Christopher Watkin shares his tips for letting agents on winning more landlords

25 January 2021

Christopher Watkin shares why letting agents should use newsletters, blogs, videos, and social media to win more landlords by providing information about their local property market.

What's your plan for winning new landlords in 2021? Christopher Watkin talked to Goodlord's Oli Sherlock in a recent webinar about his advice for agents on their approaches to getting new landlords on their books, with actions that will show you how to give your lettings business an uplift using tried and tested techniques.

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Let's start with why you're here today Christopher and your own background in the property industry.

All of you need more landlords because the bottom line is this: the more landlords, the more money you will earn and the more money you earn, the greater commission that you will get and the greater profit your bosses make, which means they can then give you more money. I used to work for one of the largest letting agents in the UK, and 160 branch network, franchise network. My job was selling the franchises to new agents. So, I actually went out to the network and found out "Right, which letting agents in Belvoir are actually pulling trees up." And one of them was a chap called Richard Baker in Northampton. Now, he'd got 185 new managed properties over a three-year period, which is pretty good in anyone's book. So, I decided I couldn't give a monkey's that he has 185 properties. All I cared about is how he did it, because if I knew how he did it, I could sell more franchises to other people.

So, I went and had a chat with him and he said that he decided three years back that he wanted to start a blog called The Northampton Property Blog. Every three or four weeks he would write an article about the Northampton property market. I said, "Well, that's a bit strange, because normally letting agents and estate agents, all they're interested in is talking about themselves." And he said, "Well, if you think about it, every homeowner's interested in the value of their own property." That's what Savills have been doing for the last 30 years. They don't talk about how big they are or what awards they've won. They've talked about what's happening. And you look at any newspaper, The Times, The Telegraph, and they're always quoting Savills.

It got me thinking, if we talk about what people are interested in they become attracted to us. It's a bit like the dating game - the game of attracting a landlord is like trying to attract a mate. When you go out on the pull when you're 18, the end game is finding someone that you actually want to fall in love with and marry and have kids with, if that's your choice. Now, the easiest and quickest route would be just to walk into the pub when you're 18 years old and ask everyone to marry you, which is what agents are doing with their marketing. "Landlords wanted. Come to us. We'll have you, anyone." But that's not the way to attract people to you. Another way that other agents do their marketing is that they talk about themselves all night, just like the person at the party who talks about themselves all night. No one cares about you or your agency and no one cares about the person who talks about themselves at the party, yet that's what we do with our marketing. You want people to be attracted to your letting agency, therefore, by definition you have to be attractive. And words like needy, egotistical, talking about me all the time and how wonderful I am is not going to attract someone to you.

How do you make yourself attractive to landlords?

If you want to be attractive, if you look at the dictionary definition of the word attractive, Words like interesting, educational and intriguing are words that come under that title. Yet you look at 99% of letting and estate agents' marketing and all they do is talk about themselves, or they're being needy by saying, "Give us your business, any business," like Oliver holding out a plate. It's awful. It might have worked 20 years ago but it doesn't work now. If you want people to be attracted to you, you have to be attractive. Again, Oli, do you own your own house?


I bet you a pound to a penny if there's a brand-new for-sale board on your street tonight that wasn't there this morning, you're going on Rightmove to see what it's on the market for. To have a nosy at what is inside, but to see what it's on the market for. So, can we agree that every homeowner, and a landlord is just a homeowner that doesn't live in their house, is interested in the value of their own home?

Secondly, isn't it amazing that Rightmove is considered an absolute blinding success yet only sells 170,000 units a month? 70,000 houses and 100,000 rental properties. Yet 165 million people every single month go to Rightmove. Now, if 165 million people went to Amazon and only 170,000 widgets were bought, that would be considered a failure. But the reason Rightmove is considered a success is that it isn't a portal, it's an entertainment channel. It's the reason my wife has been onto Rightmove twice a week for the last five years. Every single landlord is going onto Rightmove to see what's coming on the market. Even if they have no intention of buying, they're looking because they're looking for a deal because that's the fun part. So, can we agree that most landlords or even most homeowners are going onto Rightmove on a regular basis to see what's coming on the market because it's fun? Do you agree with that statement?

Yeah, one-hundred percent. One, it allows you to take some time up, especially at the moment. But two, they think they're being informed by that as well.

I'll make the following statement with what you've just agreed with, but number one; every landlord and every homeowner's interested in the value of their own property, and number two; whether they're buying or not, they're constantly looking on Rightmove at the next buy-to-let deal, or if they're a homeowner the next future purchase, which will probably be an aspirational jump up the ladder. So, what I'm saying is, as most letting agents and estate agents go hunting for clients like the proverbial caveman going hunting for wildebeest. So why don't we actually create a lush green field outside the front of our cave, and when the wildebeest walk past they say, "Well, we're not going anywhere else. We'll just stop in that field for the rest of our lives because there's water and beautiful grass." That's what you're trying to do - create a lush green field next to your agency that attracts landlords to you.

I'm all over social media, but you'll never, ever see me talk about the services I sell to estate or letting agents. That's because I talk about stuff that is interesting to agents. I don't try to sell stuff. All agents need to do is copy what I do, talk about the property market , and talk about what's happening. I call this the landlord farming system. At the moment, most agents are shouting from across the river, "Come and use us, come and use us. We're brilliant." Just like all the banks are trying to say to you. "Come and swap bank accounts, come and swap bank accounts." No one loves their bank, but no one ever swaps banks, do they? Just like no one loves their letting agent, but no one ever swaps letting agents. Why? Because the risk is not worth the reward. People perceive that most letting agents are the same, just like most banks are the same.

So, if you want people to be attracted to you, when you're banging about what you do and your awards and what you've let and how brilliant you are, and the fact you've been open since 2BC and you're the biggest agent, and look at your market share, it's brilliant, that's not interesting to homeowners or landlords. But what is interesting to homeowners and landlords is what's happening in the local property market, the next buy-to-let deals.

The magic thing is we know what to talk about. Fundamentally, we've got four stepping stones right next to their riverbank. We have newspapers, we have newsletters, we have Rightmove and we have social media. That's where the eyeballs are. And then those stepping stones on how to grab people's attention will either drive people to a blog or they'll drive people directly to you as the agent.

What should agents be talking about in their newsletters, social media or their blogs?

Well, the first thing you're going to talk about is the local property market in local newspapers. So, you're going to say, "Well, newspapers cost a lot of money." You don't have to advertise in them, because remember newspapers are both editorial and also advertising. So, why don't you start writing articles about the local property market. "Landlords' mortgages top £1.8 billion in city." This is catnip to landlords.

Now, you're going to say. I have 20 templates for 20 articles that you can write where it actually tells you what the article is and where to go and get the stats from. Yes, there are other people out there that will do more complicated, more detailed article writing for you in a greater depth, ghost writers, and there's two or three of them out there that could do that for you.

Write these sort of articles and give them to the editor and they'll start publishing them because they've got rid of all their journalists and they're crying out. If you read this article, there's no mention of the agent or what they do or the fact that they should ring. It's just this guy from the agency, by drip drip drip drip drip, you get inside people's head like the Trojan's Horse and people start reading it.

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It's not as if news about property isn't front and centre of the main news anyway. I mean, you've only got to look at the changes in stamp duty for example, or details around eviction processes for letting agents. These things are out there to be plucked on, aren't they, and then used accordingly, right?

I guarantee you, on the 20th, 21st, 23rd of every month, the front page of the Daily Mail will be about house prices. The property market is the second-most interesting topic in the world to the British after the weather, yet all we do is talk about ourselves. I find it amazing.

I know an agent in Doncaster who produces a newsletter using the same articles and he sends that to his landlords. He's got landlords who are on his database he knows are landlords with other agents. Then, at the end of the nine months he sends them a letter saying, "Do you still want the newsletter?" And now every single one of the landlords is ringing him up. Landlords that he's never spoken to, that if he rang up straightaway they'd tell him to bugger off because he's trying to sell them something. But because he's been giving this for nine months, "Oh yeah, I still want to receive it."

Then you start building a relationship, then you might want to meet for a coffee after Covid-19, and then you build a relationship and then eventually you get the property. Because he's been sending this every single month for nine months without trying to sell him anything. He's been trying to give him something.

The more you do of this stuff, the better you get at it naturally, right? You get a feel for what really lands, what really piques your landlords' interest.

Yes - house prices, rents, yields. Those are the things. Next and final is social media. Take Lincoln -  60% to 70% of Lincoln landlords live in Lincoln and the surrounding villages, because people buy what they know. The only place where that doesn't work is in city centres like Sheffield, Leeds, and I mean city centres, and Central London. But outside, you go out to Zone 2, Zone 3, most landlords live locally. So, what you do is join the local Facebook groups, because the only people that are going to join Lincoln Facebook groups are from Lincoln. And then you know the articles that you put into the newspaper and into newsletters? You just put it into local Facebook groups.

Now, a huge one is your email database. What I would certainly be doing is going to your email database, bringing every single person out of your database, and I mean every single person. Including tenants. And then send them an email. And the subject line needs to be not, "Walter's Estate Agent News," if Walter's were the name of the estate agent. The subject line needs to be the subject line of your article. You'd change the word city to the word Leicester if you were in Leicester, and Lincoln you would change it to Lincoln. Because you could say, "Lincoln Landlords' Mortgages Top £1.8 billion." That's catnip to landlords, they're on it. What you can then do is bring them to your blog.

How do agents make their content stand out? Because of course if every agent in Leicester did that, then it's going to look extremely similar.

I can count on that hand the number of agents that are going to do anything with this information. Guarantee it. Because you're either scared that you don't want to do it, or it's different, or it's not Letting Agent 101. Hey, if you just want to talk about how big your market share is and how wonderful you are and how awesome your agency is, you carry on. You will go the way of Woolies, you will go the way of the Dodo. Slowly. A death by a thousand cuts. If you want people to be attracted to your letting agency, you need to talk about the stuff that they're interested in, which we agreed was talking about the local property market and then talking about the local buy-to-let deals. How else can you talk about the local property market? You could do it in video. You do a local property market report and you do one every single month. And people go wild for this.

I've seen a couple of people on LinkedIn and other social media applying this as well. And it is super-impressive because not only is it interesting if you're in that mindset, but also it's a great way to get their message across. From a branding perspective, is this about them individually or is this about the brand of the agency itself, or a blend of the two?

It's both. We agreed that the two things that turn on landlords and homeowners is the value of their own property and the next one they want to talk about. This is the real deal. If there is one thing that you are going to do, I want you to do this. Buy-to-let deals. If you were a letting agent in Lincoln, every single week I would want you to do the buy-to-let deal of the week in Lincoln, but with one proviso: it has to be on the market with a competitor.

That's an interesting play for a lot of agents because on the face of it that's promoting somebody else's business. What's the theory behind that?

If you just stood outside your own properties, you're doing it to try and get something. You're being selfish, which is not an attractive trait. But if you give that expectation of return then people will become attracted to you. This is what Richard from Northampton did. He basically said, "This house has just come on the market with Connells. It's on the market for this. I think it's the best buy-to-let deal because of this. If you want to go and buy it, buy it." He attracted landlords to him and he said to the landlords, "If ever I see a buy-to-let deal, I'll give you a call." The problem was, is that he'd got so many landlords attracted to him that he was spending too much time ringing up the landlords, telling them the buy-to-let deals.

If you're the owner of that property, I mean, the sentiment that your brand and you as an individual are building with that person, albeit they've been with a competitor, actually probably goes a long, long way. So, if that property does stick or they get unhappy with the service, where are they going to turn?

Yes, you will attract landlords through them asking you, "Do I buy this property or do I buy this property?" And the only person that's going to ask you, "Should I buy this one or this one?" is the buy-to-let landlord. That is the farming system, Ollie. You talk about the property market and you talk about the best buy-to-let deals. Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. You'll get nothing for six months, but I guarantee you, in 12 to 18 months' time you will. The question is are you going to start?

I've been banging on about it for years. If you don't do it and that agent down the road does, what are you going to say to yourself when you just look back at yourself on this video, saying, "Do you know, I wish I'd listened to Chris Watkin."

We have a question from one agent who says: I've just launched my Instagram account. I am a property management company. What should be my first post?" So, people are listening to your advice. And I think in terms of where they start, is that an introduction to them personally so people get a feel to who they are? Is it what they're about? How do they kick that off?

Well, the first thing is this, most landlords are 50 to 70-year-olds aren't they? And probably more male than female? Do 50 to 70-year-olds, males, have Instagram accounts? Eighty percent of your social media efforts should be on Facebook, 15% on LinkedIn, and the rest is just play stuff. I say this with love and respect, but no one cares about you and the fact you've opened up a letting agency. I don't know what town you're in but the bottom line is this, is that there's probably 20, 30, 40, 100 letting agents in your town. The landlords aren't going to put the flags out for the fact that there's another letting agent opened up in town. Just stop talking about yourself and start talking about the stuff that landlords are interested in.

This is a question a lot of agents would have on the back of what you've just shown us: "Would you not want to spend your energy getting the instruction as opposed to promoting somebody else's instruction?" I suppose, Chris, is the point there that actually you're doing both? This is about awareness and information and actually subconscious buying signals, more than trying to hammer home, "I have this property," or, "You have a property that I want." Is that right?

The bottom line is this - most landlords don't want to be sold to anyway and they're going to be looking on Rightmove. So, really, you should be marketing your own properties anyway and you should be standing outside your own properties and doing videos on them anyway. What I'm suggesting is this, that people know when they're being sold to, so as well as trying to sell your own, why don't you go out there and try and give ... do both.

We've had a couple of questions around mass sending of emails. Yes, there are GDPR implications on that so do make sure that you have the relevant permissions in order to contact them.

If you have a legitimate interest and if you're giving them stuff that's interesting as opposed to selling, then they're going to lap it up. They'll actually start complaining that you haven't sent the email. I mean that.

In terms of how this plays out, you talk about this being a long game. And I appreciate this is specifically around buy-to-let and the property market. Are there any other areas of the market you think are instant winners for letting agents to be talking about with their landlords and further afield?

There are no instant wins to get landlords. The only method you could probably do is basically go ringing up Gumtree landlords, if you're really that desperate. You know damn well there are no quick wins to win relationships. People do business with people they trust. You can't buy trust, you have to earn it. The problem is that agents seem to think long-term is three months. You have to build up. They have to get to know you, like you, and trust you, and the longer that you do that and earn trust the more likely you'll get the business. "Yes, but I want the business now." That's a bit like me saying at 18 years old, "I want a wife now and kids." You have to earn it. I think what you've just gotta say is, "Right, we're not going to get any new landlords now with this strategy for the next two years. But what we're going to do is plant seeds and we're going to grow a forest."

And this is something that I think you get more comfortable with over time. I was speaking to a few of our customers over the past year or two who have embraced video, for example. I know it's daunting but the more you do it, the more relaxed you get. There's no wrong way, I suppose, to a certain degree. So please, please do have confidence in yourselves.

Now, the thing about fear is this. We were all fearful the first time we were intimate with someone, but our hormones kicked in. The magic thing is this. The problem is that we put the feedback and the positivity and the likes and comments on social media on such a pedestal that we're fearful of what other people will think about us when we say a derogatory comment. I tell you here and now, no one's waiting for you to put your first video out, you just have to put it out there the worst thing that can happen is that no one watches it. You just have to put the video out. And I tell you here and now, I chuck so much content out, I hardly get any negative comments because I'm coming from a place that my intent is to give, not to get. If you're trying to highlight great buy-to-let deals with competitors and talking about the property market, what derogatory comments are you going to have? Yes, you look fat. Yes, you sound funny. Can I let you into a little secret? I don't watch back my videos.

I think we're in a world now where the easiest thing to do is sit on a pedestal and say, "Hey, well that's crap," or, "That's useless." Actually, I think there's a lot of respect for people who get out there and are trying these new things and the market itself demands that. Now, further questions coming in, Chris, around podcasts. What's your view on podcasts? Are they something that can help agents?

Do it. But go with the act of giving, not trying to sell on people. Honestly mate, just rock and roll. It's so easy.

You talk about working on these for say six months, then you're finding the returns on these. Of course, agents are eager to know, how do you measure what you're doing in the meantime? Is this really about having a bit of faith actually and just knowing that you're getting a message out there that's positive, that isn't centred on what you're doing, and over time this will turn? Or is there a metric to measure success in the earlier days?

I have people that ring me up and say, "I've been following your videos for four years. I'd now like to do business with you, Chris." Would it be weird if they rang me up two years ago saying, "Keep going, Chris, you're working on me." That would be weird, wouldn't it? The magic thing is you have to believe in the process and there are no metrics. There is no metric on how to build trust. I spend £1,500 a month, and have done for the last four years, on my video editing, yet my wife was still complaining two and a half years ago, "Why are you spending that money?" And that was my wife and she's sharing the business. You just have to believe in the process and love the process.

I get the point as well that's been raised in the chat, around waiting two years to generate business is a luxury. But this is complimentary I think to everything else that you're doing. This isn't a fail safe that's going to support your business immediately and, "Oh, here we go. I've got 180, 200, 400 plus properties." This is complimenting a different maybe mindset to how you approach engagement with landlords and the wider market, right?

We call it farming. What you almost have to do for two or three years is both be a hunter and a farmer. Now, if you do that, that means that in two years' time you can slowly reduce being a hunter and just be a farmer all the time. And farmers are a lot more wealthy than poachers. The problem with hunting is you're just going to be a hunter for the rest of your life, and that's not a nice place to be.

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