April 15, 2020

JF2052: Syndication Website Design With Todd Heitner

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Todd owns a company called Apartment Investor Pro, a company that builds websites for apartment investors. Todd gives different items to keep in mind when creating your own website which includes; back end, front end, hosting, and increasing traffic. 

Todd Heitner Real Estate Background:

  • Has been building websites for real estate investors for the past 15 years
  • His business, Apartment Investor Pro, takes the pain out of setting up a website for your multifamily investing business
  • Based in Roanoke, VA
  • Say hi to him at www.apartmentinvestorpro.com


Best Ever Tweet:

“When choosing a website designer you want to focus on communication. Make sure you choose someone who is easy to communicate with and can understand your goals and vision.” – Todd Heitner


Joe Fairless: Best Ever listeners, how you doing? Welcome to the best commercial real estate projects investing advice ever show. I’m Joe Fairless. This is the world’s longest-running daily real estate investing podcast where we only talk about the best advice ever; we don’t get into any of that fluffy stuff. With us today Todd Heitner. How you doing, Todd?

Todd Heitner: I’m good. How about you?

Joe Fairless: I’m doing really well and looking forward to our conversation. This will be especially helpful for all you apartment investors out there, and I know there’s a lot of them who listen to this show. So first, a little bit about Todd – he’s been building websites for real estate investors for the last 15 years, and he has a company called Apartment Investor Pro. Told you it’d be relevant to you, apartment investors. He takes the pain out of setting up a website for your multifamily investing business. We’re going to talk about components of websites and marketing funnels. So even if you don’t work with him, you’ll still get a lot of value from our conversation. But ultimately, we’ll be talking about his business as well, and ways he differentiates himself from others. He is based in Roanoke, Virginia. So Todd, with that being said, first, do you want to give the Best Ever listeners a little bit more about your background, your current focus and then we’ll dive right into it?

Todd Heitner: Okay, sure. I guess on a personal level, my wife and I have been married for 18 years. We like to travel a lot. We just actually got back from a trip to Asia. We were there for a couple of months. That was really cool. We’re quite like you said, I started building websites for real estate investors about 15 years ago, more recently focused more on the multifamily side of it, especially apartment syndicators. We saw a need where people were struggling to get their website up and running and just tried to find ways to simplify that process, speed it up so that people don’t have to agonize over that for weeks or months, so it’s that’s basically it.

Joe Fairless: Okay. First off, why did you shift your focus to focus on apartment investing websites?

Todd Heitner: I saw that there was more of a need there. I was doing single-family investors first. There’s already a lot of options out there, I guess, with the single-family side; there’s quite a few services out there. We were around probably, about the longest with that, but there’s a lot of competition. And also I saw that I got into that as helping somebody that– he teaches people how to invest in apartments. So I helped him with developing websites for his students, and I saw there was definitely a need there. Nobody else was really offering that, and so it seemed to make sense to try to expand that and help more investors.

Joe Fairless: Cool. Okay. So if we’re creating a multifamily– and this is primarily multifamily syndication, it sounds like.

Todd Heitner: Yeah, primarily.

Joe Fairless: So if we’re creating a multifamily syndication website, what are the components of the website that must be included?

Todd Heitner: For one thing, it starts with having a good domain name. I always recommend people, especially for syndication, get a domain name that matches your business name. If it’s Premier Investments LLC, then get premierinvestments.com.

Joe Fairless: Some people don’t do that? That seems like 101.

Todd Heitner: Yeah, and it’s a different mindset from a single-family investor. So I think some people coming from single-family investing might get  ibuyhouses.

Joe Fairless: Oh, yeah. Okay.

Todd Heitner: So a lot of people realize the need for that, but just in case, I always recommend that. And also always go with .com. You don’t want to have to explain that. Okay, no, it’s a .net or whatever, because people are still going to type in .com, and end up on somebody else’s website. So before somebody really gets too attached to a business name, I would suggest seeing if the domain name’s available because, again, that’s going to be part of your brand. So you don’t want to get set on a business name and then find that somebody else has a domain name, then you’ve got to try to come up with some other domain name that doesn’t really match your business as well.

Joe Fairless: Or if there’s a competitor in the space that has that and then you don’t do that research and you get a cease and desist letter from the competitor who’s a trillion-dollar real estate fund or something… Which, true story, has happened to someone who I know. After he got the website up and his branding up, he got a cease and desist from the original company that was his name, and he had to just pivot. So that’s part of the process you need to go through too.

Todd Heitner: Yeah, it definitely pays to do your research and get that first. I would get that locked in and then move forward getting the business name, setup, and everything. Another important part is the web hosting. With our service we include that, but otherwise, you just want to make sure it’s a fast, reliable web hosting service because people don’t want to wait on a slow website to load. Any hosting service you use, you want to make sure there’s good support there, because sooner or later, there’s gonna be some issue with your website and you need to have some way to get help with that.

Joe Fairless: Please quantify fast and reliable for someone who’s trying to look it up on their own.

Todd Heitner: Well, one thing that’s really helpful is actually, there’s several tools. First, search for “web page speed tests”. There’s several different sites that will do a speed test, and they will give you a rating to show how you compare. But within just a few seconds, you want your page to load. There should be something there almost immediately. At least, the headline or some content that people can start reading.

Joe Fairless: But that’s testing it after it’s up. But in this case, ideally, we know it’s going to work the first time and then we test to validate it later. So what do we research prior to actually putting it up?

Todd Heitner: You can look at reviews online, see what other people are saying different current web hosting companies. You do have to be careful about that because a lot of them are biased, because people are affiliates for these different services, and so they recommend whichever one’s paying them the most. So you do have to make sure you get some unbiased reviews.

Joe Fairless: This is showing my ignorance in this area, but I would think there’d be on web hosting, an option you can pay for the hosting that will be the Cadillac, or it will be the Lamborghini of hosting, and each service — like GoDaddy, for example. What do they have–

Todd Heitner: That’s true. They usually have a lot of plans that you can choose from.

Joe Fairless: Okay, so that’s my question.

Todd Heitner: Because if you go with the cheapest plan, usually it’s shared websites on the same server as you and you’re at the mercy of how much traffic they’re getting and what they’re doing on their websites, because they might be doing something that slows down your websites. And there are different plans. The one that I recommend, if people are using WordPress, there’s a company called WP Engine, and they are really fast. They have a lot of stuff in place to keep your website running fast. So it’s a little bit more expensive, but it’s reliable. They have good support and it’s fast. So that’s what I’d recommend.

Joe Fairless: Okay, cool. Like it. Alright, so web hosting, domain name… And we haven’t even got to the actual components of the website, that’s consumer-facing. That’s good. I love that we’re talking about the inner workings of it. What else should we keep in mind?

Todd Heitner: Of course, there’s the design and development side of it, and that’s something where I’ve seen people go a couple of different routes. They’ll either try to build it themselves using some online website builder like Wix or Weebly or something. The problem with that is you waste a lot of time. If you’re trying to get started in apartment investing, that’s not really the best use of your time, because it seems like, oh, it’s not that big of a deal, let’s build up our website, but it can take weeks or months sometimes. I was talking with one person, he said he built his own site; it took him 10 months to actually get it live. He’s trying to do other things too at the same time. It’s just not the best use of your time really, especially if you’re not a designer, it can get over your head.

The other route some people go is hiring designers. There’s big companies you can use or there’s– some of the people use services like Fiverr or something like that, where you just find a designer and hire them. Just some things to be cautious about that, that sometimes it looks really good, it looks really cheap, but communication could be an issue because you may be dealing with someone in another country, English isn’t their first language, and you can have a lot of back and forth, a lot of miscommunications, misunderstandings, things like that.

Then there’s the content side of it too. I think a lot of people underestimate writing the content for their website… Because you do want to get the wording right, and you want to come across with the right impression. So that’s something too, you can either write it yourself if you’re decent with writing or you can hire people to do it. But whoever writes it needs to really understand your business, and that can be a little bit tricky to explain to someone else who maybe has no experience with real estate investing or multifamily investing. It can be a challenge, but you can find people out there. It’s just one of the things to be aware of that you can take a little bit longer than you might think when you’re going into it.

Joe Fairless: And what about the different types of pages that should be included on an apartment syndication website?

Todd Heitner: You need, first, basic general information about what you do, how you help your investors, how you can help their investments, what you can do for their investments, but also you want to have just a general contact form, of course, so people have a way to get in touch with you. But then also an investor profile form is really important, something that a potential investor who is interested in investing with you can fill it out and give you, of course, their contact information, but also are they SEC accredited, how much do they want or have available to invest, have they ever done anything like this before, so that you can capture that information and be able to follow up with them. That’s really vital for that type of business.

It can be good to have an About Us page that has your team, yourself and your other team members. That can really add some credibility, because people want to know who they’re doing business with and like to see a face. Because these websites can be cold and impersonal, I guess. So if you have pictures of yourself and your team members, that can really go a long way with the credibility side of it.

Joe Fairless: What about getting people to the website? What tips do you have there from a marketing funnel standpoint?

Todd Heitner: It is a good idea to have a landing page… If you’re going to do any paid marketing, especially, that you can send people to, that just captures their name and email, so you have a way to follow up with them. But just some ways to get people to your site – you can use social media, that’s one thing that’s free, you can build up a following with that, or there’s some paid options like pay per click advertising; there’s a few different avenues of that. Google Ads, is one of the bigger ones. There’s search advertising, so people that are actively searching for a certain phrase, or certain things online, you can have your ad come up for that. There’s also display advertising, is another type of pay per click advertising. So that’s where your ad shows up on different websites, and you can target websites based on the topic that they’re based on. So you can target investment websites, for example, for your ad to show up.

Another way is Facebook advertising; you can advertise there, because there’s so many people are on Facebook. So you can have your ads show up there. And again, with these, you pay each time someone clicks your ads. There’s no base price, there’s no minimum or anything; you’re just pretty much putting your budget and you pay based on how many people click your ad.

Joe Fairless: What are some mistakes you see people make when it comes to building out their website? So I went back to the website stuff after you were talking about the marketing funnels.

Todd Heitner: Of course, one thing I touched on was trying to do it themselves when they haven’t done it before, and it can kind of get over their heads. I guess, sometimes you can try to get everything perfect and never actually get your website live, which can really hold back your business, because a lot of times people wait to do their marketing and wait to get investors until the website’s live, but then they get stuck on some of these parts, like writing the content or other things like that.

So you don’t have to get it perfect, but you just want to get it to the point where it looks professional. I guess that’s another aspect of maybe not doing it yourself, too. Sometimes you might spend all this time on it and do your best, but it may not really be up to par with other syndicators, so that can be an issue, too. Or you’re trying to cut corners, trying to save money, you’re going with the cheapest designers and cheapest web hosting and things like that, you can end up with a site that doesn’t work very well. Also some of those Do-It-Yourself type systems– I found a lot of people run into limitations with that. They realize, “Okay, it’s great for getting something up initially, but now that I want to expand it a little bit, there’s no options for that.” You can’t add on these other features that you need. So I guess, looking at the long term goal of where you want to go with a website, and making sure that whatever platform you’re using will support that.

Joe Fairless: Okay. I noticed on your website, you’ve got four pricing plans. Just walk us through each of those four, will you? And just some of the things to keep in mind for each of them, and the price for anyone who’s not on your website right now.

Todd Heitner: Sure. So we do have a starter plan. That was something we introduced just for someone who know they want to get into multifamily, but they’re not quite ready to invest a lot in or don’t have a lot to invest right now. So it’s just a low-cost way to get your website up and running, something to represent your business so that you can have something to put on your business cards. It does look professional and everything, and that’s the idea, but it just has one design option, and you can customize that. People can go in and tweak it themselves, but it’s limited on the customization that we do on it. Because I’ve been to a lot of events where people hand out business cards and you go to their website, and it’s just like a “Parked at GoDaddy” page or a Coming Soon page. That’s why we started that plan. You can have that up and running. I mean, you can be–

Joe Fairless: What do you do when you come across that?

Todd Heitner: Since I do websites, sometimes I’ll ask, “Hey, do you want to get a website?”

Joe Fairless: Yeah. That’s a perfect client for you.

Todd Heitner: Yeah, yeah, because it looks unprofessional. You’re giving people business cards and you don’t have anything there. So that’s basically it. It still comes with one design option. Our current pricing is $397 for the setup on that and then $49.95 a month. So that it gives you something to get started and you can always upgrade from there. That’s the thing you can always– as your business grows and you have a little bit more to invest in it, you can always just pay the difference and upgrades to another plan.

Our most popular is the pro plan. It has four different design options. Besides apartment syndication, there’s also mobile home park syndication, self-storage syndication, and also even for owner-operators, ones that aren’t trying to attract investors, but just need something to represent their apartment investing business. So the pro plan is that. It’s $997 and then $99.95 a month, and it does include a little bit of customization; we’ll help you do some basic customization on it, and then it goes up from there.

There’s an executive plan… The main difference is it has a custom design that’s unique to your site. That’s one thing with all of these, starter and pro. They have a pre-made design and pre-written content. So those things that slow everybody down, like trying to come up with the wording and all that, you don’t really have to worry about. You can change it, of course, if you want to, you can go in and tweak things, but we tried to make it where you don’t really have to if you don’t want to or don’t have the time right now. But then as it goes up, the executive plan has a custom design so it’s unique to your site.

The diamond plan has also unique content, too; it’s written just for you. We help with customizing a lead magnet, something you can give away on your site… Basically, setting up your marketing funnel with that plan.

Joe Fairless: Anything else that we haven’t talked about as it relates to tips that our listeners can take away from this conversation to help them make better decisions when they’re building out their website?

Todd Heitner: Yeah. I think one thing maybe is recognizing why it’s important to have a website, just the credibility that that gives you, especially if you’re starting out, but really, at any level; it says a lot about your business. In fact, one of your podcasts, I think one that Theo Hicks did, he was talking about how important it is having an online presence, because potential investors will Google you to see what they can find, and if they can’t find you, they aren’t going to trust you… Because you do expect any business to have a website; that’s a basic thing. So when people search and they don’t find anything, it really hurts your credibility in their eyes, but having a website really does a lot for that.

And it does open up options. You can also automate things with your business, you can set up a marketing funnel where people sign up for something for free, and you put them into CRM or an email marketing system like ActiveCampaign or MailChimp or something like that. You can have a series of emails go out to people automatically, and that makes sure people aren’t falling through the cracks, but also, they get a consistent marketing message that builds that relationship on autopilot. So really, the website is a hub for all of your marketing.

If you have a podcast, or down the road maybe people will have a podcast or they want to write blog posts or anything like that, really the website ties that all together, it gives these people a place to go to. Actually, I want to ask you a question, if you don’t mind, because when we were at Michael Blank’s event, he put you on the spot, and said, “If you started over, and you had only $1,000 and a laptop, what would you do?” And you said you would start a podcast, and he asked if you would have a website and you said, “Yes, I would.” And I was just curious, could you explain to me your perspective? What would be one of the first things you would do if you were starting out from scratch?

Joe Fairless: Yeah. I think 99% of the people already know that. It’s nothing groundbreaking; we need real estate syndication websites. The year’s 2020, so you have to have a website. People are gonna search you on Google, you have to collect emails to build a database, which will then translate into more investors in your deals. Alright, my friend, so how can the Best Ever listeners learn more about what you got going on?

Todd Heitner: Well, they can go to our website, apartmentinvestorpro.com. We have a demo site there. So if people want to see that and see what it looks like, some of the features, they can do that. I do have a free resource too for anybody that’s maybe interested in setting up their own website. It’s a seven-point checklist for just things to go through; some of the things we talked about, but also some of the resources like the hosting and other stuff. That’s at apartmentinvestorpro.com/checklist.

Joe Fairless: Oh, cool. You’ve been holding out on us. That’s what I was looking for. Something like that that you talk about. But it sounds like you went through the majority of this stuff, right?

Todd Heitner: Yeah, I did. It just has maybe some specific companies that I’ve used, things like that. Resources for finding stock photos to put on your site, different things like that, where you can find some of that stuff.

Joe Fairless: Cool. Well, what’s the website to find best stock photos?

Todd Heitner: Well, there’s several, but I use Adobe Stock photos; they have a subscription service. There’s a lot, but I like– they seem really professional looking. They look a little bit better than, I think, than some of the others out there.

Joe Fairless: Todd, thank you for being on the show and talking to us about website building for apartment syndications and the components of them, some mistakes that people make coming out of the gate, and how to avoid those mistakes. So, really appreciate it. I hope you have a best ever day. Talk to you again soon.

Todd Heitner: Okay, thanks a lot. I appreciate it.

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