How Real Estate Photographers Can Use Referral Marketing

January 18th, 2017

Darren in CA asks the following question:

My question is in regards to referral perks. Are there any specific do’s and dont’s or legal barriers when it comes to providing cash or gift incentives to marketing coordinators or office managers of real estate brokerages (I’m in California, so this may be a state applicable thing)?

For example, I was toying with the idea of visiting the offices of past clients, providing some marketing materials/contact information, and offering a referral bonus in cash form, gift cards, wine for each client referred by the front desk marketing coordinators to my business.

Yes, referral marketing is very powerful and used widely in the real estate industry. In fact, there is a series of referral marketing seminars designed for real estate agents. For real estate photography, the process works like this:

  1. Explicitly ask your clients to refer you to their friends. Something like, “If you like the work I do please tell your friends about me.” Say it in person and have it on your marketing materials.
  2. Agents will trust recommendations from their friends in the business over any other form of marketing. Referral marketing is the most powerful form of marketing!
  3. When one of your existing clients refers another agent to you give the agent that did the referring a gift. Something like a Starbuck’s gift card or something that everyone can use. Give the gift and say thank you in person.
  4. This is all legal. It is a widely used technique in real estate and documented in a book by Brian Buffini and Joe Niego. This whole marketing technique applies to real estate photographers.

The only way I would change the technique you describe in your question is:

  1. Don’t deal with marketing coordinators and office managers. They are just intermediaries. Deal directly with the agents that use your services they are the ones that like your work and suggest their agent friends to use your services.
  2. I would NOT say on your marketing materials, “If you refer people to me, I’ll give you a gift”. The gift is just a way of saying thank you.

Many agents use this marketing technique themselves and will immediately recognize what you are doing and likely be impressed!

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4 Responses to “How Real Estate Photographers Can Use Referral Marketing”

  • I like the idea of gift cards. Could easily buy just a block of $10 ones and keep them in my case and give them out to the clients who refer me. Well, looks like a trip to the coffee shop is in order!

  • I pay a commission for referrals. It’s a one time commission for each new client, not an ongoing commission such as a sales rep would get. There is no law prohibiting paying somebody a commission or giving them a gift when they refer business to you. You can even apply a commission to the next job for the agent rather than paying them directly. If you pay over $600 (IIRC) in commissions, you will have to report that to the IRS for taxes. If you offer the payments as discounts on further work, I don’t think that those discounts would have to be reported. Some gift cards have a fee that can be a large percentage of the amount. Read the fine print.

  • Larry is 100% correct. The best advertising you can get is another agent praising you and your work. If an agent hears from two other agents that you are the go to photographer in the area, you will get a call. It’s just like a friend telling you about a great new restaurant or a film that just came out.

  • Office managers and marketing coordinators might be prohibited by their employer from receiving any type of gift to prevent abuse. Agents are quasi-independent contractors aren’t as constrained as a full time (non-commissioned) employee. You really want the person using your work directly to be the one making the referral. If they can make a statement such as “After I started using Ken for photos, my average days on market were cut in half”, other agents will take notice.

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