The Power of Peer Networking

One of my favorite quotes is, “No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helped you,” stated by tennis legend, Althea Gibson.

I have been tremendously blessed during my 15 years in this crazy business.  I’d be fooling myself if I thought that I did it on my own.  I have benefited from so many people who have been willing to guide, advise, and encourage me.  I have found that this is an industry where people are willing to share their strategies and systems.  This is especially true in large companies, where formal mentoring programs might exist, as well as among peers across the country.  I have also realized that it is up to me to give back to the industry that has given so much to me.

Three areas of peer networking that I’ve had the benefit of being a part of are meeting annually with five top-producing loan officers in my company, going to a site visit of a top producer, and hosting my own site visits.

The first peer networking that I was involved in was an informal “meeting of the minds” brainstorm session with five top-producing loan officers in our company.  I put the group together with certain criteria in mind.  First of all, I had to like them as individuals, but it was also important to me that they shared the desire to learn and improve, and the willingness to share what they had learned.  Although three of us actually compete in the same market, it was important to me to be learning from people who shared similar values and goals.  We each have our areas of expertise and bring new ideas to the group.  We now gather once a year for an entire day in a “neutral” location.  In the morning we each share what worked and didn’t work for us the previous year.  We distribute all of our marketing materials, scripts, letters, resources, list of books read, etc. so that we each can benefit from each other’s experiences.  Everyone leaves with plenty of handouts and practical applications to take with them.  Our assistants are part of this discussion, too.  After lunch, our assistants meet together and discuss the nuances of what their roles and responsibilities are, and the loan officers talk about how they delegate and utilize their assistants.  We wrap up the day with a recap and a game plan for what we are going to do with the information we have assimilated.  We then hold each other accountable for implementation.

Probably the most impactful peer event that I have participated in was a site visit to the office of another top producer who I looked up to.  I have always been an implementer.  I look around and see what other successful people are doing and try to apply those ideas to my own business.  I’ve become what I term an “information junkie.” I have the need to read about, try out, and see anything that may positively impact my mortgage practice.  Having plateaued at $100 million in production for several years, I began to wonder what I needed to do to break out and continue to grow.  I soon realized that there were $200 and $300 million producers, and that maybe I could learn something from them!  There are successful people who have been where I am trying to go.  Successful people leave clues, and I knew I would do well to pick up on them.

There are several people hosting one-day site visits, willing to share their wealth of great ideas with you.  Each person has their own strength, so choose someone with an area of expertise that you wish to grow in.  There are visits focusing on technology, systems, marketing, client care, attracting referral partners, etc.  You can expect to see copies of marketing materials, sample letters, and e-mail templates, and learn about resources that others are using.  It seems that people are more than willing to share their ideas with others who are attempting to grow their businesses.

The first site visit I did was to the office of Steven Marshall at Bellevue Mutual.  I had heard him speak several times and knew of his reputation for his Clients for Life program.  Getting to his office and seeing it first hand, learning the systems needed to attain clients for life, and meeting the staff that made it all happen was invaluable.  I attended this site visit with my marketing director, and we came back completely energized with a fresh understanding and knowledge of how we could duplicate the system in our own practice.  I think there is a lot of value is seeing something personally, rather that hearing or reading about it. Sometimes it is beneficial to see how another originator approaches their business and interacts with clients.  For me, it has been as simple as seeing an office layout, tools in use, or a form letter that I have been able to immediately implement when I returned to the office.

A site visit is typically a full-day visit to a top producer’s office.  During the day you will see their office layout, meet their team and see how they work, hear their philosophy and strategy, see their systems and marketing plans, and leave with material to take home that you can implement in your office. The successful site visit facilitator will show you what has worked for them, not tell you what to do.  It is up to you to adapt what you see to your practice and your market.  Just spending a day with a $200 million producer gave me a new outlook on how I approached my business and multiple ideas for implementation—it was more than worth the time invested and the cost of the visit and travel. If you want to reach the next level in your business, surround yourself with people who are already there!  I truly believe that the only difference between the SuperStars and average producers is the willingness and ability to implement what they know.  There is a wealth of information out there, just waiting to be discovered and implemented.

The third peer event I’ve gotten involved in is hosting my own site visits.  After years of fielding questions from new or aspiring loan officers, I took the first step and approached the management of our company to do an afternoon session on implementation and best practices for about 200 loan officers from within the company.  This was very well received, and gave me the chance to improve my presentation and speaking skills.  I have also had the opportunity to speak and meet a lot of people at industry conferences.

People inside and outside my company began to ask to come to my office and see how I do business.  This was flattering and challenging at the same time.  The first thing I had to do was create an agenda and content to make sure attendees would get the most value for their time and money. When someone comes to my site visit they will have a complete overview of my practice and its systems, and receive valuable content.  Our focus is one of first impressions and marketing.  It is not a platform for me to tell people how to conduct their business, but rather to share what has been successful to me.  I see this as my chance to give back to the mortgage industry, to help someone else break through to higher levels of production.

If you decide to host a site visit, keep a few things in mind. Budget your costs, including catering, binders, CDs, materials, and follow-up gifts. When calculating the price for visiting originators, be sure to integrate these costs, and remember to include your time. Site visits generally run between $1,200 and $2,000 per person—try to make it a reasonable price that will still cover your investments. Plan your day carefully so that participants will get the most information possible out of the visit.

I think you will find a lot of value and benefit when you begin talking to and sharing ideas with your peers.  It is very rewarding to mentor a peer, and also very rewarding to receive the benefits of having a mentor.  There is an abundance of great ideas available for implementation.  One is never at the point where they can’t continue to improve.  This industry has so much to offer, why not get involved?

Networking Tips

Peer networking can be rewarding, meaningful, and profitable—no matter which side of the desk you’re on. Consider these four steps when you’re ready to reach out and start networking:

  • Start by meeting with mortgage originators at your own company—this can be anywhere from one or twice per month to annual gatherings. Share ideas, resources, marketing materials, tips… anything that might benefit another originator.
  • Attend a site visit at a top producer’s office. Costs range from about $1,200 to $5,000 (depending on the host and timeframe) plus any transportation, lodging, etc., which are not usually included. Contact the site host to make sure the visit is what you’re looking for. You should expect to leave with direction on team strategies, marketing tactics, office management, and technological implementations, among others.
  • Form your own network of successful originators—those you know and others you’ve met at conferences, site visits, and education seminars. Hold monthly conference-call meetings, and an annual face-to-face meeting to communicate ideas and support.
  • When you get to a point where you want to hold your own site visits for other originators, make sure to plan everything thoroughly. Create an agenda with specific topics and activities, while still responding to the attendees’ questions. They should leave your office feeling like you’ve answered all of their questions and given them new direction for their own businesses.

By David Kuiper