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Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast Digital Marketing Podcast Hosted by Greg Bray and Kevin Weitzel

213 Learning From Other Home Builder Experts - Jim Work

This week on The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast, Jim Work of Silverthorne Homebuilders joins Greg and Kevin to discuss how learning from other home builders’ knowledge and experience can improve business.

Taking advantage of the vast expertise in the home building industry can help home builders accelerate the efficiency and growth of their businesses. Jim explains, “So, you can get there on your own, you're going to get there eventually, it's going to take a little bit longer, or you can pay somebody to help you…And even if that person isn't somebody you're paying, maybe if it's a mentor or an older person that's been through it, somebody that can help you get out of your own way and ask you those questions and go, Hey, why are you doing that yourself?”

It’s important to be willing to reach out to and learn from other home builders. Jim says, “…for any guys or girls that are out there building 10 homes, 15 homes, and they want to try to grow, I mean, find some smart people, some consultants, maybe a business coach and just be open to learn.”

There is no shortage of experts in the home building industry who are ready and willing to help others learn and progress. Jim says, “So, I would just encourage those people in that part of their career to just keep learning and soak it up. There's so many great people in this industry that you can learn so many things from. And you could just call up a lot of these people, and even though they might have a business charging you for that, they'll talk to you for two hours and give you some free advice. That's the cool part about this industry, in my opinion.”

Listen to this week’s episode to learn more about the benefits of learning from others in the home building industry.

About the Guest:

As Founder of Silverthorne Homebuilders, Jim Work has helped create from scratch a talented team of 34 people who have risen to be the largest private builder in the Chicago housing market.

Jim learned AutoCAD at 14 years old and worked during high school and college for a civil engineering firm and finally a builder. He worked full-time during college, attending Northern Illinois University for Accounting taking classes afternoons and evenings, summers, and online as needed to accommodate a schedule in the start of the homebuilding business. Jim began college in the Engineering program but found that he enjoyed the construction business and shifted his focus to an Accounting education that has served him well as President of Silverthorne.  Jim worked for small builders before the 2008 recession and found himself unemployed in 2009 when he founded Silverthorne Homebuilders in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Jim has grown Silverthorne from just 2 homes closed in 2009 to just shy of 100 closings (92) in 2022. Silverthorne is on track to close about 110 homes this year and was recognized by Crains Chicago Business Journal in mid-2022 as the largest private homebuilder by closings in Chicagoland. Tracy Cross and Zonda have ranked Jim’s company in the top 3 private homebuilders in Chicago in the last 3 years. Many public and private companies have left the Chicago market but Jim has led his team to find solutions and niches within the market to continue to grow the business. In 2015, Jim expanded operations to Eastern Iowa and in 2023 expanded further into Iowa to the Iowa City/Coralville market.

Jim is married to Michelle with 2 young boys, Jake (9) and Cash (6). In Jim’s not so spare time he likes to fish & boat with his family, fly airplanes, and collect classic cars.


Greg Bray: [00:00:00] Hello everybody and welcome to today's episode of The HomeBuilder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine.

Kevin Weitzel: And I'm Kevin Weitzel with OutHouse.

Greg Bray: And we are excited today to have joining us Jim Work. Jim is the founder and president at Silverthorne Homebuilders. Welcome, Jim. Thanks for being with us today.

Jim Work: Hey guys, good to be on the show.

Greg Bray: Why don't you start off by giving us a quick introduction and help us get to know you a little bit better?

Jim Work: Yeah, I'm the, as you said, the founder and president of Silverthorne Homebuilders. We are a private production home builder in the Midwest. We [00:01:00] primarily serve the Western suburbs of Chicago. We are continuing to expand around Chicago land and also Eastern Iowa. So, we have a team of about 40 people and we build about 100, 120 homes a year, mostly for sale production, and we also do a little bit of bill for rent. So, that's the Cliff Notes.

Kevin Weitzel: Thank you for the Cliff Notes. And before we dive deeper into just a little bit more of the sales and marketing side of things, we need to find out some little factoid personally about you that has nothing to do with work or the home building industry.

Jim Work: Oh boy, where do I start? I'm a big car junkie, probably part of the reason that I need to grow my company is so that I can feed my car addiction. People always ask what's your favorite car, Jim? And I'm like, well, that's the problem. I wish I just liked a Mustang or a Chevelle, but I have a bunch of older cars, newer cars, Jeeps. It all started with a Jeep when I was at my grandpa's place growing up as a teenager. But I have, I'm not going to say how many, but an exhaustive amount of cars. So, it's a problem, but it's a better problem than others, so.

Kevin Weitzel: What's the gem? And like, I recently just got rid of my [00:02:00] beloved Margie the Midget. She left me because I was driving my BMW too much. But I had a 65 MG Midget that I absolutely love. What is your gem in the collection? And what is the one that you just love getting out, and it gives you that exhilarating feeling when you drive it?

Jim Work: That's a tough question. Gosh. The gem, the gem, the gem. I would say the gem would actually be an old Jeep CJ because that's kind of what got me into cars. So, it's like the last, it's a 1986, it's the last year of the real Jeep CJs. It's one of the last 400 that they made, so there's this little plaque they put on the dash at the factory. So, that's probably the gem. That's probably the one that I'll never sell.

And then as far as fun, I actually have an old 78 Chevy truck or GMC truck. It's tan and tan. It just reeks of the seventies. But I love driving it out to like our communities or even sometimes I'll go to a meeting with a developer, and I pull up and they're like, why are you in this thing? Who am I meeting with? And I'm like, Hey, it's just, that's my personality. I like these cars and it's just a fun truck to drive. I have a very nice car and truck obviously for my daily drivers, but when it's a [00:03:00] nice summer day, you crack the window right behind your head and, you know, roll down the road. It's a fun truck, so.

Greg Bray: There are very few things that you can use the phrase reeks like the seventies as a compliment.

Jim Work: If you saw a photo, if you saw a photo of this truck, you would laugh because it, yeah, it's, it's so seventies. Like it's not white, it's not blue. It's that seventies brown and tan and orange. So, yeah.

Greg Bray: Well, Jim, give us a little more about your journey into home building. When did you decide you wanted to kind of be in this industry and what led you to where you are today?

Jim Work: Yeah, that's a great question. I kind of always joke that I was bred for this. That might not be the most appropriate statement, but when I was a little kid, my mom's got a photo of me with a scale. I thought I wanted to be an architect when I was a little kid. Then I just obviously told you about my car problem. You know, when you ask, you know, little kids, or even my sons, what do you want to be when you grow up? Firefighter. For me, it was race car driver or architect.

So, I liked drawing little houses when I was like four or five. They were horrible plans at the time. I don't think our inspectors would take them now, but there's early [00:04:00] photos of me doing that. And then I got into high school and I still had an interest in it, took some AutoCAD classes. And this is what I mean about being kind of bred for it.

I have a very unique set of experiences. I was probably a horrible employee from 16 to 22 years of age. I kind of bounced around and tried a bunch of stuff, but I'm glad that I did. I worked for a civil engineering firm, learned AutoCAD. I mean, I was drawing small subdivisions at age 16.

I got some unique opportunities, worked for an architect for a summer. Went to college. I was going to be an engineer because that was the white-collar way to build things. And I took a couple of engineering classes and I ended up moving to the accounting program. I took an accounting elective. I'm like, this just makes sense. So, I actually ended up going to college for accounting.

And while I was doing that, I was working in construction, doing framing, worked for a modeling company for a summer, just did a lot of stuff. And I ended up working for a builder. That lasted until about 2009, 2008. Things got pretty bad in Chicago. Then 2008, 2009, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, and I started my own company really out of survival. And here we are. [00:05:00]

Kevin Weitzel: So, wait a minute. So, while all these companies are literally going out of business, buttoning up, abandoning job sites, you go, you know what? I think I'm going to start my own home building company.

Jim Work: That is an excellent segue, Kevin, because we just did a company history thing. Because we've got some people they've never seen me on a job site. They just see me driving around, meeting with bankers, things like that. So, one of our guys said, Hey, it'd be good to do like a company history. And the joke I made is yeah, in 2009, when there was an apocalypse, I had a choice between commuting almost two hours to downtown Chicago, I turned down a very lucrative job offer.

I remember the first couple of years thinking, did I just make a horrible decision? But my wife and I had been dating, we weren't yet married. And I said to myself, if I get up at 4 am to get on the train, get home at 8 pm, I'll never have a family. I'll never have kids. I guess if I work from 4 am to 8 pm every day, I could probably make a go of this. And so, the joke I make Kevin is I was the guy that was smart enough or dumb enough to start a company in 2009 building homes in Chicago. So, yeah.

I made a joke too in [00:06:00] a far Western suburbs of Chicago to Kelp County, there were two permits, I believe in 2009, I couldn't even find the data anymore. But as I recall in 2010 or 11, I realized that I would have 100 percent market share because I was the only guy dumb enough to build two homes that year, so.

Greg Bray: 100 percent market share. That's quite an achievement. There you go.

Jim Work: It's kind of unfortunate because I don't think I could ever get back to that, so.

Greg Bray: Well, Jim, so you're there, you're taking the leap off the bridge, starting the company, you've obviously, with an accounting background, got some solid business and financial understandings, right? You've got some construction engineering experience. What was the biggest surprise when you started, the thing that you weren't expecting that was kind of like, gosh, I didn't know we would have to do this?

Jim Work: You know, that's a great question. I mean, I worked for builders and kind of knew what to expect. I was just kind of watching one of those reels the other day on Facebook or Instagram, and it was a guy, I think it was the founder of Nvidia and he was just [00:07:00] saying, you know, Kind of what I just said, you're too stupid to know any better. As an entrepreneur, you just, as a kid, I would shovel driveways and, you know, mow lawns. And somebody paid me 20 bucks to shovel the driveway like I'm rich. I'm going to do this again.

So, I had a little bit of that spirit, but I didn't really ever think I'd want to start a company. But I kind of just, like I said, dipped my toes in the water. And then I guess I just didn't realize how hard it was going to be. It'll be our 15-year anniversary in April. It sounds crazy to say, because it feels like it was yesterday, but it was just hard.

Especially in Chicago land, we were one of the worst hit markets by the subprime crisis. I mean, finished lots went from 80,000 dollars to 10,000 dollars. It was literally an apocalypse. Atlanta, Phoenix, some other markets got hit pretty hard, but they bounced back. We didn't really bounce back. And so it was, Hey, okay, I'm going to just grind it out for a couple of years.

Well, you know, by 2012, I'm like, we're still grinding and it's not getting a lot better. So, that's where you just kind of put your head down and keep going. But, I'm glad I did. And I try to encourage our employees all the time when you think you're having a bad day now, it could be a lot worse. It's [00:08:00] not that bad.

Kevin Weitzel: So, looking back then versus now in those grinding, struggling years, did you ever think that is there any marketing that could get people to be interested in the products that I sell versus today where it's just how can I glom on to the few people that I can get ahold of out of the many, just to be interested in my product? Was there any major differences between what you did then versus what you do now?

Jim Work: No, I mean, back then, you know, that was the advent of Facebook business pages and Google AdWords was easy. I mean, doing that company history thing the other day, I made a point to tell everybody I had to build the website. I had to do the ads. I took one graphic design class in college as an elective education, and I'm glad I did because at least I could throw together a pretty decent-looking ad back when we used newspapers. You guys will remember that.

So, I mean, it was tough back then. It was so bad at one point that if people wanted to start building a two-story home, we told them, sorry, we can't build you one because it'll never appraise. I mean, so when you're getting three or four leads a month and two of them want two stories, you kind of want to go home and cry because you're [00:09:00] like, Oh gosh, I wish we could do that, but it's just not going to work.

You know, we did start a phrase back then, which we resurrected recently, "Get more with Silverthorne." It just kind of had a nice ring to it. And we've started using that most recently to try and differentiate ourselves from the public builders. I came up with that back in 2011, I think. At that time, it was getting more in terms of, Hey, get a home that's new, that has a warranty, that has modern selections.

Like, yeah, you can go down the street and buy that house for 50 grand less, but it's got cherry cabinets. It's got Brazilian cherry floors, you know, all this stuff that was cool in 2003, that by 2010 or 11 trends and things had changed. And so, for certain people, they didn't want the deal, they wanted new and trendy.

Greg Bray: So, you have not worked in, that old house reeks like the seventies into any of your marketing yet?

Jim Work: No, there's a, you know, I don't know if you guys, I don't know if you guys have ever met, Quint Lears. He has a really great thing. He'll say, resale, there's toenails in the carpet. Some of our salespeople have used that. And I actually [00:10:00] support that because my wife is like that. You know, she wouldn't want to live in a home where somebody else was clipping on their toenails.

And when you start to think of stuff like that, you're like, yeah, what did happen in that house? So, there's something to be said for a brand-new home. But no, we have not been in the house that reeks like the seventies. Kind of got me thinking, I need to go buy a mid-century seventies house and rehab it. No, never mind. I have too much to do.

Kevin Weitzel: Oh, you don't need that. What you need to do is you need to capitalize that truck that you have, put on like a seventies brown leisure suit. And you'll come out of it and be like, oh, I'm Jumping Jim and I got a deal for you. You're going to get more with Silverthorne. Come on down. You know, we got prices all the way back to the 70s.

Jim Work: Kevin, you should not have suggested that because that does sound like something I . Would do with our social media gal.

Kevin Weitzel: I want you to do that so bad.

Jim Work: I will have to give you credit if I do that. I'll need like the 10-gallon hat. But if you saw the truck and the brown leisure suit, that would really go great. Yeah. That's not a bad idea, actually.

Kevin Weitzel: You've got a hankering for a seventies price on your home? Come on down to Silverthorne. I'm Jumping Jim. And [00:11:00] if this ain't a Chevy, I'll tell you what, this ain't a deal.

Jim Work: Sunday, Sunday, Sunday.

Kevin Weitzel: Oh yeah.

Greg Bray: Oh my. Oh, this is going to be our best episode ever. I can already tell. Well, talk to us a little bit about how you go from being a founder and owner, you're the one doing the website, you're the one designing ads, you're the one figuring out Google to now, and how you kind of say, okay, how do I get other folks involved in all of these, we'll focus just on marketing today because I'm sure there were other things going on, but how did you grow that to where it wasn't, I'm assuming it's not just you doing all that anymore?

Kevin Weitzel: Even to add on that, our smaller builders, our owner-based builders, they have a disease and that disease is the failure to delineate the jobs out to other people. What advice can you give to other smaller builders that are in that growth pattern, that are afraid to turn over the reins, you know, for those responsibilities, that are afraid to delegate?

Jim Work: That's a great question because I struggle with that too. I mean, I'm at a point in my career [00:12:00] too, I mean, I'm not that old, but I'm getting to that point where I kind of enjoy trying to help other people, younger guys in the trades, even trade business owners, HVAC, carpenters, et cetera, like grow their businesses.

I was a doer. I moved up. I got a lot of things done early in my career cause I was a doer. And then even, you know, starting the company, I was a doer. I was a doer really all the way up until even like 2015, 16. I did have a partner at some point. I bought him out and then I kind of sat there scratching my head going, what do I want this to look like? And I kind of came up with a five-year growth plan.

And I have to give a good friend of mine, Burke Moreland, credit. He spoke at IBS. I met him at IBS somewhere around that time. And his presentation was basically small business owners and delegating. And I had read books on it, but it just didn't click, you know, and I felt like there were things I couldn't give up. One of the biggest things I would encourage people to do is he was actually a coach for me for a long time. Now he works with some of our people. We still talk but, you know, a business coach, somebody that can push you outside of your boundaries.

You know, as a kid, I wasn't, you know, like an all-star [00:13:00] athlete, but I played basketball, ran track, you know, I did a little bit of sports, but like basketball was my thing. And I remember I had a coach. I've tried to encourage people do this and not everybody gets it. They think they don't want to pay for it. But the best analogy that my friend Burke said is you can take the freeway or the tollway.

So, you can get there on your own, you're going to get there eventually, it's going to take a little bit longer, or you can pay somebody to help you. I think it's some of the best money I ever spent. And even if that person, isn't somebody you're paying, maybe if it's a mentor or an older person that's been through it, somebody that can help you get out of your own way and ask you those questions and go, Hey, why are you doing that yourself?

You know, so like when you go to marketing, Greg, you know, I was doing that myself. Then we hired our first marketing person. And, you know, I kind of started to hand over the reins. What was cool to me is then I started to see we have kind of this document levels of delegation. And so it's kind of easing people into things. I think people make a mistake where they go, Hey, I hired somebody. I'm going to delegate everything to them.

Well, and then they get upset because that person doesn't know how to do it. It's like, well, you went from zero to a hundred You should have delegated a couple of simple [00:14:00] things and learned to trust them and trust their abilities and that they make decisions the way you would make those decisions.

So, learning that was the hard part, but after I learned that, it's like, okay, great, let's hire somebody. Let's teach them. I'm big on training. You know, I can't just hire you and throw you in the role. We got to at least train you. We're not a Fortune 500 company. We don't have an e-learning module. We don't have all that, but we have training schedules. And then we try to use other people on the team to train people, you know, in those roles. That would be the biggest thing is learning how to stop doing everything yourself.

I mean, I worked as a carpenter in college. I trimmed houses. I did the schedules. I did the warranty calls. I adjusted the knobs. I put in the window screens. Like I did the Google ads. I mean, I literally did everything, which got me to a certain point. But yeah, you got to back off that. I still find myself getting in that problem from time to time, doing land development. I'll crack open my laptop and do an estimate and I'm like, what are you doing? What are you doing? Send it to the engineer, you know, but just being cognizant of it, I guess.

Greg Bray: So, Jim, tell us a little more about how your sales and marketing team is structured today as you guys have gone [00:15:00] through that. What's been the structure you've kind of landed on?

Jim Work: Yeah. To be perfectly honest, we kind of bounced around and part of that's my fault. I used to have to sell everything and then we transitioned to having realtors. We had a realtor who worked for us essentially full-time. He had a license and he could sell other places, but he was at our model home every weekend, just like most builders that would be listening to this podcast would probably understand. And then at some point, he decided, he was trying to grow his realtor team and that he wanted to move on and try to focus on diversifying his business and he couldn't commit to that.

So, we then hired an in-house person. So, now we have an in-house sales staff. I think we just hired our seventh person. We didn't have a sales manager per se. We had some sales coaches that kind of doubled as a sales manager. That was kind of probably one of my mistakes is maybe not hiring a sales manager sooner, trying to manage some of that myself. So again, going back to your previous question. That's one of those things I didn't want to give up. It all starts with sales. If we don't have any sales, we don't have anything to build. So, that was probably the hardest part.

But, at this point [00:16:00] we've got a sales manager. We've got, you know, our own in-house salespeople. They're our people, they're not outside, they're not realtors, they're not 1099. We added an OSC two years ago. I'm part of an NAHB Builder 20 Club. I'm sure you guys are familiar with those, but another great thing that I did in my career. And so, other guys that I knew in the Builder 20 Club, you know, they had OSCs and I was seeing the benefit of that. So, we've got an OSC, we've got our salespeople, and we've got two people in marketing now.

Greg Bray: You've got a lot of different things going on. Who is your ideal target buyer that you are after? Is it very narrow and specific or are you kind of broad in that?

Jim Work: That's a great question. You got to find your niche. I built some big custom homes. I built a big custom home with a basketball court in it. That was cool. But then you kind of figure out just essentially dawdling through it, what we want to do. And I always liked the efficiencies of a production mindset, but we're in Chicago and in Chicago, probably 80 percent of the market is dominated by the public home builder. So, your Pulte's, Lennar's, M/I, all those guys. And I know some folks that work there and they're good [00:17:00] people. But that's maybe not the home for everybody.

There's also a lot of teardown situations in some communities in Chicago, but I mean, we're the largest private builder in Chicago by closings and we closed, you know, around a hundred units. I mean, that's crazy. So, competing with the public's, we can't compete on price and just build starter homes. We can't go out there and develop 150 lots. You know, our sweet spot is 50 to 60 lots.

And so, the analogy I always like to tell people, especially people in the business is, Target, Walmart, and Von Maur, or think of Nordstrom's or, you know, a high-end retail store. I don't want to be Walmart. I'm not gonna, you know, name any names, but you guys can figure that out. I don't want to be Von Maur, I don't want to be a full custom builder, but we try to position ourselves as what we call semi-custom. So, we have a production mindset, but we do allow more changes than the production builders.

I watch from afar and I see, from a business standpoint, why a lot of the production builders are moving towards almost a manufacturing mindset where they're, you know, Hey, these are the color packages you get. But then on the same token, I just believe there's enough customers out [00:18:00] there that are looking for something a little nicer and a little more customization than, you know, Hey, every subdivision, every home in this subdivision, I'm not going to name names, but the walls are great. The countertops are right. The cabinets are right. The floors are the same.

I mean, I made the joke, if you have a couple of beers with your friends, you walk into the wrong house, you're not going to know you're in the wrong house. Nothing against those production builders because that's a needed, you know, that might be your first home. Like, that's great. But when you're ready for your second home, and so, we're mostly move up also some downsizing. Kids are gone and they're, they're in a big house and they want to downsize to a ranch or something like that. So, we kind of fit that middle ground. That's really our niche.

Sometimes our salespeople try to convince us to get outside of that. You know, we got a guy with a plan. Nope. We don't do that anymore. You know, Hey, we really need to, you know, strip options out of this house and put it on the cheapest lot so we can get the sale. Nope, nope, guys, that's not our buyer. And even for any of your listeners, when you finally figure that out and make peace with that, don't try to go after every piece of business, stick to your niche.

Kevin Weitzel: Greg, I'm just glad you asked Jim Work the [00:19:00] question and not Jumping Jim the question. Because Jumping Jim would have pulled up in that old beige truck and been like, Hey! Oh, doggie, you got yourself a pulse and you hate the idea of being homeless? Come on down!

Jim Work: Well, you know, it's funny, Kevin, because Jumping Jim back in 2010, if you had a pulse and you had a plan, we would build it. But, you know, you had to do that to learn that, hey, that wasn't too smart. Maybe we shouldn't do that again.

Greg Bray: It is always fascinating how those things evolve over time as you kind of see the benefits of some standardization, but yet you don't want to go so far like you said, because the big ones, they kind of have to do that to keep their efficiencies and their scale and their processes moving. And like you said, there is a buyer for that and you have to decide if that's the buyer you want or not. Which is a key part of all of those marketing decisions and discussions is who do we want to serve, what do they need, and how do we create the process that meets those needs effectively and efficiently?

Jim Work: I think one of the hardest parts is communicating that to our team and getting them to buy into it. I mean, we've done a better job of it, I [00:20:00] think, but we'll get a new salesperson or someone who maybe they don't have the experience. So, why don't we do this?

It's like, well, before you were here, we tried that and it doesn't work that well. On the face of it, I appreciate your suggestion, but we've kind of done that before and learned the hard way it doesn't work, you know. Or Hey, let's go compete with NVR head to head. Are you crazy? We can't do that. It's just not going to work, so.

Greg Bray: Jim, over the last few years, technology has just kind of exploded in its opportunities and things. How do you go about evaluating when is the right time to kind of integrate technology into maybe your marketing process or other parts of your organization?

Jim Work: Yeah, I love to try stuff. So, I'm of the generation, I turned 40 in April. There was one girl that I grew up with that had a computer when we were in like grade school, late grade school. Right. It was before AOL. Remember the old floppy disks or the disks they would hand out and all that, right? So, my generation was chatting, you know, via AOL instant messenger in college. Like, my younger employees are going to scratch their head now if they listen to this and go, what is AOL instant messenger?

It was interesting because some of the [00:21:00] guys and girls my age, you know, we're great with computers because they have one or horrible because they didn't because their parents didn't have them or they weren't in the house. So, I had the benefit of at least having a computer as a kid. And so, I was really comfortable with technology. I just like to try stuff.

So, you know, like when Matterport cameras first came out, I remember if you guys remember the old 3D tours, They were atrocious. It was like walking through Super Mario Brothers in 1988. This is garbage. Who's going to really want to look at this? Right. So we just used photos. You know, when Matterport first came along, we were smaller and we're like, Hey, we're going to buy our own Matterport camera. It was a whopping five, 6,000 bucks back then.

But you know, we got one, then we got two, now we got three and we do our own and it works great. And other people how do you get that? I'm like, it's Matterport. It's out there. Like it's, but just trying stuff like that. And we've tried a bunch of stuff that doesn't work too.

I mean, I remember back when you talk about technology, Facebook is a technology. I mean, I created a Facebook business page by myself back when they came out and I remember telling people, I think this is going to be a big deal. And you guys know, social paid or organic is [00:22:00] probably one of the number one traffic sources now. So, we started that page in 2000, what, 11, 12, something like that.

Some people, I've met builders in the last three, four years that don't even have a social media presence. And I just scratch my head. I'm like, you don't need a person. You don't need a huge budget. You can start like I did with just doing it yourself. We've played with a bunch of different technology. We use a lot of technology in the business. I think it just comes with experimenting. You know, we've also tried a bunch we're like, yeah, that doesn't work. We're out.

Kevin Weitzel: Now, Jim, I do have to make sure that we make one disclaimer there. That for our listeners that do try to get the start on their social media, make sure that you have somebody that continues the social media. Don't be that page that starts it in 2016 and then you don't see another post until 2024.

Jim Work: It's always funny. I laugh about, yeah, that's great advice. I always laugh when I'm looking to buy something. Right. And I go to their social media page or I go to their web page, I go to their social media page and it's like, Oh, Hey, they, uh, you know, a car, let's say like, Hey, they posted some pictures, [00:23:00] last August. Are they in business? I mean, that's what I think is it's 2024. Like you could have somebody on your staff just pop a couple of cool pictures. It doesn't have to be the highest quality content, but just some cadence.

We have a social media calendar. We didn't have that before. It was just me, you know, we used to do this thing, my old partner and I, crane day. So, like it was a great. Sunrise and the crane was setting trusses and just stuff like that. You know, that didn't have a lot of marketing content, it was just a great picture and just something to be a little bit more present and be in people's minds. But you're right, so many people try it and then I think fail miserably because they don't commit any time. I mean, give it a half hour a week, right? You don't need a ton of time to get started, but you just have to be consistent.

Greg Bray: When you were the one doing that, Jim, did you take your own advice? Did you actually have it scheduled on your calendar, or was it something that was just kind of, oh, I got to remember to do this or how did you get the consistency train started and keep it going?

Jim Work: I wasn't as regimented as having a calendar. I'm kind of that way with my life, but I had reminders in my phone. I was [00:24:00] also, at that time, out on job sites a lot more, and so I was getting enough content and photos and things. And so, you know, it might've been where I had a busy day and I forgot, but I'm sitting on my couch, scrolling through Facebook. I go, Hey, I need to post it. I go grab a photo and throw it up, a little bit of advertising and stuff like that. We're opening a new community doing posts, you know, maybe a countdown to opening a model home, things like that. But, I mean, it definitely wasn't just formal, it wasn't like you said, Kevin, it wasn't like, Oh, Hey, I haven't posted on Facebook for a month.

Greg Bray: I know for me, as I started to get better doing it myself, trying to, put things out there, I found that now that it's a focus, I see more opportunities of things to share. Now it's like, there's always, Ooh, that would be a good post if I just wrote that up. Oh, there's an idea, you know, or whatever. I don't know, there's something about kind of keeping it in the forefront that helps you find things to talk about.

Jim Work: We still have like kind of a running list of things we want to try. And then, you know, like I said, our Builder 20 group is a great resource. We follow all those guys and they do something. And you know, the great part there is we know them well, we can shoot [00:25:00] them a text, go, Hey, you mind if we steal that idea? Cause we're not in, you know, similar markets.

One of the things I like to do is just look at other businesses. I've been doing this forever and I don't know why it's been so hard for other people to realize this, but the car business, the furnishing business, I mean, any of these other businesses, like look at their social media, I mean, anybody that's been in home building knows that to some extent we're in the stone age and we're always behind. What are other people doing?

And sometimes I guess it's hard. How do I translate that to housing? How do I translate that to being a builder? But if you sit there, like you said, Greg, and you kind of just have that idea and you chew on it for a day or two, you're like, Hey, wait a minute. What if we do this? And like I said before, sometimes we try it and it doesn't work. Oh, yeah. Nevermind. But sometimes we find something that works and we just go with it, and that's how we've built kind of our library of content ideas, I would say.

Kevin Weitzel: Well, Jim, you can own it. You can have Jumping Jim. You can do a whole series of Jumping Jim commercials just for social media. It's mine. It's my gift to you, but outside of your Builder 20, outside of IBS, outside of listening to outstanding podcasts, such as The [00:26:00] Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast, you know, outside of those types of formats, where are you looking outside of the industry for inspiration?

Because there's so much we can take from a Neiman Marcus, you know, how they operate the store or an Apple store, how they're so organized in the psychology that goes into building one of their stores. Is there an outside industry that you look at or several that you would look at for any kind of inspiration, how to morph your company into version 5.0, 6.0, 7.0?

Jim Work: I would say really all the industries. I mean, I don't say I look at anyone specific. Part of it is just me being a normal human being and going on social media and seeing different things. You know, I mean, I guess when I was younger, I thought this was weird, but I'm starting to realize it's a good weird. I'd see something on Instagram or Facebook that I hadn't seen before and then I'd kind of follow it for a couple of weeks and then I'd realize they were doing something kind of new and I can't think of a great example to tell you right now.

But, you know, that's happened multiple times from like, hey, that's a good idea, and I believe in it, let's try it. And then we try it and it takes off. [00:27:00] Or, you know, every once in a while we try it, it kind of fizzles out, maybe that wasn't such a great idea. But I mean, really just scrolling through the interwebs, you know, Facebook, Instagram, X, all that kind of stuff, and just seeing an idea, you know, that's cars, that's airplanes, that's a landscaper, you know, whatever business it might be.

And even some of the big, large companies, you know? Just seeing some of the things that they do. Like you said, Apple. We kind of tried to model some of our sales center after like an Apple store, just a cleaner, modern look. You know, like a lot of sales centers, this is going back quite a few years, but all the sales centers were just like filled with junk. You know, it was like, how much marketing crap can we put on the wall?

It was a little bit much, you know what I mean? You guys have seen those. And so just a little cleaner experience, something like that. Just even ideas like that for our model homes and things. You know, that came from essentially me walking into an Apple store and going, wow, this is like kind of sparse, but it's kind of cool.

Greg Bray: Well, Jim, we really appreciate the time you spent with us today, is there just one last piece of advice that you'd like to [00:28:00] get out to builders and marketers today before we finish up?

Jim Work: I kind of said it before, but for any guys or girls that are out there building 10 homes, 15 homes, and they want to try to grow, I mean, find some smart people, some consultants, maybe a business coach and just be open to learn. I mean, employees come to me and ask me a question. They think I know all the answers. I still don't know all the answers. And there's, as you just said, Kevin, IBS, Builder 20, there's so much stuff you can learn.

I've always said when it's not fun anymore, I'll stop doing it, but I'm always learning something. It's always fun. There's always something new. So, I would just encourage those people in that part of their career to just keep learning and soak it up. There's so many great people in this industry that you can learn so many things from. And you could just call up a lot of these people. And even though they might have a business charging you for that, they'll talk to you for two hours and give you some free advice. That's the cool part about this industry, in my opinion.

Greg Bray: Well, thanks again, Jim, for being with us. If somebody wants to reach out and connect with you, what's the best way for them to get in touch?

Jim Work: Yeah. The best way probably just be my email, jwork@silverthornegroup. [00:29:00] com, and you can visit us at silverthornehomebuilders.com. It's probably the best way or LinkedIn.

Greg Bray: Well, thank you everybody for listening today to The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine.

Kevin Weitzel: And I'm Kevin Weitzel with OutHouse. Thank you.

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