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My New Normal: SVN Desert Commercial Advisors Director Of Marketing, PR And Administration Melissa Swader

This series aims to capture a moment in time, talking to men and women in commercial real estate about how their lives and businesses are being transformed by the coronavirus pandemic.

SVN Desert Commercial Advisors’ Melissa Swader is a workaholic by nature, so her new normal has more to do with logistics than lifestyle. With fewer daily distractions because of the pandemic isolation orders, her efficiency has increased, helping her lead administration, marketing and public relations for the sixth-highest-producing SVN office in the world (out of over 215 offices).

Along with implementing a 400-page Standard Operating Procedure plan during her five years at SVN, the Phoenix native has developed both a personal and professional brand by marketing herself and her unconventional strategies and tactics to her marketing industry peers. Swader’s efforts have paid off as the same Phoenix office that produced $55M in transactions upon her arrival in 2015 closed $130M in transactions in 2019. With these types of results, Swader’s new normal is all about production and efficiency.

Melissa Swader at home at laptop
SVN Desert Commercial Advisors' Melissa Swader says she gets more work done at home.

Bisnow: Describe your work-from-home life.

Swader: I have been working from home for over 20 years during different times, so this has not been a huge change for me at all. In fact, I love being home during the week because I stay focused and get more work done. I take a lot of breaks by getting up and moving around and I have fewer distractions here at home. 

Bisnow: How are you transitioning your life and business to the home front?

Swader: I did not have to make any home office changes because I am already set up at home. I actually work too much.  I have my home desktop, as well as my laptop plus my tablet, not to mention my iPhone, so there is plenty of work getting done in every room. The only real changes we had to make was getting the office Dropbox folders shared to my home computers because everything we do inside our office is processed electronically. 

When I joined SVN five years ago, there were tons of file cabinets in the back of the office. When we moved to our new building, everything, and I mean everything, went electronic. Besides everyone's office desk, we do not have one CRE file cabinet at our office. All our documents are shared and set up to be completed online and sent back via email or shared to folders.  Once that was done, it was a piece of cake. 

Bisnow: What is the state of your business at the moment?

Swader: We are all working remotely. We have been for about five weeks now. The only real change we have had is that we started, as a company, using Zoom calls more often. We have always been hosts and participants to Zoom, GoTo Meetings, UberConference calls, so nothing has changed here. There has just been more of it. More importantly, business is still solid.

Bisnow: What is your greatest business concern right now?

Swader: My only concern is that investors that may have backed out of projects or new developments will eventually see that the economy will pick back up again. We have a lot of land listings with our retail team in the East Valley and they are huge opportunities for experiential retail centers, industrial or new multifamily construction. Hopefully once things are settled, we will be able help be a part of the economic development after the pandemic is over.

Casual photo of Melissa Swader
Melissa Swader says she's getting work done in every room of her home.

Bisnow: What was your lowest low and the highest high these last few weeks?

Swader: I really feel for other people in the industry, but for me, I have honestly had the best and most productive last five weeks. Besides a program having access issues for a couple of days and a malfunctioning thumb drive, I can't complain. To be honest, I may have shed a tear when my USB drive malfunctioned, but I will not know the results of that until our small-business vendor who takes care of that opens back up again. I will not panic until I know for sure.

I have been fortunate enough to have several highs over the last few weeks. I have been invited as an expert marketing panelist for a couple of webinars, as well as a featured panelist for expert bloggers on the inside scoop of what it takes to be a great blogger. I was also recently selected to be a judge panelist for the Barrett Honors Final Thesis Presentation with the W.P Carey School of Business' entrepreneurship program at Arizona State University, for their upcoming presentation on May 1. I serve as a mentor at the W.P Carey School of Business and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and as an alumnus of Arizona State University; it feels great to be a part of this.

As a brokerage, SVN is riding the wave. We are continuing to bring on more new listings, and advisers are still actively promoting the ones we have in our network, and sales are still going under contract. Either this an anomaly in the CRE market or just really a telling sign that we have a strong group of advisers and an effective marketing and public relations platform in place to keep the momentum going. I would say the latter.

Bisnow: What are you doing at home to keep your sanity? 

Swader: I do not feel any stress at all working from home. In fact, I have never felt so good being able to remove myself from the stresses at the office, so this keeps me sane. Since I am used to working from home, I know how to incorporate a balanced workday. I still take as many breaks as I need to. I even turn on some music to unwind or turn on Netflix at lunch and do some at-home exercising. My goal is to have killer abs when this is all over!

Bisnow: What have you learned about your business or the industry in the last few weeks?

Swader: The CRE industry is in the process of taking a hit all over the world. Just looking at the Las Vegas strip, it is like a scene from the apocalypse or The Walking Dead. Once the economy opens again, we hope there will be floods of people at restaurants and bars that survived, congested traffic and something we have never seen before. Be prepared. Landlords have tried paying it forward to tenants and working with them for lease payments, but there are some landlords that just can't afford to.

Recently, I watched a local burger restaurant post a video to Facebook saying that they are forced to close this week. It showed me that many small businesses were not prepared financially to sustain their business without any revenue or clients. More importantly, they were not digitally prepared to keep selling their services or products. This has been a BIG wake-up call for many small-business owners, real estate and sales people all the same.

Bisnow: How do you think the coronavirus could permanently affect the way real estate does business?

Swader: I think more people have realized that they were not prepared for digital technology. Based on the conversations I have had with other brokerage professionals, I believe some rely on office administration to handle everything. It is a reality check that many people in this industry were not set up to work from home or a place other than a closed office. I also believe many businesses who are suffering in sales did not have a marketing, design or public relations platform in place to help market and continue to sell, promote their services and market the brand.

Over the last few weeks, I know many people who have asked me for help or advice on what they could do while they are trying to get it all processed. I am afraid that they will not follow through when the economy reopens. If you do not have an effective marketing strategy and social media presence set up moving forward, then you better get moving on it. After all this, I think this will motivate more advisers to get in front of those buyers, as everyone will be in the hunt for new business. The people that win that business will be the ones who have marketing resources and platforms in place to be ahead of the game.

Bisnow: What are you most hopeful about today?

Swader: After all of this, I hope that people realize that you can't take anything for granted in business. Naturally, people depend on others for help, and while there are still phones and computers, this hardship has really tested a lot of people. It has forced people to conduct business in a different manner and sales people excel in in-person communications, so without having that sort of interaction, I believe it puts so many things into perspective. 

I have always valued my relationships in business and reach out to people frequently but there is nothing better than being able to network in person and have those personal conversations over morning coffee, lunch or the occasional happy hour. I think there will be more opportunity for that moving forward.