I’ve been in the mortgage industry for a long time, and I’ve heard a lot of great ideas. Heck, I’ve come up with a lot of great ideas myself. But this great idea I heard recently?
I think it might have made it into the Top 5 Best Ideas I’ve Ever Heard In My Life.
I sat down recently with loan officer Michelle Poulin from Greenwood, South Carolina who has been in the industry since 1998. Her husband joined her in 2002, and they’ve been working together ever since. We have this thing in our Freedom Club called Brunch & Learn every Tuesday at noon where we bounce ideas back and forth—for loan officer marketing, lead generation, etc. Every now and then, something comes up that makes me say “stop the presses!”
Michelle’s idea was one of those somethings.
Creating a Space for Connection
As a naturally chatty person who was having a really hard time with the isolation that the pandemic imposed upon all of us, Michelle had reached a breaking point. Then the stars aligned and something magical happened. The mortgage office she works at is in a strip mall in Greenwood. About three months ago, the space immediately adjacent to her office became available. She started thinking about how she could use the space.
She spends a lot of time and money meeting realtors, clients, and other referral partners at Starbucks or Panera or wherever. So she thought, why don’t we just open something like Starbucks? And, instead of spending weeks and months thinking about it, she decided to just go for it and see what happened. She said she often gets paralyzed by overthinking things, so she was determined not to overthink this time.
She and her husband rented the 1000 square foot—not too big, not too small, and very affordable—space and turned it into a coffee shop with pub-style tables. They leased a high-end cappuccino machine for $25/month, and you can get a cappuccino or a latte with all the syrups and everything.
In addition to the coffee shop area, they also have a full kitchen and a professional video studio where people can come shoot YouTube content. Michelle knows from working with my friend Ginger Bell how important video is in the mortgage industry. The video studio has an 85-inch screen TV and can seat 45-50 people.
They named their gathering place The Hub. When they had their Grand Opening, they reached out to title companies, realtors, insurance agents, and anybody who was even remotely affiliated with the mortgage industry. They wanted to give them the space to connect. There are four words displayed in the space—connect, learn, grow, and inspire.
Michelle says she really wanted a place for people in the industry to be able to do whatever they need to do to help one another be and do better. If you need to do a presentation to 20 people or sit down with a client over coffee or if you need to make a video, that space is here for you.
I really can’t get over what a clever idea this is. I know thousands of loan officers, and I’ve never heard of anybody doing this. It’s such a simple idea but so powerful.
Creating an “Oprah Effect”
I made sure to tell Michelle how big of an Oprah fan I am. One thing that makes Oprah so brilliant is how she brings everybody to the party. She’s seen as an expert, but really she just provides a meeting place for all these other true experts. She didn’t become famous for her content, but for other people’s content. She’s just the one asking the questions.
Michelle has created this “Oprah Effect” in her town. She’s the connector. She’s the one who knows everybody and has provided a space for them to gather and share and meet each other—to connect, learn, grow, and inspire. People can teach a class or have a meeting with 45 other agents or first time home buyers or whatever the case may be.
On Tuesday night, February 22, 2022, one of the real estate offices in town wanted to do a Taco Tuesday, so they invited all of their affiliates—appraisers, home inspectors, pest inspectors, warranty people, insurance agents—for a Taco Tuesday Open House. Michelle says it was fabulous. Everyone who came into the space that evening was like, “Wow, we can use this?” and she said, “Absolutely.”
She has a realtor friend who was having work done at her house and the contractors were really loud. “Michelle, I can’t hear myself think,” her friend said. “Can I work out of The Hub?” Of course. That’s what it’s here for. Another real estate office is doing their annual awards for their agents—30 or 40 people—and having the dinner catered in.
Michelle is putting together an online calendar where you can book a time and let them know what you need. For the calendar on the website, she’s going to add a registration page. When you register online for an event in advance, you’ll need to input your name, email address, and phone number. Whenever a realtor has an event at The Hub, Michelle will have info for all of the attendees.
I urged Michelle to consider adding her name in some way, so everyone knows she’s the queen bee. Maybe: “The Hub (powered by Michelle Poulin)” or something like that. Everybody knows it’s free, and that’s cool, but you want them to know who’s behind it. That way, when she’s making her phone calls or has a pre-approved buyer, and her name is on the offer, people will recognize her name. It gives her instant celebrity.
Why Taking Imperfect Action Is So Important
Michelle is only one month into running The Hub, but it has already taken off. I asked her if there has been enough time to identify hiccups or discover any downsides. She said no, just some “late to the party” things like opening The Hub before the website was ready to go.
This venture is a really big deal. Most people would plan this out for the next two years, but Michelle just jumped in with both feet and did the thing. She blames Steve Kyles for that, because every time he starts his podcast, he says, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly. Just get started.” She said it’s not perfect, but it’s okay, and they’re learning as they go.
The biggest challenge right now is getting the word out. Their Grand Opening wasn’t huge, but 50 people came. They hired a professional photographer and offered complimentary head shots to realtors. The photographer was also a videographer and got some testimonial videos from agents who stopped by. One of the agents is very well known in the community and had never given them a deal. The very next day she gave them a referral. They’ve gotten four or five transactions like that. So it’s already proven to be a great way to get more realtor referral partners. Michelle hopes to continue to deepen and strengthen relationships over time.
I also encouraged her to have a sign-in sheet at the front door, like I used to do at open houses. On the sign-in sheet, you could say, “Every month we give away four $25 Lowe’s gift cards.” Or: “Sign up for a calendar of the monthly events we’re going to be holding here.”
Michelle has a lot of ideas for events to hold in the space. She wants to get an accountant to talk about the tax advantages of home ownership and an attorney to talk about estate planning and a financial planner to talk about saving for retirement.
A really smart person told me once, “Carl, find a parade. Then find a cool way to get in front of that parade. Don’t try to make the parade yourself.” That’s exactly what Michelle is doing here. It’s going to be very easy to get speakers to come to The Hub. Just tell a CPA, “Hey, if you want to get more clients, let’s hold a class at The Hub. I’ll invite my list, and you invite yours.” She’s leveraging other people’s lists, so their list becomes her list. It’s all about the list.
We’re not in the mortgage business; we’re in the marketing-to-a-database business. The CPAs invite their people, and they’re now part of your list. The real estate agents invite their people, and they’re now part of your list. The Hub is going to be a phenomenal list-building tool.
Setting Yourself Apart From the Crowd
When Michelle and her husband came down south four years ago from the north, they felt very much like outsiders. Everybody already had their lender here in town. She decided she didn’t want to try to be bigger, faster, cheaper, or smarter than they were. She wanted to be different. She wanted to set herself and her husband completely apart from them and provide a value proposition that no one else was offering.
So she thought about the things she’s good at, and she’s gifted at connecting people with each other. So she decided to create a space where she can draw people in and connect them. And, in doing so, she’s setting herself apart. She’s out-friending her competition, out-cooling them with this incredible new concept. Everybody’s going to be saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
It was such an honor to chat with Michelle and share what she’s doing with everyone. That’s how we all grow and change and do better. We openly share what we’re doing and help others do it too. That’s just how we roll around here.
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