CAI Insider August 2020
BY KATIE ANDERSON, CMCA, AMS, PCAM
In a tight economy where every incoming dollar matters, a community association’s reputation perhaps is more important than ever. “Being a referral-based business, where you’re selling your experience and your knowledge, I think reputation is the most important thing,” says Katie Anderson, CEO of Aperion Management Group, LLC, which manages around 65 associations in Central Oregon. After all, no one wants to recommend a business with a bad reputation.
So how you can build and maintain your reputation? Here are some tips from the trenches.
1. Mind Your Online Presence
Long-time managers know that the Internet changed everything when it came to reputation management. With unhappy board members or owners able to easily launch online rocket fire that could potentially reach mass audiences, the Internet plays an outsized role in your reputation.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Anderson says, “because, if you have an online presence, you have to devote some resources to manage that presence.” And, with the proliferation of review sites, almost every business has an online presence, regardless of whether they want it. “If you’re not paying attention to it,” Anderson says, “someone else is going to determine what your story is. You’re better off being in control of that yourself.”
Anderson is a big believer in specifically dedicating resources to branding and marketing your management company. “It takes energy to make sure the right information is getting out there. It’s more than just asking your happy customers to write positive reviews.”
Aperion has a strategy for handling both positive and negative reviews. “We always respond, positive or negative, unless it’s just a star rating without any content,” she says.
“We’re human, and we’re going to screw up; it’s a matter of how we respond. We’ve gotten feedback from associations we were bidding on that saw how we responded to complaints and liked it.”
Individual managers should think about how their Internet image can affect their career prospects, too. “As an employer, there’s access to a lot of information about an individual online,” Anderson says. “Before, the resume was the only thing an employer had to go from.
“You have to be aware of, for example, how you’re portraying yourself on your LinkedIn page. What are you putting out there that people have access to?” Consider, too, whether potential employers and clients can see embarrassing photos or posts on your social media accounts.
2. Remember that Appearance Counts
“Perception is reality,” says Judy Rosen, CMCA, AMS, PCAM, a newly retired Scottsdale-based community association consultant with 40 years’ experience working in management companies. The maxim applies to your social media accounts and beyond — the way people perceive you, accurate or not, largely determines your reputation.
So, for example, when providing a board with suggestions on vendors, you should avoid actions that might make the board wonder if you’re receiving a kickback. “You shouldn’t recommend only one contractor,” Rosen says. “I would say you should list a minimum of five options.”
Managers should watch their behavior when they’re not directly servicing clients, too. “When they’re at networking events, are they behaving in a way that would make board members see them as a professional?” Anderson says. “We want our managers are recognized as leaders, and behavior affects that.” Back in her managing days, Rosen paid particular attention to alcohol consumption at functions. “One drink max,” she says,” even if the party is seven hours long.”
3. Avoid Manager Overload
Rosen says companies must consider how many communities a manager can be responsible for and still do a good job. Client dissatisfaction with managers who are stretched too thin to meet their needs isn’t good for a company’s reputation.
“It’s not uncommon for smaller companies to give their managers anywhere from eight to 12 properties,” Rosen says. “You can’t be effective if you have that many communities, even if they’re small.”
It certainly can be tempting to take on as many clients as possible, especially during an economic downturn. But Rosen cautions that word will get out if your managers complain they’re overworked. That could backfire on you in the long run.
4. Solicit Feedback
Don’t assume that a quiet client is a happy client. To the contrary, complaints often fester unknown to a management company until they boil over. Preempt such a prospect by asking your clients how you’re doing.
“We would do an annual survey of our clients,” Rosen says. “If something’s not working right, you need to know. And you have to be responsive when you learn about it.”
Rosen says surveys aren’t enough, though. “A senior-level representative from the company should show up at meetings, not every time but at least annually. You need to show your support of the manager and listen to what the client is saying.”
5. Boost Your Visibility in the Industry
This goes for both management firms and individual managers. “To build the reputation of a company or a manager, they have to expose themselves to the industry,” Rosen says.
“Be involved in programs, write articles, get your designations, give back to the industry by teaching or giving seminars. You have to have that exposure, in addition to providing good customer service.”
6. Educate Yourself Continuously
Of course, for high visibility to be a positive, you have to know what you’re talking about. You don’t want to be well known among your peers for being behind the times.
“Our industry is constantly evolving so you have to really continue learning,” Anderson says, “whether reading industry resources, attending continuing education, or taking advantage of vendor resources. The more managers educate themselves, the more they can carry themselves as professionals.”
That includes knowing what you don’t know. “We as managers are generalists, so you have to build your deck of specialists, whether it’s vendors, attorneys, or accountants,” Anderson says.
Katie Anderson, CMCA, AMS, PCAM