In a comment the other day, I mentioned that I would write a post about the origins of Rain City Guide, and while my initial reaction was to talk about all the different influences that led me to think that blogging about real estate was a great marketing idea, I realized that (1) those influences were already discussed when Andy interviewed me last December and (2) that background is only interesting on a personal level.
So instead, I’ll take a different tack and start with the risks of starting the blog as I saw them… What did Anna and I have working against us when we started blogging about real estate?
- Time: I had a full-time job as an engineer and could only devote a few hours a week to real estate writing
- Knowledge: Both of us were new to real estate and had very little technical knowledge and/or experience to add value to existing real estate discussions
- Money: We had no extra money to devote to the site. Life as a transportation engineer had pretty much tapped out our family budget.
However, I’m rarely one to look at the glass half-empty and instead I looked for ways to benefit from our weaknesses.
[photopress:sashas_shoes.JPG,thumb,alignright]To address the time, knowledge and money issues, the obvious solution was to attract knowledgeable professionals to write for Anna’s site. Not having many resources, my best bet for attracting others was to build something where “they” could directly benefit. Hence, the name change from Homes By Anna to Rain City Guide and a lot of altering of the design to highlight other contributors (like the photos by the side of each post, the photos along the sidepanel, and the listing of recent comments).
This led to the empowering realization that the site was no longer a marketing brochure for Anna’s real estate business, but rather, it was a destination worth visiting in it’s own right… For better or worse, I saw our main competitors being the online real estate section of the Seattle Times, although in retrospect they seem like an easy target. For a blog, we have a lot more freedom than they will ever have to be more controversial, interesting, and up-to-date.
My first steps were to read and study the types of things that the popular bloggers were writing about and how they approached topics. Much of my initial posts were copied from others except I’d add to the conversation by talking about how popular technology and/or marketing issue related to real estate. That strategy worked to my advantage because I definitely felt more confident writing about real estate technology than real estate transactions.
I then sent Anna out to attract additional writers at every opportunity. If she was on one side of a home buying transaction, I made her promise to tell the other agent about the site and see if they would be interested in writing on RCG. If a mortgage broker delivered a presentation to her office, I made her promise that she was ask him/her if they would write articles for RCG. This continued all through the Summer of ’05.
[photopress:dustins_shoes.jpg,thumb,alignright]The end result was that we dealt with our main disadvantages by getting experts to write for the site. Not only was the writing of these professionals free, but they also had time and added knowledge that went beyond what Anna and I could produce. Ironically, if we were experts, I bet this would have been much more difficult as the contributors would have been more likely to view us as a threat and/or competitor.
However, this set-up was not the panacea. We simply were not attracting enough eyeballs to get enough leads to keep other contributors interested in writing on a regular basis. It really wasn’t until Google began sending us a significant amount of free search traffic in the Fall of ’05 that we were able to attract other real estate professionals.
This brings us to early winter of last year when things seemed to be pretty good. We were getting decent traffic and I noticed that people started to link to RCG as a real estate resource. And then Ardell happened. It won’t surprise any long-time RCG reader to hear that when Ardell started frequenting the comment section of posts, her spunk and insider knowledge brought the energy level of every conversation up a few notches. Right around Ardell’s first posts, the traffic on RCG started to spike and has yet to let up.
Since then, getting people to write for RCG has been much easier (although not as easy as you might think!). I tend to troll all the local real estate blogs and contact the professionals that “get it”. Normally, the promise of more people reading their writing is enough to convince them to join us at RCG, but not for everyone. You might also find it interesting that I’ve never signed an agreement with any of the contributors. About as complicated as things get is that I make a vague promise that if they are willing to publish on a regular basis, then I will:
- List them as a “Featured Contributor” on the sidepanel
- Add a mini-bio (including their contact information) on the Contributor’s page
I feel pretty darn lucky that we’ve been able to keep things so simple and still have it function. If I had to give any advice to someone interested in starting a similar blog, it would be:
- Keep it simple. Don’t start writing up complicated revenue-sharing plans before you have any revenue!
- Don’t charge for things that should be free (i.e. blogging technology)
- Focus on being interesting!
In the beginning, I had no idea what type of content would make for an interesting real estate blog. It has only been through a ton of trial-and-error that we’ve even approached the level of engaging conversations that occur today. With that said, I feel lucky in knowing that we are still in the primitive ages of real estate blogging and I’m still learning new things every day! 😉