“I think I can, I think I can…” The Little Engine That Could
Advice to New Originators
“Book Yourself Solid,” Michael Port
With her husband already in the loan origination business, Ginny Phillips carefully weighed the industry’s pros and cons before leaving her prior post as director of research and communications with Langley Federal Credit Union in Virginia, where she was responsible for writing newsletter articles and designing marketing campaigns, as well as researching the various customer and program products. As Phillips commented, “My previous experience at Langley has been a big advantage. It has given me the ability to look at my production as a business and market it based on what differentiates me from other lenders. My last job focused on how to get customers to purchase new products, deepening their banking relationship and therefore making them more profitable.” Before stepping into origination, her husband’s boss at BF Saul Mortgage granted her an interview, openly discussing both the pluses and minuses of the business. Even though he ended up offering Phillips a job, it took her an additional six months before she was ready to “jump into the world of 100 percent commissions.”
After BF Saul Mortgage’s three-week intense instruction program followed by one-on-one training with a senior loan officer, which she remembers as the best part of her preparation, Phillips was still a little nervous embarking on her new career. “My first loan was a $60,000 condo and I fretted from contract to closing,” she said. “I’d been working on marketing to a few condo associations and this one was my first call back.”
However, her training coupled with hard work and a steadfast attitude proved to be a successful combination, helping Phillips, 33, to close 82 loans. In 2005 she began to implement new ways to generate business. “Every loan my rookie year was like turning on the light for the first time,” she said. “Each had its own twists and turns. Some were more difficult than others, however I learned something from each deal—what to do and what not to do in certain situations. It took a long time for me to feel confident in my ability to solve problems. Having the experience under your belt is a powerful tool when it comes to problem solving and I’ve learned a lot of creative ways to make deals work.”
Early on, Phillips decided to focus the majority of her efforts on real estate agents. “In our area, real estate agents have a tremendous amount of influence over where their buyer shops for financing,” remarked Phillips. “After identifying what I felt differentiated my company from the competition, I simply picked up the phone and started calling agents for a 10 minute face-to-face. After the meeting, I would always follow up by e-mail, then by phone and finally by mail. If I hadn’t heard from the agent within that time period, I gave them another call and asked them to lunch—repeating the process. But the one thing I think is paramount to success in this business is returning phone calls. It sounds pretty basic; however that was the number one complaint from agents in reference to other companies.” Further marketing efforts during Phillips’ first year included developing a campaign geared towards a few condominium associations in her community—sending mailers and making extra phone calls.
She also admits that being surrounded by mentors has also greatly impacted her success. “My husband William has been very supportive of the hours, phone calls and juggling and care of our daughter Jordan,” she said. “In the beginning I worked a lot. Now I have a little more control of my time. I would say that I work nine-hour days Monday through Friday. I enjoy coming in early to organize my day before the phone begins to ring.”
Another mentor, Jim Fiocca, assistant vice president and fellow loan officer has also proven to be an invaluable resource for Phillips’ trickier deals. “He took a lot of time to answer countless questions and assist in finding solutions to obstacles,” said Phillips. “And Tim Blowe, the vice president/branch manger has also been great at giving me encouragement.”
The camaraderie and trust of her support staff—in-house processor, underwriter and closer has also helped Phillips gain success. “Our office is unique in that we really support each other,” she commented. “In fact, I just made our company’s Rookie of the Year and Chairman’s club and my processor and underwriter are heading up to Maryland to attend the awards banquet to cheer me on.”
The overall breakdown of her business is 98 percent purchase units and two percent refinances; Phillips says she enjoys working with VA buyers the most. “We are surrounded by every branch of the military, which I’ve found is a truly loyal and tight-knit customer base,” she said.
Having surpassing her end-of-year goal by more than $11 million dollars, Phillips says the biggest lesson she learned was that she has the power to set expectations, both of the buyer and the agent involved. “Expectations can make or break you,” she said. “I’ve also learned that internal customer service can get you as far, if not farther, than external customer service. In other words, value those that support you. They are your competitive advantage, treat them as such.”
Phillips leaves the following advice for new originators, “Continuously follow-up with agents and past clients. Keeping my name in front of those who can positively impact my business has been priceless. The secret to my success has definitely been self-motivation, fantastic support and the drive to succeed.”