A worker is only as good as his tools.
One tool I have found incredibly useful over the past year or so is a screenshot/screen-capture tool called Jing.
Jing is a desktop software that sits at the top of your screen as a little yellow bubble. When you’re ready to capture what’s on your screen (or part of what’s on your screen), just click on the bubble and click on the cross-hair icon called the “capture” button.
While this may seem like a “fringe” technology for CRE, I have found it to be incredibly useful. I often use the screen capture function to grab images that I can’t right-click and save. Images on Flash Player or other anti-right-click technologies can still be grabbed and used (non-commercially, of course).
One example is a pdf appraisal. Fairly often I will need a property photo in a situation where I have not taken the photo myself and no photo exists as far as Google Images can tell. So I will grab a pdf appraisal, click the Jing tool, capture, edit, and save the images however I want. Adobe actually has a capture tool already, but I find Jing to be easier, more comprehensive, and more robust than the intrinsic Adobe tool.
I also use it when I need to show my entire browser or an entire web page. If I am trying to show or teach how to use something in a browser, there is no way to show that with a right-click (that I know of, at least). I need to capture the entire screen and show where to click and how to navigate.
I use it to capture odd-sized or non-consecutive images. Basically, anything I can’t right-click-save-image, I screen capture with Jing.
I can also put arrows on the image to emphasize important areas.
I can put text on the images to further explain whatever point I am making.
I can highlight certain parts of the page that I want you to look at.
It is incredibly useful and I keep finding new ways to use it.
Here is the best part –
Just sign up with TechSmith, download it, and run. No cost. No hidden fees (so far).
Long story short, I love it. I use it almost daily and it has made me faster and more nimble. I highly recommend it and I hope it is as much use to you as it has been to me.
I’ve been doing a fair bit of research into the CRE tech world recently as I have been considering developing some of my own software.
What I’ve discovered is that commercial real estate software is a unique animal that has some unique needs and patterns. Just about everyone in our business knows what CoStar and ARGUS are, but few have heard of good software like Skire, Ten Eight, 42Floors, Catylist, etc. I would argue that those last 4 are much more elegant and intuitive software than the preceding two, but popularity remains with the incumbents.
So that got me to thinking:
What are the basic requirements to create great software in the commercial real estate game?
I came up with 5 and I’m going to call them “commandments” because they seem pretty straight forward and more-or-less universal.
1 – Thou Shalt Make It Easy
If your software requires a training class or takes more than a week to figure out (cough. . . ARGUS . . cough), it’s too complicated. Presumably, you are marketing this tech to multiple people across multiple generations with multiple levels of technological savvy. You need to have high functionality that caters to the lowest common denominator. Think iTunes. Just about everyone can figure out how to download and organize music on iTunes. Make your product that easy and your customer service department will thank you.
2 – Thou Shalt Make It Pretty
This plays into the first point. Part of making it easy to use is making it look good. I have read about numerous experiments in psychology mentioning how font, color, text size, and readability play a HUGE role in the effectiveness of an item or message. If it’s cluttered or non-intuitive, users will stop using it.
Important messages, items, or links should start in the top left and move right and down as they decrease in their importance to the user. (see “book, face”)
3 -Thous Shalt Make It Cost-Effective
Hopefully this doesn’t need much explanation. Brokers, owners, landlords, and lenders all have some funds set aside for technology and office supplies. The bigger chunk you take out of that budget, the more game-changing your software had better be. Spend time on pricing, split test it, then pivot. This is hugely important and you should take your time to get this right.
4 -Thou Shalt Market The Living Daylights Out of It
Our industry is famously (our notoriously) slow to adopt new technologies. Your steepest hill to climb is going to be convincing a historically technically-averse industry to buy new technology. No small feat. So make sure you build an appropriate marketing and advertising budget into your business plan. “It will sell it self because it’s so awesome” is ridiculous. Don’t be afraid to copy Google, Apple, Nike, Budweiser, or other major companies to get clever ideas for your marketing strategy. And squeeze every ounce of publicity you can out of social media to cater to the part of our industry that plays in that space.
5 – Thou Shalt Test the Market and Pivot
Don’t try to tell the market what it wants. Let it tell you. I know that seems outrageously simple, but I have heard too many war stories about companies building tech products and software, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, and then learning that no one wants their widget. Build a Minimum Viable Product, test it, gather feedback, and then adjust your model to incorporate what you hear. If 85 out of 100 testers say it needs to be bigger, make it flippin bigger. This isn’t rocket surgery. Listen to your customers and be flexible enough to change to meet their needs.
Those are my five and I feel pretty good about them. But I will be the first to admit that I’m new to the software startup game and could be wayyyyy off base.
If you think I am or have had another experience, let me know in the comments.
I have been asked several times over the last few weeks about the setup of my site and how someone else could do it. So let me take a few minutes to let you know what I did and how you can do it for yourself.
Step 1 – Choose a Name
The first step for me was choosing the name of my site. Even before I started deciding whether to use WordPress.com, WordPress.org, Blogger, Google Sites, or any one of a half dozen other website platforms, I needed to decide what to call the site. I chose AtlantaPropertyJournal.com because it was easy to remember, broad enough to cover anything that interested CRE pros, and, most importantly, available for purchase. I will take you through the specifics of domain names and hosting elsewhere, but for now I just want you to know that I chose the name of my site before I ever considered a platform.
Step 2 – Choose a host
Maybe I should have done more research into blogging platforms before this step, but I wanted to make sure I had a place to buy my domain name and host all of the security and warranty stuff. I happened to choose Bluehost for mine (they have been great), but I could just as easily gone with 1-and-1 or iPage or any of about 1000 other hosts. Almost all of them integrate well with a WordPress blog.
Step 3 – Install WordPress
The nice thing about Bluehost is that they have a control panel with software called “SimpleScripts” that allows you to customize and install things into your site. I simply ran the WordPress simple script and Bluehost installed it for me. I was then given a login page and asked to create a WordPress account. That took about 30 seconds. Once I confirmed my account through email, I was up and running with my new and secure WordPress Site.
Step 4 – Customize
This is by far the most difficult and time-consuming part of the process. I created the site in about 15 minutes. I have been customizing it for more than a year. WordPress comes with a default “theme” and some goodies, but I wanted to make mine look customized. There have been volumes written about how to customize WordPress sites and I would recommend this one as one of my favorites. But, for the scope of this post, let me just talk about themes.
A theme is basically just a way to tweak the appearance of your site. You can change the color scheme, site layout, text display, fonts, and pretty much anything else that has to do with the appearance of your site. This is extremely important because, as CRE pros know, layout and aesthetics matter. If the site is too “busy” or sloppy or confusing, no one is going to hang around and discover your brilliance. So you want to find a theme that fits your content, is nice to look at, stays simple, and displays your content well. In fact, that could be a good little checklist for you.
When looking at a theme for your WordPress CRE site ask yourself:
1) Does this site fit my content? Pink bunnies don’t jive with retail leasing trends. Make sure it is professional.
2) Is it nice to look at? Pretty straight forward. People don’t like looking at ugly stuff and if it caught your eye it will catches someone else’s.
3) Is it simple? If you throw too much on there, people will get distracted and the thrust of your content will be lost. I am guilty of this from time to time, so don’t think I’m preaching.
4) Does it display your content well? Since the content is the most important part of your site, make sure that it is well-displayed. Don’t let it be dominated by headers, links, or photographers. People will come to your site and stay there based on your content. Make it pop.
You can tear your hair out over how many columns to have, where to display your RSS feeds, and a dozen other minor tweaks. But if you get the theme right, you will have a step on the competition.
Where do you find themes? Great question.
As I get into customizing your site, I will explain more. For now, just know that there are literally thousands of themes to choose from. Some are free and some cost $20- $50. A good place to start is WordPress.org’s Free Theme Directory. There are 1500 free themes here for you to compare and answer the questions above.
My favorite paid themes (or “Premium” themes) are on ThemeForest.com and WooThemes.com. Both have thousands of great themes that make your site look more professional and improve its performance. If I had to recommend one premium theme, I would point you toward the Standard Theme by 8bit.io. I know the head of 8bit. He is a stud and so is his product. Check it out.
So that’s my quick and dirty WordPress and themes intro for all of you who are looking to build your own CRE site. I will follow up with a series of more in-depth discussions on customizing and optimizing WordPress and its themes. For now, hit me up in the comments!
Just ran across this site last night and I love it. Check it and and let me know what you think.
CRE Apps is a site dedicated to commercial real estate technology and software applications.
Some of my favorite articles are:
Keep up the great work and we will add CRE-Apps to the RSS feed on the right!
We all have roughly the same amount of time. Whether you work 8 hours a day or 16, you still have to push to accomplish everything you want to accomplish every day. The man who is most efficient with his time will find he achieved more than his peers.
So, with that in mind, here are 5 free (or nearly so) tools for you to increase the efficiency in your day.
Free Note-taking and recovery software for multiple devices
Evernote is a great free tool to keep track and be able to recall important documents, websites, emails, or other important information. You basically just install the software (inluding plugins for browsers and email), clip the notes you want to keep, tag them, and then Evernote will save them for later recovery. When you want to find them again, just type in some keywords into the search function of Evernote and it will recall and display all of the notes you tagged with those specific keywords. So you can probably see why this is a great tool for keeping hundreds, or even thousands, of notes on various topics as long as you tag them appropriately.
How to use it: Watch this.
How to get it: Download it here.
Free mobile document app for multiple devices and platforms.
Dropbox is a great way to take all of your documents with you. You simply install the free software onto all of your devices (including tablets and smartphones) and then save documents into your Dropbox. Dropbox then uses cloud computing to save the document on your shared space and you can access that document from any device that has Dropbox. It is a great tool for keeping contracts, surveys, legal docs, or plats on your iPad when you visit a site.
How to use it: Watch this.
How to get it: Download it here.
Google My Maps
Customizable maps from the champion of free mobile software
As with most things from Google, this free software is better and easier to use than its pricey counterparts. My Maps is an extension of Google Maps where you can customize a map by putting routes and place-markers on certain areas, properties, or submarkets. It allows you to place a marker on a given property and then attach notes, pictures, or other rich text to that marker. So you can probably see why this would be a great tool for tracking property, deals, submarkets, or anything location-specific.
How to use it: Watch this.
How to get it: Visit Google, click on “maps”, click on “my places”, and then click create map”. From there, the world is your (data) oyster.
Mobile access to your CoStar account
If I have to tell you what CoStar is or why you may want it with you when you are not at your desk, then please call me about some swamp land I have for sale at a great price!!!! ACT FAST!
How to use it: It is the same as regular CoStar, more or less, but they do have a fancy slideshow.
How to get it: You have to have a CoStar subscription. After that, just download it to your mobile device.
Cloud Computing for next-to-nothing
Office 365 is a great cloud computing option for the budget conscious professional with limited needs. At $6 per month per user, 365 offers most of the functionality of larger and more complicated clouds, but at a steep discount. And if you are, like most of us, very familiar with Office products, usability should be straight forward. Clouds are a great option for storing all of your information and documents on a server than can be accessed from any computer in the world, and are still secure enough that you can feel safe that your confidential documents won’t be hacked.
How to use it: Watch this.
How to get it: Sign up here.
So, those are 5 free or cheap options to increase your flexibility, mobility, agility, and get-it-done-ility. These will help you become more efficient with your time and ultimately more accomplished in your deals.
If you have any additions or feedback to the above list, feel free to post in the comments below.