Resolution #4 - become more organizedIf you asked me to stop using Dropbox, I’d probably laugh at you. Seriously, it’s been an amazing tool to keep me organized in my day-to-day operations. In this post, I’ll share six ways I’m using Dropbox to enhance my business and keep moving forward in the context of an increasingly digital world. If you’re not already using Dropbox and would like to create a free account, click HERE to get started.

A LITTLE BIT ABOUT DROPBOX:
To begin, let’s talk about what Dropbox is and how it works. First and foremost, it’s a free (up to a certain storage capacity), cloud-based service that enables its users to store, synchronize and share files from computers, smartphones and/or tablets.

Since Dropbox doesn’t actually run the user’s files, its can store essentially any kind of file—PDFs, photos, videos, Word documents, Adobe Photoshop files—basically anything. Simply put, Dropbox is a silo.

To create an account, simply visit Dropbox and sign-up as instructed. Once signed-up, download and install the Dropbox application on your Mac or PC. The best way to describe this application is as a substitution for the “My Documents” folder on your PC or the “Documents” folder on your Mac. Essentially, it’s a central folder in which other folders, files and contents are stored. Once an item is placed inside the Dropbox folder, it’s replicated and stored privately at Dropbox.com. Then, any other connected devices are automatically matched-up. Dropbox also has a free mobile app available for download on Android, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry or KindleFire at each respective app store.

THE ORIGINS OF DROPBOX:
In 2007, a couple of college students became frustrated with having to email iterations of a file back-and-forth in order to work from different computers while completing an assignment. In those days, USB drives were the best option, but these students saw a better solution—Dropbox. Its functionality is incredibly practical and convenient.

SOME PROBLEMS IN REAL ESTATE:
Real estate transactions involve a lot of paperwork—a real shocker, I know. All the counter offers, amendments and addenda can really strain an agent’s ability to maintain a reasonable level of organization. And it’s not just contracts! It’s CMA’s, tax records, MLS reports, listing photos and all sorts of other related files looking for a place to stored. Far too many breathtaking desktop wallpapers are masked behind an immoderate layer of random icons. It’s time to get organized, digitized and synchronized with Dropbox.

EVERY AGENT SHOULD USE DROPBOX:
Here are three quick reasons why I think Dropbox is a must-use application for real estate professionals:

  1. File Synchronization: If I insert, remove or revise a file inside of my Dropbox—regardless if performed on my computer, smartphone or tablet—Dropbox automatically syncs the changes to all my other devices. For instance, if I launch an Excel Spreadsheet on my PC and save changes, then Dropbox updates the file on any other connected device.
  2. File Sharing: Dropbox makes file-sharing super easy. First, I can choose to share a single file by simply right-clicking it and sharing a link for a one-time download or I can share an entire folder. If I share the entire folder, I right-click the folder and select “Share This Folder.” This command launches Dropbox.com and just like sending an email, I invite members via email to subscribe the the folder and all its contents. Don’t miss item #5 below as I’ll share some warnings and details about this feature.
  3. Platform Impartiality: Whether running Windows, a Mac, or a mobile device (iPhone, Android, Blackberry, KindleFire or iPad), Dropbox works! In fact, I could use a PC at the office, a Mac at home or any combination of these devices and Dropbox won’t so much as skip a beat.

HOW I USE DROPBOX TO RUN MY REAL ESTATE BUSINESS:
A relatively new (or at least more recognized) concept has emerged in the marketing world referred to as a “digital customer experience.” A digital customer experience is described as the aggregate experiences of a given customer with a product or service over the course of a business to consumer relationship in the context of virtual, or web-based interactions.

Today, clients interact with real estate agents and brokers via multiple digital channels—social media, websites, MLS’s, e-signature interfaces, etc. As society increasingly adopts more and more digital processes, it’s logical to figure consumers will place higher expectations on the experiences provided by those digital processes. So, with that in mind, I use Dropbox to provide the experience of transaction efficiency. Here’s how:

1.) DROPBOX IS A PRIMARY FOLDER:
As I mentioned earlier on, I think of Dropbox as a replacement for the “My Documents” folder on a Windows machine or the “Documents” folder on a Mac. Perhaps you’d prefer to think of it as the substitution for your Desktop on which you place innumerable files and folders—if that’s how you roll.

Essentially, it’s a primary folder within which I place other folders, files and contents. On the screenshot below, notice how Dropbox is listed on the left-hand sidebar of my Finder window (I’m using a Mac) to illustrate it’s prime position. In the image below you can see that I’ve selected Dropbox from my Favorites menu and it has two interior folders, “Existing” and “CLIENT NAME (S, B or R).”

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2.) CREATE A LOGICAL FILE-NAMING SYSTEM:
As an agent, I serve multiple clients and for the most part, it’s a “rinse-and-repeat” format in terms of the steps one encounters when buying, selling or leasing a property. Obviously every deal is unique in its own way—we work with all sorts of people for goodness sake—but the paperwork, the marketing, the steps and processes all follow a familiar pattern. Right there, that’s the digital experience I’m looking to influence. I’m not suggesting one create a dull, humdrum, impassive process, but instead, create a reliable, efficient and accessible process. I believe the little details, when added up, make a tremendous difference—I think consistency matters!

I’ve named the first root folder, “CLIENT NAME (S, B or R).” So if I were the client and was listing a property for sale, the agent might label my folder, “JASON PANTANA (S).” I go with the client’s name because I think of my role as providing a human service, not just moving property and want that to be reflected in every detail. The parenthetical following the client’s name, “S,” “B” or “R,” stands for “Seller,” “Buyer” or “Renter” respectively. Inside each client’s folder are three additional folders, “CONTRACTS,” “DOCS” and “MISC.” Inside “DOCS,” you may keep tax records, prior MLS listing reports, CMA’s, etc. I’ll explore “CONTRACTS” and “MISC” in the next few steps. A quick tip: create a template of this hierarchy so you can simply copy, paste and rename the root folder for each new client relationship.

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3.) CREATE FOLDERS FOR EACH STAGE OF THE CLIENT RELATIONSHIP:
In the screenshot below I’ve created a numeric folder for each step of a hypothetical seller client, “01 Listing,” “02 Pending” and “03 Closed.” I might replace “01 Listing” with “01 Representation” if the client were purchasing property instead of selling it. I numbered the stages according to chronological order so that my Finder Window (or your Explorer Window if on a PC) always displays sequentially.

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4.) EVERY FORM OR CONTRACT SHOULD BE SEPARATED FOR EASY SHARING:
All right, so once I select the “01 Listing” folder, I see another folder called “Individuals” and a single file labeled “LISTING_CLIENT.pdf.” First, the single PDF, “LISTING_CLIENT,” is a comprehensive PDF of every contractual document belonging to the client up and through this phase of the process. It contains forms such as our Listing Agreement, Property Condition Disclosure, Disclaimers and several others. As to which forms belong here, simply follow your compliance regulations.

Once viewing the contents within the “Individuals” folder, you’ll see I have a specific syntax as to how I name every single PDF. For instance, the first one is titled “F01-Agency-CLIENT.” In Tennessee, we use a series of numbered forms created and updated by the Tennessee Association of REALTORS® (TAR) which ranges from F01 through F98 (“F” stands for “Form”). Since the PDFs in my “Individuals” folder may be shared or emailed at any point in time, I don’t allow any spaces or unusual characters in the file name in an effort to prevent compatibility or readability issues. So, I connect text with hyphens and underscores.

I always conclude the name of these individual files with my client’s last name in order to tell them apart. That way, if I ever ran a generic search on my Mac, I’d know where each form belonged. You may consider adding “-L,” “-P” or “-C” behind the client’s name in case you have different versions of the same form throughout your due diligence folders, “01 Listing,” “02 Pending” or “03 Closed.” The middle text is a short tag to indicate what type of form I’m dealing with, such as the “F01-Agency-CLIENT” is the Confirmation of Agency Status for whomever is the client. I follow the same pattern in the Pending folder and in the Closed folder.

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5.) COLLABORATING WITH CLIENTS ON LISTING PHOTOS:
The free version of Dropbox starts a new user with only 2 gigabytes (2GB) of space. However, it’s possible to earn additional free space by performing various tasks for Dropbox like referring friends, tweeting about them or connecting your Facebook account. More on that HERE. Given this limitation, it’s important to only keep essential contents in your Dropbox. Photos, movies and other multimedia files tend to take up a lot of space, so exercise some restraint in terms of what you store in Dropbox.

I always hire professional photographers to shoot my listings. My philosophy is that beautiful pictures earn more showings and it has proven to be a worthwhile expenditure.  My photographer even formats the photos at the perfect resolution for our MLS as well as for syndication to other third-party data aggregators (e.g. Realtor.com, Zillow, Trulia, IDX, etc.). Once given the photos, I place them inside Dropbox within a particular client’s folder. RealTracs, the MLS for Middle Tennessee, allows up to 20 images whereas many of the aforementioned third-party data aggregators restrict photos to far less.

So as I was saying, I place all the images from my photographer into their respective Dropbox folder (usually in the “Misc” folder I referenced earlier) and then share the folder with my client, as seen below. Simply right-click the folder and select the option, “Share This Folder.” Dropbox.com will launch and you’ll be asked to invite your client to join the folder via his or her email address. The sharing screen on Dropbox.com is fashioned much like a traditional email interface, so it should be fairly intuitive for you to invite someone (or multiple people if commas are placed between email addresses).

Recognize that once invited, your client must create a Dropbox account in order to remain subscribed to the shared folder, that is, in order to perform the collaborative tasks as I’ll describe momentarily. Without a Dropbox account, your client will only be allowed to download the contents of the folder and will not be subscribed. It’s also important to note that invitees, unless prevented by unchecking the box on said invitation screen, may be allowed to invite others. So, simply uncheck the box that says, “allow members to invite others,” to restrict the client from inviting other members—but be aware—all one needs to do is copy and paste the folders’ contents and share a new folder to evade this restriction.

Once a member, your client can rename, delete and/or add to the shared folder. I use this feature to determine the top 20 photos. Since I’m asking the client to delete the ones they don’t like, I would have stored another copy of all the photos somewhere else for backup.

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6.) RENAMING AND RE-ORDERING LISTING PHOTOS FOR MAXIMUM EFFICIENCY:
Once we’ve chiseled our way down to the top 20 photos, I rename them as seen in the screenshot below (right-click and select “rename”). I have two basic intentions here. First, to put our best foot forward, meaning, my first six photos are the best shots since third-party MLS syndicators typically only grab the first bunch. Then, I focus on capturing the flow of the home so as to give the viewer some context and hopefully increase their desire to setup a showing.

It’s easier to know what images I’m uploading in bulk to the MLS and provide the corresponding photo captions if I’ve labeled and ordered the images in Dropbox accordingly. As seen in the screenshot, I place them in numeric order, then a brief description of what the photo is looking at, and finally, the client’s last name. Once again, no spaces or unusual characters to maximize compatibility if I email or share any these of files. I use hyphens and underscores to connect the text.

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So there you have it, six techniques to improve your efficiency when working with Dropbox. If this sounds like a good idea, then have fun.

(Disclaimer: I’m not paid by Dropbox and in no way does this serve as a product endorsement. I’ve been happy with Dropbox’s services, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be happy. This is my personal testimony, not a recommendation. Thanks!)

(Primary photo by Victoria Pickering via Compfight)


Jason Pantana, Realtor, Speaker, NashvilleJason guides real estate professionals through current and emerging trends in consumer behavior, sales and marketing, and entrepreneurship. To invite Jason to speak or to schedule a consultation, visit: www.JasonPantana.com/Contact