By Jonathan Wasserstrum, Founder/CEO, SquareFoot
In the first part of my career, I worked in finance and real estate. I developed a passion for the industry, and I also spotted some inefficiencies and gaps in how the work typically was conducted. So, like many entrepreneurs, I couldn’t escape the nagging feeling that I would do things differently, and that I could do things better than I perceived and had witnessed. Fresh out of business school, I founded SquareFoot, a new kind of commercial real estate company focused on and framed around transparency, innovation, and technology.
Although some entrepreneurs might struggle to come up with the idea, or to launch their business, I knew that this was the right fit for me. The obstacle I encountered though at the outset was how to find and recruit potential clients to come to me and my team. I’d done my research to know that there was opportunity out there for a company like mine to appeal to growing companies in need of office space in major U.S. cities, I just had to figure out how to get in front of them all, at scale. That’s likely a problem all first-time founders experience, but it’s not necessarily something that people talk about openly, for fear of coming across as being in over their heads.
To solve this issue, I looked online for resources that could walk me through the basics of digital marketing. I knew it would take money to make money, I just didn’t know how to spend that budget effectively to drive my first clients. Thankfully, the education was free. I got to reading about technical SEO and how when you build out your company website you should have organic search results in mind. Then, I put together a commercial listings platform, the first of its kind, on the website to give people something to look for and to use once they found us. Lastly, I launched a complementary blog to deliver more information and insights about the real estate industry to help deliver to others what I knew better than they did. As I learned more, I also began to give back and to teach the next person.
It takes a lot of practice and preparation to see the results pour in. Digital marketing and real estate have that in common – we’re running a marathon, not a mile. The hope is that as people hear about you, they will develop a trust with you and rely on your credibility to help them when they need assistance. As my skills grew into marketing, I realized that I was simply applying the same methodology and best practices that had gotten me to where I was at the time. I was kicking myself into another gear.
What was so striking to me during that era was that hardly anybody else in my industry was thinking along the same lines. There were so many solutions available, and so much business that seemed to be waiting for someone to scoop up – they were literally searching online for answers, after all – yet nobody had spotted these possibilities until I had. Even if I’d envisioned my company as a real estate option for companies that had largely been overlooked by others, I had to morph my own sense of what we did around how the company acquired its clients. We had to be a marketing-first company going forward.
For other CEOs first setting out, I recommend starting by thinking about organic search and how you can find high-intent leads without having to pay directly to discover them. We’ve invested plenty of time and money into ads that have been effective for us, yet nothing compares to the people who walk in the door on their own asking for you to offer your services to them. These prospective clients are likely being undervalued in your industry, too. But if you think about it, today’s entrepreneurs solve all of their problems the way that I did: by Googling for answers. Who is the first result at their disposal upon someone making such a search in your field? Can you outpace them?
As a CEO, I want to keep growing myself as my company grows. Through leading by example, and knowing about both my limits and about my opportunities to learn, my team gets the impression that I’m in the bunker alongside them. Even though we’re much larger as an organization today than we were in those early days, I continue to challenge myself and the rest of the team to pursue skills that would be wise for them to take on. People follow the lead of the executives. My investment in digital marketing began with my perception of my own skills. I didn’t know much, but I had to give it a shot. In reality, this turned out to be a perfect fit for me.