Kevin Kim: You are listening to Lender Lounge with Kevin Kim, a podcast dedicated to helping those in the private lending industry grow, improve and streamline their business. I’m Kevin Kim, partner at Geraci LLP, the nation’s largest private lending law firm. Join me as we chat with the best and brightest in private lending who are eager to share their years of wisdom and best practices with lenders, borrowers, brokers, investors, and more. Subscribe to Lender Lounge on your favorite podcast platform and learn more about Geraci and how we can work with firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the episode summary for other valuable resources.
Kevin Kim: Hey, guys. Welcome to another episode of Lender Lounge with yours truly, Kevin Kim. We are excited to be in season four, and we are changing it up this season. We are adding a new format, long form interviews with multiple guests. We’re trying to get topical. We’re trying to get a little more education and thought out there into the marketplace. So today I have two very special guests, and today’s theme is marketing. So we have two of the best marketers in the game here with us today, and I want them to introduce themselves. We’ll get started. So please, who wants to go first? Erica? Rocky? who wants to go first?
Erica LaCentra: I don’t mind going first. Yeah.
Kevin Kim: All right, go ahead.
Erica LaCentra: So, my name is Erica LaCentra. I’m the chief marketing officer over at RCN Capital. Thank you for having me today, Kevin.
Rocky Butani: I’m Rocky Butani, founder and CEO of Private Lender Link. And we run Privatelenderlink.com, a website where people find private lenders.
Kevin Kim: So today’s Pod is going to be a different format. We’re having a discussion, right? We’re talking, we’re here to chat about the importance of marketing, what is marketing, how it is that you guys do it, and hopefully our audience can walk away with some value and maybe add some things to their business. But I like to hear what you guys, first question of today and I want to have an open discussion on this is let’s talk about what it is to be successful in marketing in private lending, because it’s a very weird industry, right? We’re not selling shoes to consumers and we’re working with business owners, business to business, but we’re kind of not. Our customers are kind of business people. They’re kind of not. So let’s get started on that. I want to open up to you guys and let’s talk about it.
Erica LaCentra: Sure. I mean, I like to think of marketing in the private lending industry as organized chaos. I think that’s probably the best way to describe it, especially when you’re saying, thinking about your audience of whether that’s direct borrowers or brokers or correspondent lenders. There is definitely an art. But I think it really comes down to knowing your audience and your clients and then basing your strategy around that. Because I know, like Rocky, you have a much different audience than RCN does.
Rocky Butani: Some of it’s similar, you know, we also target the real estate investors and the mortgage brokers that’s typically our audience, and you know, we want to attract them so we could send them over to you.
Erica LaCentra: Yeah, I mean, I think from our perspective, obviously we’re trying to market financing, which you would think wouldn’t be something that would require a lot of marketing because we’re giving folks money. But it certainly comes down to a very carefully curated strategy and all of the different marketing facets really need to work together cohesively to make that happen. And I think that’s where a lot of people fall short in our industry, is not understanding how everything kind of works together, as opposed to focusing on email marketing over here and social media over here. It really needs to be a strategy that works together, cohesively and you really need to be smart about what you’re doing. So it all works.
Rocky Butani: And I see some lenders that have sort of strategies that other lenders don’t have. Some lenders go with every single strategy that’s out there and you get a mix. And sometimes people find certain strategies that really work for them and they invest more into that particular strategy. But in some cases, there are certain things you just have to do. You have to do email, you have to do social. So there’s these core marketing things that every company should be doing and then you have some very specific targeted marketing or targeted advertising that works better for some versus the others.
Kevin Kim: Just look at it from a mindset standpoint as well, right? Because a lot of companies are small, we have a lot of entrepreneurs in private lending. Your counterparties that you’re marketing to are small too as well. They’re entrepreneurs, small business owners, sometimes solo operators. And then you also have the fact that our industry colleagues and competitors are also small businesses and entrepreneurs. And so, you know, it’s very challenging for someone who’s a one man band to be able to jump in. Not everyone can be RCN, right? RCN, you have a lot of employees, a lot of multiple offices. But on the flip side, Rocky, you’re a lean operation, right? You got a handful of employees and you’ve done a lot of marketing. Everyone knows your website and I think a lot of folks have embraced using it to promote their brand. But from both perspectives, right, from my standpoint, success in marketing really boils down to does your target audience know that you are very good at what it is that you’re purporting to do? Right? Like, if you’re a lender, does your audience know that you’re a great lender and they know why you’re a great lender? Because you could be the best lender in the world. If nobody knows, what’s the point, right? But at the same time, how does one do? And let’s get tactical, let’s get actually in the weeds on it, because if I’m a brand new lender, right, if I’m getting off the ground tomorrow and I have myself, a computer, a phone, and a loan processor, right? That’s it. How can someone like that, what’s the first investment they should make in their marketing? Because they have to get their name out. It’s actually probably more important because there’s so much competition now.
Rocky Butani: So what I would recommend first is to build your infrastructure. So you’ve got your phone, your website, your basics. But you really need a system, you need a technology platform, you need a CRM. Then you’ve got all these other apps that you need to run your email marketing, manage your social. So what we do at Private Lender Link is we use Zoho as our technology platform. And I think it’s the best one out there because at the core it’s a CRM, but they offer all these other apps that are used. Really what they did is they built an app for what every small business needs. They’ve got an accounting software, they’ve got a project management, social media management, email campaigns, and I can go on and on. There’s about 30 or 40 apps that they offer and all of these are included in one price per user. There are some exceptions, but in general, it’s a very inexpensive system. Everything is connected, everything integrates together very well. So I’d say the first thing you should do is really get that foundation for just getting organized. And that would be my first thing, my second thing, and I can get into that as far as getting help. But just to start off, you need a foundation.
Kevin Kim: You said some core basics that a lot of people overlook, right? Like website. There are some pretty bad websites out there and nowadays they have no excuse, right? So if you’re a small business owner, you’re a brand new private lender, there are websites that you can just set up yourself online now. You don’t have to be some tech whiz. And a lot of I mean, I always joke that private lending is in its own age when it comes to technology, literally just hammer and chisel. What are the resources to get those basic websites set up? Like, if I’m a small business owner, Rocky, you’re good at this stuff, but if you’re talking to someone who’s just they’re a mortgage guy, right? What’s the first thing they should do? What kind of website? Where can they get a decent website stood up for our space to tell the world that, hey, I’m a real private lender and I’m not just know, guy with a Gmail address that has money, right?
Rocky Butani: So I’ve used in the past, Squarespace is a really good one where they have really nice templates. You jump in, you just added an existing template and you’re good to go. Zoho, I go back to Zoho again. Zoho has a websites platform called Sites, and again, they built it to where it integrates with the CRM. So all the forms that you build on the website integrate into your CRM. So I like those sites again for that reason. But there’s a bunch of others. There’s one called Wix, there’s a few I’m forgetting, but there’s a bunch of these where you just put them together pretty easily. And if you really don’t want to get into the design yourself, what I’d recommend is go on Upwork. Or another website is Fiverr where you could find a freelancer that’s really good at this stuff. Most of the time they’re international or they don’t have to be. You could pick someone domestic. It’s really up to you. And then they’ll give you a quote, just let someone else take care of it and then you’re good to go. And it’s a pretty inexpensive project to implement.
Kevin Kim: For you guys, one of the interesting things you guys have taken, your marketing game has always been super strong. As long as I’ve known you guys, as long as you’ve been at the company and give kudos to you, but there had to been a time where the company wasn’t in this shape when it comes to from a marketing and brand recognition standpoint and I know you were there for it. So, what were some of the things that you guys did as you guys were in that scaling moment, that scaling process? Everyone has that kind of storming the beach type of mentality when they’re trying to scale. And what were some things that you did back then to add the different infrastructures to your marketing toolkit? Because a lot of folks are at that stage and they still have really poor marketing and they really don’t know what to do, they really don’t know how to attack it. And from my standpoint, it’s so technical. There’s so many different things that need to be added. And if you can just kind of give some feedback there because our audience wants to know.
Erica LaCentra: Yeah, I mean absolutely. When I started at RCN, we were still Rehab Cash Now at that point. So I think to Rocky’s Point, having a great website was really where we started, especially when we were going through our rebrand from Rehab Cash Now to RCN Capital. The website that we originally started with was I don’t even know, it was probably built in like 1990. It was not good. And then we ended up switching over to just a WordPress template which was kind of drag and drop. We did everything in house. I actually worked on that website with not a ton of background in website development. But in conjunction with that, it was just making sure there was trackability with kind of folks interacting with the website though too. So making sure we had a Google Analytics account set up properly to track conversions and things like that. And just making sure that everything was integrated. To Rocky’s point, too, having a good CRM so that you have visibility and trackability of everything that you’re doing was so critical for us as we were scaling up because it made things much easier in terms of determining is this marketing effort working? What kind of clients are we getting out of it? Is this really worthwhile so that you could kind of allocate what you were doing? Allocate budget as appropriate. Because otherwise you can have the greatest marketing in the world, but if you don’t have any visibility of what it’s producing, what good is it really for you? And then I think just consistency was key. So especially as we switched over to RCN Capital as a brand as you’re kind of building out and thinking about your marketing in a more thoughtful way, creating brand standards and brand guidelines in terms of what you ultimately want the industry and clients to perceive your brand and marketing as. And having that consistency across all platforms is so critical because otherwise, if you have a website that looks one way, if you have marketing materials that look another way, your voice on social is all over the place. People just aren’t going to know what you are as a brand or have that brand recognition as you grow and build over time. So it’s not even about necessarily doing it all. It’s about doing certain things really well and being consistent in what you’re doing and what you’re portraying to your audience.
Kevin Kim: And from my standpoint, this whole CRM concept and Google Analytics and a lot of this is leading down the path of marketing. A lot of people overlook this key fact that marketing has a lot of things similar to, I guess, data analytics and engineering and understanding those aspects. It’s very mechanical in a lot of its approach to the day to day. And I want to talk about that because as the partner at Geraci that oversees our marketing division, each partner oversees one of the non-legal teams. I oversee our marketing division, and I just have a brief glimpse into we’ll see what Danny and Leslie do on just the analytics and the data side and setting up things in the CRM and using the tools online, building automations. It seems to me that today that a lot of this is very much data centric, and a lot of it has to do with, it’s very technical is what I always say. It’s very technical behind the scenes, and it’s not necessarily just posting. And we see a lot of this, right? We see a lot of guys posting those selfie cell phone videos on LinkedIn, but that’s really all they do. And it’s a lot of times it’s kind of like, what are you saying in this video? So talk about the blocking and tackling or the tactical aspect of the technical nature behind the scenes because a lot of folks overlook that. And is it hard to manage? What are some easy things that you guys have done to make it easier on yourselves? Because this stuff’s pretty complicated. I watched Danny do it. I’m like, man, this is some really technical stuff. And that’s not what I thought of initially. Back when we started marketing heavily in 2014, it was nowhere near as technical as it is today. And so, I’d like you guys to shine some light onto that because a lot of people don’t think about that aspect.
Rocky Butani: Yeah, and to your point of what you just said, it depends on what stage you are in your company. So if you’re just starting off, or even if you’re not just starting off, but you’re such a small team where you don’t have the resources to have a full-time marketing person. There are certain things that you could tell as a business owner or an operations person at a small company where you do some sort of marketing and you see the results. You advertise someplace and you get calls and emails and people tell you that, hey, I found you on this. So that’s kind of very basic form of hey, here’s how we track our results is we’re putting ourselves out there. We’re getting leads because of it. Or on social media, they put out one of those selfie videos and they get a lot of likes and they get more followers as a result. So that’s your very basic form of tracking the results. But then as you grow and you do a lot more marketing and you have a lot more people in your company, then you have to get a little bit more technical. You have to look at the analytics or hire someone to handle that. And you can always outsource that. You can always have a freelancer that’s not a full-time employee that can manage all of your marketing and get you that data.
Kevin Kim: I want to hone in on that one, that one that you just said. So you’re saying is that as you’re scaling, you’re trying to track, so the outbound messaging or outbound whatever marketing that you’re doing, the goal is to track the impact of that inwards, right. Who is interacting with that and then interacting with you because of it. Right? So it’s a database calculation. Right? So a lot of people overlook that aspect of marketing. Oh, it’s just feel good, go out there and do stuff. It’s not data. Right? Keep going. Sorry, I don’t want to interrupt.
Rocky Butani: And some of that is really hard to track. You could see the data, but a lot of marketing is it may not be trackable. Basically there’s a lot of brand awareness where you just put yourselves out there. People see you, but you can’t track it. There’s no interaction, but eventually it builds up and builds up and then it eventually turns into a lead or a customer down the road. Some of it gets hard to use data to track, but you just have to keep putting yourself out there and whatever you can track, you can track. And there’s a lot of non-trackable leads that you’re going to get as a result.
Erica LaCentra: I was going to say to Rocky’s point, it’s also important to know that there are other trackable points besides just getting a conversion, say like a loan coming through or an actual customer reaching out and calling to talk to a loan officer or something like that. There are other touch points in marketing that are equally important that we look at from a data perspective in terms of if someone’s liking a social media post, we count that towards brand awareness and then potentially looking to see how many interactions with our brand does somebody have to have before they actually convert? It’s very technical to a point thinking about a customer’s journey because in an ideal world, someone would see an advertisement and be like, yes, I am going to call RCN right now and apply for a loan. But that’s very rarely a true customer journey. And being able to see how that person progresses through the different facets of what you’re doing from a marketing perspective, that’s really what’s valuable from a data perspective, because it allows us to make more intelligent choices in how we’re doing outreach to customers to ultimately get to that conversion point.
Kevin Kim: You’re saying outreach and I want to concentrate on and hone in on outreach. I guess let’s concentrate on the idea of outreach. But from a more tactical perspective and also from a more basics perspective, if someone is a little smaller, they’re starting to really invest in marketing and they’re not quite sure how to optimize their outreach. What are the kind of the three basic forms, the most fundamental forms of outreach they should be doing to the marketplace? From my perspective, the one big thing that we’re very well known for and I feel like we do a lot of is content marketing. We do a ton of content marketing because we’re a law firm, right? People need to know that we’re good lawyers and we know stuff, right? So we’re not just the guys who buy drinks at conferences, right? So that needs to be said somehow. But on your guys, what else is there from an outreach standpoint? Because there’s so many forms and I see a lot of good stuff and a lot of bad stuff out there.
Erica LaCentra: I would probably say definitely email marketing and doing drip campaigns is extremely important because like I said, not just having that one touch point that’s typically not going to produce business, it’s having that repetition of what you do as a company enlightening people about different services you may offer over time. So it’s kind of like that ‘aha’ moment where they’re finally like, okay, that’s the product that clicks with me. And then just being top of mind too. So I think just if people can employ email marketing automation in a thoughtful way so that they have that kind of repetition over time, I think that’s critical. From your perspective, what you said, content marketing, definitely providing kind of that brand awareness is very important and how you want to portray yourself as a company. And then honestly, we rely very heavily on just outreach from our sales team as something we employ as kind of a marketing tactic on top of what the marketing team is doing. So scheduling regular touch points so that they have that kind of human interaction already planned as part of our general scheduling. I think that’s really critical because over time, if you’re just marketing to someone, a lot of that messaging can get lost, or it just becomes so repetitive where it’s like you do kind of want that personal element in some way, whether it’s a phone call or a personalized email or even just a face to face communication.
Kevin Kim: This is B2B marketing, right? So we’re concentrating on business owners and professionals who are entrepreneurs, and that’s the integration between marketing and sales and business development, right? How that flows together. And a lot of folks overlook it. A lot of times they equate marketing and sales, business development as kind of the same thing, and they’re very different. They go hand in hand, but they’re very different. And I want our audience to know the marketing component is a highly technical arena that requires a lot of thought and understanding of how a customer flows through your business and understands who you are. Rocky, how about you? You do almost every form of outreach that I can think of, and you do it quite well, and I respect you a ton on the sense that you have super lean business. Right? A lot of people don’t know this, but when we interviewed on the show, like two seasons ago, you told us it’s basically Rocky and maybe to one or two employees?
Rocky Butani: Yeah, all outsource yeah. I’m the only real employee officially in Private Lender Link inc. But I have two virtual assistants, and then I’ve got a marketing agency I’ve been working with out of Canada for the last five or six years, so they do some marketing, and then I’ve got two marketing consultants that handle very specific things so, you don’t have to have someone in house. And the virtual assistants are great for a lot of things where if you want someone to just manage all of your social media marketing, I’ve got one person that just handles that and then maybe some of the content stuff. A lot of that I have to create myself, but then I have a team of people who can help put it out there. So that’s very critical. So even for the smallest lending shop out there or service provider out there, I’m a big fan of virtual assistants. I’ve only been using them for a couple of years, and I wanted to use them before, but it was very hard to navigate. I didn’t know how to go about it. And then I found a company called Scale virtually, and they’ve been a great relationship for us. So there’s a lot of other companies out there that can match you with a virtual assistant. And I think that’s one good way to actually build a marketing team without having a real employee.
Kevin Kim: And to ask you the same question on outreach, what are the best forms of outreach that you think that a new person investing in marketing seriously, taking marketing very seriously, can do? That are kind of the core three. If you had to pick three.
Rocky Butani: To go back to the first one that you mentioned. One thing that Geraci Law Firm is amazing at is that content marketing. It’s really about sharing valuable information. Just like Private Lender Link. Both of our firms are in the information business, we sell information. So it really makes sense to really just share some of that information with the public and that’s really a way of getting new customers. So for a lender, a lender can still do something similar and RCN Capital also does that where they have a podcast and they do a lot of video marketing where you just share information and help people. And I think that’s a really good, easy way to do marketing. So even if you were just a very small lending shop, you can easily put out some content and it could make it very simple to start off with and just share something and just help people and educate them. It could be about lending, about real estate investing. So that’s definitely a good one and a very easy one. In a lot of cases it’s free. It’s free marketing that you could put out there and you have to be also consistent at it. And people will eventually come to you, you’ll eventually see the conversions because of it. So that’s your number one and then number two. What Erica said is email marketing was her first thing that she mentioned. With email marketing, I see a lot of companies that do email marketing, but sometimes the messaging just sucks. It’s like it’s not really valuable information. You put out a newsletter and some of these newsletters I see from lenders just say, hey, we’re lending.
Kevin Kim: Here are our terms.
Rocky Butani: Yeah, the terms are important, but I think you have to give a little bit more valuable information. Talk about a deal you close, show some of the people in the company. There’s all kinds of things you could do to make it a little bit more valuable. I can almost guarantee that some of those email marketing campaigns could be a lot more effective just by adding a few more value pieces.
Kevin Kim: Concentrate on value in the written content that’s going out, right? Presenting value to the customer or to the recipient.
Rocky Butani: Right, correct. Give people a reason to open up your email and take a minute or two to read your email newsletter. Right. It’s all about what can you provide for me? I think there’s a lot of improvement that some companies can do with email marketing, but the fact that they already have an email marketing campaign is a really good start. So give them a lot of credit for that. The third one is social media. And I come back to that because it’s one of the easiest and cheapest ways of marketing that you can do. So it is an effort. You may need help, you may need to hire an assistant to do it or outsource it to a marketing agency. But to get a social media strategy, even in the basic form and stay engaged on social media I think is a very easy way to market a company and especially when you’re small and you have a very low budget, it’s kind of a no brainer, you just have to do it. And again, even if you’re not the type of person who wants to go out and make videos or take photos of yourself, you can always contribute on social media by sharing information. Someone puts out a post, comment on it and share your thoughts or you create a post and just share something valuable to inform people and you’ll see it’ll eventually convert.
Kevin Kim: And this is a good topic to kind of expand on is the social media and the content. I see a lot of people online do really great online content or social media marketing except for the fact that their setup is from the dark ages. It looks like they wrote it up on Word and just slapped it on the Internet. Or their photo is a headshot that came from Sears, something like that, right? And there’s so much technology and ease of access nowadays when it comes to improving your I would call it image or presence and good graphic work and good cameras and lighting and nowadays you don’t need. We do it here with a simple webcam and we’ve outsourced a video editing service and then we have mostly just graphics work. We started doing graphics work online and there’s a lot of resources. Give us some ideas and what you guys have done in the past starting to improve, I guess you can call it brand presence, quality of the look. Right? Because that’s important. You don’t want it to look janky.
Erica LaCentra: But to your point, there is so much easy access to technology where you don’t necessarily need the most expensive equipment to make good video content even. I mean, our CEO, Jeff Tesh, he still prefers to use and film on his iPhone. We’ve just sort of upgraded and purchased some microphones so sound quality is improved. But I mean, it’s not very challenging these days in terms of being able to shoot and easily edit video content, especially for social media where so many of the platforms people are kind of expecting almost a little bit more rawness to the quality of what you’re producing. It doesn’t need to be anything crazy professional that’s being posted out there. And I think especially from a social media content perspective, having a little bit of roughness to it almost provides that authenticity, which is really good when you’re trying to produce content for a brand because it kind of shows a little bit behind the company. It shows a little bit more in terms of what else there is besides just selling a product. So I think at a very basic level, if you have an iPhone or a good cell phone and you purchase a couple of portable mics, you should be in pretty good shape in terms of being able to start producing and putting content out there.
Kevin Kim: Yeah, Rocky and I was talking about this, you can buy one of those Rode mics that are a little bit like $300, or you can buy a bootleg version and they work just fine. And I think I saw one for $100 for a three mic setup hooked up to an iPhone. iPhone is almost better than a studio camera sometimes because it’s so small. And then you don’t need. Yeah, you could do a lot with just a simple selfie video, but as long as you’re thinking about the quality of the video, the audio and also I always feel like the content. Because if you’re just doing videos to say anything, just to record a video and your message is just unclear, I guess you can say, then what’s the point of shooting something? Right? So, Rocky, I think you have something to say.
Rocky Butani: And to piggyback off of what you were just saying, if your content is not really something people find valuable, they’re just going to overlook it. They might even get annoyed and just unfollow you. So it is important to provide some kind of value. I see some people posting videos of their family and their kids or just random stuff that’s not business related or it’s just not valuable. So you just have to keep in mind that, hey, am I providing something that people will care about?
Kevin Kim: I do think the occasional team bonding photo, we went bowling or we did a charity thing at the firm, or photo of your family once in a while. Right. That’s okay. Right. But if everything is like that, or if every single post is about you playing golf, I don’t know about that. This is a good segue to the whole kind of do’s and don’ts, right? Let’s just talk about general marketing do’s and don’ts because there’s a lot of bad stuff out there. There’s a lot of bad ideas out there. And one of the things I personally, I’m a golfer, I love golf, but if every single post that you put on to LinkedIn is a photo of you playing golf, the question becomes, are you working? That’s where my brain goes to. So what are some don’ts for you guys? Because you guys are at the top of your game. My perspective in the space, and a lot of people will probably ask you guys, and I know Rocky, if I talked to you about it. So from your perspective as some of the folks that are top of the game in marketing, in the sector, what are some do’s and don’ts for a lot of our listeners?
Erica LaCentra: I mean, I would just say in terms of just you do need to think about the purpose of everything you are putting out there, whether it’s content, whether it’s print materials, whether it’s interactions you’re having with people, the sake of putting marketing out there just for it to be out there is useless. So every sort of platform you’re utilizing, as well as the messaging that you’re putting out on those platforms, everything needs to have a purpose. And it doesn’t all need to be this is a hard sell. In fact, it shouldn’t be “this is a hard sell” on every aspect of marketing that you’re doing. But everything you’re doing needs to have a specific purpose. Whether it is promoting products, whether it’s education, whether it’s showing behind the scenes of who you guys are as a company and what your company culture is. It gives customers a full view of who you are and what you do as a company, which creates that differentiation between you and your competitor. So it doesn’t necessarily need to be every single marketing effort is for the same purpose, but everything needs to have a purpose. You should not be putting things out there just because you feel you need to. And I mean, I think that’s a lot of the content that is just not performing well or doing well, especially on social media where it’s like, people think, oh, I have to be on the schedule of posting every day. And it’s like, but what are you really saying? What are you trying to accomplish through this? Is it brand awareness? Is it showing who you are as a person? Is it just there needs to be more thought in what you’re doing so that you’re not just spinning your wheels and wasting time and resources just because you feel like you just need to.
Rocky Butani: Yeah, I really like that, Erica, in terms of looking at it as a purpose. And there’s a lot of examples where you could see people putting photos of themselves at an event that could be valuable, where it says, hey, look, I’m actually out there, I’m at this industry event, this could be good for you to go to, or I’m just actually busy networking.
Kevin Kim: We have to do that. You and I have to do that for sure.
Rocky Butani: And some people are a bit shy about that, right? So even you might be surprised to learn that I don’t generally take photos of myself and share personal things. A lot of times I do put out a lot of videos, but I really am conscious about just sharing information. But everyone has their preferences. So even if you’re in a company where you don’t personally like to share photos of yourself or videos of yourself, get someone else in your company that’s going to be that person doing it. And like Erica said, you just don’t put something out there, just put it out there and provide value and people will follow you and pay attention to you. And you do have to be consistent because you just remind people that you’re out there and that you’re available to do business with.
Kevin Kim: I have this big pet peeve of this, I don’t know what to call it. I’ve called it cult of personality. I’ve called it the guru mentality. I see a lot of people in private lending trying to become a guru, an online guru, and what they’re doing is they’re putting out a lot of content. Volume, massive volume. Sometimes it’s pretty good looking content. It looks actually pretty nice, but there’s no value in it. They’re just saying stuff to say stuff, and a lot of it. Okay. The logic is you’re targeting real estate investors, right? These are your borrowers, but you’re talking about random investment advice, things that a lot of these gurus talk about that make no sense. Why are you talking about that instead of providing value to your core audience? And so there’s a lot of confusion there. And then sometimes there’s content or just photos or posts that seem like it’s just, hey, I’m here, look at me. Right? And those are just, I think, one of the worst that you can do because if there’s no value to the post and it’s just a photo of somebody, why would you do that? Right? No content to it, nothing. And so there’s a lot of, like the purpose behind a post is so massively important. Let’s talk about this from a business standpoint, though. From an operations standpoint, a lot of the people in our space are small business owners, entrepreneurs. They’re CEOs and COOs and CFOs, and they have to make these key decisions about I guess you can call it business decisions and costs and balance sheets and bottom line, and we talked about this during our prep call, viewing marketing as a cost, right? As a cost, should it be? Or is it an essential piece of the business? And I know we’re biased here, all three of us are very, very we view marketing as a very important piece. But I want you guys to think about that and expand on it because I’m a very big believer that it’s not a cost. You have to invest in it at all times.
Erica LaCentra: And I mean, I think you hit the nail on the head. It’s an investment. It is a long term investment that will provide value. And then also just going back to the idea that everything you do in marketing should be trackable so that you can have oversight of what is working, where should you invest more money? Where should you pull back? Because otherwise you’re just kind of going to be throwing money and throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. But you really do need to think of marketing as a long term investment. And whether that is hiring folks internally or outsourcing, which Rocky’s talked to a lot, there are ways to achieve marketing in a way that you can be fiscally responsible with what you’re doing, you know?
Rocky Butani: Yeah, agreed. I run a marketing business, so obviously I’m definitely biased. But to Erica’s point, it’s an investment and it’s a long term thing. You can’t just look at it as, hey, I did some marketing. Where are my leads? Where are my conversions? Where are my deals, you know? It doesn’t really work that way. That’s a little different. Marketing is kind of an ongoing, essential part of your business that if you do it right and you do invest in it, you will see the ongoing positive effects of it for many years in the future. You just have to stick with it and you just have to do it and it is definitely essential.
Kevin Kim: Well, let’s talk about real life, right? Because we’ve had two instances where forgive my french, shit has hit the fan, right? Market wise, we had COVID, which is a recent memory, three years ago, but still to me it feels like yesterday. And I’m sure all of us, it was stressful, right? And then we had the rate hike beginning of the chaos last June in 2022. That was when the chaos hit the fan. And for national lenders like RCN, I’m sure it was chaotic and stressful. From a business standpoint, what did you guys do specifically? Because I know during COVID when we interviewed Jeff last season, he was very proud of the fact that during COVID you guys didn’t lay anybody off and you guys were very intentional about doubling down on what you’re good at. So as the CMO, I want you to kind of give me some more what happened at RCN from a marketing standpoint, how did you guys pivot? How did you guys continue to reinvest in this? From a decision making standpoint, how did you maintain because you guys did, and I know you guys did actually, you guys started marketing more, I remember.
Erica LaCentra: Which is a crazy thing to think of, especially during COVID where we couldn’t actually lend. So we didn’t have that aspect of the business actually happening at that point. So the first thing that I did was I went to Jeff and I said, transparency is going to be everything during this. And this was the beginning of COVID where we didn’t know if it was going to be a week, two weeks, or potentially six months. But I said what we need to do because there were others in our space that were saying, it’s fine, we’re going to keep lending, everything will be good. And I said, as soon as we can no longer provide those services, we need to be as transparent as possible, provide an update in terms of what’s going on, what’s going on with people’s, current loans in progress or things that we were currently servicing at that point. So transparency was key. And then once we knew that it was going to be some time before we could actually lend again, we decided to pivot and say, how else can we provide value to our customers? Because the core product that we offer is no longer available. So what we did was we started producing content like crazy. Like we produced as much market specific, industry specific content as we could in terms of where the market currently stood. What were projections in the market, how are other service providers in the market surviving? Or what were they doing during COVID where we just wanted to provide our customers with an idea of what was going on at that point in time because we still needed to provide value and show our customers that we were providing value. But when you can’t offer your core product, that is one of the hardest things to do from a marketing perspective, when you can’t market what you know.
Kevin Kim: Right. I remember probably the first three months, it was crystal clear that everyone was going to stop operations and just figure out what was the next move. After that. We saw a lot of budget cuts. We saw a significant amount of budget cuts and a significant drop in marketing in general across the sector. And also conference attendance, conference participation, everything just went, you know? But you guys doubled down internally and you guys were very impressive when it came to, yeah, we’re going to concentrate on what we can present. But also, you guys didn’t pull back on resources. It sounded like you kept pushing on resources and there were no significant, I guess you can call it budget cuts or resource cuts to marketing.
Erica LaCentra: Yeah, I mean, from a team perspective and human resources, we did not make any cuts. What we did do was we cut back on marketing spend in all of the areas that we could at that point in time.
Kevin Kim: Right.
Erica LaCentra: Yeah. And then really focused on content creation, which for the most part is a free tool, relying on the platforms that we had already essentially paid for. So the email marketing, social media marketing, platforms that we already had in place and then just trying to think of what can we do with the resources we have that’s essentially free, except people’s time.
Kevin Kim: Rocky, how about you, man? I remember 2020, you went from here to here when it comes to all the content marketing you were doing. We all had a lot of free time as the podcast started. I had a lot of free time. But tell me more about how you guys went through it in all these different chaotic times and your view on things. When it comes to investing in this.
Rocky Butani: Stuff, it’s kind of the same as your firm during that time, everyone’s looking to you for information. So what you can do is really just share information and just be a valuable resource. And similarly, there was a lot of time where you don’t have your typical day to day stuff that was going on. So it was a great time to really kind of rethink your marketing plan and or to create a lot of content and just provide value. Again, our companies are both in the information business and they’re just all about sharing valuable information. And even from a lender’s perspective, there’s plenty of valuable information a lender can share. And they still have a good following, they still have their customer base, all of their relationships. And if you can just provide value during times like that, it’ll go a long way and you’ll see the benefits once that time has passed.
Kevin Kim: I want to kind of pivot a little bit and talk about who’s a good example to look at, because a lot of people, whenever I sign up a new lending business with a new private lender or now a new fund manager or something, they always ask me the kind of question on marketing. I always tell them I’m an attorney, I’ll review your marketing material from a legal standpoint. I’m happy to have Leslie give you some pointers, but I’m not here to advise you on this. My job is to keep you out of jail and also to make sure you’re doing everything by the book. But at the same time, I get the same question all the time. Who do you think is doing a good job on marketing out there? And I’ve got my hand like few. Obviously RCN is one of them, otherwise you wouldn’t be on the show today. But I want you guys who’s killing it when it comes to marketing and why, because I’m sure you guys are watching what other folks are doing out there and I want to hear your thoughts on this because you guys are very good at this. Everyone knows that you’re very good at this and want to hear your opinion on who you guys think have a solid operation when it comes to marketing.
Erica LaCentra: So. I mean, one of the companies that I think has had a really incredible strategy over time and it’s not necessarily on the private lending side, but Movement Mortgage is one that I have watched for a very long time in terms of the content marketing they’re doing, showing behind the scenes of their company and really making themselves as a mortgage company seem more than just, I don’t know, it’s really hard to make mortgage lending like an exciting or interesting thing to market. And I think that’s why I’ve always enjoyed watching them as a marketer, because they have really succeeded in terms of highlighting what they do as a company beyond just making mortgages. And I think we’ve definitely applied a lot of that mentality into what RCN does for marketing to try and differentiate ourselves. But it is so hard when you see so many of your competitors just doing, here’s the deal we did and here’s our lending terms. And it’s one of those things where you really have to get creative. And that’s something that I think there’s not a lot of in our space because like I said, it’s not a fun or sexy thing to market in terms of the grand scheme.
Kevin Kim: It’s hard. Yeah, agreed.
Rocky Butani: Well, besides both of your companies, I’d say, like we talked about in the past, Mortgage Automator is probably one of the companies in our space that comes to mind. And they’re not a lender, they’re a technology company, but they’ve just done it right. Where they have their branding, they’ve got this little robot that’s their avatar or icon. They put out a lot of content, they created a podcast, they put out little short videos. And that’s one company, I think that’s done really well and they’ve only started probably in the last four years or so. So that’s one that comes to mind. But besides them, both of your companies are you both have a marketing team, you have the resources. So this is what a lot of companies need to strive to get to, is where you have this huge infrastructure of, you know, all this resource that you put into marketing, where you have you have a podcast, you got tons of video content, you’ve got really good branding, you share a lot of valuable information, and you take that and couple it with a lot of the in person events that you go to and host, where it really makes a huge impact.
Kevin Kim: And that’s an interesting point. Right, I want to talk about that piece as well. The interplay between all of the operational marketing that you’re doing internally for the business coupled with, I don’t know if it’s sales or that it’s more the personal aspect, business development aspect of things, getting the people out there right. And for those of our listeners who aren’t conference regular attendees, these two amongst many are my conference friends. I see them all the time. I love it when I see Erica every year because we’re booth neighbors usually at AAPL? But like, we have to get out there too, and and how does that as someone who’s directing marketing and giving feedback as to how this gets done right, talk about that because a lot of people don’t quite understand. Do I go to everything? Which ones do I go to? How do I bridge that with my marketing efforts internally, with all my content stuff and my email stuff and everything else? Because it is kind of confusing. A lot of people just think, oh, I should I just go to a conference. I’m like, well, if you’re going to go just to go, then don’t go, right? What’s the point? So, thoughts?
Erica LaCentra: Yeah. Again, it comes down to purpose. Like what are you going to be able to accomplish at that particular event? Is it meaning to get face time with clients? Is it to try and generate new clients? Are you speaking somewhere where you’re providing valuable information to the audience? Is it just for a brand awareness perspective? Again, why are you going there, to just go and not have a plan going into it that’s not going to provide you with any benefit? But at the same time, if you’re going. And I mean, a lot of the event planning that we did initially was brand awareness when RCN started to make sure that people would see us and then they would see us again and they would see us again, where it’s that being top of mind. People are like, you guys are everywhere.
Kevin Kim: That was the objective for us too, we want to make sure that we were very top of mind.
Erica LaCentra: So that brand awareness can be a reason for why you’re doing something and having that ground game. But again, you need to have purpose and intention and making sure that the audience is who you want to be in front of, if that is your purpose. But like I said, there’s tons of additional value in events like seeing current clients, having those face to face conversations, being able to highlight who your sales team are, who people from your company are. And like I said, the speaking aspect too, can be extremely valuable because putting out content is great, but then having somebody who is providing valuable industry information in that live setting really provides additional credibility, too.
Kevin Kim: One question I wanted to ask is at the size you are now, right? It’s very uncommon to have the CEO go to all these conferences. You guys still do. Jeff goes to a lot of industry. He also goes to the events where you’re there to generate sales. You’re not there for the industry stuff, you’re there to generate sales. And so what’s the logic behind that? Because a lot of folks overlook that aspect and I commend you for it. I think it’s important to have Jeff out there, but what’s the thought process behind that?
Erica LaCentra: So, I mean, definitely now Jeff is still on the road pretty significantly, but usually there’s going to be an additional purpose for him being there in addition to just getting kind of like being that face of the company. So again, speaking sessions are huge to have that credibility and just establishing him as a thought leader in the industry. And then if that’s not possible, typically it’s going to be he’s setting more strategic meetings while he’s on site there. So there’s always kind of that dual purpose where it’s great to be like, wow, the CEO is at the booth and I get to converse with him. But there’s always an additional reason for that. But I also think, too, just from the perspective of the brand that we’ve built and the brand image, RCN tries to be very down to earth and have that very like, where the lender you probably want to grab a drink with. And that’s very much Jeff’s personality and that’s what sends him to a lot of events where he is kind of the person where you want to have a drink and kind of shoot the shit with him, which it plays into what we’ve developed as a brand, too.
Kevin Kim: I think it’s so important for folks to think through that because a lot of times we notice as lenders tend to scale up and they really grow and grow and grow, they start sending their reps to a lot of these shows, that’s great, they’re going to drop some business, great. But there’s a lot of this branding that needs to be done. And that branding can only really be done by, I would say, top executives in the company. Someone who’s built that level of comfort in the space and also have that presence in the space like Jeff is. Everyone knows Jeff, right? And I think that’s important to have him there, not just show up to one conference a year, which a lot of times I see. Rocky, how about you, man? We go to a lot of conferences together, right. The blend of business development, sales with marketing, it’s not an easy balancing act, especially for a lean operation. A lot of guys tell me, I’m so busy with all this stuff, I can’t go to that stuff. Well, you got to think about at least going a handful of these, because if you don’t go to a handful of these, nobody knows you are. Same logic, right? So that’s how I view I don’t know about you. Let me know.
Rocky Butani: To go back to the marketing and branding once you have that out there, and it becomes a lot easier to develop new relationships and actually close deals when you’re at a conference in person, because people will say, hey. I recognize your brand, and they already have a positive image of your brand where it just makes it easier and, like, okay, I know who you are. I know a little bit about what you do, but I want to do business with you, or, I want to do business with your company. That’s really how marketing really helps become more successful when you attend an in person event. And RCM Capital is probably one of the best examples I could think of because I remember back in 2015 or ‘16, I first saw RCM Capital at a consumer mortgage event. And I give him so much credit because it does cost a lot of money. It costs a lot of time. When you’ve got your CEO going out to an event with a bunch of other people, that’s a huge effort. But you could see how it’s paid off for them for doing that for so many years and even till today, they go to every single event and they’re out there in front of the industry and in front of real estate investors and brokers and give them a lot of credit. So that’s an extreme case of it. But if you’re a small shop, you definitely have to pick several industry conferences that you need to go to. And it doesn’t have to be a private lending conference all the time. There’s a mix of events you can go to where you see your target audience, which may be real estate investors or brokers, and they are extremely important. In my opinion, even if you’re a small regional lender that only lends in one state or one metro area, there are local events where you can get in front of people, and it’s a very effective way to develop new relationships and actually close deals.
Kevin Kim: What’s that one event that no one should miss in our space? I always talk about this myself privately. I want to hear your before I say mine, I want to hear what you guys think. What’s the one thing if you’re a private lender, I’m not a broker, I’m not a real estate investor. If you’re a private lender and you’re doing fix and flip, ground of construction, bridge, DSCR, these are what you’re doing. What’s that one event you cannot miss? Aside from Geraci’s conferences, of course. We have our great conferences, but let’s be realistic here. I have mine. Before I say mine, I like to hear your guys’.
Erica LaCentra: That’s really hard.
Kevin Kim: It’s really hard. Because I’ve had this debate with a lot of people before, and everyone has a different opinion, right? And it’s important to hear this from you guys because you guys go to so many conferences.
Erica LaCentra: I was going to say, I think for us, it’s dependent on audience. So for private lenders, for us, if we’re trying to target other smaller private lenders for a correspondent relationship, your conferences, the Geraci conferences, are do not miss. AAPL’s conference is a do not miss, and NPLA’s conference is a do not miss. We also kind of branch into the broker side of things. So on the residential mortgage side, I would say Originator Connect, that happens in Vegas every August, is a do not miss. And then NACLB, which is a commercial loan broker conference in Vegas, which happens every year. Those are probably my top five. In terms of like, if you go to five conferences a year, those are the ones you need to be present for.
Rocky Butani: So if you ask for one, the one that I always advocate for is the AAPL conference. American Association of Private Lenders, of course. And really, because that’s the first industry conference I ever went to in 2013, and I’d never missed a single one ever since then, even in 2020. It was a very small conference, but I took the risk and didn’t want to miss that one. So that is one of my favorites. I do really love the Geraci conferences. The NPLA conferences are pretty amazing. NLE California Mortgage Association so I do like the industry conferences, even though you’ll find a lot of lenders that say, okay, well, I don’t want to keep going to events where it’s all my competitors. But really, what I tell people is the way to look at it is you kind of learn ways to improve your business, because usually when you go to a conference and you have your competitors there, everyone’s willing to share to a certain extent. You share war stories, you share tips and tricks. You form relationships where people can send you deals and you can send them deals, so you actually do get business out of them. But there’s other conferences I’ve been to that are not private lending. They could be commercial real estate, they could be real estate investor events. There’s not that many of them. But I have a Google spreadsheet I created where I keep track of all the industry events that are not every single one out there, but the ones that I think that I might go to or I have some kind of interest in. So I’m always willing to share that with everyone and share thoughts on my experience with certain events and help people figure out if this particular event is a good fit for them.
Kevin Kim: Yeah, I agree. For me it’s AAPL. We have our conferences and I always tell people, but that’s very self-interested. I think you should be at our conferences, I think it’s important we gather a good amount of people. But honestly, AAPL is now at a point where if you don’t show up, people will start asking questions like, what happened to that company? Just like Rocky. My first one was in 2014. I haven’t missed one. I went a week after my first born was born, but I did miss during COVID, I was not allowed to go. My better half said, you’re not going, so I missed that one. But every year we’re there and I consider it honestly for our perspective to be able to meet the entire industry at once. That’s the only one. And to Rocky’s point, yeah, it’s a room full of your competitors, but what better resource is there for you to grow your business? Because there are some shops that have done it ten times over. Why aren’t you going over there to learn from them, talk to them? Because they’ll tell you that’s the funny part, right? In our space, everyone’s so friendly about it.
Rocky Butani: Yeah, agreed. And I remember Bret Alazawi saying that he calls AAPL the Super Bowl of private lending. That’s what I always call it.
Kevin Kim: You can call it that for our firm. It literally is our law firm Super Bowl, because we don’t go to every conference with a 12 person team, 15 person team, AAPL. We do right. When everyone knows we throw parties there, and this is the only time we actually throw a big party. We’re really serious about that conference because the entire industry is there and you cannot I mean, to the extent of there have been many conversations, well, what happened to that guy? He’s not sponsoring anymore, or he didn’t show up this year. What happened to him? And it’s a very important feature to our business.
Rocky Butani: Yeah. And to that point, you don’t always have to sponsor just showing up.
Kevin Kim: No, everyone worries about that kind of stuff. Just show up, just come walk the booths, walk the halls, show up to some networking events. You got to get out there because you’re going to get resources that way. Intel, friendships. That’s also one of the things that I find interesting amongst if you look at the institutional guys, they’re all friends, they’re all competitors, right? They’re all buying loans and they’re all competitors, but they’re all buddies, and they’re all always on calls together, sharing ideas, sharing intel, and there’s friendly competition there. And so I think that’s really important. We have to do that too, amongst ourselves. All right, guys, I think we’re running out of time. I want to thank you so much for joining us. I’m enjoying this new format, so I hope you guys enjoy yourselves today. For those of you who do not know these two fine people, their information will be available on the show setup. And it’s what right now, it’s July. August is coming around, so we’re about to enter the conference season, so I’ll be seeing these two in person very soon. So thank you very much for joining us on Lender Lounge with Kevin Kim.