After working with top agents for 28 years, we can say, unequivocally, that this is true: what separates the winners and losers in real estate is mindset.

Like it or not, 2020 has been a pivotal and revelatory year for all of us. Everything from our relationships and families to our health and spirituality to our finances and careers have been brought into sharp focus; in some cases, painfully so. We resisted and feared these revelations but for many of us, we needed them.

What are you going to do with all you’ve learned? When it comes to your real estate career, what has to change? These are the questions our clients – because they are top agents – have been asking and answering.

From as early as March, we have been watching in awe and inspiration as our clients snapped into “adapt” mode. They got to work immediately, with Can-Do mindsets which had for many years been trained to overcome adversity.

And then by about August, we saw another shift. Our clients had a sense of urgency to seize all the new opportunities they had been sowing since the pandemic hit. They’d been sending out publications with articles about selling during social-distancing and about how the market was performing, and had been providing resources and assistance to their markets. Because they’d put themselves out there when things were at their worst, their databases had grown along with the community’s awareness of them – all the while, a good chunk of their competition fell off. So rather than drawing back on marketing, many of our agents expanded.

So, it really is mindset that separates winners and losers. Rather than entering into a year-long depression, our top agents took the bull by the horns and turned a terrible situation into a great opportunity. This winning mentality is what brought them into success in the first place, and it’s what will carry them through whatever 2021 brings and well beyond.

The Plan

And here we outline the Kick-Butt, Take-No-Prisoners 2021 Marketing Plan for real estate agents who, like our clients, are determined to succeed no matter what the world hurls next. This is a plan for agents who refuse to stagnate, who don’t take anything laying down, and who want to show 2020 who’s really in charge.


  1. Calculate – and actually set aside – a budget

The general rule of thumb our clients follow is to invest about 10% of last year’s commissions into marketing for the following year. Of course, this excludes all marketing done to sell listings (that’s a separate budget item, based on the estimated commission for a specific home). This marketing budget we’re talking about is the money you spend to generate new listings.

So, figure out how much commission you’re likely to net by the end of 2020. This is the figure you’d see on the top line of your tax return’s Schedule C or corporate filing; essentially, it’s your “gross revenue.” Then multiply it by 10 percent, and that’s your 2021 marketing budget.

If the number seems too high, then here’s what you need to do: look at the other expense items you pay each year. Where’s the imbalance? Get with your coach, mentor, or even your accountant and figure out how you can make a 10% marketing budget happen. Without it, you won’t be able to kick as much butt or take as many prisoners.


2. Know your enemies and claim your territories

The tools and tactics in this plan are important, but before we lay those out, it’s critical that you first get laser-focused on your territories and competition.

You probably have already defined your market area, and are well familiar with the types of homes, buying patterns, turnover, and demographics. This is good. But to truly kick butt in 2021, you need to take it a step further.

Print out a map of your general metro area. First, use a highlighter to highlight the area that you consider to be your “farm.” Next, use a sharpie to mark the location of every home you transacted in 2021 (sell and buy sides). Now take a look. Do the majority of your sides fall within your supposed farm? If not, this indicates you are not doing a good job focusing your efforts in the area you’re trying to saturate. It could also indicate that the farm area you want isn’t necessarily the one with the most opportunities for you.

Keep the map out, and take out a red marker. Make a list of the top 5 to 15 agents in your metro area. Spend about an hour learning where they market and sell the most homes. Then, for each of these big agents, draw a circle that encompasses the markets they really have a “hold” on. Shade in each circle. When you’re done, the entire map should pretty much be covered in these circles. Now look at the areas with three, four, or more circles overlapping – those parts of town are pretty much dominated by competition. Now use a green marker to gently shade the areas that have no more than two overlapping circles (the areas with the least amount of competition). Step back and take a look.

In the green areas with less competition, are you seeing more of your sharpie dots (your completed transactions)? Is your highlighted “market” overrun by competition or ripe for the picking? In addition to these factors, consider the make-up and turnover of your market and the surrounding areas. Spend at least several hours analyzing the best, most opportune farming areas for your marketing dollars in 2021. A big weight in this decision should be how entrenched you are in your current area. If you’ve been marketing there for ages and most of your black dots are within your area, you’ll be sacrificing a lot to abandon it, even if turnover stinks and competition is fierce. So consider it all.

When you’re done, you will have mapped out a precise territory for your 2021 conquest. Keep the size realistic and aligned with your budget. A quick-and-dirty calculation is about $10 per single family home in marketing budget for the entire year. If you have a $10,000 marketing budget, that means your 2021 farm size should not exceed 1000 SFHs.


3.Choose your weapons

There are three main tools our top agents use to generate listings. These are more like categories of tools, and for two of them there are countless vendors to choose from. Of course, there are many, many other tools and tactics not listed here, and you should explore all of them. For this plan, we’re outlining the three “big guns” we see used most commonly by our agents.

Direct prospecting

Direct prospecting takes two main forms for an agent: contacting leads and past clients who are already in your database, and reaching out cold to prospects who haven’t contacted you before. For 2021, type up the exact prospecting and nurturing activities you will do each month and each week, and then put together a daily time management plan to ensure it happens.

Here are the methods our agents use. Many companies provide tools to make this easier, but choose your providers wisely because anything you purchase for these efforts will come out of your marketing budget, and may affect your ability to invest in your big-gun items like direct mail.

  1. Email updates: get a good email program or e-newsletter service, and make sure your database gets a Market Update at least once a month. In addition to market updates, you should send at least one more email each month, and no more than four. If you want to get fancy, many services offer triggered emails, funnels, and automated nurture programs, but the main idea is to stay top of mind with the folks who are most likely to refer you business.
  2. Phone check-ins: contact your past clients by phone at least once per quarter. Each call only takes a minute, and you’ll be amazed how effective this simple act is at generating referrals and repeat business.
  3. Door knocks: put on a mask and do some old-fashioned canvassing. These door knocks scare the crap out most agents, so you’ll really stand out. All the top dogs in real estate have done it. Just don’t make it awkward; be authentic! Don’t be salesy in the slightest. You’re simply introducing yourself, and if you do this entire plan, you’ll be able to reference the publications and other marketing you put out for the community. “I’m Sally, I publish the Northwest Real Estate News, I’m in the neighborhood listing so-and-so’s home and wanted to meet some of the neighbors.”
  4. Predictive analytics: Companies like Remine and Smartzip are great tools for identifying the homes in your market that are “more likely” to list soon. Be forewarned, though: the only way our agents get success from predictive analytics is by first building a foundation with long-game farming and branding. Unfortunately, these services don’t offer exclusive territories anymore, and with so many similar services there’s a ton of overlap. So what happens is when a lead pops onto these lists, suddenly fifteen agents start calling and visiting the homeowner. That’s why instead of using predictive analytics as a marketing tool, it really needs to used for prospecting in tandem with a robust farming strategy. This way, the prospect is already familiar with you, and you aren’t one of a dozen strangers vying for her business.

In addition to contacting your databases and canvassing on foot, FSBOs and expired listings are well-known troves of potential business. Lesser known are the technologies that have emerged to help agents identify and communicate with these valuable prospects. We researched several companies and these received the highest accolades from our own clients: RedX, Storm Dialer, and Vulcan 7. These tools identify low-hanging fruit to call, door-knock, or mail a personal a letter to (and they aren’t just limited to FSBO and Expireds). If you really want to amp conversion percentages, you can take these leads and follow Discover’s Top Agent FSBO Conversion Plan.

Software from these or other similar providers can serve as a Swiss Army Knife to transform prospecting from an ad-hoc effort to a well-oiled machine. With these powerful platforms, different categories of leads are provided daily, including not just expired listings and FSBOs, but other opportune segments like pre-foreclosures.

Get organized regarding your 2021 prospecting efforts, and get aggressive. Whatever you did to stay top of mind in your sphere and to prospect for new leads in 2020, do at least four times more in 2021. You should have at least one hour a day set aside for these activities; there are no short-cuts if you really want to kick butt.

Direct mail

This will likely consume the bulk of your marketing budget, but it’s worth it. Research shows that direct mail is far more effective than other marketing tactics. According to the Direct Marketing Association, direct mail showed a response rate of 3.7 percent for house lists, while all digital channels combined yielded a response rate of only 0.62 percent.

The reason for this success could be that digital technology has reduced the amount of marketing materials that find their way into people’s mailboxes; as a result, marketers that still use direct mail are seeing more bang for their buck. In our experience, agents tell us that one reason direct mail is foundational to their marketing is because it’s really the only way to get “in the door” consistently. Digital marketing can only hit a percentage of homeowners in a farm, but direct mail gets into every single mailbox.

That said, delivering nothing but “I Just Sold This” postcards or generic newsletters barely get more than a swipe across the eyeballs before landing in the recycle bin. Getting listings with direct mail is about leveraging the power of direct mail to first connect with homeowners and then to showcase your expertise. Content must be engaging and relevant, addressing the needs and desires of the local market. Choose a direct mail piece that stands out from the rest of the pile and speaks directly to your prospects. Our clients use our 12-page publications, which are custom to each agent and have the added convenience of being completely turnkey. Budget-wise, expect to pay a total of 70¢ to 92¢ per home per mailing at quantities under 5,000, and less per-unit for higher quantities, depending on which edition you go with.

For farms with fewer than 2000 homes, our clients use our 4-page newsletter. These are more expensive per unit (printed on premium gloss in big color envelopes), but they can be mailed to as few as 300 homes and accomplish the same goal as our newsprint publications.

Planning out your direct mail strategy is one of the easier parts of your plan. Simply sketch out a calendar of drop dates, and make sure the direct mail company you’re working with sends you the dates and deadlines for materials.

Digital/social marketing and SEO

The third big “gun” for kicking butt and taking no prisoners is your digital strategy. Of course, we could write a novel on this, but instead we’re going to keep it really simple. Here’s a secret: many of our most successful agents don’t have a complicated digital plan. It may seem like they do, but that’s because they focus on a few key areas (listed below) and do those couple things well. But like with prospecting, it’s worth networking with your peers about the tips and tricks they use to enhance these basic efforts.

Here are the basic digital components to include in your 2021 plan:

  1. A website with your own domain. Sorry, your KW profile page won’t cut it (unless you’re like one of our clients, who is literally the only agent in her small town with an office). You need an actual website, branded to you, that’s owned by you. Thankfully, there are PLENTY of real estate website services and many of these companies provide lots of bells and whistles to make your site hum – and to augment your digital marketing. Vet them, and pick one; it’s essential.
  2. Regular Facebook and Instagram updates. Every time you list or sell a home and every time you write a blog post, post it on your social media page. Post on every holiday. Post about how your family and business have adapted to COVID. Post heartwarming stories like your client who bought their first home, and let their dog run free for the first time in his own backyard. Connect with people! Don’t be afraid to be human; in fact, embrace your humanity. You must put together a posting schedule and stick to it. Try to aim for at least 2 posts per week.
  3. Regular blog posts. Yep, we know it’s a pain, but for SEO purposes it’s really important that you post fresh content on your site at least monthly. If you’re doing a publication with us, you can use the custom articles we write for you (two per month) as your blog posts. To maximize SEO and to target the right audience of prospects, your articles need to be about the local housing market and contain keywords associated with selling real estate. This is another “no shortcuts” thing – you can’t post those generic “5 Tips” articles and expect any SEO benefit. It has to be custom, local content not posted elsewhere online, and relevant to real estate.
  4. Adwords and Facebook Ads. It’s worthwhile to set aside a small portion of your budget for online advertising. Beyond Facebook and Google there’s YouTube and countless others, but most of our clients use Adwords or Facebook. The key to a successful campaign is twofold: the audience and the content. You can target a geographic audience easily with both platforms, and you can narrow it down by income level and other markers. Regarding content, you must have a compelling reason for a prospect to click your ad and complete your call to action. You can use your blog posts, or better yet, you can create a “seller’s guide” and require the prospect to submit their email address in order to download it.

Of course, there are many amplifications of these ideas and many roads you can go down as you build your digital plan. Our best advice is to start simple. Start with a website, regular blogs, and regular social media posts. Once you’ve proven to yourself you can handle the cadence on all of that, expand out and do more.


4. Show no mercy!

And now, for the execution of your plan.

Before you begin doing any of this marketing and prospecting, make sure your plan is written down. Not a big complicated binder, just something that breaks down your main channels and activities, and the key dates and deadlines. This will be your playbook. It must be painfully specific and as simple as possible.

Next, run it by your mentors. Let them read and critique it. Take the good advice you get, as long as it doesn’t turn your simple plan into a complicated mess. The important thing is to not go it alone.

As you begin putting your plan into practice in January, remember these three things:

  1. Be flexible. You may quickly learn that you need help with certain things, or that setting up your website is taking much longer than you expected. Be flexible and willing to adjust your plan, while keeping intact your main objectives.
  2. Be patient. Top agents didn’t become successful overnight. They chipped away at it, persevering even when it seemed like nothing was working. Don’t expect immediate results. Consider your 2021 marketing budget an investment in your long-term growth, rather than a get-listings-quick scheme.
  3. Show no mercy! Most importantly, show up and fight. Days will come when you won’t want to pick up the phone, or will be too busy to send in materials for your publication.

Do it anyway! Remember, it’s a winning mindset that separates top agents from all the rest.

Not a client of Discover? Learn more about our turnkey custom publications here. Or, check to see if your Zip Code is available (territories are exclusive) and a representative will reach out.

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