The Importance of Having an Online Presence
This is an episode of the
No BS Apartment Investing Podcast
Host: Marc Cesar Guest: Todd Heitner
So he will be sharing a ton of tips in regards to what he’s seen as well as an amazing product he’s created and I can brag about it because I am actually a user. So without further ado let’s jump right into it. Todd, glad to have you on the show, sir.
Todd: Thanks for having me I appreciate it
Marc: Can you give us a bit of background on who you are and what it is that you do?
Todd: Sure. I’ve been helping real estate investors tap into the power of the internet for the past 18 years. But really for the past eight years we’ve been focused on syndicators and apartment investors, trying to help them boost their credibility. That’s always the struggle people have: just getting started or established. Getting people to take you seriously is a struggle for a lot of people.
People expect you to have a website and it helps to build trust with brokers and investors. It’s something not to be taken too lightly because if you think in business syndication, every person that comes to your website has the potential to wire you $50,000 or more, so even if you lose just one of those you’ve lost $50,000 now and even more if you perform. We help people to create strategic websites to help position you in a way that people do take you seriously and want to explore investing with you.
Marc: I do like the fact that you mentioned the credibility aspect, especially in this business where, as syndicators, we are presenting high net worth individual opportunities. We’ve heard all the scary stories of people being scammed or who have created different kinds of schemes so it’s very important to have that kind of credibility. In your case, why do you feel that having a presence is so pivotal, especially in the real estate space?
Todd: We expect businesses to have a website, it’s just kind of a given. If you are saying you are a business, raising money and asking people for this big commitment you should look the part. If you meet a potential investor, they are going to go home and google you and they’re going to see what comes up.
Do you have a website, maybe social media? Sometimes people think “maybe I will get a website after I get my first deal”, but that’s going to make it a whole lot harder to get your first deal because you’re missing out on that credibility that a website can provide.
Especially if you’re getting started, you need extra help because maybe you don’t have that track record of a lot of deals under your belt. Sometimes just having a professional presence can actually put those questions to rest. People see that this is a real company, you’re not just wasting their time both with investors and with brokers.
One syndicator that I spoke to said he was contacting brokers and he was asking them: “put me on your list for deals”, and he wasn’t getting anything at all. I found out that he didn’t have a website and he was using a free Yahoo email account.
He finally set up a website, he got a branded email and he said it was like a switch had flipped. The deals just started coming in. Obviously, that’s maybe not going to happen for everybody, but it does make a difference in how people perceive you. They see if you are a real company or just a wannabe, somebody getting started. You can help them a lot to trust you by getting these things in place.
Marc: Well said. Now, in your case, what have you seen that has worked for people compared to all of the thousands of websites like Wix or WordPress? What have you seen that works based on your personal experience?
Todd: You can make any of those things work. I know some successful syndicators that have built websites on something like Wix. But you have to realize that it’s going to take a lot of your time to build something like that and it’s just really not a good use of your time.
There’s stuff in your business that only you can do, like finding the deals, finding investors and building your team. A website is one of those things where, “is it really you that has to do it?” Really, not. Not only with your website but with everything in your business, you should be thinking about that: am I the only one who can do this? Or can I get somebody else to do this so I can focus where I really need to? Because you do have limited time and energy and you need to focus that in the right place. With all these different routes like WordPress and Wix, you can build a good site with it, but you have to know what you’re getting into. You’re having to build the design and write all the content and that’s going to take a lot of your time.
One syndicator I talked to said it took him 10 months to build his website. The thing is, you are either focusing on building the website and you’re neglecting the more important things like building relationships with people. Or you’re focused on that stuff and the website’s on the back burner not getting done, so you’re divided. If you can get that done another way, that’s ideal. You don’t have to spend a lot of your time and energy on that. That’s what we do with our service. We try to make a turn-key solution so that you don’t have to spend a lot of time and energy thinking about it.
Another thing to take into account with that is, not only the initial setup, but also ongoing. What happens if something goes wrong? What if something breaks or something needs to be updated? Like with WordPress, you have to keep updating it all the time. If you don’t, people can hack into it and use it for malicious things and that’s not something you want to have to deal with. So, that’s something you have to factor in, not only upfront but also ongoing. Either have somebody on hand doing that stuff or use a service where it’s already done for you so you don’t have to worry about it
Marc: Before we jump into your platform, what do you guys bring to the table as far as helping a syndicator get that credibility? How do you help them get exposed? Let’s say somebody who is brand new, they just finished a course in real estate and they are ready to hit the ground running. How do you help that person stand out amongst the 20 30-year veterans that have been out there that are killing it?
Todd: That’s a good question. Our focus is on the online credibility, the online presence. We help them get a website that has top-notch content that is already pre-written that I think is on par with the veterans that are out there. As far as content, it helps the potential passive investor learn: What is syndication? Why is multi-family a good investment? It educates them on that stuff which helps them trust you because you are teaching them something that they didn’t know before and helping them get more comfortable.
I think that can really give them a huge edge for somebody starting out, to get that up and running. Otherwise, you’re going to spend a lot of time putting it all together and trying to get the right wording. A lot of websites I look at are really incomplete. It’s more like an online business card but it doesn’t really do anything for you. If you go there and you don’t know what syndication really is it doesn’t educate you on that. So, I think that’s an important step because if they come there and don’t get their questions answered, they’re going to go on Google and search: What is syndication? What is this and that? They’ll end up on someone else’s website and they might end up investing with them if they are providing them with information they are looking for. And that’s another thing, some of our clients have pre-written blog posts that are educational that can give people a head start on getting that stuff set up.
Marc: How did Apartment Investment Pro come to fruition? What did you see out there that was lacking that made the lightbulb kick in and you said: “Hey, let’s create something that is pretty much a la carte for the serious investor?”
Todd: We started out doing websites for single-family investors. That was how we got started with that. I was looking for other industries and I started working with someone who taught people how to invest in apartments and he wanted websites for his students because he knew how important that is for their credibility when getting set up.
So, I built something with him and I realized that this is a bigger space than just his small audience. Everybody is dealing with the same struggles: How to get people to take you seriously? Getting that setup is an important step but also takes a lot of time and energy that people don’t want to give. Or maybe they don’t have a lot of experience building a website and don’t really want to because once it’s up you don’t really need to know how to do that to run your syndication business.
It’s a little bit like changing the oil on your car: any of us could do that but do we really want to spend the time learning to do that and getting messy when you can just pay somebody to do it and have it done for you and not have to spend your time on that on a regular basis?
We saw a need there, that many people were struggling with that to get set up, getting that credibility. We saw some good results early on too. For example, one person was in a meeting with a broker and they were questioning their experience and they didn’t really have any and they said: “Well, let me just direct you to my website”, and they were impressed and just dropped it. They didn’t ask any more about their experience and that actually helped them to get that deal. Stories like that helped me to see that there’s really a need here and there’s that piece, to be taken seriously and we try to fill that need while at the same time making it easy and also affordable.
Marc: Yeah, of course. And, as I mentioned when we started, I am actually a user of Apartment Investor Pro and I’ve been using it for a couple of months now, probably half the year. It definitely makes a difference because I haven’t had a website in so long. When I jumped into the syndication space you guys were the first platform that came up that I got introduced to. I did my research and everything seemed on par and when brokers actually look at my website they say: “Wow, this is actually very professional”. It makes me look like I’ve been doing it for a decade or so and I’ve only been in this space for roughly three years or so. Congrats to you guys for your platform!
Now, do you guys follow a process with your platform that can benefit investors or syndicators?
Todd: Of course the content is a big part of it, having educational content that teaches people. Also, I really do suggest that people have a way to capture people when they come to your website. A couple of our plans have something like that built-in, something free you can give people that gives you the name and email. It’s something free which is a smaller commitment than saying: “I want to invest $100,000 with you”.
Maybe they don’t know you yet and they don’t want to invest that kind of money. You have to realize that most people who visit your website are going to leave without contacting you. They are not going to fill out a form or anything like that, so you can ask for a really small commitment, like just their name and email. They want more information when they’re there, that’s why they are there, they’re trying to learn. If you can provide something valuable to them in exchange for their name and email then you have a way to follow up with them and build that relationship, ideally on a kind of autopilot.
I really recommend that people set up a CRM system, like ActiveCampaign or MailChimp or some kind of email marketing system where you can automate some of that process. You don’t have to manually follow up with each person because you’re really not going to get it done consistently. So that’s what we recommend to people, to get that set up first before you start sending a lot of people there. If you don’t have a way to capture them you’re going to waste a lot of that effort. Setting up a system, basically.
A lot of times, people are familiar with the term ‘Marketing Funnel’, that is what you want to do, to drive people into that funnel. But, you have to build the funnel first before you start putting people in it because otherwise you’re going to waste a lot of effort and money and time.
Marc: With that said, is Apartment Investor Pro easily integrate-able and user friendly for, let’s say, even a high-schooler to use?
Todd: Yeah, we tried to make it really easy to use. For example, when it comes to customizing your website, you want to have your company name throughout the website. We’ve made it really easy to do that. There’s one spot where you can put your company name, your address, your phone number and save that and it goes throughout your website automatically. You don’t have to go and edit individual pages.
We do an onboarding call with our new customers too so if they have specific questions or things they want to do, we find out that information. If it’s something we can help them with we’ll either do it for them or show them how to do it to get them up and running. We know people don’t want to have to learn how to build a website and do all this stuff. We try to make it as easy as possible to get it up and running and not have to think about it more than necessary.
Marc: Understood. This is more of a personal question from the outside looking in. What do you see is really lacking out there when it comes to people investing and people building that credibility? What are they lacking outside of a website? That question stems from people who have the credibility and presence, but no one wants to do business with them. From your perspective in the tech space, what do you see is lacking?
Todd: A lot of that is the perception you’re giving people. You want to be in a position where you’re attracting people to you rather than chasing them. A big part of that is that you want people to view you as an authority or an expert in your industry so it’s doing things to position yourself in that way.
A lot of it comes down to creating content. Even if we just think about the word authority, the root of it is author. That’s really how we gain authority, is by creating some kind of content, authoring something. It could be like what you’re doing with the podcast. It’s a great way to do that. I know a lot of people have done things like that because it gives people a chance to get familiar with you, get to know you and get comfortable with you. And at the same time maybe associate you with other people in the industry. They see you are working with these people that are well known and so their experience and credibility and authority rub off on you somewhat.
It’s the same thing with creating blog posts that are educational. Social media and free reports that people can sign up for, all of that is educational. If people go to your website and they can learn more and you can teach them something they didn’t know before: in their eyes you are an expert because you taught them something and you know more than they do. That is a big part of it, getting your exposure.
I know people who maybe have a podcast who say people have listened to that podcast for a while and they contact them about investing. And those people that have heard the podcast for a while, it’s a done deal. They already know who you are, they know they want to invest with you and they are comfortable with you. They’re basically building a relationship with you every time they listen to you. But if you don’t have that stuff out there, then they’re going to be skeptical. It’s going to take a lot more time and effort to build a relationship with them if you don’t have stuff out there that is building a relationship with them on autopilot, essentially. That would be my biggest suggestion: to start building a brand and start creating content that people can learn from.
Marc: What is the biggest way that you recommend for someone to get foot traffic to the website? I’m asking this from a personal standpoint. I do have a website out there and I tell people quite often about my website but I still lack the foot traffic that I want. So, what would you recommend for somebody like myself to have people coming into that website and actually see what I’m offering?
Todd: Yeah, that’s a good point because you can only personally contact so many people. Obviously,having a personal network helps, but at some point, sooner or later you’re going to want to expand that network and reach more people. Just a few things you can do are:
- Social media: having a good social media presence and primarily provide valuable content and a small part of that should be promotional. As a general rule, 80% should be educational or entertaining that people would want to share and only 15 to 20% talking about something promotional, maybe about investing with you. So that’s one idea.
- Google Ads: Paid advertising is another thing some people think that they need to get into, like search engines, SEO. But, to be honest, it’s not really something for most people to focus on especially when they are starting out. Don’t ignore it completely, but it’s a long game and it’s something that’s going to take a lot of time to get any results. There are no guarantees. Google has changed a lot of things and it’s not like it used to be.
Now, when you search for something, usually the first page of what you see is just ads and you have to scroll down to see anything that’s from SEO. But that’s a good thing in a way because those ads are places you can be. You can tap into things that people are searching for. Let’s say, for instance, “alternatives to investing in the stock market”. Well, you can bid on that keyword and have your website there so they can click through and come to your website.
I do suggest if you’re going to do something like that, maybe have a landing page that’s not your full website because you don’t want them to get distracted clicking around. Just have them come to a page where they can put in their name and email and get something for free and then you have a way to follow up with them. That’s a great way, something to think about. So, Google ads, that’s one. You can tap into what people are searching for.
- Google also has what’s called a ‘Display Network’: You can display your ads on high-profile websites, for example, on forbes.com. You can put your ads on forbes.com for much less than you might think. You basically pay for every time somebody clicks on the ad. You put whatever budget you want and if your budget is too low it might not show up on the site, but there are things that you can do to tap into these other places, either where people are already searching or looking, or websites that your audience might already be on. There’s even the ‘New York Times Money Section’ for example. I don’t know if they use Google ads but they have some kind of paid ads on their site too. But that’s just something that you can think about, ways to tap into online sources to get more people there.
Marc: Good stuff. Now, as far as website protection, I know on many of these sites you are able to add portals where investors can put in their personal information. Is that something that your platform offers? What is the protection behind potential hacks or security breaches?
Todd: For a full-blown system like that really I would recommend a service that is dedicated to that. Basically what we provide is a simple password protected page. Let’s say you have a deal, you’re not really ready for one of those platforms, you’re doing a 506(b) and you don’t want it on the front end of your website. You could have a password protected page that only people you share that with can see. When people are ready I do suggest they use an investment portal. That’s not really for taking the money, it doesn’t need the same kind of security, but for a full-blown investment portal there’s a lot of different services out there.
We have customers using pretty much all of them and our site integrates with all of them that I know of. That’s what I suggest, when you are ready for that, that you get one of those systems because it is going to make your life a lot easier. You can manage the distributions, you can let people make investments through that or get the information they need. They can see the deal, they can see other deals that are coming up. Hopefully that answers your question. I recommend those for the more in-depth needs but we do provide a basic password-protected page for keeping something private.
Marc: How secure is that though? A lot of these other sites like GoDaddy and all these other platforms, anything is hackable and anything can be breached. Do you guys have countermeasures to prevent these things? Or, should it happen, what are the measures you guys have in place to protect whatever needs to be protected.
Todd: We do have a lot of behind-the-scenes things to filter out that malicious traffic. And for some of the attempts, like people trying to hack into logins, we have things in place that block a lot of those bots that people typically use. We see that there are always people trying to make those attempts, there are people trying to hack into stuff, but so far they haven’t been able to get in. We have good security measures in place for that.
I will just say that on our platform we only ask for basic information so we don’t have the kind of data that they would have on an investor portal. It’s pretty much just the contact information like name and email, not much sensitive information. For those investment portals, I do recommend that people do get high level security because then you’re dealing with social security numbers and bank account information and you would want that to have top-notch security for those kinds of systems.
Marc: What have you found that has been the secret to your success with your platform, ranging from creating a website on the single-family side and now on the multifamily side?
Todd: Relationships, partnerships, networking; that’s been the big thing. I’ll just be honest, with the single-family side of it, as far as I know we’ve been doing that longer than anyone else in that space today. We have some of our competitors who just blew us out of the water because they did what I didn’t do, which is they focused on those relationships early on and built partnerships.
So, when I came I was like “Oh, we need to get some partnerships”, but everyone was already partnered up with one of our competitors. So when we launched Apartment Investor Pro for multi-family, I learned from those mistakes and said, “I’m not going to do that again; we’re going to start from the beginning. We’re going to build relationships with people, we’re going to go to events, we’re going to know everybody in this space and we’re going to make contact with them. Whether they want to work with us or not that’s up to them, but we’re going to at least make sure they know who we are.”
And that’s something we’ve really focused on, constantly networking and trying to build relationships with new people. Go to events and try to meet as many people as we can, listen to podcasts and go on podcasts, really focusing on our brand and making connections with people. That’s what makes all the difference, it’s all about knowing people and having them know you, building those relationships for sure. This is probably true for anybody listening. That’s the key: who you know. Building those relationships with brokers, with passive investors and with other people you might want to partner with like other syndicators. In this business it’s all about who you know and having a strong relationship. We are going to work with people we know and trust so it’s vital for really any business to succeed to work on those relationships.
Marc: I 100% agree. This is something I preach a lot, putting yourself out there to your network. I believe that networking is very pivotal in any business. We can see you are in the tech space and in order for your business to expand you need to know the different people that can help grow your business. Without that, as you were cornered in the single-family space, your competitors took advantage.
But you saw the opportunity to jump into the multifamily space and now you are making your rounds and people know Apartment Investor Pro. And like I said I know a lot of colleagues that actually love your platform and that’s why it sold me on jumping ship as well and joining the ship. With that said, what is the biggest failure that you have learned from to date?
Todd: Well that’s probably it, actually. There were some other things too but that was the big thing, not seeing the value and making that effort that it takes to build relationships with people, meet people and make connections. It’s hard if you’re trying to do it all online. If you can go in person, that definitely makes a big difference. I’ve found that face-to-face conversation is so much more powerful than, say, an email that you send to somebody. That was definitely a big thing.
Another thing that I wish I had done sooner is delegating stuff to other people and setting up systems for things. As entrepreneurs, we tend to want to do things ourselves because we think we can do things the best. Nobody is going to be able to do it quite as good as you or going to care as much as you do. But at the same time, you can only do so much.
I think an important thing is to think about, What in your business is absolutely something where you are the only one that can do it, these are your responsibilities?
For anything else, see, ‘How can I get someone else to do this for me?’ Maybe not today but working towards that. I struggle with that, trying to delegate, but I’m getting better and better at it. When you know how to do something, you think you need to do it.
Let’s say our website needs to be updated, I’m not the one to do it. Although I have all that experience with it, I get someone on our team to do it because they can do it and there’s stuff that they can’t do, for example, making some of those connections that are really my responsibility. So that’s something I would say too, not delegating sooner, but it’s better late than never.
Marc: I completely agree and I am a testament to that as well. I do have a hard time delegating, so I understand your plight. I have that same mindset, I know how to do it and I can do it better than anybody else can, but it takes a lot of the time that you could delegate to someone else and then leverage that time that you now have to do something to help increase your business. I’m still learning, like you are, but I’m taking the proper steps. So we are both going in the right direction.
Todd: Sometimes it’s easier to think that it would be quicker for me to do it than to explain to someone else how to do it. But if you have the same person you are working with, which is the ideal thing, those are training opportunities and that’s an investment in that person and you’re investing in your own future too. Each thing you teach them, that’s one more thing that they can do and more time you’re going to have. So maybe today it takes a little more time but looking ahead to how much time is it going to save you? Really see it as an investment.
Marc: What would be your top three tips that you would offer to someone who’s brand-new coming into the single-family or the multifamily space or to the seasoned pro who has been at this for 30-40 years? What would be your top three tips for them when it comes to everything that we have just engulfed?
Todd: Of course, we touched on credibility but even if you are just starting out with money from friends and family, still think about the credibility. Yes they know you, but are they viewing what you’re doing as a business? Are they really going to feel comfortable investing with you when this is something new? Go through the steps of treating this like a business. Have a website that you can send them to even if it’s family. It really makes a difference, how comfortable they feel in investing with you from the beginning.
A second thing I would suggest is automating as much as possible. You only have so much time and something is going to fall through the cracks if you don’t have good systems in place. So, creating systems and whatever can be automated, automate it or delegate it. Whether it’s your email follow-ups or trying to create processes in your business so things get done consistently.
And the third thing I would say is the follow-up which is so important. Whether it’s an automated follow-up or, at some point you’re going to need to do manual follow ups like returning a phone call or email. It’s so critical. My wife and I have looked at quite a few deals and there have been some that we were really interested in and so we did a call and we probably would have invested with them if they had followed up with us, but they just didn’t. They dropped the ball and said they would get in touch, but they didn’t.
You meet somebody at an event and they say they will email you next week and we’ll get things moving and they don’t do it. It’s so critical, following through on what you say you’re going to do. For me it’s a red flag. If they’re not going to do what they say at this point, maybe they’re not going to follow through on other things or be reliable down the road. If you can’t follow through on things before you have the money then you are not going to do it once you have the money either. So I would say the follow-up is also really critical.
Marc: In the single-family space the money is in the follow-up. It’s not always the second or the third call but It might take the tenth call. And in the multifamily space as well, somebody may not be ready to invest with you after two touches but with ten or eleven times they see that this person is consistent and this person is keeping us informed about what’s going on. You’re building that rapport. So it’s always very crucial to always follow up and make sure that you are keeping your potential investors apprised of what’s going on. Some great tips there Todd.
What is up next for your team and your company?
Todd: We are always looking for ways to provide more value to our audience. Whatever can make things easier. We’re always revamping and creating new designs to add in. Also, trying to get a feel for what people want and adding in things. What we’re doing now is adding in some behind-the-scenes features for our customers that maybe they are not expecting but we want to give them a little bit more and make it easier for them.
One example of something we added recently is that we added a QR code to lead people to a certain page on your site. That is something that is more and more common, something that you can put on your business card. Little things like that to fill out our features and hopefully make life easier and our customers be more successful.
Marc: If people wanted to learn more about you or reach out to you and learn more about Apartment Investor Pro, how would they go about doing so?
Todd: The best way is through our website at apartmentinvestorpro.com. They can go there and there’s lots of information, there’s a free demo, if you want to schedule a call there’s a link at the bottom. There’s even a chat there if you would like to chat with us.
Marc: Of course, for the listeners, I do not promote anything that I do not personally test and try myself on the show. I want to make sure that when I’m referring something to one of the listeners I like to test it out. Again, I am an avid user of Todd’s platform. It is very user-friendly, my thirteen-year-old would know how to use it. I highly recommend it for presence building, so definitely check it out. So, Todd, what is the biggest take away that you would want our listeners to get from our conversation today?
Todd: I would say, focus on your credibility. Really build that up and make it easier for people to trust you. We’re always trying to figure out whether we can trust this person or not. Anything you can do to make it easier for people to trust you is going to go a long way. It’s really one of the highest leverage things you can do. Things like having a website, having some content where they can really learn something about you. As much as possible having some automated things in place to educate them as well, maybe having an email series that educates them more about your company and why investing in multifamily is a good investment. Things like that are going to go a long way in helping people to trust you.
Marc: I totally agree on credibility as, again, I think that was the pivotal point that we were pushing today in this episode, making sure that people know who you are. Again, the biggest thought that I’ve heard is that people do business with people they know they can trust. In today’s world where everything is technological, the #1 way people will know and come to like you is by doing a simple Google search or going to your website. So that’s like your gatekeeper. If you don’t have that, then you’re definitely missing out.
To the listeners, again, make sure you reach out to Todd. Visit the website apartmentinvestorpro.com, schedule a call if you need to and learn more about what Todd and his team are doing. They are doing an amazing thing in this space.
With that said Todd, I want to thank you for your time sir. This was definitely very informational, I definitely learned a lot, especially when it came to website footprints. So, these are some things I definitely have to think about and actually implement into my day-to-day. I want to thank you for being a gracious guest on the show.
Todd: Thanks for having me, I really appreciate it. I enjoyed it.
Marc: My pleasure. And to the listeners, again, reach out to Todd to get your questions answered. If you can, sign up for Apartment Investor Pro. This is an amazing platform And with that said, until next time, happy investing to you all. Take care.
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