How Successful Managers Are Marketing Themselves Today
It’s the year 2021, when your kids’ babysitters are on LinkedIn, and the teenager who cuts your lawn has a branding plan. But many community association management firms are still in denial about the need to market their businesses. “We have a bad habit in this industry of thinking we don’t have to market ourselves and we don’t have to spend time and energy developing a brand,” says Katie Anderson, CEO of Aperion Management Group, LLC, which manages around 65 associations in Central Oregon. The days when managers could sustain their businesses with this approach are fading fast, though, and savvy managers are accepting that the current environment calls for more. “We didn’t market for 20 years,” says Paul Grucza, director of education and client development at the Seattle-based management company CWD Group, Inc., “but now there’s more competition.” The good news is that managers new to the marketing game need not start from scratch. They can follow the lead of other management firms that are enjoying growth, despite trying times.
It’s Not About “Mad Men”
As Anderson implies, it’s not uncommon for managers to say they don’t bother with marketing. But, if you dig deeper, you might find they’re defining the term too narrowly — typically, they’re thinking of advertising and recruiting campaigns such as direct mail. And yes, those efforts can have very limited returns. “People become desensitized to that,” says Brad van Rooyen, president of HomeRiver Group-Florida, the management company for about 160 associations in the state. “I’m a board member myself, and not a week goes by that I don’t receive some solicitation from a management company that just gets caught up in the junk mail. “I don’t look at it, and I don’t hear other board members say that they do.” Marketing encompasses much more than cold-calling, though. And, while some of the most successful managers might say they don’t “do marketing,” the truth is that they just don’t think of their efforts as marketing. But, call it what you will, they’re proactively working to expand their businesses.
Treat Your Vendors Right
Look no farther than van Rooyen. He says his firm has the basics — a Google page, a website — but that’s it. Yet, the firm added 40 associations and 5,000 doors last year, a jump of 30 percent. Through January of 2021, it had brought on 16 new associations. What’s his secret? Van Rooyen attributes this impressive growth in part to treating the company’s vendors well. “We really make sure they’re well taken care of. For example, we timely process their invoices, instead of waiting until the due date. We treat them with the same level of respect we want to be treated with, like a partner and with character and integrity. “We don’t take an attitude of ‘oh, they’re just the landscaper.’” One recent example played out as the COVID-19 pandemic set in for its long ride. “We let our vendors know what to expect — for instance, that they should get set up to accept electronic payments from us.” Ken Bertolucci, president of NS Management in Skokie, Ill., also has found that strong relationships with vendors pays off. “We get a lot of our referrals from accountants and lawyers who have worked with us. And a contractor who has done a lot of work on one of our properties recommended us to another property that told him they were looking to make a management change.”
Don’t Neglect Your Website
Of course, successful managers also are engaging in some more overt types of marketing, particularly through their websites. At this point, most management firms have a website — it’s a bare minimum for virtually every kind of business. But, if you want to actually generate revenue with it, you have to do more than simply throw up a static placeholder. “Our website is more important than ever,” Anderson says. “The vast majority of people are finding businesses through a search engine, and your website is what ties through to those search algorithms. It’s a really critical tool to get in front of potential clients.” Bertolucci agrees. “We have a lot of people who find us in a search and then see our high ratings.” He admits to having been a skeptic about the role of websites for property managers at one time. “I used to think the website wasn’t that important and our business would be less geared toward online, but it’s really shifted — and rapidly.” Anderson says the most important component of an effective website is the content: “It has to be relevant and what people are searching for.” She also advises using multiple formats, rather than the text-heavy pages, loaded down with every possibly related key word, that so often dominated in the past. “The search engines have caught on to that,” Anderson says. “A website has to be functional to be ranked by them.” That means you need blogs, video pages, text, and forms. Bertolucci also advises management firms to allow owners to pay assessments on the website and to offer each client a custom website where owners can obtain documents and information and boards can have private portals. “We’ve gotten a lot of people who have been dealing with big national companies that bought up smaller local firms,” he says. “These people aren’t happy with the big companies, but they like the online capabilities those companies offer, so we upgraded our website to match all of those services.” Client testimonials to the quality of service your firm provides can make for powerful content, too. “Talk to the people who genuinely believe in your service and who come across as sincere,” Grucza. An enthusiastic video endorsement can go a long way. Worried about the cost? Don’t be; almost anyone can create an effective website now. “Gone are the days when you have to be a web designer,” Anderson says. “We brought our website in-house a few years ago. GoDaddy, SquareSpace, and so many other drop-in templates are so much better than they were even five years ago. It allows us to be more agile — our website is updated constantly, which allows us to keep it more relevant.”
Steps in the Right Direction
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach that will work for every association management firm. “It depends on the market and the kind of clients you’re trying to attract,” Grucza says. But taking heed of the above advice should make for a solid foundation for most firms.