While the two terms are usually used interchangeably, and my Prospecting Letters page really contains more farming than prospecting letters, there really is a difference.
Think about it.
A prospector goes out into the hills, the desert, or the river beds in search of gems, gold, or other precious metals. He (or she, of course) sifts through tons of rock, sand, or dirt in search of the prize. If the prospector is lucky and has chosen the right place to prospect, he hits pay dirt.
It’s a whole lot like fishing, where you cast the line out into the water and hope a fish will see it and be interested enough to bite.
If the prospector doesn’t find a nugget and the fisherman doesn’t get a bite, he’ll move along, trying another spot and another spot.
A farmer prepares the soil, plants the seeds, prays for rain and sunshine in appropriate amounts, and nurtures and protects the growing plants until harvest time. Sometimes he must defend them from insects, birds, and animals who would eat or kill them.
When you prospect for real estate clients, you’re essentially searching for those few people in a given area or niche who are ready to become your golden nugget – or the fish who takes the bait. If that area doesn’t produce, you might move on – or you might decide to farm that area or niche.
When you farm, you stake out an area or a group of people, plant the seeds that will attract them to you, and begin nurturing and protecting them. You patiently wait until they’re ready to take advantage of your services.
So where should you limit your activity to prospecting – and where should you farm?
Assuming that you’ve chosen a territory or a niche that you want to pursue, in most cases it’s wise to begin with prospecting and move on to farming.
Start with thinking about a geographic neighborhood. Before you choose, do the research so you’ll know that a sufficient number of homeowners (historically) move each year. If it’s a neighborhood you want to “own” because you like the houses and the people, first prospect to find the “now” people and then move on to farming so you’ll be “top of mind” when others need an agent.
The same would apply to a niche market, such as snowbirds, waterfront property owners, senior citizens, owners of vacant properties, and rental owners. On the buyer side, prospect, then farm apartment dwellers.
People in certain niches such as short sales and those who have received a notice of default have to act quickly or not at all. The same is true for buyers relocating to take a job in your area. If they don’t respond after a couple of months, it likely won’t be worth your time and money to pursue them. They aren't good candidates for farming.
What about FSBO’s and Expired Listings?
These could be worth adding to your farm. They obviously want to sell. The FSBO’s may eventually get tired of trying on their own, and those with expired listings may not be ready to start over immediately when their listings expire. In fact, I have an “Old Expireds” letter set written specifically for those who decided to take a breather.
Mail or email?
Studies show that direct mail still outperforms email, but yes, it is expensive. So why not combine the two?
Begin your prospecting with postal mail. Then, as you develop a relationship and your prospects begin to recognize your name and know that you’re sending information of value, switch to email.
Of course, those who contacted you via a capture form on your website will expect email only, so use it, and use it well!
And speaking of mailing…
Make sure that you are sending something of interest and value. If you send nothing but promotions, both postal mail and email will quickly find their way to the trash.
Send market reports. Send good advice for buyers or sellers. Send news about the latest trends or colors in decorating. Send information about the community. And of course, always remind them that they can call on you to answer questions, even if they don’t need to buy or sell at the moment.
Remember that your past clients and your sphere are fertile fields your farm.
These are people who know and trust you – and who will either come back to you again and again, or send their friends and family to you, or both. They can become your ever-bearing perennial crop – as long as you nurture them and protect them from those pesky critters who would swoop in and steal them from you.
You do that by staying in touch; by becoming their resource for all things real estate; and by letting them know that they are more to you than a potential paycheck. Sure, you could still lose a few who feel an obligation to use their newly licensed brother-in-law – or who decide to become licensed themselves. But for the most part, your nurturing will keep them close.
If you’re writing to past clients and your sphere, share a bit of personal information – tell them about the new designation you just earned, and why you bothered to get it.
Tell them about your new puppy.
Tell them about a new baby in the family or a child going off to college.
Tell them why you’re enthused about a new restaurant you tried.
If you and the folks on your list have a sense of the silly, use my event-themed keeping in touch letters. Written just for fun, they impart such important knowledge as where and when to attend a watermelon seed spitting contest and how and when to celebrate “Frugal Fun Day.”
The most important thing to remember: Consistency is vital.
Neither prospecting nor farming will do you much good if you only do it once in a while. So create systems for making sure it gets done.
Miner Image courtesy of vectorolie at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Row crops courtesy of Morgue File
Email Image courtesy of fantasista at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Puppy image courtesy of my Katie - who is now a 90# lap dog.