June 1, 2021

JF2464: The Syndicator's Guide to Growing Your Circle of Influence with Derek Peterson

Derek Peterson Real Estate Background:

  • Owner of Digital Marketing Agency
  • Agency that helps syndicators grow their brand online
  • 10 years of real estate experience
  • Based in Charlotte, N.C.
  • Say hi to him at:  https://adaptmediaagency.com/ 


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Ash Patel: Hello Best Ever listeners. Welcome to the Best Real Estate Investing Advice Ever Show. I’m Ash Patel and I’m here with our guest today, Derek Peterson. Derek is joining us from Charlotte, North Carolina. Derek is the owner of Adapt Media Agency, which is an agency that helps syndicators grow their brand online. He’s got 10 years of real estate experience. Derek, how are you today?

Derek Peterson: I’m doing fantastic. How are you?

Ash Patel: I’m doing great, thank you. Before we get started, can you tell us a little bit more about your background and what you’re focused on now?

Derek Peterson: Yeah, absolutely. Background wise, being 45 now, I spent about 25 years in the sales and marketing arena, working for a variety of different companies, playing sort of running the corporate game, getting my teeth wet in medical device sales, software sales. At one point, I left corporate America to open a medical distribution company. I did that for about five years and realized I don’t like medical. I took a lot of those funds, invested them in real estate, and came to realize that the thing that I had more of a knack for was marketing.

Many years ago, I opened up a marketing firm. We are, today, Adapt Media Agency. We are a full-service digital marketing agency, as you said, based out of Charlotte, North Carolina, that works with a variety of different clients now, but with a particular focus on working with real estate syndicators across a variety of different asset classes… Whether that’s self-storage, multifamily, retail, industrial, you name it; we’ve had the opportunity to help folks like that develop those brands in the syndication space. I was super excited to get a chance to come on the show and chat with you today.

Ash Patel: Derek, what year was it that you got into real estate?

Derek Peterson: I got into real estate personally 15 years ago. Let’s do the math. I guess that was…

Ash Patel: Mid-2000s.

Derek Peterson: Mid-2000s, yes. It’s actually right after the bubble burst, so we’ll say. Right when the property value started to tank a little bit, that’s when I thought maybe this was an opportunity to jump in.

Ash Patel: Were you passionate about real estate, or was it just opportunistic, where prices are down so let’s see what we can do?

Derek Peterson: I’d say at that point, it was more opportunistic, having been in corporate sales at that point, having amassed some wealth, and I needed a place to diversify my portfolio outside of what we’ll call traditional stocks and bonds. I thought real estate may be a good endeavor. I bought my first three-family with two other physicians and a small group that we created, and so launched my journey into real estate.

Ash Patel: Alright, so you’re a sales and marketing guy at heart. You got into real estate and you’ve had this niche that you couldn’t fill with sales and marketing. Is that what happened? Did you want to get back into that arena? How did you progress into the real estate syndication world and investments?

Derek Peterson: From a real estate syndication perspective, I’d say probably the area where I’ve progressed the most is with providing value back to other syndicators, and helping them grow their brand and grow their syndication business. I started, as I mentioned before, investing in a little bit of real estate myself, and sort of grew over time, a small and modest portfolio. But really where I started to have a true interest in real estate was when I started working with other syndicators within our firm, really helping them take a traditional syndicator that’s out there right now, take their brand to the next level so that they can grow their funds, and they can grow their thought leadership platforms to start to amass the wealth that they’re looking to for themselves and their clients.

Ash Patel: Alright. Derek, when you were building up your portfolio, what did it look like when you decided to dive into the syndication world? What were you working on? How big was your portfolio?

Derek Peterson: I had five multifamily investments. They were three to four-family homes in the small partnership that I had, so call it 15 units. I realized that there was a lot of work that was going into that from a management perspective, although I wasn’t the one responsible for it… There was still a lot of work from managing that small portfolio. And it wasn’t really giving me access to sort of the bigger deals and the bigger opportunities that I wanted to get involved in. Some of these huge apartment complexes versus these sorts of beat-up, dilapidated homes that happened to be able to be turned into three-bedroom opportunities.

So my first exposure to the syndication business was through a company called City Point Capital, and they had an opportunity for me to, as an investor, put income into an opportunity for a building that was being trued up in Southie Boston. I met with the individual and invested in my first syndication deal, and it was like, “Whoa, this is where I need to be, because it was a lot easier and my returns were a lot better.” So that really sort of sparked my interest in the syndication business. I was doing it wrong.

Ash Patel: Derek, you’ve got passive income versus phone calls from tenants now. It has opened up this whole world to you. What was your next step after you learned about the syndication world and how awesome it is?

Derek Peterson: The next step was I invested in more syndication opportunities in the self-storage space, and with a few other syndicators that I had relationships with and I trusted. Because I wasn’t developing these deals. I was just starting to get my feet wet with understanding how syndication worked. The returns that I was seeing were just phenomenal. So I invested in three pretty substantial syndication opportunities over the course of about seven to eight years and I saw some tremendous success. So much so that when I stepped into the role as a marketer, I knew that was an arena that I wanted to focus on, outside of a variety of other businesses. I knew there was a ton of opportunity there.

Ash Patel: How do you penetrate that market? How do you become known as a marketer for syndicators?

Derek Peterson: It’s funny, one of them is what we’re doing right now, which is podcasting. My first entrance into it was to do some marketing for one of the deals that I had actually invested in. It was with somebody by the name of Chris Benson at Reliant Real Estate Investments. Chris is the Chief Investment Officer over there and he was an old buddy, somebody that I’ve invested with in some of his other syndication deals… And they needed an interim marketer or somebody to clean up their marketing. Chris set that up and I started to work with Reliant, and redeveloped their website. From that, somebody at Lifebridge Capital, Whitney Sewell, who has a great podcast as well – I know that a lot of people know Whitney, he’s an awesome guy…

Ash Patel: A great guy.

Derek Peterson: We developed his website, and went on Whitney’s podcast. That’s really where it began. I was given an opportunity to speak to the audience about what a successful marketing branding approach would be for a real estate syndicator. The phone began to ring off the hook, and one podcast led to another one, one brand to another brand. Today we have worked with dozens of syndicators to help them with a process that just quite frankly works if you do it right.

Break: [00:07:43] – [00:09:45]

Ash Patel: Where do you have the most value? Is it online marketing? Is it attracting new investors? Is it communicating with investors?

Derek Peterson: It’s a little bit of both. I’d say there are probably three areas that we focus on when we work with a new syndicator. Some syndicators may have an interest in all three, or maybe they just want to piece together what is most interesting to them.

The first bucket, I’d say, that we have an immediate impact on, to answer your question, would be in helping them develop a thought leadership platform. Actually, Joe Fairless was probably one of the founding fathers when it came to creating that thought leadership platform, of using podcasting to attract would-be investors. He really laid the foundation and the framework for that.

We help syndicators to be able to develop that thought leadership platform so they can go out to those pools of attention that are out there. Whether it’s YouTube, or iTunes, Stitcher, and a variety of different platforms that are out there to be able to get their attention. Anywhere from developing the podcast, the branding, doing the editing, and all things around developing that thought leadership platform, to bring potential investors into their circle of influence. That’s the first bucket we can have an impact on.

The second bucket would be developing their website presence. We’re firm believers that all roads lead to Rome. Rome being your website. So via social media, via email campaigns, via your thought leadership platform, we’re trying to draw attention back to a website that is structured appropriately. There’s a lot that goes into that. We could spend an entire podcast talking about just what’s necessary to develop an appropriate website, to be able to capture people’s attention, and to be able to give them something of value so they give you something back to them, that being their email address.

Then they enter into what’s the third bucket, which is really your indoctrination process. That’s the below the funnel process where if you have an active investment – great, you can put them through that process of introducing them to that. If you don’t have an active investment, how do you cultivate that relationship and how do you get people to know you, like you, and trust you, that you’re an authority in that syndication space? So when a deal does come about, you’ve provided enough value in their life as it relates to real estate that they’re ready to provide you with funds when you do have a deal that’s up and running.

That’s a very broad based sort of categorical explanation of those three areas that we help focus on… From the top of the funnel, let’s grab people’s attention, to the second, let’s bring them to your website, and then let’s keep them engaged, so that we can build a long-term financial relationship with them.

Ash Patel: Derek, what’s one area that new syndicators often get wrong?

Derek Peterson: There are quite a few that I’ve seen. But I think the area that most syndicators get wrong is when they develop their thought leadership platform, they don’t give it enough time. They’ll start a podcast, they’ll do seven episodes, no one listens to them, and they quit. They build a website, nobody visits there, and they stop. They send a few emails, call it an email campaign, and like, it didn’t work. The reality is, Rome wasn’t built in a day. I like to stick with the Rome analogy. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it takes time to cultivate a digital relationship with somebody.

A lot of times these people, they don’t know you; they don’t know Joe Fairless, they don’t know Whitney Sewell. They know of them through the thought leadership platform, where they continually saw the posts, they continually saw the emails, they continually listened to the podcast. Over time, you start to develop a trust with somebody. The only way to really develop trust with somebody digitally, and there’s been so much data to prove that this works, is you need to see them over and over and over again. It becomes a trust built through familiarity, and a trust that’s built through delivering value. That’s probably the biggest mistake, is people pull the ripcord too early.

Break: [00:13:39][00:14:16]

Ash Patel: How about some of your experienced syndicators? What’s an area that you can help them improve the most or that they need the most improvement on?

Derek Peterson: That’s a great question, because we really do cover the gamut from those who have massive portfolios and great success through just being in business for many years and having a Rolodex that goes deep. Those individuals we’ll just focus on for a second, because we talked about the newbies… Those individuals don’t feel they need any of this stuff. They’re like, “I don’t need a website. I don’t need an email campaign. I don’t even need a thought leadership platform, because I’m killing the game right now as it is.” And they might be, but the reality is you could be doing that much better if you expanded your sphere of influence and if you made access to information more readily available… And if you are a seasoned veteran, you have a lot of knowledge between your ears that you can provide to individuals to bring them as potential investors.

So I think it’s this old-school mentality and thought, like trying to teach your grandpa to text, trying to take somebody who’s seasoned and convince them that they need all of these other avenues. Because the only constant in marketing is change; it’s always changing, it’s always evolving, and we’re always vying for people’s attention. That’s what marketers are. We’re just trying to get your attention in these little ponds where people’s attentions are. Some of the more seasoned folks that have done it the old-school way – again, dismiss how powerful digital marketing, social media, video, and podcasts really are. Because they did it without it, and I get that.

Ash Patel: Yeah, let’s talk about that change…. And let’s define a thought leadership platform. I’m going to give you what I think it is. It’s a combination of podcast, website, email, YouTube videos, Instagram, social media… Just your typical areas of interaction. What am I missing?

Derek Peterson: I don’t think you’re missing anything, actually. We could name a couple of other social media platforms or video platforms, but I think you hit the nail on the head. I often use an analogy to explain thought leadership platforms that seems to resonate with people… So consider a thought leadership platform as the tool, consider it as a fishing rod. You’re trying to get the attention of people, and you’re trying to get fish in your boat, your boat being your website. So you’ve got all these ponds and these lakes of opportunity where people’s attentions are, and we have to use different types of bait and different types of lures. I’m not a fisherman, so I don’t really know what other things you put on a hook… But stuff you put on the hook that I can throw into the water to try to get a bite, to try to get a nibble, to try to get some interest, to be able to hook them and to get them into the boat. Not to refer to your investors as fish, but you get my point, is that we’re using that rod – that is your platform, and all the different lures that are in your tackle box are the ways in which you can try to get people to pull them into the boat. It’s all about one thing, and that’s building and developing trust, because it’s all about “Do I know you? Do I like you? And do I trust you?” That comes through that platform or through that fishing rod.

Ash Patel: What would you recommend that people just getting into syndication do to build that trust?

Derek Peterson: That’s a great question, because we deal with a lot of seasoned vets and a lot of newbies. What the challenge of the newbie is, and if you’re listening right now, is the fact that you may not have that portfolio to be able to flash in front of a would-be investor as sort of your proof of what you’ve been able to do. So how do I, somebody who has maybe zero properties in my portfolio, be able to go out there and be able to make an impression? That’s tough and that’s hard to do. So with some of those folks that don’t have that experience – and I think that’s the natural progression and pathway – you partner with other individuals, you bring other people on your team who do have a portfolio.

In fact, a funny story – probably the first 10 developments that we did, Joe Fairless sat on the executive board for nearly every single one of them… To the point where my development team was like, “Who is this guy? He’s everywhere.” Leverage relationships with other people in the business that have the experience that you don’t have. Instant credibility, put them on your executive board. Raise capital for those other individuals and the funds that they’re working on in joint ventures, that’s another great way to do it. And if you have the knowledge and if you have the understanding — just because you don’t have a deep portfolio, don’t be afraid to have your voice be heard.

I think there’s a lot of hesitation when starting these thought leadership platforms, like “Why should they listen to me? I’m not Whitney Sewell, I’m not Joe Fairless.” You know what? There was a point where Joe Fairless didn’t know anything about real estate and it was his first podcast. You just have to take that step and you have to take that leap. That’s probably the biggest advice I’d give to the new folks, is you do know what you’re talking about. The greatest way to get better at it and the greatest way to learn something is to teach it. You’re not going to open your mouth unless you know what you’re talking about, so it forces you to become an expert.

Ash Patel: That is powerful advice and I think that’ll inspire a lot of people. Thank you for that. Derek, what is your best real estate investing advice ever?

Derek Peterson: My best real estate investing advice ever… From somebody who has modest experience as an investor, from an investment perspective, I’d say with real estate investing and really any investment you make in life, I think while we may look at the fact that we’re investing in an asset, or an asset class, or an opportunity, I’ve learned the hard way that you’re actually really more investing in the people that are behind that, because it’s the people that drive it. Now of course, there’s something to be said about that opportunity, but at the end of the day you’re dealing with people, and the people that are going to drive the performance of that asset. That’s the best piece of advice I can give from a real estate investment perspective, is make sure you have a real good understanding of who these people are.

Ash Patel: That is great advice. What was that hard lesson that you learned?

Derek Peterson: I invested in something from a real estate perspective, and it was more in the retail space… It was a friend of a friend that gave me an opportunity to put some money into — it was basically a syndication. And I didn’t do my due diligence on this person. I took the vouch of a friend. He was a sort of a soft friend, somebody who’s an acquaintance, somebody he had worked with before. I was in a position in my life where I had a lot of extra money at the time, so I sort of haphazardly threw it at it. I was like, “Let’s see what happens.” Obviously, nothing happened and I lost everything.

I attribute that down to not really having done my due diligence on that person. Because ultimately, why it failed was that person didn’t do what they said they would do, and I didn’t do my due diligence on them. We often talk about the due diligence of an opportunity, a property, and all that. But I think people forget to do their due diligence on the people that are involved in that process.

Ash Patel: It’s a valuable lesson learned. Derek, are you ready for the lightning round?

Derek Peterson: Let’s do this. I didn’t know we’re getting a lightning round, but let’s go. I’m ready.

Ash Patel: Derek, what’s the Best Ever book you recently read?

Derek Peterson: The Power of One.

Ash Patel: What was your big takeaway from that?

Derek Peterson: Focus on one thing versus jack of all trades, master of none. Definitely some value on that. So just focusing on one thing and becoming really, really good at it.

Ash Patel: Fantastic. Derek, what’s the Best Ever way you like to give back?

Derek Peterson: The best way that I love to get back right now is actually through a podcast that I have. It’s called Adapt You, where it helps people through the process of change. It does nothing in terms of trying to monetize; I don’t make any money off it. I bring people on the show that help people through understanding the process of the only constant in life, and that’s change. Whether it be a change of business, love, relationships, it’s the one thing we as humans have to get really good at, but most of us really stink at, and we try to avoid. So I try to help that process become a little bit easier and hopefully inspire people to live their best lives and be the absolute best version of themselves.

Ash Patel: I will definitely check that out. Derek, how can the Best Ever listeners reach out to you?

Derek Peterson: Great question. A variety of ways. If you just google Adapt Media Agency, you will find us. Or go to adaptmediaagency.com. You can also email me at derek [at] adaptmediaagency.com, you can find me as well. If you look out there in a lot of syndication websites and scroll to the bottom, you may see Website Proudly Built by Adapt Media Agency, you can just click that link and you’ll find us, too.

Ash Patel: Great. Derek, thank you for being on the show today. You’ve given us a lot of great advice. You took us on your journey from medical sales rep to now helping other syndicators. It seems like a natural fit with a background in marketing and sales, and finding real estate and helping other people, and continuing your sales and marketing career. Thank you very much for your time and have a Best Ever day.

Derek Peterson: Thank you for the opportunity.

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