[caption id="attachment_5845" align="alignleft" width="220" caption="Branding for Mortgage Pros"][/caption] Back in the 1990s I spent a few years in the insurance/securities business. It was a decent gig back then; a lot of regulatory oversight, but not so much that I felt like I had an SEC investigator camped out in my lobby. Over the course of time, that changed, and it got to be not so much fun anymore. Because of regulatory creep, I had to stop publishing my newsletter; a little two-pager that I wrote myself, and that was not really all that much about insurance or securities … I got out. At the time, I thought it was because I just don’t tolerate government pinheads (or any other kind, I confess) very well. Now I wonder if I didn’t realize something that has come to be obvious – at times, painfully – about the modern small business: I am my brand. If I can’t distinguish myself, what business can I do? This issue is about branch officing, the good and the bad, and different kinds of compensation models (as if the Feds have left us any wiggle room there). There has been a huge amount of consolidation in the past while in the industry, with the smaller players being squeezed out and the behemoths acquiring everything in sight. When I started in the industry a decade back, I worked for a few different small, one-office brokerages. In 2007 (have I said that sometimes my timing is little off?) I opened and ran my own shop for a while, as a one-man show. While that is not impossible, it was difficult and ultimately I decided that to offer my clients what they really needed, I should ally myself with a larger, more powerful company with better resources than I could get on my own. Now I run a branch of City First Mortgage Services, a medium-sized correspondent lender, and I am happy with the way that has worked out. Your results may vary. I learned something during those few years, though, and especially during that one year as a solo act; that has served me well since. I think that might be of value to anyone who is thinking of joining up with a large entity as a branch, net branch, or satellite office. I said it above, and let me repeat it: you are your brand. The lender is not your brand. The brokerage is not your brand. Although there are two names on your business card, only one of them is your brand, and that is yours. This is not to cast aspersions on the character of the netbranchers, or the large lenders, or even the small brokerages. They provide wonderful tools for us to use as loan officers, and use them we should. I am a loyal guy, myself; I don’t flirt with other girls when I’m married. But I also don’t think that any of my clients care a moldy banana peel for what company I work. If you follow this column, you are aware I’m happy to take a position completely absent any evidence to support it. In this case, bowing to Niche Report’s reputation for reportorial excellence, I decided to go get some and see if I was right. So I called a few dozen of the clients I’ve worked with over the past year that did business with me for the first time, but who had worked with other lenders previously. After some basic chitchat, I asked them to name the lender they worked with before me. There was one response, albeit in several variations: “are you kidding me? I have no idea.” Then I asked them if they knew the name of the loan officer they worked with. Here I got much better response, with almost half of them being able to tell me at least the first name of the guy they did business with the last time. Then I asked them the real kicker: could they name the company I worked for? Remember, these are all people that did business with me in the last year or so. Um. No. Not really. Some of them could, five or six out of thirty. Another ten could tell me the name of my branch (although it’s kind of cheating, since it has my name in it), and the rest were totally blank. I thought this instructive, but not at all surprising. However, I realized that since this group switched from their other lender to me, that they are a self-selected group of people that weren’t impressed by their former loan officer, and that this likely made the sample worse than it might be otherwise. So for fun, I repeated this process with people that are NOT my clients. Same essential results. Out of twenty people, two could name their lender; seven could name their loan officer. Unless they had been to a bank to get their loan (six of them), there was not anyone that could name their lender but not their loan officer. That tracked exactly with my research on my own clients. The message here is clear: at least in mortgage finance, where people are loyal, they are loyal to other people first, and the company second, if at all. Your clients are loyal to you, not necessarily (and probably not at all) to your company. The good news is that if you are considering a company switch, you can probably stop worrying about whether it will hurt your production. The bad news is that if you think your company is the reason your production stinks, you are probably wrong. Now, obviously, if your underwriting takes two months, or fundings do not happen on time, or you do not have access to FHA or USDA or other critical products, then yes, of course, those things may eat into your production. But there are people out there that are successful all the same. If you aren’t one of them, you should look to the source of your troubles: you. As my wife is fond of saying, the common denominator in all your failed relationships is you. Moving your current attitude and work ethic and production level from one place to another is not very likely to result in a massive spike in business, no matter what you’re being told. All of this is to say this one more time: you are your brand. People interact with you. They remember you (or not!). They will stay and do business again with you. They will refer people to you. The hardest work in this and in any sales-oriented business is not to find the right company, or the right niche, or the right alignment of the planets, but to find the right you and put yourself out there where people can find you and learn to love you. Otherwise, blame the government or the market or your lender or the cussed universe all you want; it won’t make things better. Only you can do that. [caption id="attachment_5068" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Chris Jones"][/caption] Chris Jones, branch manager with City First Mortgage Services, is a nine-year industry professional in brokering and banking, with a background in financial services, national politics and Main Street entrepreneurialism. He is the author of the forthcoming book The Six Channels of Marketing, available in January. Chris lives in Lehi, Utah, with his wife, Jeanette, and their eight children, and can be found at www.lehimortgages.com, [email protected] or (801) 850-3781.