Superstar of the Month – Carolyn Frame

M.O.M.—How did you get started in the lending business?

Frame— I worked for Security Pacific’s Human Resources and Operations divisions for 27 years and was very involved with the branches, ultimately responsible for most of the hiring and training. I later worked as a branch manager and actually oversaw two offices. I found that I was a good salesperson, helping to increase the branch production totals. I also realized that the banking industry was changing and I thought it was a good time for a move, so in 1990 I left to work for a small mortgage broker; commuting by car and ferry and essentially working out of the trunk of my car because the office was over an hour away and I needed to prove myself.

M.O.M.—What was your initial marketing activity?

Frame—I was a long-time member of the Rotary Club and had an opportunity to announce my new profession to fellow members. Everyone was very supportive and a good percentage of them came to me for their loans. In addition, I got involved helping people finance their log homes, a highly specialized area. I participated in the seminars that the log home builder held. While they weren’t too successful, because many people found it hard to qualify for and lenders were somewhat hesitant to finance these properties, this gave me a chance to expand my network. Many of the borrowers eventually came to me for financing other homes.

At first I didn’t know many real estate agents but I began to develop a strong referral base by contacting them and asking for their loans. I made a point to show them that we were different. We would also provide training workshops for Realtor offices. I did some co-op marketing with agents, such as taking an ice cream truck to various neighborhoods.

I gradually developed a builder network. This support has included chairing the Parade of Homes events in our area, attending open houses, and meeting with builders to help them develop a plan of action when their project sales slowed.

I also became very involved in the community. Since those early days, we have supported more than 150 organizations, including Boys and Girls Clubs, United Way, Habitat for Humanity and many other groups; serving on the boards, hosting events and providing financial assistance. I love being involved this way and have been honored with several major awards, including the Seattle Women Business Owners’ Nellie Cashman Award, Business Leader of the Year (for Kitsap County), and with my husband, Charlie, Business Couple of the Year in our hometown.

M.O.M.—What about seminars?

Frame—A key part of our overall marketing has been providing seminars; I do about 20 a year. This includes sponsorship of the Money Wi$e Women seminars, educating women in various finance-related issues. We also began leading Passive Income seminars, which are based on the “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” book. It teaches participants the importance of developing income streams for clients (such as real estate investments), not just relying on a regular paycheck or Social Security.

M.O.M.—Have you incorporated advertising in your marketing?

Frame— We have had a TV commercial that shows some of our clients in different situations, such as discussing investment properties or a specialized product.  This has been primarily for visibility. I’m not sure that it has led to that many closed loans, but it has been excellent exposure for our company.

For several years, I also advertised on shopping carts. People still tell me that they’ve seen me on the carts. I did this not so much to generate immediate business, but to help reinforce that I’m here. If they think about a mortgage, I want them to call me.

In addition, we have sponsored a Babe Ruth youth baseball team whose members wear t-shirts with our company name. It’s great advertising. After games, there are often articles saying that “….the Frame team did it again” (beat the competition.). We’ve also donated money to a youth leadership program which helped purchase a sailboat used to teach young people to sail. The boat’s sail has our company name on it.

M.O.M.—How do you stay in touch with past customers?

Frame—Our client-for-life campaign starts early. For example, when we first meet with new customers, we usually give them a book as an introductory gift, either Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” or  T. Harv Eker’s “The Millionaire Mind.” Then we’ll send a mid-transaction survey that asks customers how we’re doing so far, which is accompanied by a box of popcorn and a movie pass and a card that tells them to relax and enjoy the movie.  At closing we send them a nice gift basket.

When customers do more than one loan with us, we usually give them a gift card to The Home Depot, Starbucks or a spa. Many of our investor customers receive a popular book of their choice.

We stay in touch throughout the year with a quarterly newsletter that we produce in-house. We also try to talk or meet with past customers once or twice a year, giving us the chance to assist them and ask for referrals. We have an open-door policy that encourages them to stop by whenever they want to discuss their current or new loan. In addition, we send monthly e-mails that update everyone on our scheduled events.

M.O.M.—Do you have a specific niche market?

Frame—Investors and first-time buyers would be two of our main niches. An interesting sidelight to the latter is how my husband and I work with tenants of our own rental properties. When people begin renting with us, we tell them that we expect that it will only be for a year or two because we want them to be homeowners. Then we counsel them on how to achieve homeownership.

M.O.M.—Education seems to be a major aspect of your overall approach.

Frame—Education is an integral part of our customer service, as well as our personal philosophy. In addition to our regular seminars (noted earlier) and ongoing consultation with clients, we try to teach basic financing and related areas to younger people. We’ve even been invited to local schools to play the cash flow board game with students, helping them understand the basics of finance, balance sheets and passive income.  I spend a lot of time educating clients and others, but in return we receive a great deal of loyalty, and it helps generate business as well. Several of our company loan originators also emphasize education and they’ve been very successful.

M.O.M.–How does your Web site benefit your success?

Frame— We drive people to the Web site by having the URL on all of our marketing materials and in other communications. The site provides background information as well as a full range of our services and a calendar of events; and helps to acquaint people with our expertise. However, I prefer talking to people face-to-face about their loans so we don’t rely on the site to generate applications per se.

M.O.M.—Do you develop an annual marketing plan?

Frame—Yes, it’s usually completed in December (when I set my overall budget) for the following year. The plan incorporates the various strategies that we will employ to reach personal production and company objectives. Of course, as a “change agent,” I’m always looking for new ways to enhance our success. Therefore, I review the plan on a monthly basis and make the appropriate adjustments.

M.O.M.—How did you happen to open your own firm?

Frame—After working for the broker for about three years, I expressed my interest in receiving a larger commission or having the ability to fund our own loans. He instead suggested that I buy him out and keep him on as a mentor for five years, which is what we did. By 2001, we had 150 employees in 11 offices throughout Washington, Oregon and Alaska. I eventually realized that managing that many people wasn’t the best use of my time and we scaled back. However, we are now licensed in most states and are planning to expand in the near future (in part based on a joint venture with Liberty Financial Group in Bellevue, Wash.).

M.O.M.—Who is on your own support team?

Frame—Obviously, my team plays a major key role in my success.  I couldn’t do it without them. I currently have two assistants, Martina Norman-Maleski and Susie Bohnert; a transaction coordinator, Shawna Madayag; and a marketing and events manager, Ashley Endres. In addition, two processors, Jill Dacier and Marisa Acuna, assist me and a few of our other originators.

M.O.M.—You also have some of your family members working for you?

Frame—There are five generations of us here. In addition to myself and my husband (whose primary role is community relations), my 81-year old mother works part-time with various clerical duties. My son is a successful loan originator in one of our branches and his daughter (my granddaughter) is an originator as well. And, her seven year-old son (my great-grandson) empties wastebaskets on weekends.

M.O.M.—What process do you have to handle the volume?

Frame—I conduct the initial/”high trust” interview and gather the client’s vital information, to determine the specific loan and other essentials. Then either Martina or Susie will call the customer to complete the online application, send necessary documents and follow-up as appropriate.

I rely on computer-generated monthly reports. However, I’m still old-fashioned and also like monitoring two status boards that show the progress of every loan through closing. I know we’re on track when both boards are filled. This also helps check the workflow; determining whether or not one of the team members is too busy, for example.

We also have a weekly “gong meeting” (where we call everyone by using a gong) when we discuss current loans in progress, actions to be taken and who needs assistance.

M.O.M.—What do you consider key characteristics of superstar originators?

Frame—Certainly, having a support team is critical; enabling you to set and achieve ever higher goals.

Top producers must be able to delegate, so that you’re able to concentrate on the most productive/profitable activities. I believe that customers should be informed of your team members’ roles, so that they can have the confidence everything is handled in a timely and effective manner.

Continuing education is also important. I’m always learning something new for the business that I can share with clients.

A competitive spirit is mandatory. My goal is to fund $10 million a month; I want to set the bar high and don’t like settling for less.

I also think that community participation is important for top producers. I’m always out in the community, as is my husband, and that is something I believe all top producers should be doing.

M.O.M.—How do you balance work with your personal life?

Frame—There are several components to my work and personal life balance. First, we have a reasonable work schedule and typically don’t bring work home. We also take one week off every month as vacation or to just relax around the house. We also take shorter trips, often flying in our plane to see our rental properties and then stopping for shopping in town and getting loans.

My husband and I love card games and always play a couple of games every morning and night. We have five children, 15 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren so we try to spend as much time as we can with them and our nieces and nephews.

M.O.M.—What are your future plans?

Frame—I will continue to expand my own production and we will grow the company into other regions as appropriate. Of course, education will remain an important focus, both with our seminars and individual customer consultations.

My husband and I have a goal of being completely financially secure during the next few years. In addition, I intend to cut back on my work schedule so that I’m spending less time in the office.  Meanwhile, I will continue to enjoy this rewarding profession.