October 1, 2019

JF1855: Marketing Expert Gives Us Strategies For Real Estate Investing Growth with Lael Sturm

Join + receive...

As most of us know, in this business we need to be great at many different things, or have people on our team that have different skills. Marketing is one necessary aspect of real estate investing. Whether you are buying or selling, you need effective ways to get in front of people. That’s what Lael will get into with us today. If you enjoyed today’s episode remember to subscribe in iTunes and leave us a review!

Best Ever Tweet:

“The more I know, the more I can serve my clients” – Lael Sturm

Lael Sturm Real Estate Background:

  • Founded LPSS Digital Marketing to deliver effective growth strategies and tactics to real estate professionals and other profitable businesses
  • Has been in online marketing for 25 years, worked with small and large companies including MTV, Nokia, Microsoft, and CNET/CBS Interactive
  • Based in San Francisco, CA
  • Say hi to him at https://www.lpss.co/?r_done=1
  • Best Ever Book: The Big Leap

Evicting a tenant can be painful, costing as much as $10,000 in court costs and legal fees, and take as long as four weeks to complete.

TransUnion SmartMove’s online tenant screening solution can help you quickly understand if you’re getting a reliable tenant, which can help you avoid potential problems such as non-payment and evictions.  For a limited time, listeners of this podcast are invited to try SmartMove tenant screening for 25% off.

Go to tenantscreening.com and enter code FAIRLESS for 25% off your next screening.


Theo Hicks: Hello, Best Ever listeners. Welcome to the best real estate investing advice ever show. I’m Theo Hicks, and today I’ll be speaking with Lael Sturm, who is joining us from San Francisco, California. Lael, how are you doing today?

Lael Sturm: I’m doing great. Thanks so much for having me.

Theo Hicks: Thanks for joining us. I’m looking forward to diving into your expertise, which is marketing. Lael is the founder of LPSS Digital Marketing, which delivers effective growth strategies and tactics to real estate professionals and other profitable businesses. He has been in online marketing for 25 years, and has worked with companies large and small, including MTV, Nokia, Microsoft and CNET – CBS Interactive. As I mentioned, Lael is based in San Francisco, California, and you can say hi to him at his website, which is LPSS.co.

Lael, before we dive into the conversation, can you tell us a little bit more about your background and what you’re focused on now?

Lael Sturm: Absolutely. My career started right at the genesis of the internet. The web was just starting to happen, and I knew a guy who built something and sold it very quickly; sometimes that’s all it takes – somebody nearby to be successful in order to catch the bug. So I jumped right in… It was the mid-nineties. I taught myself about the technology and quickly got a job in the industry. I was able to grow my knowledge, grow my perspective, grow my network to a point where I could actually help other people be successful.

As you’ve mentioned, I did some work in the media space for some major brands like MTV, and ultimately wound up at Columbia Business School, getting an MBA.

At the time I was at Columbia, there were not a lot of internet-qualified people that were going through business school. It was a lot of bankers and consultants. Consequently, people were coming to me for advice on startup ideas, and online strategies, and even investments in online properties… And sort of over beer and pizza I became an online strategy consultant, and grew my practice from there. Over the years, the landscape has changed significantly. Google was a brand new thing at the time I was consulting in business school, and since then social media has happened, and now we’re all carrying phones in our pockets, and things like virtual reality and artificial intelligence are on the horizon, and people are preparing for that…

So I work with businesses to try to make sure that they’re prepared to take advantage of these new technologies in order to grow and be successful, and not be left behind. As you mentioned, most of my practice is around helping real estate professionals and other profitable businesses. Day-to-day we serve them in a variety of capacities, including helping them with their social media efforts, ads across Google and Facebook and LinkedIn, content creation, blogging, email newsletters, and all of the things that they need to be doing to establish themselves as thought leaders and really take advantage of these new channels.

Theo Hicks: Before we dive into some specific strategies and tactics, I think it would be good to talk about — because as you mentioned, you started at the beginning of the internet, and since then technology has evolved quite a lot. We went from just basic computers and floppy disks to now (as you mentioned) everyone’s got cell phones, everyone’s essentially on the internet all the time; there’s video, there’s audio… So from your perspective, since you’ve been at this game for so long and you’ve gone through all those ups and downs and changes, how did you make sure that you were always staying on top of the newest thing that’s out there, instead of — like, some people can’t necessarily stay up with the changes, they can’t stay up with technology, and maybe their business was doing really well 20 years ago, but now it kind of doesn’t even exist anymore.

Lael Sturm: Fair question. I think first it starts with kind of a self-realization that maybe I don’t have all the answers. Maybe there’s still more to learn. And every day I show up with that perspective. Maybe somebody on my team has a different perspective that I could learn from. I try to consume content through podcasts, and books, and various blogs on a variety of subjects. The goal always is enrichment and growth. So the more I know, the better I can serve my clients… And frankly, I learn from clients as well. Sometimes a client will come to me and say “Hey, something has come up that we need to deal with. How should we deal with it?” and I’ll say “That’s an area that my team doesn’t have expertise on. Why don’t we go out and learn, and we’ll come back to you and report back on what we’ve found?”

So we’re constantly looking for new ways to enhance our knowledge base, to grow our perspective and to increase our value as trusted advisors to our clients.

Theo Hicks: I could not agree more. It’s always about continuously staying educated. Let’s move into the tactics. The opening question I wanted to ask you was out of all the marketing strategies that are out there, if someone’s just starting building their brand right now, or they’re just beginning to think about implementing some marketing strategies, what’s the one thing that every single real estate investor should be doing from a marketing perspective?

Lael Sturm: So we’re gonna start at the strategy level, not so much at the tactical level, although we can trail into that… What they need to do is establish their thought leadership using channels – and this is where it gets into tactics – like LinkedIn, like blogging platforms like Medium, like their email database… So they are theoretically an expertise in something; whatever it is that they’re an expert in, they need to communicate that to their potential audience… And whether that’s people that they’re trying to syndicate an investment with, or whether it’s a larger investment operation that they would like to have a role in, or whether they’re just trying to convince a property manager or a property owner to trust them, versus the variety of other resources…

The more they can demonstrate their expertise through creating content, through having a voice, through sharing their knowledge, the more likely they are to win those deals, and the more likely they are to stand out against the competition, because it’s a crowded field. And frankly, real estate investors are commoditized. One person’s money is as good as the next, from one perspective, and if you can distinguish yourself from the other investors as being smarter, being better, being more creative, having a different knowledge base, you’re more likely to win deals and grow in your career.

Theo Hicks: So can you either just high-level, or through a specific example, can you give us the story of how someone who obviously is an expert in apartment syndication, for example, and they want to start (let’s say) a newsletter, what are some things that they can do in order to build that loyal audience and stand out? I know obviously expertise is important, but what are the methods for communicating that expertise?

Lael Sturm: Fundamentally, regardless of channel or expertise or ultimate goal, fundamentally in all things marketing you wanna provide value to the end user or the end consumer. So if you’re somebody who’s putting together a syndicate, you need to be able to speak in an informed manner about this, in a way that’s additive to the conversation. So you’re just not just repeating what everybody already knows, you’re actually giving some insight, or some tips and tools that people can put to work to be successful themselves, for no clear benefit to yourself.

You’re essentially giving away your knowledge, and by doing that, you’re demonstrating both your expertise, but also your generosity, which speaks to the kind of person that you are, and makes people more inclined to wanna do business with you. That’s a strategy that you can bring to social media, that you can bring to email marketing, that you can bring to content creation, blogging, and that sort of thing… You should frankly do speaking engagements and even one-on-one meetings. “How can I provide value for you?”

Theo Hicks: When you were explaining the one thing every investor should do, you mentioned thought leadership and you mentioned LinkedIn, blogging, email database… What have you found to be the ideal or the best channel?

Lael Sturm: That’s just so hard, because it’s really subjective… But I would say – and this is tough for a real estate investor to do effectively right off the bat, but the most compelling platform currently is Instagram. Instagram – their algorithm and their engagement levels are so, so good, that if you can find a way to use Instagram to promote your brand, to promote your thought leadership, to promote a deal that you’re putting forward, that’s probably the best thing that you can do.

Now, that said, Instagram isn’t great for everybody equally. It’s a hard thing to use if your product isn’t beautiful. It’s easy if you’re in the fashion business, or even if you’re a realtor and you can showcase beautiful properties… But if you’re in finance or in the advice business, it’s a hard thing to distinguish yourself on… In which case I would say the next best choice is a platform like LinkedIn, where you can very easily reach the people that need to do business with you using text-based content, where you can write content that demonstrates your expertise.

Theo Hicks: On the opposite end of the spectrum, what is a common marketing practice/strategy/tactic that you see real estate investors in particular implementing, that you know for a fact is not effective and is kind of a waste of time?

Lael Sturm: Good question. The short answer is not everybody needs a full website. The era when everybody needed a robust website is over; with all of the current tools available to people, it’s possible to even not have a website at all. I’m not saying go that far, but what I find is a lot of real estate investors – certainly those that are trying to put together a REIT, or syndicate a deal – they will often build out a robust website to indicate that they’re the real deal, they’re professional and they can afford to invest in a big, comprehensive website… When actually a smaller website would do, with fewer bells and whistles, and you can supplement using tools like Facebook and Instagram and LinkedIn and other services… Or you can post all of the same content, but do it yourself, without having to have the robust site.

Theo Hicks: That’s a very interesting perspective. I thought of the same thing as well, and it kind of reminds me — it’s like, the three things in real estate: “I need to create an LLC right away, I need to get a business card right away, and I need to create a website right away.” So I’m glad that you mentioned that.

Take this however you want, but what would you say is one of the most unique marketing strategies you’ve seen a real estate investor do?

Lael Sturm: That’s a tough question… There’s certainly no shortage of unique practices. There is however a shortage of unique marketing that works. We’ve all seen crazy things; we’ve gone to a conference and somebody covers all of the city buses in their logo, or something… So we’ve seen stuff like that. As far as unique that works, and specific unique that works on digital – it’s not that exciting, it’s not that sexy really… It’s building community; it’s creating a profile that is going to have an engagement level that people can rely on, that they can come to this community, learn from other experts within the community, and actually enhance their own career without even engaging with the investment or the investor.

So it’s building a brand that people can rely on, and that they can turn to to grow, and be empowered by. Using a platform like Facebook or LinkedIn to do that is very unique, very unusual in the real estate investment space, but very effective, which is ultimately what you want.

Theo Hicks: For the money question, besides all of the amazing advice you’ve given so far, what is your best ever advice for real estate investors?

Lael Sturm: Well, look, since I’m a marketer, not an active investor – my real estate investment was my home. I invested in a home in San Francisco, which was not a small undertaking. It’s appreciated significantly, and there have been many opportunities for me to sell at what felt like the top, and I’ve resisted selling and moving somewhere less expensive… And because I’ve been able to hold on to it, I’m not in a position where I’ve got a tremendous pile of equity that I can tap into and use to make other investments or to take on other strategies.

So I would say my advice is buy and hold… To the extent that you can hang on, you should hang on.

Theo Hicks: Alrighty. Are you ready for the best ever lightning round?

Lael Sturm: I certainly am.

Theo Hicks: Alright. First, a quick word from our sponsor.

Break: [00:15:52].28] to [00:16:53].14]

Theo Hicks: Alright, Lael, what is the best ever book you’ve recently read?

Lael Sturm: I’m reading a great book actually for the second time through  called “The Big Leap.” It’s by Gay Hendricks, and it is just a phenomenal business book, but it also has some great lessons in there about how to break through the barriers that you might be  experiencing in your personal life. But it’s all about growth.

Theo Hicks: Alrighty. And if your business were to collapse today, what would you do next?

Lael Sturm: Well, I guess it depends. If I’m in a position to not need income, I would just focus on playing tennis and skiing and hanging out with my kids. If you’re asking me what would I do professionally next, I would probably dedicate myself to writing and content creation, and trying to create value around education and online professional development.

Theo Hicks: Alright. And then typically we ask a question about a deal that you’ve done, so instead I’m going to change it up a little bit and ask you “What is the worst marketing strategy that you’ve given to a client, and how did you overcome and resolve that issue?”

Lael Sturm: [laughs] It’s a good question. I would love to tell you that everything we do is amazing and very effective… But sometimes we come into organizations where they face challenges that we just weren’t prepared to deal with, and it’s  a bit of a trial by fire. However, we as an agency distinguish ourselves by offering our clients total transparency, both in pricing and in expectations… So if we fail to live up to your expectations, we’re the first to tell you “It’s time to stop doing this.”

One example is we were hired by a networking group in California that wanted to grow its base of attorneys that were participating in these networking events. We thought “Well, there’s no shortage of attorneys in the area. We could certainly find them using social media.” But what we’ve found was although we were able to reach the attorneys, we were not able to compel them to attend this networking event, and the problem was that time is money when you’re an attorney. So the value proposition was not high enough to justify the lost billable hours. If you’re billing at $600+/hour and it’s gonna take you 30 minutes each way to get to this event, and then you’re gonna spend an hour there – well, that’s $1,200+. It’s hard to justify that in a Facebook ad. So we were not successful.

I don’t know if it was a spectacular flame-out, but I certainly was surprised by that, and very quickly it became clear we were not gonna be able to help this organization… So we politely said “Look, this is not a good use of your money. Let’s not do this”, and we pointed them in a different direction.

Theo Hicks: Thank you for sharing that with us. What is the best ever way you like to give back?

Lael Sturm: Well, volunteering is always good, and I do a decent amount of that, and make time for my team to do that as well… But I would say – circling back to my earlier point – I really hold myself to a standard where I provide value in every conversation. It’s really important to me that if you’re gonna take the time to sit down with me, whether you’re a client, whether you’re a prospect, whether you’re somebody that I meet in line at the coffee place, I want you to leave that conversation richer than when you arrived at it.

I wanna be able to provide value for you every single day, whether you’re a client of mine, whether you’re a friend of mine, or whether you’re somebody that I just happened to meet on the street.

Theo Hicks: Well, I’m sure the Best Ever listeners will agree with me when I say this – I do feel like I will walk away from this conversation a lot richer. The last question before I summarize what we discussed – what’s the best ever place to reach you?

Lael Sturm: The best ever place to reach me is on my website, which is lpss.co. There’s a number of different options there for getting in touch with me. You can contact me directly using email, you can set an appointment with my assistant… But there’s actually a button right there on the website where you can schedule 15 minutes to chat with me about anything. So if you wanna talk about marketing, that’s fine; that’s my expertise. But if you wanna talk about baseball, or an interesting book that you’ve read, or literally whatever is on your mind, I’m happy to spend 15 minutes with you. Again, my goal is for this to be a valuable 15 minutes.

Theo Hicks: Well, Lael, I really appreciate you coming on the show today. As I mentioned, I am definitely walking away with a lot more knowledge than I came into this conversation with. Lots of great content. Just a few things that stood out to me… One – in the beginning we discussed essentially how to stay relevant in an industry that’s changing so quickly, which is essentially every industry right now… It’s all about cutting into that self-realization that you don’t know everything, you don’t have all the answers, and because of that you need to constantly, every day, learn something new, and continue focusing on enrichment and growth.

And then something else interesting that you said is that you also learn from your clients, your customers as well. I thought that was an interesting point. You also mentioned — we discussed how to build that audience, how to build that loyal following, and one of the things that you mentioned was to obviously speak in an informed manner, that is adding to the conversation; you’re not just repeating general information or well-understood knowledge already. Do it when there’s really no clear benefit for yourself. So not only are you displaying your expertise, but you’re also displaying your generosity, because you’re giving away valuable knowledge for free.

You mentioned that right now you believe that one of the best channels for marketing is Instagram… And for those listening, we actually have a blog post; google “Joe Fairless how to grow Instagram.” [unintelligible [00:22:40].02] shared with us for how to build a following on Instagram, using real estate as the example.

Something else that I really liked that you said was – when I asked you about something that everyone does that they don’t necessarily need to be doing, and that was the website. Don’t go out there and spend thousands and thousands of dollars on a professionally-designed website if you don’t need to, especially with all those tools out there… You can just create a landing page, you can just use Facebook, or your social media page, your LinkedIn.

And then your best ever advice for real estate investors, which was the importance of the buy and hold strategy, because of the ability to build up equity, whether you’re forcing value or you’re getting natural appreciation… Because you’ll be able to get a pretty decent chunk of equity that you can then leverage to use to invest in really whatever you want.

Again, Lael, I really appreciate you coming on. Very powerful stuff today. Thank you to everyone who is listening. Have a best ever day, and I’ll talk to you soon.

    Get More CRE Investing Tips Right to Your Inbox

    Get exclusive commercial real estate investing tips from industry experts, tailored for you CRE news, the latest videos, and more - right to your inbox weekly.