How to Use Your Sphere of Influence to Build the Ultimate Real Estate Referral Machine
This article was originally featured on the FollowUp Boss website.
What’s the first advice given to new real estate agents?
Start with your sphere of influence.
But how many agents actually take that advice?
Truth is, most agents are terrified to start working their spheres of influence (SOIs). Fear of failure, rejection, the phone — there are some very real mindset obstacles keeping them from their #1 source of free leads and MASSIVE revenue potential. (We’re talking multiple millions in volume.)
And there’s no good reason to leave that kind of money on the table.
If you’re ready to follow in the footsteps of the boss-level Realtors who have successfully transformed their SOIs into multi-million-dollar referral machines — without ever being sleazy — read on. We’re going to give you everything you need to work your SOI like a pro.
Table of Contents
- What Is a Sphere of Influence? A Simple Definition to Get You Started.
- Why Is Growing Your SOI So Important for Real Estate Agents?
- Who Belongs in Your SOI?
- How to Expand Your SOI
- How to Nurture Your SOI (+ Free Templates!)
- Consistency + Engagement = Winning on Social
- How to Stop Dreading the Phone
- The 4-part SOI Marketing Plan Worth $30 Million in Business
- The Real Estate Postcard Worth $2 Million
- Always Say Thank You for Referrals
What Is a Sphere of Influence? A Simple Definition to Get You Started.
When it comes down to it, an SOI is just a group of people you know personally.
Whether it’s a client you haven’t seen in 10 years, or a family member you wake up with every morning, the core idea behind the term ‘sphere of influence’ is that, by simply knowing them, you have the ability to impact them in some way.
And that’s an uncomfortable idea for many of us.
But the truth is, as humans, we’re already influencing each other all the time. It’s our nature to judge one another and decide how much trust to afford each and every other human we meet. Or, in the words of 10x Rule guru Grant Cardone, “Everyone is a salesperson, even doctors.”
So if you’re clinging to the belief that your SOI is “weak” or that you “don’t have an SOI” — because you’re new to town, are from the wrong side of town, or whatever — believe this: You’re not only kidding yourself, you’re also leaving piles of cash on the table.
Take our customer, Justin Seeby for example. When he and his team finally took his coach’s advice to expand their SOI (which at the time consisted of just 279 names), their business jumped from $0-$90 million in just 4 years.
No matter who you are or where you’re from, if you’ve ever interacted with another human being, you HAVE a sphere of influence. And if you use it right, you can rapidly accelerate your real estate business into the high seven- and eight-figures.
Why Is Growing Your SOI So Important for Real Estate Agents?
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of really bad advice out there on how to grow your SOI.
Some of it is super-scripted and sleazy, and some of it is just plain outdated. (Don’t get us wrong, we LOVE the MREA, but it was published in 2004 — Facebook was just a baby back then!)
And let’s face it. The idea of condensing all your personal relationships into a spreadsheet summed up by a 3-letter acronym sounds cold at best, immoral at worst. But truly great SOI and referral marketing isn’t about “selling.”
Case in point: Brian Buffini.
The rags-to-riches real estate mogul emigrated to the US in 1986, knowing literally no one, and went on to become one of America’s top agents and the king of real estate referrals. All because of one fundamental business driver: Authenticity.
Or consider the methods of Baltimore-based broker and team leader Ron Howard.
In 2016 and 2017, Ron’s team closed 533 and 470 transactions, respectively, without following the conventional sales advice. Instead, by focusing on building great relationships — “friends not funnels” — they became Baltimore’s leading real estate team. They build their spheres of influence through charity and service rather than passing out business cards.
“It’s not really service to transaction, it’s service to relationship,” Ron says. “We want to build a network that people actually want to be a part of.”
Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to burn your relationships, use robotic scripts, or contact people a magic number of 33 times to score referral business and grow your SOI.
But you do need to step up and own your role as a Realtor — which also happens to be the best possible thing you can do for your real estate business.
Who Belongs in Your SOI?
Now that you know you DO have a sphere of influence, let’s take a look at who’s in it.
Grab a notebook or excel spreadsheet and jot down all the names you can think of, including:
- Past coworkers (even if your last job was waiting tables)
- Your friends (yes, even the high school pals you haven’t seen in 20 years)
- Your spouse’s or partner’s coworkers
- Your spouse’s or partner’s friends
- Your kids’ friends or their parents (depending on age)
- Your kids’ teachers and school workers
- Your extended family
- Your neighbors
- Friends and acquaintances from any social groups such as Neighborhood Association, Rotary, PTA, etc.
- Anyone you interact with regularly (even if that just means once every couple of months), for example, your hairstylist, accountant, doctor, dentist, even your bank teller.
Don’t get sidetracked thinking about what you’re going to say when you reach out, or why you really don’t know this person that well, etc.
The first step is to just get the names down on paper — and at this point, it’s absolutely crucial you don’t undervalue or overthink a single candidate for your list.
How to Expand Your SOI
Organize your list.
There’s really no right or wrong way to segment your list. But a good rule of thumb when you’re first getting started with contacting your SOI is to list your contacts according to how you know the person.
For example; Friends, Family, acquaintances, etc. Once you get to know them a little better, you can break it down even more into Buyer and Seller Prospects.
Where you make your list will depend on where you are in your business. For brand new agents a simple Excel spreadsheet will do the job.
Pro Tip: Star or highlight the people in your SOI who you know are the most influential ones. These could be people who know a lot of homeowners, such as roofers or maintenance pros, they could be the heads of your kid’s PTA, or even just the natural extroverts in your friend and family circles.
But once you get rolling with regular follow ups and a growing number of referrals, you’re going to want some kind of system or real estate CRM that lets you see at a glance what the last follow up was so you can keep connecting in a consistent and relevant way.
Reach out like you normally would.
Contacting your SOI in a way that feels natural is not only more cost-efficient (mailers can be pricey!) — it’s also more effective.
Put yourself in your contact’s shoes. If you have a friend you usually chat with via WhatsApp, it’d be weird to call her up “on business” and start asking her about whether she knows anyone who needs to buy a home.
Instead, go ahead and send her a quick message sharing a recent win, funny story, or revelation about the market. Try to do this for each and every person on your list. And remember, you are NOT selling.
If it helps you to have a framework, follow these easy-to-remember steps from Dr. Lee Davenport to help build rapport when you C-A-L-L someone in your sphere:
- Check-in: Show you care with a genuine interest in their life.
- Ask: Unabashedly ask, “How can I be of support to you?” or a similar question.
- Listen: Their answer might not be related to real estate, but it will help them know you’re there (and ready to help when real estate needs arise).
- List: When they ask how things are going for you, start by listing the positive things you’re experiencing in real estate before discussing other areas of your life.
Following these steps will help show you care while also subtly establishing you as a trusted real estate professional that your connections can count on.
Pro Tip: Take the pressure out of the “big announcement” and build awareness for your role as a Realtor by simply sharing that part of your life. Remember, at the end of the day, business is about connecting with people — marketing is simply how you start the conversation.
Go ahead and get out there.
At its best, marketing to your SOI helps you establish yourself both online and offline as THE local realty expert. There are 3 primary ways to get your name out there.
- Become active in the community
- Expand your presence on social media
- Use online and offline advertising
Set aside one or two days a month to attend a local community or charity event. Start engaging more on social media (we’ve got guides on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to get you started). Send out mailers to your sphere, or use a specialized advertising tool, like Adwerx to increase your online visibility with this particular group.
As the leads and referrals start coming in, it’s important to keep track of each and every one. Use your spreadsheet or CRM to input key details like lead source, any initial questions they might have asked, and personal tidbits like their kids’ or even dog’s name.
Pro Tip: NEVER write anybody off. You don’t have to be a suited-and-booted business exec to have a great network. And you never know where your next lead will come from. So give your full attention to every person you meet, and remember everybody matters.
Keep it easy, so you can keep it going.
With all the talk about “working your sphere of influence”, 8×8 programs, organizing a million mailers, spending nights and weekends “networking” or “prospecting”, etc., it can be easy to fall into the belief that growing your sphere of influence is hard, time-consuming work.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Rockstar agents with up to 80% referral business all have one thing in common: an easy, workable system for nurturing and growing their SOI. And that’s important because not everyone in your sphere will be ready to buy or sell their home, or even make a referral when you contact them.
You need an easy, agile system for following up so that you can make sure your sphere is always well-cultivated and generating new leads for your business.
(Psst, already a Follow Up Boss user? If you haven’t seen Danielle’s hacks for following up with stale leads in under 10 min., you NEED to check these out.)
Pro Tip: Commit to having one in-person coffee or lunch date per week with a star member of you SOI. It’s not only great for drumming up referrals and staying top of mind, it’s also awesome for your personal life.
How to Nurture Your SOI (+ Free Templates!)
If the thought of nurturing every contact in your SOI from your babysitter to your great aunt gives you anxiety, never fear. It won’t be like that for long.
Once everyone in your SOI knows you sell real estate, you’ll start seeing the referrals coming in. And once you start seeing where the bulk of the referral business is coming from, you can earmark the members of your SOI who are the best at sending you business, and set these contacts up on a priority list.
This doesn’t mean you should stop nurturing your entire SOI, but it does help you focus your efforts to get maximum results. After all, there’s only so much time in the day.
How to nurture your SOI via email
According to the Washington Post, the average person spends about 20.5 hours per week in their inbox. Love it or hate it, email cannot be ignored.
Most CRMs make it easy to set up email drip campaigns to go out to relevant segments of your list (in Follow Up Boss we use Action Plans to help keep it simple). Sending out a regular newsletter with helpful tips on how to make simple upgrades to the home, news from the local market, etc. are great for staying top-of-mind.
Just make sure you ask for permission first (there’s nothing more annoying than getting an email you don’t remember signing up for, right?).
How to ask your sphere for permission to email them
Assuming you’ve already let your sphere know you’re in the real estate game, here’s a quick, friendly template to help get them on your email list.
Template – SOI Email List Invite
How are you?!
You’re someone I always think of whenever I see killer landscaping – and the house I showed yesterday had a jaw-dropping garden! (It’s just around the corner from you actually in Spring Brook Hills.)
I’m kicking off an email newsletter with home and garden how to’s (and maybe a few insider tips on the market) and I’d love to get an expert like you on my list.
Can I go ahead and include you?
If you’ve done a good job keeping in touch, they’ll probably be thrilled to get on your list. They may even have some great content ideas. After they’ve agreed, you can reply reminding them you’re “always here” if they ever have any questions about the market.
Getting permission to add people to your list is important, but there are other ways you can make the ask…without straight-up asking. A great strategy is to provide opportunities for your contacts to opt-in on their own, just like you would on your website. By adding a signup link to your email signature, you can easily expand your list even when sending emails for other purposes.
How to ask for a referral via email
In real estate, or any business for that matter, you can’t deny the power of the referral.
But asking for it can feel pretty daunting. Take a breath. You’re not asking for anybody’s firstborn child, and you’re not inconveniencing them — you’re providing value. Recent clients and professional connections are always a great place to start.
Here’s an awesome, zero-pressure script from Michael Montgomery of Rev Real Estate School.
Script #1 – Recent Clients & Professional Connections
I hope all is well! Looking forward to catching up with you soon!
Because we worked together, if anyone comes up in your network that may need real estate advice, I’m always happy to help. We work almost exclusively on referrals, so we always make a point of asking our great clients if they know anyone.
No need to respond – we are just huge on referrals so if anyone comes up, we are always happy to help.
(By the way — that “easy out” at the end of the message can actually be a powerful tool to make people feel more comfortable…and more likely to respond!)
Your newsletter list is also a great place to find referrals. After you’ve sent a few value-packed emails, drop in and ask for that referral.
Script #2 – Newsletter List
Hope you’re having an awesome week!
Did you see my email last week on ‘5 Big Predictions for the Downtown Indy Real Estate Market’?
Home buyers have a MAJOR hand to play right now – but unfortunately they don’t always get the deal they deserve. (One of my recent clients almost got badly burned by an inflated zestimate!)
Do you know anyone who might be thinking of purchasing a home in the future?
I’d love to share these tips, answer any questions, and even let them know which questions they should definitely be asking!
If you don’t have a drip campaign set up yet, don’t worry.
You can easily change up that second line to refer back to any relevant life, community, or even social media event.
Pro Tip: Emailing SOI seller leads
Brian Icenhower of The Real Estate Trainer has a great tip. He recommends using MLS auto-prospecting to send relevant listings for potential sellers in your SOI to help them track the pulse of the market and see what comparable properties are selling for. You can get his full briefing in this video.
How to nurture your sphere on social media
Obviously, you can’t talk about connecting with people without talking about social media — and each social media network has its own merits.
But you can’t be everywhere all the time.
Focus on the social media sites where most of your SOI connections are, and the ones you already love and use regularly. As with follow ups, consistency is the name of the game on social media.
Consistency + Engagement = Winning on Social
Set aside an hour a day to engage with your SOI on your social media network(s) of choice — chances are you’re already doing this. If so, just be a little more intentional whenever you log on.
Instead of scrolling past updates from your sphere, take a second to like or comment. Instead of posting about politics or another crazy cat video, take a minute to share a story about a recent win or revelation in your real estate business.
Why not get deep once in a while? Share your reason for becoming a Realtor. What do you love about it? How’d you get into it? What are the biggest (non-monetary) challenges and rewards? People love to look into each other’s lives, which is why we all love social media.
Again, there’s absolutely no need to sell here. In real estate, being active and engaged as a friend is being active and engaged as a business owner.
If you show up on social media consistently, simply being there and being open is enough. If people are always seeing you on Facebook, Instagram, etc., you’ll likely be the first one they think of when they, or anyone they know, is ready to buy or sell.
➡️ Pro Tip for Facebook: Create a separate SOI list for your Facebook friends who are extra active in the community and set your notifications so you can engage with them frequently. Check out our full post on prospecting on Facebook!
➡️ Pro Tip for LinkedIn: Try posting one LinkedIn article a week on a broad real estate topic that will be helpful for the majority of your contacts. Or, if that’s too much, start with posting just one status update per week with a useful story or quick tip. Check out our tips for advertising on LinkedIn!
➡️ Pro Tip for Instagram: Switch to the Instagram Business Profile and use the free analytics to pinpoint the posts your followers love, and post more of that. The Business Profile also comes with a swipe up feature on Instagram stories so followers can easily get to your website. (MAKE SURE your contact deets are in your profile!)
➡️ Pro Tip for Twitter: Always post local content with relevant local hashtags. And whenever possible, ALWAYS post an image. Twitter posts with visuals get up to 5x more engagement. Check out our full list of Twitter do’s and don’ts for real estate!
➡️ Pro Tip for TikTok: This is a fun one. If you’re not shy about video, TikTok is a great way to get in front of your SOI while generating more engagement with your Instagram and Youtube (which you should definitely link to your TikTok if you haven’t already!).
➡️ Pro Tip for Pinterest: Like Twitter, local, highly-visual content wins on Pinterest and can be a great way to increase traffic to your website. Unlike Twitter, Pinterest will keep driving traffic to your website. Make sure your Pinterest account includes your SOI contacts by inviting your Facebook friends to connect on Pinterest.
➡️ Pro Tip for Snapchat: Due to the private nature of Snapchat, this one’s best for agents who already use and love the platform. If you don’t already have a strong following, send a quick email to your SOI inviting them to connect on Snapchat to see “behind the scenes” updates from your adventures in real estate.
How to Stop Dreading the Phone
You didn’t think we were going to let you off the hook, did you?
Look, we get it. We scoured the depths of YouTube to find the non-sleaziest referral scripts out there, and it was rough. But this mock call with Jason Shinpaugh from Placeforsale.com is a shining example of how to do it right.
In it, Jason chats about everything from life with twin toddlers to drinking rum — he doesn’t even mention the word “house” until at least 5 minutes into the call. And when he does, it feels like a natural segue, not an awkward script. (Honestly, this one’s worth a watch!)
Here’s how Jason asks for the referral (and remember, these guys have been chatting and laughing it up for at least 10 minutes before it even gets to this point).
“Hey would you do me a favor, Aaron? If you know anyone who’s thinking of moving any time soon, would you just keep us in mind? The bulk of our business comes from referrals so we’d really appreciate it if you’d keep us in mind. “
He even asks for permission to follow up (“Cool if I follow back up in a week?”).
Now the client is expecting Jason’s call and will be much more likely to have a referral ready.
Beautiful. Remember, you don’t have to harass your SOI with daily sales calls. Jason and his team take a letter of the alphabet each week and call the SOI contacts accordingly. Under that simple system they end up calling everyone in their SOI twice a year.
And if you’re still hesitating to reach for the phone, consider this: In our post-2020 world, the real-time, personal connection available by phone may be preferred over the convenience of email.
The 4-part SOI Marketing Plan Worth $30 Million in Business
If you’ve been hanging out with us here on the Follow Up Boss blog, you know we’re all about simple systems that work.
And this one from the Graham Seeby Group is an excellent example. As mentioned, these guys went from $0-$90 million in just 4 years — and it all started with a simple plan for working their SOI.
Here’s how they broke it down:
- On the 15th of every month, they sent a postcard (via automatic mailer) to everyone in the database
- On the 7th of every month, they sent a short video email
- And on the 21st of every month, an email
- Once a quarter they would call all the contacts on their list
With this simple strategy and no more than 279 contacts, the listings started flowing in.
The Real Estate Postcard Worth $2 Million
Beyond the dreaded phone call and advanced social media analytics, there’s still a place for traditional mailers.
Take this epic SOI marketing story (again from Justin Seeby).
“We focused on and marketed to the people we knew…the ‘mets’ in our database and it was amazing the volume of transactions we started doing right out of the gate!
“For example, we did $2 million worth of sales to one couple I hadn’t talked to in 13 years. I mailed them a postcard because I was afraid to pick up the phone and call them. I didn’t know if they’d know who I was. When they got the postcard, they called me. They ended up spending $1.2 million on a new house and selling an $800,000 house.
“Imagine if I hadn’t sent that postcard! Because even though I had been in business for a long time at that point, I was still afraid to pick up the phone and call them, for the fear of rejection that they might not remember me.”
If there’s one SOI pro tip that bears repeating, it’s this: Never assume.
- Never assume your friends and family don’t want to hear about your real estate business
- Never assume your acquaintances already have a Realtor (85% of people don’t even know how to get in touch with their Realtor!)
- Never assume a member of your sphere won’t refer you
Just never, ever assume. It could literally lose you millions.
Always Say Thank You for Referrals
Gratitude is the best way to get more of what you want.
Many agents will send client appreciation gifts — anything from bath salts to lottery tickets to gift cards, etc., just to say thank you and stay top-of-mind. Go the extra mile and do this for any member of your SOI who gives you a referral, whether they’re a past client or not.
In general, keeping in touch is a great way to show appreciation. Holiday cards are a classic way to stay in touch throughout the year. And who doesn’t love a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates?
Even a short handwritten card or personal email can go a long way in nurturing the relationship by simply letting them know how much you appreciate them, and that you’re always there to help.
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