How Agents Can Survive in the “Free” Economy

chrome dollar symbolChris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, has recently published a new book, Free.

The Long Tail is about how businesses in the digital age are able to profit by storing an almost infinite digital inventory.  Think of where you can purchase almost any book that’s in print–regardless of how obscure the title.  No bricks and mortar bookstore could have an inventory that large.  But online booksellers (as well as online sellers of music, online movie rental companies, etc.) can do it because storing items in digital format is ridiculously inexpensive.

Anderson’s new book, Free, is about how computing capacity–the processing and storing of information–has become so inexpensive that it’s practically free.  The result is that “free” has become the new business model.  So many Internet businesses offer things for free that consumers have begun to expect “free.”

Free may be great for an Internet search engine or an online magazine, but how can real estate professionals make a living relying on free?

The key to finding your way in the free economy is to remember that free is not really free.  Readers of the online version of the New York Times, for example, read for free but someone pays–in that case the advertisers.

There are free software and services on the Internet, but they’re almost always supported by upgrades and advanced versions of the product that customers pay for.

Think also of buyers’ agents.  The buyer may think of buyer agency as a free service–and some agents may even market their services to buyers as free–but somebody pays, usually the seller.

In all of these instances, free is not really free; it’s simply paid for somewhere else.

Using that same principle, agents can also offer free services:  seminars for first time home buyers, classes on how to buy foreclosures, staging tips, even investment seminars that show people the wisest investments in the current economic climate.  Find experts to partner with who can teach such a seminar and invite people from your sphere and from your farm.

Free can be putting people in touch with each other. Help people you know find contractors, tell them about community events they might be interested in, even introduce one former client to another when you recognize they have something in common.

John Jantsch writes about how delighted he and his wife were to get free soup to go one time when they visited a new restaurant in town.  He asks the question of small business owners:  what’s your free soup strategy?

Everybody likes free stuff and it can be the perfect marketing tool.  Especially now, when the real estate market has suffered so much and many people have had to tighten their belts, it’s important to identify what you can give for free.


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