What’s up everyone and welcome to another episode of Become a Local Leader. In today’s episode, we have the pleasure of sitting down with Mark Otis, Senior Licensed Realtor with eXp Realty.

67 Strategies to Get More Referrals

Meet Mark Otis – Our Featured Local Leader

I’ve been in the business for about four and a half years now. I’ve been steadily trying to increase and educate the community about real estate ownership, and then also how the market is doing in general. And then recently, I’ve actually started a website on a YouTube channel called Bay Area experience. We are solely trying to improve the community as far as what’s going on with current events, government things that are happening. And then, we also try to add a little levity in there, little fun things. 

Where are you from? Where do you live now? 

I’ve been born and raised in California. I spent most of my time in the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve been in Oakland for about a year. I have been back and forth from San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, all the areas. Right now, I reside in North Oakland. 

Do you work in the same community you live in or do you work elsewhere? 

I do work in the same community I live in. I try to cover the whole Bay Area. Right now, the market is such that we have to help a lot of people that are outside of the “Bay Area” because what’s happening with COVID-19 there’s a lot of people that are moving out of the residential area and going into these Far Eastern areas like discovery Bay and past that to Sacramento. People are trying to move out of the Bay Area because what’s happening is they’re allowed to work from home. 

We have a lot of clients that are trying to kind of get away from the super million-dollar homes. Why not have a bigger home for cheaper and still not have to leave your house? 

Name some things that you love about your community and why you’ve chosen to live and work there. 

There’s so much to say about my community. I think one of the main reasons is the weather, obviously. But there’s just so much diversity here in the Bay Area. I would never want to leave that, especially with what’s going on now in the world and community. I think having diversity is a big part. I’m raising my son to deal with a lot of different things. I want him to be surrounded by a lot of different types of people. And so, we want to obviously have equality in all forms and all stages. I think one of the biggest things is diversity here in the Bay Area. 

I think another big thing, the very of why I’m here is the opportunity for jobs. Employment is definitely at an all-time high here, just because there are so many high tech and small companies that are able to work from home. They don’t need a huge structure, just a place to meet with their employees. They can just basically have their structure at home. It’s all mobile now. I think that’s one of the best things. 

Do you plan on staying there for long term? 

Yeah. I want to stay here as long as I can. Obviously, I do want to invest outside of the Bay Area, which I think everybody does. But yeah, I try to plan my stay here. 

What did you do before you got into this line of business? 

I did so many things. Interestingly enough, I went to school for graphic design. I was an illustrator for a long time. I did a lot of digital media and small stuff. And then, moved on to fitness actually, believe it or not. I was really entrenched in the corporate fitness industry. It allowed me to go into companies like PayPal, Hewlett Packard, things like that. We would basically train the employees and teach them about wellness. 

I then moved onto bigger and better things. I was a strength coach in the NFL for about two years. That was very, very vigorous. That was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life but it was most enjoyable because you get to work with these million-dollar gazelles. I mean, these guys are just so conditioned. It’s just great to challenge them. And it was good to get the best out of all of them. And then, at the end of the day, at the end of the competition, they’ll come back and thank us. There’s nothing that can take away from that. And so, I’ll always remember that. 

And then, after that, I just wanted to get into something a little bit better because I knew a lot of people that lost their homes including me about five years ago. So, I wanted to get into a place where I knew this would never happen again and educate others as well at the same time, especially people of color. I wanted to make sure that minorities in general were educated in that sense that we can actually own. There’s a lot of people that come to the Bay Area and they think that they cannot afford a home here. That’s just not true. There’s a lot of programs that allow you to do that. 

What do you think your superpower is as a real estate professional? 

I’m a chameleon. I think being able to adjust to whatever situation there is when you encounter a certain type of client or a certain type of situation. One of my biggest idols was Bruce Lee. He always talked about being like water. You have to try to eliminate limitations. You want to try to get out of the comfort zone and get out of the box. Don’t let people put you in a box. Don’t let people limit your abilities, including yourself. And so, for me, I just adjust. I just work towards whatever that person’s personality is, their needs and just try to get the best out of them with integrity and not some dishonest sales technique. It’s just really about just being genuine with them and talking to them like they’re a normal person. 

How many transactions do you do a year? How has that changed over the last four years of being in the business? 

When I first started, I was with Redfin. I would do 10 transactions a year, maybe 12. I was there for about two years. Now, it’s a little bit more complex. We have to come up with our own marketing. I have to do my own work, look for my own people that I’m going to help. And so, typically, like last year I did six transactions. This year I’m close to doing probably three so far. And that’s during COVID, which is pretty good. I have three lined up. We’re talking to the clients but it’s a little different because COVID actually cut off a lot of our clientele. And so, we have to, again, adjust. We have to try to make ourselves visible and known and try to get the best out of the situation that we can. 

Of course, there are no open houses so we have to do more virtual tours. That’s why I got into more video content about the Bay Area Experience. You can look at some of my stories and my videos to see what it’s about. I often go into homes and just video every corner of the property to let people know that, “Hey, you can actually do this without stepping foot here, physically.” I had a tour not too long ago, where the client wanted to tour this home in Berkeley hills. We got a message from the listing agent that there was somebody that could have been exposed by COVID right after us. They weren’t, fortunately! And so yeah, none of us got exposed. But I think one of the things is we’re always at risk. We’re always at risk. Us as agents or just you as a customer.

It’s tough out there but we have to try to make things going successful as we can. And right now, it’s been hard. The first six, seven months, because all the change, but we’re starting to pick up our steam now. 

What percentage of your business is repeat business versus new clients? 

I’d say repeat business. The percentage is pretty small but I would say the majority of my clients are new and referrals. It’s not repeats, in the sense that they are the same customer, but they do refer others to me. I have a lot of referrals now that are just reaching out to me. One, he worked with me a few years ago. Sometimes I don’t even remember these people! So, they have to kind of refresh my memory. I’m like, “Oh, okay. Cool.” And then they say, “Yeah. We have a friend that’s looking and we’d like you to talk to him.” That’s great.

Otherwise, it’s a referral from maybe doing my marketing. One of my friends will see something on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and they’ll say, “Hey, I saw your video. Are you doing any work in San Jose? I have a friend that lives out of state but they’re thinking about moving out again.” Sure. Let’s do it. Let’s talk.” And so yeah, I mean, most of my business is referrals. Not so much repeat, but referrals. And then, yeah, I guess the biggest portion is new clients. 

Do you do any sort of advertising? Print marketing, things like that? 

I don’t do print marketing. I do everything on social media now, as I’ve found it’s the way to go in the current climate. Everybody’s there. There are all kinds of agents and buyers and sellers on social media. You’re being seen by so much more than, “Hey, I’m going to do a print marketing material and send that to about 100 people in my block.” It’s a lot easier to post something on Instagram or Facebook and have it seen by thousands of people just by boosting something. 

How big is your database of potential clientele, past clientele? 

I’d say probably right now, I have about 50 people that I’m in contact with. Right now, actively, I have about 16. 

How many new relationships do you think you’re building in average, whether it’s month per year, in your business? And are you trying to build new relationships? 

Yeah. It’s all about retouching those people that you actually helped or maybe that you contacted before. You definitely do not want to give up in this industry. Sometimes it takes a year before somebody says, “Hey, you know what? I got all your messages, your thousand messages that you sent me. I just wasn’t ready at the time.” That kind of thing. They like that. Some people like to be touched by email or text.

Now, video is a big thing that I do just so people can actually associate my name with the face. Obviously, I want them to know my business name as well. When they see that, I want them to associate, “Okay. This guy actually reached out to me and he was fine. He wasn’t trying to sell me anything. It was just like, Hey, do you need some help?” I don’t want to be a salesy type of marketer. I want to be just a man of the community, a man of the people.

Do you do any other sort of paid advertising at all? If you do, what does and doesn’t work? 

I do. There are some community websites that I use. NextDoor is one of them. Obviously, you pay these online marketing channels to broadcast your name and your business name brand. They post, “Hey, there’s an available house here. Contact Mark because he’s in this area.” That kind of thing. I pick a zipcode. Right now, I’m just doing the East Costa County area for that. And then also, my other paid avenues are just little websites to where I target certain people, and then I hit a drip email out to them or a drip campaign of some sort. That includes maybe video, or maybe just a message by text. 

What mistakes have you made career wise that you regret, or that you’ve learned from? 

The biggest mistake was when I used to get so frustrated with calling people before and trying to nurture the people that I helped, and they wouldn’t call me back, they wouldn’t respond to my texts, they wouldn’t answer my email or anything like that. I would get so frustrated so quickly. I’d give up. That was the biggest mistake because after doing that, I’ve seen a couple of my clients go to other realtors or go to other people that they’re helping. They end up using this other person because they were closest, or they were contacting them last. By doing that, they were top of mind. I don’t give up anymore. If I have to contact them 20 times, it’s fine. If somebody purchases me out then that’s a different story. 

What do you think your clients would have to say about your service in the right light? What do you think they rave about? 

I think they rave about my customer service with them, particularly our rapport. I tried to establish a high level of rapport with my clients, so that they almost feel like, “Hey, we can tell you anything about our situation. Or we can invite you over for drinks or dinner or whatever.” It’s the rapport level and then that service of, “Hey, I’m going to establish more of a friendship” Rather than, “Hey, this guy is just a realtor that helped me get a house.” That’s one of the things that I’ve heard actually from my reviews that they say that I’m on that end. I’m more of “your guy”, instead of I’m just a guy that’s just doing a transaction. 

Are you doing anything right now that is setting you apart from your competitors? What are you doing a differentiate yourself? 

I’m establishing my Bay Area Experience YouTube channel to not just focus on real estate. Obviously, there’s a lot of people that are doing that, but they still turn around and they focus on themselves. If it’s not about real estate, it’s about, “Hey, do like me and increase your Instagram followers by a million or something.” It’s more pointed back to them. My thing is I point back out to the community. I want to get more, “Hey, this restaurant over here, you want to check this out? This is really cool.” Like this one, “This is the best dog park.” “This is the best place to see fireworks.”

I try to get out of that, “Okay. Well, the market is kind of slow.” I mean, people aren’t going to listen to that all the time. Yeah, they’ll want to know the information but if you got to listen to that every single day, and there are so many people that are doing that, that’s probably not going to get the attention of a lot of people. It’ll get some attention but not the type of attention that I would like. 

So, I think setting myself apart and trying to focus more on the community and the people, and then I just want to expand my brand not to be so rigid. You can’t be rigid, you can’t be predictable. You have to try to go out and do things that are unpredictable. So, that’s my focus. 

We talked about your brand and giving back to the community. Would you say that falls into things you’re doing to give value to the people that live and work in your community? 

I definitely want to make sure that people know where I live in this part of the community with Oakland, Berkeley, and know what our area is all about. I want to let them know, “Hey, the school districts are doing this. The community is talking about this for rent control.” Yeah, I try to center on what’s going on in my community, specifically sometimes, but also, I branch out as well. I go to South Bay. I cover the South Bay sometimes. I’m going to start to cover more areas past San Francisco, up into the hills in there. There’s a wide variety of things that I’m trying to cover but I think just centering on my specific community. Yeah, I’m going to talk about things that are most mostly affecting us in that area. 

Do you have any current ongoing community marketing initiatives or is that falling in the same vein as what we’re just talking about? 

Kind of falling in the same vein. I don’t have any initiatives at this point. I’m constantly working and trying to get new ideas. I will definitely take suggestions too from my viewers. I always ask my subscribers and viewers say, “Hey, what do you guys think? What you think I should do?” I’m open to people giving me, “Hey, I would like to hear more about this. Can you feature this on your channel?” “Yeah, sure, definitely.” 

What do you personally think shopping local is so important?

Well, if you watched Supersize Me, you would know. I mean, that was a huge wake-up call for me. Supersize Me 1 and 2 really, what the big businesses and big corporations are doing to small farmers, local farmers, and growers. It’s just ridiculous. It’s a mafia out there. And so, I think, buying locally and buying locally grown foods and things like that or maybe even doing it in your own garden is definitely an advantage for the community rather than doing it the big business, big corporate way because they are just robbing people.

So I think we should stand together and start to support more locally grown foods. I did a piece on the farmers market, I plan to do more for us as a local ending event for local farmers and growers. So, I definitely think that if we do more of that it’s going to help the community. 

What are your specific business goals in the next three to five years? 

In the next three to five years, I hope to have my own production team doing the channel. People working with me on my team that have the same values and goals and views that we would be able to go out and do the things that I’m starting to do now. There’s a lot of people that need assistance with that. And so, that’s really on the real estate side. I would love to do that. And then also, branch my brand out. Do different things. Not just real estate. Ideally get to a place where I bring in more professionals that I know talk about estate planning, family planning, or things like that. 

I have some people that I work with now that I’m improving with. I was horrible at it and I’m still learning. And so, I have a lot of growing up to do in that area. I’m in my 40s guys. Believe me, it is not something you should ignore like I did. You definitely need to focus on the future for your kids and your family because your family’s going to thank you. We have people in our circle that just lost parents and things from COVID-19. This virus is no joke. It’s not a joke. People think that, “Oh, it’s just going to go away.” It’s not. It’s serious. 

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges you’re having right now getting there? Is it a time spent thing, is it a COVID thing or is it a money thing? Where are you at? 

I think one of the biggest things is right now for me the type of competition that we deal with, it’s almost like it’s an oversaturation of people that are in the market, especially in the Bay Area. So, the biggest thing is I have to compete with a lot of people that have maybe way more experience than I do. But the team that I’m on now, I work with Team Fast, they’re phenomenal. We have over 30 agents on our team right now under Kenny, in the area. He specializes in the area, and has helped me a lot. He’s guiding me to actually expand myself out there. Kenny is all about expansion. He teaches not just to come on the team and to produce but he’s teaching us to actually expand our brand and then get out into the open and do things for ourselves as well. 

Do you pay for ads on social media platforms? If so, which ones? 

Yes, I use Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. The major three. Actually, LinkedIn I haven’t yet but I know you can do that there as well. I have not done it on LinkedIn yet. 

How much do you spend per month on all those ads? 

I’d say not a lot. I’d say probably about $200 a month. 

Do you get a positive ROI from that? Does it fluctuate or is it a negative ROI? 

It was a positive ROI before COVID-19. After COVID-19 happened, it just threw everything kind of out the window. It just messed up a lot of algorithms and things like that. Before all this happened, yeah, I think it was positive. 

Do you pay a digital marketer to do anything for you? 

No, I do not. I do it all myself. 

Do you advertise at all on bus benches, grocery carts, any sort of display advertising like that? Or I guess if you’re on a team that could count as well. 

Yeah, my team does. 

Do you know why they would do it or why they are doing it? 

The team leader started doing this. He did this starting 10 years ago. He kind of kept his platform there. It just continued. He didn’t want to take it off. And so, he adds team profiles and things on his ads sometimes. That’s what he does. But I, myself, I don’t do it. 

Do you write blog content as well as the video content? 

I do, but I haven’t done written blogs in a while. I just find that video is just a lot more fun! It’s great. I love it. But yeah, writing, I was doing that before but I’m kind of lukewarm on it n Now. I just rather do video. 

Are you active on other media channels? Which ones? 

No other channels as of yet. Just YouTube I actually do want to get on Tik Tok. Everybody tells me I should. It’s huge. I need to do that but I have not. So, right now, it’s just Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. That’s it. 

Do you have an email newsletter that you send out to your database of people that you’re working? 

I do a mailer, an email campaign. I don’t have a regular newsletter though. Basically, I have weekly videos. I post every week, usually on the same day. Once I produce the video, it’s actually done. Then, I’ll send the mailer out, email campaign mailer. And so, I send that out and then notify everybody that I have. 

What type of follow up do you do and you think works best on your database? Do you just show up at their house? Or do you pop by? Do you write notes? Or do you send gifts? What kind of things do you do that work? 

I think one of the biggest things I like to do is I like to give them like a thank you card, kind of just for allowing me to be in the business with them, allowing me to help them with whatever they need to help be helped with. So, it’s more a thank you card type of deal. There’s not really a gift in there. But I just kind of give them acknowledgment, hey we appreciate you, that kind of thing. I haven’t done the gifts thing too much. 

How much cold call and door knocking would you say you do in your business? 


Final thoughts! 

Hey guys, check out Bay Area Experience on YouTube. I am on Instagram as well. If you go to the Bay Area Experience, you will find my business page. And then also you can follow me on Instagram, Mark.OtisRealtor.

Hey, if you liked the show, be sure to share it with your friends and colleagues! And if you want to learn more about Becoming a Local Leader, then be sure to check out how other agents are becoming the go-to Real Estate Professionals in their communities.