From a Newsletter to $1B

By Alex Camelio, CEO - Posted on
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Last Updated on September 2, 2020

Last week we discussed how Craigslist was one of the top 15 websites in the United States, and that it held an opportunity to generate leads for free. What I didn’t mention was that they do over $1 Billion in revenue each year, with only 50 employees, and it all started with a newsletter

The Success Story

In 1995 Craig Newmark started sending an email newsletter about local San Francisco events, which he transitioned into a website, extended into other classified sections, and later added new cities. 

Why is this so important to you as a real estate agent?

There are 2 incredibly important lessons we can learn from the Craigslist success story and apply to our own businesses. First, Newmark created this free ‘internet commune’ for people, and the rate at which it was successful, and continues to grow, shows us the huge amount of opportunity that lies within the reciprocity model. Second, as most people are familiar with, Craigslist isn’t the most modern website, but this is easily overlooked by users in favor of its function. This reminds us that consumers will generally prioritize value over appearance.

The Reciprocity Model

If you’ve spent any time following The Agent Inner Circle Blog, you’ve probably heard me talk about reciprocity once or twice… or constantly. (Reciprocity: the psychological principle that people feel obligated to return the value they’re given.) When Newmark started sending his newsletter, and whether he knew it or not, he had tapped into one of the most powerful sources of business in the world.

Just through the simple act of providing information that people wanted (and couldn’t readily find elsewhere) he was able to captivate an audience, which he could later use to drive business. Obviously, Newmark didn’t start out with the goal of making money off this newsletter, he simply wanted to help a handful of friends with a problem, and the word of mouth about this valuable resource he created spread it to hundreds, and then thousands of people.

Service For Life

There’s no reason you can’t do the same thing in your business, and just like Newmark, it’s all about providing helpful information or fixing problems for your friends, family and sphere. Unlike Newmark, you won’t have to start from scratch to do this though, because there’s already a tool designed specifically to mimic the Craigslist success story within your real estate business.

The Service For Life! Newsletter is one of the best-kept secrets in the industry, and it’s been helping agents generate business at a Craigslist pace for decades now. If you really want to take your business to the next level, and build a following with the same brilliantly simple technique of our dear friend Mr. Newmark here, I urge you to explore this personal marketing system more. 

I am actually taking a small group through a deeper dive on the reciprocity model in an upcoming webinar that I’ve decided to extend to the Agent Inner Circle Community as well. During this presentation I’ll be discussing the true GCI potential for your business using Service For Life!, so you don’t want to miss this one! 

Value Over Appearance

The second lesson that’s inherent in the Craigslist success story is that people prioritize value over appearance. For years, Craigslist has had the same look and feel… which is that it doesn’t have much of a look or feel at all. When you compare this to the millions of dollars their competitors spend on branding and graphics, you see a stark difference.

It’s clear that Craigslist’s has chosen to prioritize the value consumers get from the site, and aren’t worried that graphics or the lack thereof will deter people from visiting. In many ways they adhere to the KISS Principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid.) used by the U.S. Navy. And it works!! Did I mention they’re a Multi-Billion Dollar organization with just 50 employees?! 

Build on Value

As a real estate agent, this is a lesson you need to take to heart. Prioritize value over appearance in your own business. If you fix someone’s problem or provide value they can’t get elsewhere, appearance takes a back seat. This is true throughout our World whether you’re a billion dollar organization or a small business. We need go no further than our local restaurant that’s an “amazing hole in the wall” to prove this point.

What’s more, sometimes going over the top with fancy graphics can even backfire, and we’ve discussed this on the blog before. People interpret language within the context. So, if the design feels like it’s an advertisement, oftentimes people will subconsciously overlook it before they ever make it to the content. 

Let me ask you, where do you sort your mail? If you’re anything like me, you sort it over the recycling bin, without even opening it.

Don’t get me wrong, appearance and design have their place, and when used in the right way, can have an impact on your business. However design should never distract from the value you are trying to provide. Look around your own town and I’m sure you’ll find that most of the businesses which are long-standing (and maybe even a little antiquated looking) – have been built on value alone, while most businesses that focus on appearance seem to phase in and out much more rapidly.

Starting Your Own $1 Billion Business

So, how do you go from a newsletter to a $1 billion business? Desmond Tutu once said, “There is only one way to eat an elephant, a bite at a time.”

Just like Craig Newmark did, start with your friends, family and past clients and simply provide something of value that they can’t readily get anywhere else.

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Alex Camelio
Throughout his career, Alex has personally helped over 15,000 Agents and Brokers, including some of the Top REALTORS® in North America. His passion for marketing, technology and business development has translated into more than a decade of cutting edge technology and contributions to the real estate industry. As the CEO of the Agent Inner Circle®, a 40,000-member real estate agent community, Alex focuses on providing agents with education and actionable strategies to grow and optimize their business, ultimately building some of the most successful careers in real estate today. Alex is an internationally recognized educator who’s shared his thoughtful and energetic presentations with various National Associations and industry organizations. As always, Alex is excited to share his expertise with everyone.
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