Seize Your Business: Growing Your Referral Network (Charles Hooker)

In this SeizeYourBusiness.com entrepreneur video, Charles Hooker discusses meeting new referral services through networking and door-to-door calls; Demonstrating value to referral partners when cross-referring is not possible; Creating genuine friendships to earn referrals when your potential referral partner is already doing business with someone else.

Charles Hooker

Charles Home Inspection

(630) 442-4873

Growing your referral network

In this SeizeYourBusiness.com entrepreneur video, Charles Hooker discusses meeting new referral services through networking and door-to-door calls; Demonstrating value to referral partners when cross-referring is not possible; Creating genuine friendships to earn referrals when your potential referral partner is already doing business with someone else.

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: We’re joined today by our guest Charles Hooker from Charles Home Inspection, and today we’re going to talk about building a referral network. So Charles, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background and what you do before we dive into the topic.

CHARLES HOOKER: I’m Charles Hooker, Charles Home Inspection.  My background is probably over 20 years in contract work and inspections -- Actually working on industrial site and manufacturing of safety inspections there and stepped out and opened my own business as Charles Home Inspection here -- actually out of Naperville but covering the western suburbs. 

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Okay. And where do your referrals come from, or where does your business come from?

CHARLES HOOKER: My business comes from realtors.  Realtors are my bread and butter of the business. ​

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: So you’re not getting people to just find you on the Internet.  You need a warm referral from a realtor.

CHARLES HOOKER: Warm referral or realtors. People trust the realtors, and the realtors trust myself, and then that’s where the relationship grows.

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: So how long have you been in business for? 

CHARLES HOOKER: Just about a year and a half.

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Okay.

CHARLES HOOKER: Just a year and a half on my own.

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY:  Tell us -- I always love talking about people with relatively new businesses to learn about the challenges they’ve gone through and the new ideas that they’re coming up with, because that’s when you really have to hustle and come up with good, fresh marketing and networking ideas.  So what have you been doing to bring business in and to meet realtors? 

CHARLES HOOKER: The biggest part is networking: joining the chamber; Chamber 630 with you guys -- where I met you; Chambers are very big; meeting just tons of people; going in real estate offices; just walking in and introducing yourself; just putting your face in front of them so they don’t see a card or a website; they actually see a person to where they can gain a trust and relationship; and just constantly networking -- like Jim said in the beginning -- always out there meeting new people; meeting guys like yourselves, which are huge opportunities; just meeting you guys here.

JIM WASZAK: Now, let me ask you a question: On the surface that seems like a great strategy, but how a do you distinguish yourself from other home inspectors, because probably 90% of home inspectors, if not more, have kind of the same strategy.  If I’m a realtor, I got home inspector A; I got B; I got C; I got Charles. How do you endear yourself or distinguish yourself?

CHARLES HOOKER: That’s the hardest part.  That is the part that probably every home inspector struggles with because every real estate agent doesn’t want a home inspector to come in as the alarmist as they would say, to go in and really kill the deal for them it’s always -- because that’s the hard part of being -- it’s a fine line we have to walk.   The biggest part is -- That’s the main part we find is the meeting them, is getting them to use you once.  It’s more or less they have to see your work before they trust you.  But getting them to take that first step is what’s huge. And once you get with one realtor that’s used you and then they refer you and they like you, that’s where you build your base as far as networking goes with them; and they refer down the road.They have to see your work.  The hard part is just convincing them that you’re the guy, and it does take probably 10 contacts with that person to get that one inspection. And once you do and they like you, then you’re good.And that’s how you refer.  It’s a hard process.  It’s not easy, which I’ve found starting my business as a home inspector. 

CHARLES HOOKER: Let me ask you a question, because you made me think of something: typically, the home inspector gets brought in by the buyer once they’ve got contract on a home.

CHARLES HOOKER: Yes.

JIM WASZAK: So what if you were to offer to realtors a free basic inspection of listings that they have, so they can anticipate what might come up when there is actually a sale.  I wonder if that would maybe make them remember you. 

CHARLES HOOKER: I actually work with two realtors -- which there’s a fee involved -- that I am doing inspections, presale inspections.  Some I just do a roof and an attic where that is -- like we have spoke before -- that is a big part of the inspection is you find leech or mold in the attics. And that is a process which a majority of home inspectors are trying to market getting most people.  The seller to pay that fee is hard for them to understand. But once they do it, then they realize that they didn’t have these things going in their house. But that is a good idea.  As far as the free part, inspections -- it’s kind of hard to offer free unless it’s -- I’ve done walkthroughs for free for them just to point out small things and not give the report because it is a time consuming process to do -- probably an average of two hours per home depending on size, then another couple hours for your report.  So yeah, that is something to look at.

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: So one of the challenges you probably have and I have sometimes is that when you’re walking into a real estate office to meet with realtors, they’ve already got their home inspector; and you have to give them some reason to switch, some unique selling proposition; and the challenge is that the referral is a one-way street typically I assume, because you’re not going to be sending -- You can’t say, “Hey let’s do business together.  Let me send you a bunch of referrals if you send me some back.” So you’ve got to convince them to just to send you referrals without any benefit of getting a lot of referrals back.  Now, I’m sure if you have the opportunity -- You got a buddy selling your home -- But that’s the way it is with me and financial advisors: where I get a lot of my estate planning business from financial advisors.  And when I can, I refer back to them, but it’s not as easy for me to refer that direction -- actually same for realtors for me.So how do you go to a realtor and convince them, “Hey, give me a try.”  Is it just, “I’m the best.  I’ve got the best expertise”?  Or how do you overcome that hurdle of not being able to say, “Hey, I’ll trade referrals with you”?

CHARLES HOOKER: The best thing that I’ve found that -- which maybe some guys do -- was just talk to them.  Don’t go in and tell how good I am because they’ll be saying if you have to tell me how good you are, you’re not that good. So my approach when I meet new ones, I’ll ask them up front do you have someone.  Then it’s out of the way; they don’t have to feel like they’re not hurting your feelings or disrespecting you.  They say yes I have someone that I use them on a regular basis, and my comeback is I say, “That’s great. Here’s my card. If he’s ever on vacation, if he’s too busy, give me a call. I’d be happy to fill in for you,” and I understand, “I’m sure he’s a great inspector.” I won’t ever talk bad. And say, “Hey,” you know?And that has worked for me on several occasions where someone’s been on vacation.  They’re like I’ve got this last minute inspection, and I’ve literally done it within eight hours where I’ve got a phone call and something’s changed.And that does work, and I’ve actually -- I don’t want to say.  I’ve got more business from that person.  They’ve used me more so than their regular inspector after because the simple approach of going in and being their friend first.  “How are you?  If you have an opening, here it is.  I’m available for you. Give me a last minute call.”  I don’t -- It’s no problem, and that has worked very well for me -- just keeping it honest.Don’t put a lot out there; just talk to them, and say this is what I do.  They know what home inspectors do.  They know my job probably as well as I know my job. They’ve seen it all.  So… 

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Something you said there was building a friendship, and I think -- There might be some referral sources that are stuck with their person.  They’ve been with someone for 20 years, and no matter how close you get, they’re probably not going to switch; but there’s others where you’re not going to impress them with your expertise, because they’ve probably got an expert already. But if you find them way to get them -- I talk about this a lot -- but get them into your vortex where you see them on a regular basis and have an excuse to over the course of time build a genuine friendship with somebody, eventually the majority of people will probably give a shot down the road, or when that time happens when they have a problem with their existing home inspector, you’re already there in line for them. 

CHARLES HOOKER: Right. And that’s what it is.  You just constantly -- the old saying out of sight out of mind.  If you’re always there in front of them, making a contact at least once a month -- every two, three weeks -- to those; and it does pay off. That’s a hard part.

JIM WASZAK: You see when you watch our show you learn so much because you get to hear people use words like vortex.  I mean, I can’t remember the last time I used vortex in conversation.  I’m not even sure I know what it is.  I hope it’s something good.  But so, that’s we appreciate that from our listeners.  So do you do home inspections on commercial properties too, or is that an entirely different animal?

CHARLES HOOKER: It’s an entirely different animal.  I don’t right now.   In the startup phase I’m concentrating on the one residential.  I’m looking to further down the road to step out into commercial.  I want to get my base set first, because a lot of realtors some do residential and commercial on some occasions. So, I’ll get my good referral base and my business established as residential, then I’ll step to that next level base.  JIM WASZAK: Now, we love using stories on our show. Can you tell us a story about a particular unusual inspection?  I mean, did you ever find like a dead body or like a stash of cash or anything? What’s sort of have been some of your more interesting experiences?

CHARLES HOOKER: No dead bodies.  One of my most recent ones we spoke of last night -- crawl space, which those are always lovely.  Please appreciate your home inspectors on that part of their inspection.  Small crawl space I had to go in head first.  Within about 10 feet got the flashlight and sitting over in the corner is a nice set of beady eyes looking at me.  So at that point it’s time to step out it -- ended up being a very large raccoon.  

JIM WASZAK: Really? 

CHARLES HOOKER: Yeah and raccoons -- I would have lost that fight in the crawlspace. 

JIM WASZAK: Yeah, I’m sure.  They have an advantage. 

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: So, when you’re -- you say you kind of do the door-to-door sales approach and just drop by their offices.  What are some of the challenges associated with that and the hurdles that you have to overcome? 

CHARLES HOOKER: The biggest hurdle is there are a vast majority of home inspectors in this area, so you step in this office and right away -- I’ve only done that a few times because I don’t find it to be very beneficial because once you step in and you open as, “I’m Charles, Charles Home Inspection.” You can almost see their face -- “Here’s another home inspector.” 

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Right.  It’s someone’s trying to sell them. 

CHARLES HOOKER: Yeah, trying to sell themselves, so I don’t take that approach.  The way I approach offices is once I get to a realtor, I have that relationship, and they’re using me on a steady basis, I’ll say “Hey, next time you’re in your office, let me know. I’ll come in talk to you and walk through.  They’re like oh, yeah. Once you build that relationship part, they’re more comfortable bringing you in the office, and you taking the cookies or hand lotion or whatever to give to people with your marketing on it -- your name.  That is the biggest part in entering the office, because there’s so many. I believe they tell that there is 1 home inspector to 400 realtors. So the couple thousand home inspectors there are in this area, they’re doing the same thing I’m doing.  So the approach is just the relationship part first, not walking in the office. “Here’s my things, and can I throw these in there?” Because they probably have a hundred business cards already.  So that is the biggest part is just getting it in with one realtor to step into the office. Walking in really isn’t beneficial as far as I’m concerned. 

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: I’d like to talk about more of the first approach or how you get the first person at the top of the sales tunnel. But before I forget, one of the things that I find really important is finding ways to add value other than giving referrals. I’ve talked about this a lot on the show.  And so title companies are another -- to me, what I am to realtors. Where I’m not going to be able to give realtors much business, title companies aren’t going to give me a bunch of referrals; but they all want my business, because the attorneys are the ones that basically get to pick the title company. And they will drop by my office and want to meet with me, and sometimes they get into a door; sometimes they don’t. But when they do get in the door, the ones that have a unique selling proposition that can show me, “Here’s how I can benefit you other than do other than just doing great title work,” are the ones that I really consider and bring to my real estate attorneys and say we should check this out. So for example, there’s an example that puts on seminars and puts attorneys in front of realtors. So they host a seminar, and they have an attorney speak and put everything together and have a bunch of realtors there.  So they find a way to get me in front of people that can give me referrals, and I think that’s a really important thing to have some way to have value other than just trading referrals and doing great work. CHARLES HOOKER: Oh, yes. It is very much so.

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: What we do -- That’s one of the reasons I started the podcast in the first place is to give my referral partners a -- “Hey, be a guest on my podcast,” and it became much more than that.  But networking groups that you can invite them to seminars that you put on.  Are there any other ways that you’re thinking about adding value it to? 

CHARLES HOOKER: The referral part -- it’s very hard for me on my side.  I’m the last guy usually in the transaction.  They already have yourself as the attorney; they have the bankers.  What I try to do with some of the attorneys I’ve met on networking just like yourself and the mortgage brokers or the financial brokers -- I try to introduce them to the realtors that I have.  At least introduce them to where down the road if -- same was mine. If they don’t like their current person, they can use this different mortgage person.  I try to include that on, and then the whole -- But realtors are very hard, because they have their set team. They don’t like to step out of their team. So you mention and say I have a person; and they have their name; and if it ever comes up, then they’re there. That’s what I try to keep going as a networking group as far as my real estate team if you will.

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Finding ways to put people together.

CHARLES HOOKER: Try to just connect them -- I know a person here. And it’s simple as -- Actually of insurance gentlemen. Some of the people in home insurance.  I’ve made really good contacts with a few of those people that give me referrals to realtors, and I do the same for them.  It’s really a good connection.  It’s easier for the realtor just to -- I know a friend that has this really good home insurance. Or giving home owners something to look at.  It’s easier for them to bring it forward than to me.  I kind of am the middle man. And put people together and that’s worked in my favor.  It has worked.  

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: And that will keep you in front of them too.  I mean that might not give you as many value points as if you would have given them referral, but it’s not nothing; and it’s an excuse to reach out to them; and they know you’re thinking about them; and that still engenders some respect and desire to work with you. 

CHARLES HOOKER: Correct.  Yeah.  Exactly.

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: So what networking events -- You say you meet a lot of people through networking.  What are some good networking types of events?  What are some bad ones?  What’s worked for you? What hasn’t? 

CHARLES HOOKER: I mean, a lot of the chamber events are good.  You have your B and I groups.  I have a realtor who asked me to actually join that group -- a little hesitant.  I did a home inspection for a gentleman that was in the group -- was an insurance man, and the realtor had joined it.  And I was her regular inspector.  They’re like hey come to lunch with us; you’re going to like this group.  I got in there and met a ton of people through that.  It’s really been good for me.And just go to most of any networking event -- rotary meetings.  I spoke in front of a few rotaries. Just getting out there and being visible in any networking event.  The ones that don’t work are the ones where -- They are a real estate function, because there are a hundred home inspectors or 50 to 200, and everyone’s trying to sell themselves; and it really doesn’t work, because they’re like walking in the office.  They’re like “Oh, there’s another home inspector walking up to us talking to us.”  It’s very hard to do that aspect on a group basis.  

KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: So people that don’t know what B and I groups are, they’re a leads group. And a leads group is basically a group of professionals that are industry exclusive -- only person per industry.  And they meet periodically with the purpose of exchanging referrals. So maybe if you can’t give the realtor in the group business, you might be able to give someone else in the group business, but you can get business from the realtor in the group. So that resolves the problem of the one-way supply chain of referrals a little bit.  So you’ve had a good experience with leads group?

CHARLES HOOKER: I have. With that one I have, yes. Some not so much.  It’s just -- I think some people get in there: they’re complacent.  And it’s “give me leads,” and they don’t want to return the favor; but you have to return the favor in business. 

JIM WASZAK: You know, Charles, I was thinking -- I don’t know if this would work, but I know there’s an organization that’s actually down the street that’s called Main Street Organization of Realtors; and they put on classes for realtors.Now, I don’t know if you have to be a realtor to go to the classes.  That may be a problem.  But if you could go to some of their classes, and just say I just want to learn all I can about the real estate because I’m a home inspector.  Now you’re the only inspector with a group of 15, 20 realtors.

CHARLES HOOKER: Yes, I have been to that -- just down the road -- a few times.  You have to be a realtor to go to those.  It’s like the realtor group, and you’re kind of an associate member to where basically there are attorneys, mortgage people, and it’s basically the underlying group; and the realtors have their own.And to get into that it’s really hard to have a meeting in front of them.  It’s pretty much the group is -- they have networking events for the realtors. This group built up of the attorneys, title people, they’re every aspect of home builders contractors.  They’re in there basically not really as a lead group, but they’re a support for them.  And you network for them, and you put on things and pay for things for them, and they attend.  Then you network for them.That’s how that works.  And that’s a good avenue, but it’s also it’s almost flooded with the same people that go to those.  They’re good.  You have to go to those.  You have to just grin and bear to go to those sometimes as a single entrepreneur.  

JIM WASZAK: Are you on LinkedIn? 

CHARLES HOOKER: Yes.

JIM WASZAK: One thought would might be a good idea to send out a LinkedIn message and just ask your database of people on LinkedIn do you any realtors you could introduce me to? 

CHARLES HOOKER: Yeah.  I’ve done that, and believe it or not, Facebook media has been huge.  I didn’t have a page. Just five, six years ago my children actually got me a page.  But up here realtors use that.  They’ll post a listing.  And I’m friends with them, and you share the picture.  They see that you’ve shared the picture.  People that I work with see they’ve shared the picture, and they appreciate that.  When you’re simply just hitting share and you share a picture, it goes across the web to everyone.​Facebook is really huge.  It’s something I didn’t think would be good for home inspection.  I posted two things a couple times.  And just right now I have a personal page with my name on top.  I’m getting ready to do a business page.  Some of the dangerous things I’ve found I’ve posted and commented “This is unsafe.  This is the importance.”  I don’t promote myself; I’m just like, “This is very important.  This is the importance of the home inspection.  If you need to do it, give me a call.”  And I’ve had realtors call me and say I saw your post.  Never knew that person and apparently a couple people shared it; they saw it; and they’re like, hey, I need a good home inspector. And they’ve used me ever since.  Something simple as that has been really huge. I found more as far as the media side of social media, Facebook has been a good one. 

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Growing your referral network
In our weekly business podcast & videocast Bryan McDonald of On Purpose Growth and Kevin O"Flaherty of O’Flaherty Law delve into the mind of a successful business owner to discuss lessons that he or she has learned in the course of business so that our viewers and listeners can gain from his or hear experience. 
Dive into an in-depth discussion of our weekly topic that will allow you to stop hoping for business success, and instead SEIZE YOUR BUSINESS!
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