Going Out On Your Own?

Even though we're no longer in the real estate boom days, there will always be logical reasons for starting up an appraisal office. And lately, we're hearing that more. Some are getting away from being a staff appraiser, moving or no longer a trainee. And, yes, we think our technology is perfect for newly independent appraisers, but whether you choose us or not, here are some universal tips that will help get going in the right direction.

Decide what you want to be
When starting up your own business, you've got to stand out. Are you going to be the appraiser with fast turn times? Will you have extremely polished reports or offer the friendliest service? Will you have an extremely experienced staff? Will you be technologically advanced? Are you going to specialize in homeowner, CPA, attorney, land and commercial properties (just to name a few)? Whatever it is you decide to focus on, tell people why they should choose you, and then tell them again, and again, and again.

Get marketing tools to land new business and build a loyal clientele
You don't have to be dependent on a couple of loyal clients for your livelihood. Marketing, great service and excellent appraisals are your keys to real growth. Here are a few basic marketing must-haves that you'll need to be competitive:

1. A professional, informative website. Not having a website is like not having a business card. It's critical in letting people know who you are and what you're about. You'll also want to have a site that attracts new business and helps you deliver service that keeps clients coming back.

2. Online ordering with credit card processing. Not only will many clients pay by credit card if given the option, but they will enjoy the convenience and expect it from a modern, professional appraiser. Plus, you'll have the money in your account right then and not have to worry about getting paid.

3. Compatible delivery tools for major AMCs and lenders. Put yourself in the position to do business with these companies by having the right technology.

4. Proactive, consistent marketing to your prospects. It's vital to get your name in front of clients and then remind them of who you are and what your specialty is over and over. Whether it's face to face meetings, e-mail campaigns, postcards in the mail or anything else - reserve time and a budget for marketing.

5. Specific appraisal forms for specific clients. More and more appraisers are making a living from non-lender clients like homeowners, attorneys, CPAs, financial counselors and more. These clients see a URAR and think "tax form". Using non-lender forms tailored for them leaves a great impression and can lead to repeat business.

6. Automated status and account management features. Status calls waste time for you and your client. Get a system that will automate status messages, and your clients will love and remember you. Also, it's expected of a vendor (in this case you) to give clients (them) a way to check their account and status via the web. Having that kind of website makes you look modern, professional and "big time". Our Appraiser XSites can do all these things and more. To learn about all of our products, click here. (pq)

Choose vendors that will grow with you
Starting a business is intimidating. Make sure you've chosen technology companies that are always releasing new, relevant tools with the training options that help you actually use them. For example, last year, we saw our Silver Members start to deal with a slowing market. So, we gave them our XSellerate marketing system free for 90 days. That's an example of being in tune with customers' needs, and you'll want to get that same type of support. The last thing you need is stagnant technology in a rapidly changing market.

Get the whole story when bargain shopping
Many vendors require you to pay per installation for every tool: formfiller license, maps, sketcher, support and other things. This can all add up fast, but you do have choices. When shopping, make sure the price includes everything you need up front so you don't get caught with surprise fees and additional bills throughout the year. That can really sting a budding business. (Surely you saw this coming: One license of WinTOTAL and one membership covers all your machines, even on a network. This includes sketching, maps, updates, support, forms, flood and census data and more for them all.)

Pick the formfiller you're most comfortable using
Realize you're not tied to the formfiller you've used up to now. Most vendors have free trials available for download. Try them all before deciding. Choose a formfiller that you're comfortable with and has features you'll use to make your job easier. For example, WinTOTAL has a Digital Workfile that stores your appraisals and documents digitally, and a file manager to keep your appraisals in sync with your schedules and tracking. It also has features to help you drum up business such as the General Purpose forms series for non-lender work. Obviously, I'm biased, but it's important to take the time to pick the best formfilling software for you, even if it's not WinTOTAL. If you switch formfillers, also make sure it has file converters that will read your old appraisals (WinTOTAL does this too).

If you're starting your own business this year, and you're in the market for appraisal software, I hope we're the vendor you choose. And even if you aren't, I hope you find these concepts helpful. If we can answer anything for you or point you to ideas, please don't hesitate to call us at 1-800-252-6633. It's our job and we enjoy being able to help.