver, but do it on our terms.”

The biggest benefit of social media is its instant communication possibilities. If customers are confident in a fast reply (we’re talking minutes) and are impressed by your content, they’re likely to DM (that’s direct message) you on Twitter and Facebook to ask for a quote.

Fourth, stop treating Google like a game. The days of stuffing keywords for SEO are over. We don’t want to get too deep into the SEO specifics, like meta tags, headlines or link-backs because they really don’t matter unless you’re planning to go wholly virtual, and Google will probably change its algorithm as soon as you’ve mastered it anyway. Suffice it to say that SEO will come naturally—and be there to stay—when you’re writing high-quality content that people want to read and share.

Look at the articles that you read on a daily basis. Are they just jargon? Or do they actually provide service? Do they make you think? If yes, strive to produce that kind of content.

And finally, don’t spend a cent or do anything unless you have a strategy. Don’t just start creating Facebook Ads, for example, unless you’ve figure out what you’re aiming for and how you’re going to measure results. (And let your brand-new marketing coordinator, the one with extensive experience in creating ad campaigns, handle it.)

“When you principally lead with strategy,” Pugsley says, “the tactic becomes much more successful.”

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in the June/July edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine


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11-Step Guide to Buying A House




Purchasing a home is likely going to be one of the largest purchases you will make in your lifetime, which is why it is so important to follow the right steps when starting on your home-buying journey to ensure that the entire process goes smoothly from start to finish!

We’ve put together a step-by-step guide to buying a home, to help you get off on the right foot when it comes to buying a home. Click the download button below to download these steps in PDF form.

1. Decide to buy a home

Make sure you are ready both financially and emotionally!

2. Get Pre-Approved

Work with a mortgage broker or your bank. They will work with you on what you require to submit an application. Once approved, this will determine how much you can afford to spend on a home.

3. REALTOR® Consultation

Work with a RE/MAX agent to help guide you through the process. The right agent will discuss your price range, ideal locations, current market conditions and much more!

4. Start Your Search

Your REALTOR® will get you information on new homes that meet your criteria as soon as they’re listed. They’ll work with you and for you to ensure you find your dream home.

5. Current Market Conditions

Your experienced RE/MAX agent is a valuable resource as you consider different properties. They will be there when you have questions regarding the homes you’re interested in – they can tell you what is a good deal, and when to walk away.

6. Make an Offer

Your REALTOR® will help create your offer tailored to your needs including the right subject clauses down to the closing date that works best for you.

7. Negotiate

You may receive a counter offer but don’t be worried! RE/MAX agents will negotiate for you to ensure you get the best possible price for the house you love!

8. Accepted Offer

It’s crunch time! The next few weeks are busy as you need to schedule and remove every one of your subject clauses by the specified date. You’ll likely need to schedule an inspection, appraisal, financing approval, and several others. You will also need to provide a deposit to put down on the home. The deposit will be a pre-determined amount given in-trust to your REALTOR® to show the sellers you are committed to this home. Don’t worry, that money goes towards the purchase of said home if all goes well! This is a busy time but be sure to reach out to your RE/MAX agent if you have any questions or are unsure about next steps.

9. Subject Removal

Once you have completed all your subject clauses, and everything went smooth, it is time for you to sign on the dotted line and consider your new home to be yours (almost!).

10. Official Documents

You will need to provide your RE/MAX agent with your preferred lawyer or notary to have the official title transferred into your name. You will meet with the lawyer or notary in person to sign all the legal documents before you move in. This typically happens a few days before you take possession of your new home.

11. Move In!

Congratulations, you are officially a homeowner! The date pre-determined by you is your move-in day! You can now move into your new home. Your RE/MAX agent will be there ready and waiting to hand you the keys. Enjoy!

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Know When to Rent ‘Em, Know When to Buy ‘Em




We’re told it’s always better to buy than rent. Everyone—from our parents to the banks to the government—encourages us to buy, buy, buy our homes.

But times have changed, and I dare say that these authority figures might be slightly out of touch. The jaw-droppingly high cost of real estate in big cities is encouraging millennials to rent instead of own, causing homeownership rates to drop. At 30 years old, 50.2% of millennials own homes versus 55% of baby boomers at the same age. As a millennial homeowner, I can’t help but wonder if I’m generationally displaced.

There’s an old misconception out there about renting that needs to be addressed. You’re not “throwing away your money” if you’re renting. While that familiar axiom might be true sometimes, there are plenty of circumstances in which it does actually make more sense to rent than buy.

You Might Choose to Rent If…

…You Invest What You Save

Renting tends to come with lower carrying costs than owning. Typically, all you’ll have to worry about paying as a renter is, well, the rent (clearly) and perhaps a share of utilities. This leaves you with extra monthly cash to invest, which can ultimately put you on even financial footing or better with a homeowner.

As always, there’s a familiar caveat here: You need to be financially disciplined for this strategy to pay off. One mistake I see a lot is that those who rent tend to fall prey to something called ‘lifestyle inflation.’ Rather than investing what they save as renters, they just rent nicer apartments, eat at fancier restaurants, and put more money into their wardrobe than their RRSP. But this money vacuum can be easily avoided by:

1. Budgeting to find out how much you have left over to invest each month after factoring out all your expenses, then;

2. Funneling that leftover money directly into your investments. Some robo-advisors, like Wealthsimple, allow you to do this automatically via pre-authorized contributions, which set recurring transfers from your chequing account into your investment portfolio, at whatever amount and interval you choose.

…You Have Rent Control, aka the Urban Holy Grail

Depending on where you live, you might be lucky enough to benefit from the urban miracle known as rent control. That means your landlord can only increase your rent by the rate of inflation, which in turn keeps your cost of living way down and leaves you with more money to invest. In Canada, rent control is now implemented in most big cities like Toronto and Vancouver (although not in Montreal).

…You Have a Mobile Lifestyle

Renting makes it easier to move; if you’d like to relocate it’s usually as simple as giving your landlord 60 days written notice. But when you own a home you’re more tied down, and the obligation to be near your property may prevent you from chasing new adventures in faraway lands. I once turned down a fantastic job opportunity in Dallas, Texas for this very reason.

…You’re on a Tight Budget

Renting tends to be more affordable than buying in big cities like Toronto and Vancouver. I know, I know, renting is still unreasonably pricey in certain neighborhoods. But buying in those same areas can be arm-and-a-leg expensive.

When you rent, all you have to come up with is the first and last month’s rent; no need to scrimp and save to pull together a massive down payment on a house, which, incidentally, will take you two to four times longer to save than it did your parents.

And homeownership leads to a lot of other costs aside from mortgage payments. When you buy real estate, you’ll need to pay closing costs, which typically add up to between 1.5%–4% of the property’s purchase price and can include a home inspection fee, real estate lawyer fee, land transfer taxes, and homeowners insurance (sometimes you’ll have to fork over an entire year’s worth of home insurance as one lump sum).

There’s also the elephant in the room that nobody likes to speak about: repairs and maintenance. Homeowners are responsible for paying the big bucks for costly home repairs, such as a new roof and furnace, and are advised to set aside 3–5% of a home’s value toward home repairs and maintenance each year. Renters, on the other hand, can just call their landlord whenever they need repairs (provided the landlord actually picks up). Still, it’s important that tenants know their rights when renting to be aware of which fees do and don’t fall under their responsibility.

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A Montreal Real Estate Broker Answered 5 Qs About Buying A Property To Rent Out




You’ve probably heard that Montreal’s real estate market is on fire. But how can you get in on the action? According to Alex Marshall, a local real estate broker, buying a property as an investment for the purpose of renting it out is a great way to go about it.

Marshall, who’s part of the Keller Williams Prestige team, sat down with us to explain why and how to purchase an investment property. These types of properties are also known as revenue properties.

Why do you recommend buying a revenue property?

Marshall used personal experience to highlight the advantages of owning a revenue property. He’s currently renting out the Saint-Henri loft he bought in 2010.

“Not only is my tenant paying off my mortgage, but I’m making a couple 100 bucks a month as well,” Marshall said.

Marshall was also able to take out a line of credit on the property, he said, and use the equity to buy an additional property.

“You actually don’t need to live in the property that you buy. I’m seeing clients who are in apartments with low rent [who] don’t want to move but have got the money right now … and are looking for smart ways to invest,” he said.

What are some tips to help people save up for a revenue property?

When Marshall was saving up to buy his first property, he said he worked a second job. 

“There’s a lot of value to having that side hustle … even if it’s at Subway or it’s at a landscaping company on Saturdays. It will add up significantly in the long run,” he said.

He gave the example of adding $5,000 to your annual income.

Marshall said you can qualify to borrow roughly four times your annual salary for a mortgage so $5,000 could actually provide you with an extra $20,000 of buying power.

“That might get you a second bedroom, that might get you a parking spot, that might get you a larger space,” he said.

The pandemic, Marshall said, has also helped some of his clients save extra funds.

“You can’t travel, you can’t go to the restaurant, you can’t go to the theatre, you can’t go to the bar. So a lot of people right now are finding themselves with almost a disposable income,” he said.

Marshall also recommends looking into Canada’s Home Buyers’ Plan program, which allows you to withdraw up to $35,000 — — tax-free — from your registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) to put toward buying or building a qualifying home. 

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