Catherine: Sarah Schiess went from single mom working three hours per day at the bank to being awarded “Innovator of the Year” in 2017 at the MPC conference in Vancouver. With the funkiest office and the best incredible branding I have seen, I’m looking forward to this podcast. Let’s welcome Sarah Schiess and learn what makes her tick.
Welcome Sarah to WIMI Talks. I’m super-thrilled to have you. You were the winner of “Innovator of the Year” in 2017 at the MPC conference in Vancouver, which is amazing. You have the funkiest office that I have ever seen, and I just love it. The first time I ever saw it, online, I was like, “That’s the office I want”.
Sarah Schiess: Did you see it on our Google tour or did you go to our live feed?
Catherine: I think a Google tour. I felt kind of like I was snooping.
Sarah: You’re welcome to snoop anytime you like. If log into mintmortgage.me/live you can check in on us.
Catherine: Wow! That’s so good. So you can see what everyone’s doing all the time.
Sarah: That’s right. You can see what we’re doing. You can even request that we do things. We’ve had dance requests, message requests, hugs requests, and all sorts of things.
Catherine: Wow, that’s so great. I love that. So that kind of segues into what everybody wants to know about you. You, I think, have amazing marketing and amazing concepts and visions. I don’t know, for me, I just wouldn’t even know where to start. So I guess I want to know like how did you go from just run‑of‑the‑mill broker to Innovator of the Year. [laughs] Because it didn’t just happen. You had to work at it, and we just kind of wondered what happened.
Sarah: Okay, well if I can pinpoint sort of the turning points and the one biggest investing that we ever did and that we still continue to do, and evolve to this day, was sit down and figure out who we were, figure out what we were about and what was important to us, and what sort of principles were going to guide us moving forward, and really sort of define that. And then stick with it and make sure that we had everything in line to be able to show evidence that we were following those guidelines, and that was probably the single most valuable thing that we ever did.
That led us to say, okay, where is this not shown? Like if this is what’s important to us and we look online, how come that’s not immediately apparent? How come those things aren’t immediately apparent? If this is who we are and what we’re about, how come when you look at our website we feel one way, when you look at Facebook there are 6, 7, 12 different profiles that are all saying something different, and our company page says something different? When you walked into our office it feels different. All of our phone messages were different and that sort of thing. So you had to sort of this jumble, this shamble of a whole bunch of different messages, and it’s really difficult to sort of transcend anything if you’re too busy mucking about with no direction.
Catherine: Do you have an example that you can think of? I know it’s hard to pull it right off the top of your head.
Sarah: No, no, heavens. I would say that it would be exactly the opposite. Like I said, we encourage each other to be able to show evidence of whatever we’re saying. So, to ask me that question feels actually pretty natural around here, so thank you for that. I can give you one that’s as recent as this past week. So we took the time to dig even deeper into what’s important to us and as my wonderful colleague, Audra, put it. What did you say? Make implied things definite. Yeah. So we took some time to do that. And also to prioritize and put them in order of priority of what’s most important.
Most important on our list was “trust” and understanding that consistency breeds trust. And so we recently just did an overhaul on our physical space and realizing that consistency is more than just using consistent language and behaviour, not only yourself but your whole team, but feeling the same, having the same consistency no matter what the touchpoint is, wherever your client touches you. So we went through all of our touchpoints and realized that our physical space didn’t reflect what was important to us and that notion of trust.
So we took the time to reorganize our space and we took the time to reorganize our online procedures right down to cleaning up our desktops on our computers, setting up hotspots so that if somebody walks in we can immediately just swipe down and our computers shut down. We reconfigured things. We have a separate room called the “chill room” where we meet with clients. And we recognized that online we want everything uncluttered. When we email people, we worked hard to make it simple and not have giant blocks of text. Everything looks aesthetically-pleasing. And you walked into our showroom, where we met with people, and there was stuff everywhere. Stuff shoved in shelfs and falling apart. It wasn’t immediately apparent where people were to sit. There was only one spot that would work for us to sit in and it just was awkward. There was no flow and it didn’t create any consistency.
So we overhauled the entire space in there, right from cleaning it up to reconfiguring seating so that it was in a circle. There was no power position. Anybody can sit wherever they want. We have a preferred position, and instead of having it be “I’m sitting there” and sort of dominating things, which we didn’t feel really conveyed trust, we chose to put pillows on the chair as a natural way. I mean, people take the path of least resistance. They walk in and they see the cushions are fun, the cushions are fun and they’re consistent with our values to makes familiar things surprising. And so we don’t just have a plain old cushion on our chair.
I guess I’m rambling here. Sorry, I tend to do that. Hopefully you’ll edit my nonsense out. But the point is when you walk into the room now, the experience is an entirely different one and it’s completely comfortable. There’s no power positions. We took the time to sit down and make sure that when we’re sitting, everybody in the room can see one another. You can always make eye contact. We don’t have desks. We have a screen on the wall; we’re paperless. So we took the time to make sure that the screen was easily visible, easily accessible from any point in the room, so that we didn’t have to have cords to get to the screen. We took the time to make sure that anything that’s being hooked up to that screen was cleaned up. When it popped up, it was on certain sites. Any images that were on there were designed to give people a small smile. And so that would be a specific example of how having a North Star and having that North Star well-defined across different touchpoints.
We were able to make a fairly major change, and one that was immediately noticeable. This whole entire week we’ve had just fantastic feedback from people that have come in. And even yesterday, sitting with a fellow who said to me, “I feel really comfortable here”. And he used the word “trust”, “I feel like I can trust you. I feel like that you’re listening to me and you’re understanding what I’m saying”, and without any prompting whatsoever. And that, to me, just hammered it home. So that would be classic example.
Catherine: That’s a great example because that means that your brand or what you offer, it’s more than just a logo and a website.
Sarah: Oh, 100%.
Catherine: You’ve really looked at your entire circle and really tried to define it.
Sarah: We call it our ecosystem.
Catherine: Your ecosystem. I like that.
Sarah: And we pay attention to all the details in our ecosystem, with the aim of engaging people. So while trust would be our primary North Star, next in order of priority would be relationship. And we’ve even gone so far as to order the importance of relationship and the importance of the relationship. So we said relationship is important and we’ve defined what that means, as well, so that it’s not a vague concept. And we also defined what actions would manifest those concepts. And then we’ve also gone so far as to say that our internal relationships are most important, most valuable to us, then our client relationships, and then our industry relationships.
So that way when we’re faced with any decisions and we’re faced with different ideas or ways of doing things. I mean, because let’s face it, we have like a hundred things coming at us, like, “Oh, is this good? Have you guys tried this? Did you do this? I saw this out there. Does this work?” And when you have something to go back to and you can say well does this really align with our vision and who we are? Does it speak to trust? Does it speak to relationships? Does it show that we appreciate one another? If it doesn’t, then it’s really easy to just ignore whatever that is.
Catherine: Right. I like that. I think that I can see how you became Innovator of the Year just because you’re thinking is different in creating your business realm. It’s beautiful. I think it’s really great.
Sarah: Thanks. Well, I don’t know that the thinking is so different. I think like a consumer, really, and I love it. We pay attention to different things that we see out there and things that that we like, things that we don’t like. And I love it when I’m engaged with a service provider or with a company. I love when they anticipate my needs. I love when there’s a little detail somewhere that has been anticipated and looked after. So, if I love it, it just stands to reason that the people that we want to work with as well would also love it.
If I can have just the liberty of reading you a quick conversation, I promise that it’s only a few sentences long. But I have it on my desktop and it’s something that I refer to often. We were talking about transcending in our category and competition and how it’s futile to try and catch up and how you just need to define yourself, and this was the conversation we had.
So how exactly do you transcend your category? The short answer, “by making something familiar, surprising”. And how do you do that? No matter what business you run, you need to be engaged with your customers and fans on a level that’s higher than anyone else in your industry, because people like it when you pay attention to them. And more importantly, because the more engaged you are with them, the easier it is to determine what you should be doing next. And then there’s a little bit of filler there, but this last part really hammers it home to me. When it’s done right, you won’t have to worry about competition because you won’t have any. You’ll have imitators who won’t have the bandwidth, guts, energy, persistence and thought leadership necessary to engage at the levels you do.
And that’s sort of what drives us around here. There’s no one thing, and it really truly is an ecosystem of different things that rely on one another. And we can build that ecosystem and identify the pain points and identify what it anticipates, what our customers might appreciate because we’re engaged with them at such a high level. Because we ask them questions and sort of play in their playground with them, we’ve been able to anticipate their needs and build that ecosystem around them.
Catherine: That’s great. So thank for that. That’s a great quote and it’s a great philosophy to think about. Tell me what “friendlii” is?
Sarah: Well, friendlii is a place where people in the mortgage industry can find, feel, and inspire one another. Which is just in it that’s the header on the website, friendlii.com, with two i’s. And really, friendlii was inspired by the awards trip. I was actually lucky enough to win the Broker of the Year award the year before the Innovator one. And that was really when my door to the outside world—if you can say that—opened up in a really big way. And I was meeting all of these really incredible people. Like these just amazing personalities and all of the things that they had done, and their vision was just energizing and inspiring. The fact that they would reach out and say “hi” and allow me to learn from them was just really incredible.
And I went looking for them online to learn more so that I could engage them at a higher level and I could really sort of see how I might make a conversation more enriching, I guess. And I had a hard time finding any evidence that the people that I met anywhere online and I had heard a lot of talk about like a unified broker presence, and it was more so on the technical sort of panel side, like the lobbying and influencing government and that sort of thing, and I suck at that. Like let’s face it, there’s no way I could do something like that.
But more for the social aspect, I thought wouldn’t it be great if there was a place where we could all unite and sort of transcend our alliances or our labels and just really recognize the goodness that exists in our industry, and have a place that we can be proud of. Our industry online together, where we uphold one another, where we celebrate the good things that we as individuals and as an industry do, and maybe get to know each other past the infomercial level, past the picture with the arms folded and the suit on, the bio about the dog in the family and how long you’ve been a mortgage broker. You know, all of those things that you see and that don’t really expose what’s so freaking awesome about these people that I met.
And I couldn’t find that anywhere online and I couldn’t see where that might be. So we sort of endeavored to take that task on and see if we could create a space where we could feature some of those folks and create a place where we could come together and find one another and be found.
Catherine: Well that’s neat. That’s amazing. Such a good idea.
Sarah: Honestly, I encourage everybody to go have a look, put your profile on there, answer the questions, put links to the music you like, show us some GIFs that you think are awesome. There some means or there’s some wonderful pictures. Brag about your colleagues on there. There’s a place where you can give props to colleagues and really make your industry shine. And we’ll geotag you, so that if there are people searching mortgage brokers in Canada, and we’ll geotag you locally.
It’s open for people to submit articles, to submit knowledge, and it is a regulated forum. It is controlled in that we want it to remain a place that’s inspiring. It’s certainly not fake, like I said, not an infomercial. Something real, but more than a place of inspiration and not sort of a negative space with negative connotations for our industry. But it’s not in any way shape or form brokerage-specific, brand-specific. I removed everything Mint from it. And if you go on there, some of the different people that I’ve been blessed enough to cross paths with have chosen to list themselves on there, list their teams on there, contribute and even do some interviews. And the more it’s used, the more valuable it would be for all of us. I get a lot of like, “What’s your real deal here?” right. [laughs]
Catherine: Right. Why do they want all this info?
Sarah: “Why are you doing this? Why are you paying to promote me on your website?” There truly is no ulterior motive. The ulterior motive is I’m proud of us, I’m proud of what we do as an industry, and I’m a firm believer that the more we stand together, the stronger we become. And maybe when we take over the world, then we can start in-fighting each other. [laughs] Until that happens, I think us respecting one another and celebrating one another will get us farther than the alternative.
Catherine: Absolutely, 100%, amen sister on that. Well, this is a great interview. I’ve loved it. So I learned a few things. I learned that as an office and as a company, and as yourself, you need to really try and identify your North Star.
Sarah: It can be more than one. Really sit down and figure out your priorities, and really define them and have things that are easily measurable, easily coachable, so that you have measureable standards that you can look back on and see whether or not they’re being met, and hold to those standards. Use those standards to discover pain points. So, what in your profit is not upholding them? What currently is stopping you from being able to show evidence of these things being important to you, without you having to say it. People should be immediately able to see it without you having to launch into a tirade of saying it. So what are those pain points? And then how can you fix them. Start from the inside out. You can put as much icing on a cupcake as you want, but if the cupcake is cardboard when you bite into it, it’s not going to make a difference. Nobody’s going to want to eat it. [laughs] So make sure that cake tastes really good before you put the icing on and put it out on the shelf for somebody to buy it.
Catherine: I like “consistency breeds trust”. I like “making implied things definite”. And I think that’s good because we do, as people. I do—I shouldn’t say “we do” because there’s perfect people. I do sometimes assume that everyone would know that because it’s implied. And three months later I’m like “Oh, sorry”.
Sarah: Yeah, or maybe when something is implied, the issue then becomes it is open to interpretation. And although everybody knows that customer service is important, if you don’t define what that is, it could be interpreted differently across several different touchpoints, which then breeds inconsistency.
Catherine: Absolutely. I like that you have chill room. I really like that idea.
Sarah: [laughs] I’ll have to take you on a tour.
Catherine: This sounds so much better than a “signing room” or an office. It just sounds like that’s where the cool kids hang out.
Sarah: It is, man. It’s a place to chill. I’d love for you to see it. I’m especially proud now to show off some of the changes that we made, as a team, after looking at our North Stars a little bit closer and seeing where we were falling short. I’ll make a little video and send it over to you.
Catherine: Cool! And finally, is be friendlii.
Sarah: It’s just friendlii.com.
Catherine: Is that the Swedish spelling or something? [laughs]
Sarah: No, remember, you make something familiar surprising.
Catherine: Oh, you make something familiar surprising. I love it. Well, thank you so much for your time and sharing your expertise, and your knowledge, and being so open with all of us on WIMI Talks.
Sarah: Thank you. Can I just have a shout-out and say thanks to all the others that are doing it. Thank you to you for putting your time and effort into this and raising the bar in our industry. And ask anybody out there who’s listening that might be interested in a conversation, to reach out to us. We’d love to hear from you.
Catherine: Thank you. That would be fantastic. Have a great day from WIMI Talks.
Catherine: WIMI ladies mentor, collaborate, share ideas, experiences and opportunities. WIMI is a place where we encourage each other to get more involved as industry professionals, and as women leaders, to help transform the landscape of mortgage brokering in Canada.
Thank you for listening to WIMI Talks, where we make being a mortgage professional a little bit easier and a lot more fun. You will find this podcast, and more, available on the WIMI Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/groups/wimigroup
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