Note to Readers: If you are a subscriber to my print newsletter, the first two methods were already listed there. Read on to Number Three for new ideas to help create a community that people never want to leave.
1) The Hand Written Note. Anyone who is a client of mine has received these from me so you already know I am a big fan. And by hand-written, I mean hand-written. Mass-produced cards with a standard printed message inside and your signature are not enough here. No matter what card you use, make sure there are at least two or three sentences expressing a personal sentiment. This does not have to come from a manager; just from any staff member who has had a personal interaction with a resident. To lower the labor burden, just do two or three a day. Very simple. Very inexpensive. Very effective. Two staff members doing this for one week affects 30 residents. In some complexes, that is as much as 10% of your entire community. Getting 10% of your community to feel cared for in a way they never have in just one week is HUGE.
2) Knock on that door! In my neighborhood we refer to this as the “Ned Flanders Technique”. Good apartments will put out Halloween candy in their leasing office for residents who happen to drop in. Great apartments will stand at the exit on a busy morning giving it to cars as they leave. AMAZING apartments will put it in a little bag and drop it off at your door. In our neighborhood, when we could identify no one who knew someone in a specific house, we had someone pack up a small treat or plant and show up at their door. While at first we were scared that most people would feel interrupted or annoyed, that did not happen. The responses we received were ones of surprise and JOY. That candy in the lobby is already in your budget. This does not require extra expense, simply extra effort. Put it in a little bag and go knock on someone’s door. It’s probably a nice day and we could all use some exercise anyway. Keep knocking until you get someone who is home who you don’t see very often. Try going early or late to catch different people.
3) Stand up! One of the best FREE methods I can recommend is one I learned from a business mentor of mine from my twenties. He was a very powerful, wealthy man and I worked for his company my first year out of college. He had several companies and an overall amazing life. He built that life from scratch and one of the methods he used to do it follows.
Whenever you would walk in this man’s office to meet with him for something he would stand up out of his chair, come around to the other side of the desk and shake your hand. In the process of shaking your hand he would shake with one hand and put his second hand over the top of your hand. He would look you in the eye and say something like: “Miss Sarah, I am so glad you stopped in today. How can I help you?”
To this day I can still remember the way that I (and everyone else) felt in this man’s presence. He would stand up and greet you even if you were only going to be in his office for a couple of minutes. As part of my work I visit many different apartment complexes and at least half the time I feel like I am interrupting the person at the front desk as he/she checks her cell phone. In a world where screen-addicted, disinterested behavior is becoming the norm, its ever easier to stand out as someone who cares. The act of standing up and approaching someone is what I see some of the finest apartment complexes doing, but its not about money or cost of rent. This method did not cost my former boss and does not cost any of us extra money, but it can profit everyone immensely.
To get up from your desk and shake someone’s hand who is just stopping in for a parking permit might seem like a big pain in the butt, but its worth it. In fact, its worth it because it IS kind of a pain in the butt. And the other person knows it. Subconsciously they begin to sense that you really value them. After all, you got up, you made eye contact with them, you shook their hand or even hugged them, you know their name…. Where else can they go where that is going to happen? Give them what they can’t get anywhere else and they’ll be hard-pressed to leave.
Make it a rule that every staff member does this and I guarantee the entire ambience of your front office will change. When your staff goes through these motions and shows the resident they are valued, then your staff subconsciously start to value them more. This can be a game-changer for the whole work environment. Also, value your staff and greet them this same way when they come in your office. It will be wonderful. People may not be able to figure out what exactly is different, but it will not go unnoticed.
4) Treat the party like it matters. I was watching a community plan an event. They were so meticulous about making sure they had several different styles of food (they were doing food trucks), drinks, decorations, etc. They told me they had been planning the event for three weeks and were super excited.
Then they went over to the copy machine and ran off five flyers that they could hang up in the leasing office and near the mailbox. All their hard work, much expense for the property, and they were going to advertise it with five flyers. When I visited them after the party and asked them how it went, they responded that they were really disappointed with the turnout. I was not surprised.
When is the last time you threw a party in your personal life and you hung up a flyer next to their mailbox to invite them? Um… Never, that’s when. Even kids’ birthday parties warrant invitations. Even getting my mom to come over for Christmas requires a phone call.
While budgets may prevent you from sending paper invitations to everyone who may attend your event, budgets don’t prevent other methods. Throwing a community event is a spectacular way to bring people together. But to bring people together you need to let them know this is worth their time. And if its worth their time, it needs to be worth your time as well.
You may not be able to call every single resident, but why not make a list of residents you don’t see much or ones that you feel might enjoy the party? You, of course, should not play favorites and make any of your residents feel left out, but this type of action is to counter exactly that situation. These calls take 90 seconds! Get to as many residents as you can this way. If you’re worried about expressing favoritism, print out a list of residents and start a randomized system for calling. If you’re worried you can’t get to all of them, call every tenth person on the list to start. Then, go back through and start on 11, 21, 31, and so on. Most people won’t answer so these won’t take long at all. The trick to not being overwhelmed by it is to start early (at least 7 to 10 days before the event) and to not look at the whole darn list and try to block out hours to get it done. Just do one call every time you get a minute. You’ll be amazed by how they stack up.
I do see a lot of properties do this with texts, but if your results are lack luster after texting, maybe its time to make it more personal. A phone call definitely trumps a text blast any day of the week. Texting is becoming like the new email. You get so many in a day, you’re unlikely to really value any of them. If all you can handle is flyers, then at least try putting the flyers on/under doors. If you can, scrawl something like “Can’t wait to see you there, Susan!” across the top of them, even better. When people come in your office, don’t let them leave without getting up from behind your desk, calling them by name and personally inviting them to come. This all seems so simple, but trust me, this stuff is MAGIC!
Another little tip: If a resident does come in your office, have a flyer ready for them for whatever event you may have on deck. Then, write their name on the flyer before you give it to them and hand it to them very warmly. Do the warm handshake thing described above. This little tiny trick works wonders. It’s amazing how the sight or sound of someone’s own name is so very sweet to each individual and the comforting feeling people get when they feel focused on and valued.
5) Match ‘Em Up! Now that you have everyone at your event, its time to work even more magic! An amazing business associate of mine has developed nearly his entire career out of regularly (at least weekly) finding two people in his network who may benefit mutually from meeting and then he introduces them. He always asks permission from both parties first and always looks to really maximize the value created on both sides. The connections don’t always last or lead to any new business, but often times they do. And even though he does not appear to benefit from the introduction, he ALWAYS benefits from the introduction. People are quick to introduce him to people and, when he does set up a connection that works, his hand in introducing them is always remembered, sometimes very fondly.
Now that you got the attendance at your event higher than its ever been, the real work begins. If you know two residents that have kids that are the same age, why not introduce them to each other at the event? If you know someone with car trouble and happen to have a mechanic in another unit, why not let them know? If you know someone has never come to “one of these things” before, why not speak to them and introduce them to someone else who may also be nervous? This is not playing favorites. This is creating relationships. You don’t know everything about your residents, but you likely know more about each one of them than their neighbors do. While not revealing any private information is important, there is absolutely nothing wrong with knowing that two people happen to have amazing balcony gardens and maybe they’d like to share gardening tips or advice.
Some of these connections will go nowhere. And, then again, some of these connections will lead people to brand new play dates for their kids, friends and business associates. And isn’t that what a community is made of? The backbone of any community is people of complementary talents, skills and interests who help and interact with one another.
If you have any reservations about introducing anyone to someone else, definitely ask both parties first. If its a go, then go ahead and make the introduction.
There is a caveat to this and the one rule I would establish for yourself and staff members who may assist you with this is NO ROMANTIC INTRODUCTIONS ALLOWED. That’s just a mess.
However, even eliminating that category, the number of categories for introduction are really endless. Gardening, kids, people who like eating tacos, people who have dogs/cats, people who like people, people who don’t like people, people who are from the same geographical area or any other similar interests or needs can all be huge catalysts for creating a community where everyone feels seen and everyone wants to stay.