What’s Your Story? My wife and I started out in the internet information business and then moved into residential real estate.

Today, www.charlestonsfinest.com receives over 3500 visitors every day and points hundreds of visitors every day to our real estate sites.  When my wife Cara and I first came to
Charleston, her first job was as a Retail advertising sales person for the Post and Courier.  She was salesperson of the year her first, and only year with the company.  It didn’t take long before the good ol’ boy culture got to her, and she decided to move on.  Cara had a very unique approach to selling advertising.  She took the time to talk to her clients about their businesses, and the message that they wanted to send, and then develop with them advertising that would actually make the phone ring, can you imagine that?  So naturally, when her clients began actually making money from their advertising, they would want to do more.  If you’re not in the business, it sounds pretty obvious, but I can assure you, many inside the advertising business are quite perplexed when their small and medium size business clients actually expect their advertising to produce direct results.  Her employer was not used to paying the kind of commissions they were paying her, and before too long, she became discouraged, made her feelings known to management, and the rest is history as they say.
 

Cara was earning a pretty good income, and to say the least I was quite concerned when she wanted to leave her job and start her own business.  Initially, she wanted to start an advertising company, and she did some work for some small businesses in Summerville.  But she really wanted to do something much bigger.  She thought there was a need for an online guide for
Charleston and that she was the person to do it. 
I wasn’t so sure, but she was undeterred by my lukewarm support.  And off she went.  So in 1995
Charleston’s Finest Online Guide sprang to life. 
Since part of her background was in the hotel industry, she first approached some of the local hotels and inns, but the idea was a little before it’s time.  At this time, many businesses were just starting to design their own websites, and online commerce had just begun.  She started out designing a few websites around town and linking them to www.charlestonsfinest.com.  At first, she had someone else doing the code and design work, but eventually learned how to do it herself, so she could create and implement her ideas on the fly.  Early on, the two needs we addressed were web site design, and then online accomodations information.  Having been unsuccessfull at convincing hotel managers and owners to invest in the internet, they were more than happy to pay a commission if Cara could bring in the business.  So she designed basic sites for the different hotel and inn properties, with her contact information.  They would contact Cara by phone, email, or filling out an online form, and she would book the reservations into the hotels, and then be paid a commission.  Travelers from out of town were looking for information on the best places to stay to suit their requirements, and so Cara and her time provided for that need.  It wasn’t too long before she had her hands full with her own sites and the resulting activity, and so only designed web sites only from direct referrals. 
 

My story begins to intersect in 1999 when I went to work for George S. May International Company as a Staff Consultant.   As a full time management consultant, I left home on Sunday and stayed out in the field all week, returning on Friday, if at all.  It turned out, somewhat to my surprise, that I was able to help small business owners considerably by helping them identify and implement what usually turned out to be pretty obvious changes.  Sometimes, I’d be out for weeks at a time and after about a year had had enough.  It took me another year or so to plan my escape, so I could get off the road.  I tried a couple of things on my own, including trying to start my own independent consultancy, and finally, we came to the obvious conclusion that the best thing was for me to apply myself to improving the business Cara started.  The short of it is that in 2003, Cara and I decided that the best course was for us to work together.  In January 2004, I started working the reservations desk, and began optimizing our websites.  We would tour downtown
Charleston together, conducting site inspections on the different properties, so we could report based on first hand information.  Some of the properties we toured were quite beautiful.  Others were pretty run down.  In between phone calls, I’d study different sites on the web and learn how to increase our search engine rankings and positions.  We had two ends in mind at this time.  We wanted to increase our reservations business enough to allow us to hire a reservationist, and build our traffic to a point that we could sell advertising space and links on the site.  By June, we started calling on businesses to sell advertising, wedding and travel related mostly.  And about that same time hired a full time reservationist to help us with the call volume.  It was that summer that we began speaking to Bob Brennamen with The Group, LLC, a small real estate brokerage firm in

Mt.
Pleasant.  Bob had experienced some success in real estate through the internet, and helped us realize the obvious conclusion that we needed to get more directly involved in real estate.  As it turns out, over 80% of people looking for homes start their search on the internet.  We already had people contacting us for information, and found that there was a need to help people find their new neighborhood that didn’t know the area.  From our own experience buying and selling our own homes, we learned that their was also a need for more honest, thorough, and straightforward help for people trying to get their homes sold and find a new home.   

So, by March of 2005, I had my South Carolina real estate license and was able to respond to the many people contacting us about finding their home in
Charleston.  By the end of the year, we had completed 9 transactions and chose our current brokerage firm, Keller Williams Realty.  Our first full year, 2006, we completed 27 transactions, mostly with buyers, totaling over $5 million.   Out of about 5800 Realtors in
Charleston and rising, we were ranked at 279 our first full year putting us in the top 3%.  Cara earned her license in early 2006, just so we could keep more of the money in the family to help us grow.  Late 2006, early 2007, the real estate market in
Charleston took a pretty sharp downward turn, with more competition than ever.  But we’re still plugging along thanks to my brilliant, beautiful and industrious wife, Cara. 
 

In October, 2006, we purchased www.Move2Charleston.com from a couple that was leaving the state.  We still have our original real estate site, www.CharlestonNeighborhoods.com and just created www.CharlestonsFinestRealEstate.com.  Cara spends most of her time improving the directories, and shows a few houses from time to time.  She’s so excited, she wrote her first contract last weekend.  She gets a nice sum every month from Google, who advertises on our site as well as from online hotel reservations.  We closed the call center as consumer trends migrated toward online booking.  Cara attracts and manages some group hotel business, generated from www.CharlestonsFinest.com and www.CharlestonMeetings.com.  Because of her experience handling hotel and convention sales, her clients appreciate her knowledge and thoroughness.  We recently launched a blog on Living and Working in
Charleston, www.AllThingsCharleston.com and are working on an approach to help For Sale By Owner (FSBO) clients with our online presence, as well as those that would hire us to advertise their homes on our well trafficked websites. 
 

We hope you’ve enjoyed our little story.  I’m so glad Cara didn’t listen to me when I tried to tell her there were just too many things working against her, that she was undeterred.  There are literally thousands of businesses that benefit from traffic from www.charlestonsfinest.com As we watch our traffic increase, we hope it’s because people are finding the sites helpful in finding the information they’re looking for.  We continue to take many of the dollars that come in and re-invest it into new tools and interactive content.  Most recently, Cara added an interactive events calendar that is very popular.   

We hope that we can find a way that our little internet business can help you.  Maybe we can help you find your home, get your home sold, or get your business to the next level through effective internet marketing.  We’ll find out together where it takes us next.   

 

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One response to “What’s Your Story? My wife and I started out in the internet information business and then moved into residential real estate.

  1. Hi Guys
    Pretty interesting reading! I didn’t read it all, but overall I liked your way of thinking. We live in Brooks, on the south side of Atlanta, GA and have a cabinet business. The housing market here is pretty slow and I’m looking at potentially starting up another showroom to complement what we’re doing here. We really did like Charleston and would love to live at the coast. Do you have any idea whether our type of business stands a chance in Charleston at this point in time. Our website would give you some idea of what we do. It would be great to hear from you.
    Kind regards – Andre

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