By Stefanie Hahn
When you work with new agents (or any agents for that matter) one of the constants seems to be that they are looking for ways to get the best of everything, and are trying to get it for free. If I shared with you some of the MacGyver strategies I have seen over the years you would … but you already know.
So when I sit with these agents there are a few constants – the first of which is to get on board with Google. Not the search engine Google (we can discuss the joys of that later) but the super-cool-productivity-tool-creating Google. That’s right; the team at Google is creating all sorts of wonderful stuff to make your business more productive; and best of all they’re giving it all away for free!
Here is a rundown of some of my must-haves from the Google toolkit. There are so many more, but this is a good starter package for you to consider before stepping into the big time:
1. Google Profile – http://www.google.com/profiles
I know I said I wasn’t talking about search, but who honestly doesn’t want to come up on that first page when their name is Googled? We all do – and setting up a Google Profile should be the key to getting you on that coveted first page of results. How? Your name, a small thumbnail photo and a link to your Google Profile will appear at the bottom of the first page of results. As a bonus, you can tie in all of your other sites, social and otherwise, as well as your photos. If you don’t have a Google Profile yet, stop reading this and go set it up … then come back (please)!
2. Gmail - http://mail.google.com
I heart Gmail. You will too. Pull all of your accounts into Gmail and respond out from those accounts. One caveat – your Gmail address will appear in the string, but I can live with that – because it’s free. Fair warning here … Gmail is not for the nervous technology user, because the format is a bit techie and slightly different than standard e-mail programs. Their designers thought of everything, though – you can use tags instead of folders (so everything is still in one area), search for anything in your mailbox easily, get suggested contacts and add little extras to tweak your Gmail to your heart’s content.
3. Picasa - http://picasa.google.com/
A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Well Google’s Picasa offers you a way to make those words count. Their photo editing and storage tool – which can be either an offline program that lives on your machine or a website that also allows you to upload and share your images. I primarily use the desktop app and skip the Web albums option, but it makes me feel warm and fuzzy just knowing I have the option. Plus I can geo-tag my photos with their location, an ideal tool for real estate people, and now the folks at Google have added name-tagging too.
4. YouTube – http://www.youtube.com/
Bet you weren’t expecting to see Internet fav YouTube included in my free Google tools list were you? Well, since the boys at Google bought YouTube in 2006 it has become one of the most visited sites on the Internet and is now the No. 2 search engine behind its big brother Google search. What caused the growth? Well, even though photos are important, they will always be so, video is crucial right now. With an average of 1 billion views per day people now love the fact that they can “watch” their Internet instead of reading it everyday. Trust me when I tell you that you should be posting listing videos, a personal profile video and community videos as quickly as you can… because people are watching.
5. Google Docs - http://docs.google.com
Google and Microsoft are in a heated battle for supremacy of the world. Whoever wins will be able to print their own money eventually. But in the meantime take advantage of the benefits. One HUGE benefit is the free service Google Docs. Getting a new computer? Forget the expensive price tag tied to that Microsoft Office add on – instead go to the Internet and get all of the documents, presentations, spreadsheets and more that you need with Google Docs. No, this isn’t like the WordPerfect days when nothing worked. The engineers at Google have made it simple to upload existing Microsoft Office documents; convert what you’ve worked on in Google Docs back to Microsoft, share links to your work and now (thanks to some new code) even share folders.
6. Calendar - http://www.google.com/calendar
A Google Calendar is perfect for the real estate professionals on the go – it is always available online or on your mobile device. The management of the calendar is simple and very natural. Just to make sure you stay organized, Google even offers to e-mail you each morning with your agenda for the day (sort of like a digital wake up call). I have three calendars that I layer within a single account – each event is color coded so I know where it came from (personal, work, etc). Even better, if you work in a group you can share your calendar with them so they don’t double-book you accidentally. I two-way share my calendar with 3 co-workers (meaning they can see it and write in things), and one-way share with a few others.
7. Blogger – https://www.blogger.com
Are you considering starting a blog but don’t really know the best way to go? Google’s Blogger service is one of the easiest places on the Internet. There are millions upon millions of blogs already there, which means they have worked out the bugs. Granted, there are a few confusing spots for the beginner and people often say they wish they could access the dashboard when writing/editing a post, but overall easy-peasy. Even if some of the layouts are getting tired (because there are so many people using them) but as one of the largest blog services in the world people have enhanced it themselves with loads of add-ons and applications. Take advantage of some of these and work up a super-cool blog (and they stay on top of it)!
8. Maps - http://maps.google.com/
Google Maps is my go-to for directions both online and mobile. You can also create your own maps that bring the “real world” into the “map world”. For example, I created a map for my company that shows all of our office locations, but then enhanced it to show manager and admin information, phone numbers, etc. Now it is an asset the company can use when working with clients, which is ideal since the map link can be shared with anyone in a few clicks. Unlike the old mapping services, Google has worked hard to incorporate different views. Not only from the satellites up above, but also street-level views that are pretty amazing. I can also create a listing for my business > http://www.google.com/local/add that can be mapped.
9. Google Voice – http://www.google.com/voice/
Google is taking the same approach to voice communication that it took with e-mail back when it launched GMail in 2004 – that things could be done differently. Their approach to the telephone is pretty cool and ideal for the busy real estate pro in that once you have a GVoice number you can tell it just which phone to ring. At an open house with no cellular service? Have GVoice ring the house phone (might want to check with the owners first). Get this – when the call comes in, the Voice service allows you to pick it up, listen to who it is and THEN decide if you want to answer or send it to Voice Mail. Start listening to the message from the caller and decide you need to pick up? Just hit a button and you are “live” in the conversation. Let the call go to voice mail completely – Gvoice not only saves the message for you, but also transcribes it to text and e-mails it to you. The service also allows you to have different voice mail greetings for different incoming calls – so your manager’s cell gets the “I’m busy working with clients” while your girlfriend gets the “I’m shopping with Pam at Suburban Square.” In states like mine where the rules on REALTOR phone communications are in flux, a service like Google Voice could end up being the best answer available.
10. Google Reader – http://www.google.com/reader
Has your list of “must read” blogs gotten a bit out of hand? So long that you can’t possibly check them all each and every day to see what’s new and notable? Trust me, you’re not alone. This doesn’t mean you read too much… it just means it’s time for you to have your own reader. Google Reader is a great option – with a little setup work on your end, very soon you will have all of the latest and greatest content from your favorite sites in an easily digestible format and in one location. Keeping up with your favorite bloggers is now much easier, and maybe even affords you time to add in a few more!
So we have created an entire communication/collaboration/content management strategy here and we haven’t spent a dime – how cool is that? Believe it or not it is just touching the surface of what your relationship with the gang at Google can be like. There are at least 25 other services we didn’t get to cover here – some of which can save you even more cash and make you more productive. All you need to do to find them all is go to Google.com and click that “more” option up in the left hand corner. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
Stefanie Hahn is the education director for Coldwell Banker Hearthside, REALTORS® in Willow Grove, Pa. Visit her Web site: www.StefanieHahn.com.