In our quest to hear great stories of companies growing from small to big we heard from FloorplanOnline.com on our Smallvolution Facebook page. Here is what they posted:
Reaching Out to Learn More
We really loved their story and wanted to learn more so we reached out to Kris Cone, CEO of FloorPlanOnline.com and did an extended interview. Here is the transcript:
1. What has been your greatest success so far in your growing the business from small to big?
We are still relatively small (about $2 million in revenue in 2010) but growing, despite the economy. The biggest success has to be creating a
loyal and satisfied customer base of thousands of customers that often tell us we have the best product on the market for selling real estate.
We have maintained over a 95% customer satisfaction rating for 5 years now, which I think is a combination of a fair price for what we offer
(we are not the cheapest, nor the most expensive), a unique niche product offering, all backed by real customer support. We grew the
company on a boot strap with minimal money invested (comparatively)….so we can’t do a lot of the things we would like to
do that maybe some of our competitors can, but focusing on the core floor plan offering has helped us keep our customers happy.
2. What has been your greatest challenge?
Getting real estate agents to spend money on our tours to provide the most robust online content to sell a home. The Real Estate industry is
a strange beast. You have properties selling for $500,000, $1 million or more, yet you are still lucky if the property online has more than 10
Amazon.com has more information on a $10 book than a lot of properties online. Yet the revenue opportunities are so much higher. Real estate agents are typically independent contractors, and they are very cost conscious. We are not the cheapest tour solution. Often, to get in the
door, you need to have the cheapest solution. Some agents have also been stuck in the past with buying print ads vs online advertising.
This is changing, but some companies still spend millions on newspaper ads. Why… 90% of people use the internet to search and in 1/3 of the cases, the buyer finds the house they bought first, online. Because of the industry structure, there has been a lot of bottom up selling – the real estate agent, not their company, typically make the purchasing decision, so you often have to focus on who holds the purse string. This is
difficult for a small company – how do you effectively reach the 1.3 million real estate agents to 1. Get them to listen to you and 2. Get
them to buy from you.
3. How have online social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and Blogs helped you market your business?
Social media has helped with Viral Sharing of property tours and FloorPlanOnline services. Back to the greatest challenge, the more our customers, their sellers or even buyers can share their tours, their experiences and successes about FloorPlanOnline, the more people hear about us, and we let social media do the advertising work for us. A referral is much more valuable than a cold call…and social media is the new form of referral. Our marketing person, Chris Drayer, does a lot of work on the social media sites to get our name and products out to various social media sites – Facebook, Twitter, ActiveRain (a real estate oriented blog site) and to create ”Champions” for FloorPlanOnline. Often, the more successful agents are turning to these mediums as it is a hot topic in the real estate world.
We have also been involved in several grass roots industry events that use social media to talk about the events. In addition, our tours come with built-in social media tools. Anyone can post a home tour to Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, or over 100 other “social” networking sites, by clicking our “Share” button. So now, a home seller can actively participate in the marketing of their own home by posting a FloorPlanOnline tour to their Facebook Wall so all their contacts can see their home they are selling. Same for the agent. Even the buyer can share their potential new home with their friends. So the multiplier effect takes hold, and spreads.
4. Looking back, what are 2-3 things you would recommend to fellow entrepreneurs looking to grow their business from small to big?
- Know your market, your customer, and how to reach them. Do this before you start the business, or before you introduce a new product. Often, I think people just start out with an idea and do not really know who their customer is, or should be.
- Get a good website you can manage yourself. We changed our website last year from a home grown static site to a WordPress website. I bought some templates and started creating the site. And because WordPress is a blog/content management system, it is so easy to add new information as often as you want. This has dramatically increased our online search engine presence. Launch a new feature…create a post. Launch a new product…create a post. Have a recurring issue…create a post. No matter what it is, we now have a really easy way to communicate with our customers. You can even get plug-ins to repost the blog posts to sites like Twitter. However, here is where you need to be careful about social media…do you want to direct people to Facebook, or your website? Twitter is good from this respect, since you can only post a snippet, and it should have a link back to your site or blog post. The social media sites need to be a portal back to your website, not the other way around…and so your social media strategy needs to always think about the call to action and how to get them back to your website.
- Provide good customer service. Many people tell us one reason they continue to use us, despite our higher prices, is our great customer service. We help people…whether it is our problem or not (often it is because of some outdated software, malware or computer literacy issues). We use some technology tools to make our small company look big. We have a customer care call tool that routes calls and has call queuing. We have a virtual PBX phone system. We have an online chat tool that also allow us to do remote control trouble-shooting of customer’s computers. We use email tools to funnel issues. And we have effectively used off-shoring services through our own production department to help minimize costs. But, people want to call and talk to someone, and they need to be able to effectively communicate. Speak my language – so we have US people on our customer care lines.
For more information on FloorplanOnline.com, check out FloorplanOnline.com
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