When I started in the multifamily industry nearly 20 years ago as a leasing consultant, I wanted more. I was also hungry to get to the next level. In fact, during my new hire orientation, I told the Marketing and Training Director that my goal was to get her job. Yes, it would take time for me to get myself into a role like that, but it gave me something to work toward.

In fact, it fueled me and I went on to be promoted several more times over the years and eventually held that Marketing Director role that I initially wanted, for nearly 15 years. I’ve gotten to speak onstage at industry conference and have been invited to present for other fun organizations, both inside and outside of the real estate industry (including professional sports teams— so much fun, by the way!).

Now, I’m consistently mapping out my role in my newest dream job here at 30 Lines as the Vice President of Marketing and Training. And on the side, I’m also running for a seat on City Council. Because I want to make a difference inside and outside our industry. Pretty cool, huh?

But I am often asked by my professional network of peers, as well as friends and family, “How did you get here? What did you do? How did you propel yourself to that next level? Who taught you these things?”

I’ve thought about this quite a bit over the years, and of course there’s the usual: having a good attitude, being a team player, mastering specific skillsets, working beyond the expectations— the list goes on and on.

But I’ve also come to realize there are a several other key initiatives I employed very early on in my career that helped me to really differentiate myself from the rest of the pack. I want to share them with all of you, who are working and hustling so hard, chasing that next promotion or bigger and better role that you so desire.

4 things that helped me shine…

1. Networking

Everyone you meet and connect with can potentially lead you to the next big thing. I have tried over the years to treat everyone I meet like they matter. If you really want to step up your networking game, take an interest in others. This means your prospects and residents, your co-workers, other departments within your own company, your neighbors, people you meet at social events (like the chamber, apartment association, industry conferences), friends of friends— the list goes on and on.

Meet as many people as you can, take an interest in them, pick their brain, ask them questions, get to know them (and their industry or business) and then stay in touch with them! The number one rule is it’s not about you; it’s about them.

Yes, your overall goal is to build your network— to have a posse of people who could help you at any given time, no matter the need. But guess what? Those people aren’t going to help you unless you help them first.

Learn about their business, what they’re trying to build and how you can help. Be a good resource, and these folks will be more than willing to return the favor when it’s your turn to ask for help.

Which brings me to…

2. Identify The Game Changers And Follow The Leader(s)

The more you network, the more you’ll be able to identify who the game changers and movers and shakers are, both inside and outside of your company and industry. The best thing you can do is watch and learn from those who are already seeing success.

Early in my career, I worked with a leasing manager in another region who consistently had the highest closing ratios in the company. Her secret shopper scores were always perfect and she always seemed to be winning all of the awards. So guess what I did?

I called her and said “How do you do that?” (And she told me!) Most successful people want to see others succeed, too. Don’t be afraid to ask them for help or to mentor you. It’s actually one of the most flattering things you can do for someone else and it’ll help you grow, too.

I didn’t just try to learn how these successful people were selling, though. I observed their body language. How they dressed. How they spoke to others. How they tackled problems or disagreements. How they presented information to customers. How they handled themselves when things went wrong.

I knew they had to be doing something right, so I worked hard to study them and used what I learned to become more self-aware, so that I, too, could see that same level of success. Be your own person. Create your own personal brand and craft your own style, but when you see a successful leader who exhibits qualities you admire, follow them! Most likely they will lead you down the path to leadership, too.

And sometimes you’ve got to follow the leaders until you become a leader yourself. There are many different phases and stages of leadership, and you’ll need to find a leader at each level to help pull you up.

In addition, I worked to align myself with experts outside of my company. It seemed there was always new technology or a new product hitting the marketplace and, at times, it was hard to decipher what was what and how to make sense of it all.

Once I was able to identify who the game changers and experts were, I started following them. I didn’t literally follow them around (okay, maybe if we were at a conference together I would follow them from room to room to listen to them speak and to get their latest insights), but I signed up for their blog posts, their videos. I read the updates they posted on LinkedIn and Facebook. I combed through the data they always seemed to be sharing. And I engaged with them whenever I could.

I built a relationship with these folks (who are scattered all over the country, by the way) and to this day I still call on them to help me when I get stuck. They always have a fresh perspective for me and offer up solutions I haven’t yet thought of.

I actually attended a conference (circa 2008 or 2009), where Lisa Trosien talked about this thing called Facebook and how it’s going to be a great platform for apartment communities to utilize. Nobody in my company was talking about this. It wasn’t even on their radar.

I came home that weekend and created a personal Facebook account, and added my properties to the platform shortly thereafter. (And almost all of us are utilizing this platform now in big ways.)  

There are so many people out there who are embracing technology and who have such great vision for what can be in this industry (and beyond). Find them and talk to them. I’ve found that, most of the time, they’ve already combed through the really tough stuff and learned the ins and outs of new technology, and will happily pass their findings on to you (in a much less complex way).

So get outside of your usual leasing and marketing circle (no matter how busy you are) and start paying attention to those game changers.

(Big shout out to my original #AptChat family, who I wouldn’t have met otherwise: Mike Whaling, Lisa Trosien, Mike Brewer, Heather Blume, Brent Williams, Kim Grisvard, Stephanie Oehler)

3. Ask The Right Questions

I cannot stress enough how important this is. Even if you’re completely lost on a product, strategy or the like, ask the right questions. Dig in. If you aren’t sure what questions to ask, follow rule #1. (Rely on your network to help you craft those, because I guarantee you someone out there knows more than you do and will know how to help.)

For example, if you need a new website for your community and you’re interviewing potential web developers and putting out a request for bids, you’ll want to ask each developer how they’ll showcase pricing and availability on your website.

“Will you link out to a third party website to show the prospect real-time pricing and availability?”

If the answer from the web developer is yes, they will link out to a third party (or use something called an iframe), then you will not have full tracking and analytics capabilities.

You would have lost being able to track your customer and their behavior on your website from start to finish, and now can only track it from the start (when they enter your website) until they click on pricing or availability— nothing after that. It just stops.

Can you imagine if you only tracked telephone calls, but not tours and rentals? What if you could see the activity of every prospect who called, but nothing after that (like the tour or the rental or the move-in or the renewal)?

See why I want you to ask a lot of questions? And the right questions? Smart questions?

Even if your company isn’t educating you on these things, you’ve got a responsibility to educate yourself. Seek out the information you need. Knowledge really is power. Until you fully understand how all of the pieces of your marketing work, you won’t be the best marketer you can be. Or the best leasing consultant you can be.

Don’t settle. Don’t stop investigating because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” If you don’t understand, keep asking questions and keep pushing until you do. It will make you stand out and shine in the end. Promise!

4. Get Outside Of Multifamily

Find and follow marketing, sales, operations and technology resources that are outside of the multifamily industry.

Our industry has some amazing innovators. But that doesn’t mean we can’t consistently be inspired by other innovative industries. If you want to become a game changer yourself, you’ve got to start getting yourself exposed to other ways of doing things.

I dedicate time every day for research of products or services I’m not familiar with, and for blogs, articles, videos and other resources that get me thinking about new ways to do business. The idea here is to start spending some of your time being a visionary, even if it’s just a quick 10 to 15 minutes a day where you focus on ideas that could get you (and your business) to the next level.

Here are few ways you can get started:

  • Listen to sales/marketing/training podcasts on your way to work or while you’re working out. Many of these are only 5 to 10 minutes long, and will seriously pump you up for your workday!
  • Subscribe to Think With Google. You’ll receive tips, tricks, case studies and stats that can be directly applied to our industry.
  • Make a list of vendors and service providers you work with, and go subscribe to their blog and email lists. They often send updates, and many of them include ideas about how to use their products or services better. They’re like free tutorials and, I guarantee you, you’ll learn something you didn’t already know.  
  • Follow some marketing resources that are not multifamily-specific. A few that I like: MarketingProfs, Marketing Land, and Word of Mouth Marketing Association. Go and like their Facebook pages, follow them on Twitter and Instagram, and sign up for their blog and email updates.

Sometimes starting is the hardest part. You don’t have to conquer all of these things right away. Pick just one idea I’ve listed here and roll with it. Commit to it. Stick with it. It will for sure help you stand out.

I’d love to hear from you! What will you implement and work on first? And if you try something and it works, please come back and share your success here. I’ll have those big marketing high fives waiting for you.