I think the thing I love most about today’s Internet is that all the tools are their to let pure talent rise to the top. Daniel Rothamel generates live audio, video, and the written word on the Real Estate Zebra. Maybe as few as five years ago, a talent like Daniel might never be seen, heard, or maybe even read.
Hi Daniel, what made you decide to start the Real Estate Zebra?
My wife, Kari. When I first began blogging, the title of the url was CvilleAreaRealEstate.com. I had really intended it to be a blog focusing on the Charlottesville area real estate market. A few months in, I started writing posts about my experiences as a basketball official and how they related to the practice of real estate. People responded very positively to the posts, and I did more and more of them. I realized that being a basketball official gives me a unique perspective, and I wanted to highlight that. I struggled with a way of effectively doing it and promoting it. As I usually do, I discussed the issue with my wife, being that she is the smartest, most insightful person I know. As usual, she had the answer– RealEstateZebra.com.
Looking back at your posts from 2006, and then comparing them to today, your blog seems to be evolving from focusing on content for consumers, to focusing on content of interest from other real estate professionals. How did you get to where you are today?
Similar to my migration from CvilleAreaRealEstate.com to RealEstateZebra.com, the change came about as a result of actively blogging. I enjoyed doing the coverage of local real estate news and consumer issues, but I also wanted to talk about bigger, industry issues that really don’t interest most consumers. For a long time, I tried to do both, and I think that the schizophrenic nature of that endeavor caused me to hold back some things from both sides. After being active in the real estate blogging community for a time, I realized that agents are very hungry for knowledge, much more so than I had ever experienced before. If you look at most real estate blogs, be they consumer-focused or not, most of the comments are from industry professionals. As I looked around the blogosphere, I saw plenty of blogs claiming to talk to consumers, when most of the content was actually indirectly focused on professionals. Heck, I had created some of that content myself. I decided that I wanted to remove all the pretense and talk to an audience made up primarily of professionals. I tend to be a guy attracted to big ideas and the need to spread those ideas as a means of inspiring change and achievement by others. Having an industry-focused blog allows me to satisfy that attraction.
I am lucky in that my brokerage is made up of only myself, my wife, and my Mother-in-Law. They decided that we should start a blog for the brokerage that would be exclusively consumer/community focused. This gave me the flexibility that I wanted to turn RealEstateZebra.com into an industry resource.
Has this shift changed, increased, or hurt your ability to attract clients through your blog?
Very honestly, I have no idea. I do know that it has increased my ability to serve my clients, regardless of how they find me. Creating content for RealEstateZebra.com has forced me to think about things in new ways, and consider issues I might have otherwise dismissed. Blogging creates an opportunity for unsurpassed knowledge just by the sheer amount of research that is required to create good content. This makes me a better agent, even if I never get another client via the blog.
Will I attract less clients via RealEstateZebra.com? Probably. But I’m fine with that. The purpose of RealEstateZebra.com is not to attract clients, that is what my personal site and our brokerage site/blog are for. RealEstateZebra.com is meant to attract professionals. In fact, it is designed to attract a specific type of professional. A professional completely dedicated to improving the practice of real estate and delivering to the consumer a level of commitment, service, and expertise that has been heretofore unknown. This purpose was set forth early in the birth of the current RealEstateZebra.com through the “Zebra Manifesto” that I made available on the site.
You’ve been avidly engaged in both video and audio blogging. For RE agents who are considering multi-media, what’s your advice concerning the pros and con’s of video, audio, and the written word.
Each of these forms of content creation poses incredible challenges. The best advice that I can give is to pick what works for you. I am the type of person that likes all of this stuff. As an English Major in college, I was trained and conditioned to write. Writing comes naturally to me. That isn’t true for everyone.
The video and audio is something that I thought might be interesting, so I have given it a try. While I love doing that type of content creation, and I think that it has tremendous power and potential, I also know that it isn’t for everyone, either. Each person has strengths and weaknesses. Play to your strengths. If you love to write, WRITE. If you are good at taking photos, incorporate that into your content. If you are handy with a video camera, maybe vlogging is right up your alley. Think that you stink at all of them? Not true. You probably just haven’t tried. No matter what you do, realize that it takes effort and continued practice to make it work. It might be easy at first, but at some point, it is going to get difficult. How you respond when content creation gets difficult will determine your success. Above all, trust yourself and be genuine. Regardless of what you do, make sure that it conveys your true voice. In the the internet age, their can be no disconnect between the voice and personality that you convey online and reality. People are too smart for the bait-and-switch.
Recently, you changed your blog to more of what I’d call a magazine layout. By this, I mean your home page isn’t a reverse chronological list of blog posts. Why the change?
In my experience, the people that have never been exposed to blogs sometimes have a hard time interpreting the sites. To those of us who read blogs, it seems second nature. I wanted a site that would allow for both. The front page has a more traditional website look and feel to it, but the blog itself is still prominent and available to people. It also allowed me a format to highlight some of the content that I would like to emphasize to people. Sidebars can get cluttered, and info can get lost, so this provides a good alternative. Plus, the theme is Revolution, designed by Brian Gardner. His work is great, and the theme is still pretty easy to use and customize.
What are some of your favorite blogs?
If we are talking Real Estate blogs, there are a lot of them. Just check out my blog roll. As of writing this, I have been without RSS for about 21 days (self-imposed embargo). During that time, I have found that the blogs I seek out the most are AgentGenius, VARBuzz, RealCentralVA, BloodhoundBlog, and anyone who is on Twitter. Does Twitter count? As far as non-RE blogs go, I always check out Chris Brogan, CoppyBlogger, and TechCrunch. That covers the social media geek, the writing geek, and the gadget geek in me.
What advice do you have for agents who are just starting a new blog?
The best advice I can give is to stick with it. A good blog is not created over night. It will take a while for you to find your content-creation stride. Whether you are doing writing, video, pictures, or a mix, just stick with it. The other thing I tell people is don’t worry about it sucking in the beginning. Everyone thinks that their blog sucks in the beginning. I know mine did. The good news is this: no one will find your blog if it sucks. People only start following and reading when it gets good.