Catherine: Sometimes a broker really catches my eye, and I think “Wow! They’re really developing and growing and rocking it!” Tracy Valko is one of those ladies. I’m excited to talk to her about growing a business in a smaller community and what initiatives she has done to build her business. I’m super‑happy to welcome Tracy Valko.
Welcome Tracy. I’m so delighted to have you. You made the CMP’s Top 75 Broker List this year, which is absolutely amazing. You’re part of the CMA Awards all the time, so we want to learn more about you. So how did you actually enter in the mortgage business?
Tracy Valko: Well, thank you so much, Catherine. I really appreciate the opportunity to speak to all the women in WIMI. I love the group. We’ve talked before and I said I wish I would have had this type of support when I started out 16 years ago, so I just wanted to take a moment thank you very much for this. It’s a great honour and a privilege to be able to kind of tell all the women about my story and to go through my experience and what I’ve learned. Also, to have that support going for it as well, too, because we’re all dealing with different issues every day with clients coming in and every client that comes in has a different financial story and a different emotional story behind it as well. So it’s always good to have this type of support network now, going forward as well too with any new agents or brokers that are on‑board as well.
So just to give you a brief history about myself. I’ve been in the financial industry for 25 years. I worked at some of the banks when I first started and then went to financial institutions. I worked for Household Finance for actually quite a few years, like five years with them. And I really got a good foundation with them to deal with mortgage financing from the B perspective, the client’s perspective, which was great. That was probably, I think, probably very monumental in my journey of becoming a mortgage broker because I did like that type of business. I did like people that came to me with financial issues with their mortgages, didn’t know what to do, thought that they were going to have to leave their home and we were able to, with Household Finance, be able to get them into—I know rates then were extremely high, but we were still able to keep their houses for them.
Catherine: A lot of brokers in this is industry have only been through low rates. So what would you call a Household Finance rate?
Tracy: Household Finance rates, when I was doing it, we’re 18-21 %. [laughs] Gosh, I’m dating myself here. But we did it and we still kept people in their houses and we did a lot of second mortgage financing as well, and I learned quite a bit from it. It really did give me a foundation when I became a broker on how to deal with B business because I find, like most women that start as an agent, a lot of business that first comes to you is not the AAA, the great business that the banks get. It’s going to be people with credit issues.
As brokers, I think we’re always considered second choice. We’re not considered first. I know I changed that with my business, in my community. But it’s tough. It really is. A lot of my first business in the first five years was a lot of B business. And back then, we could only do financing up to 75% on an A deal, so we needed good private financing or good private lenders, or good B lenders that were able to do that type of business. So that foundation really helped me when I became an agent, and still going forward now, I’ve got a good book of business that’s B business.
Catherine: A lot of people feel guilty, I think, about charging a fee or B rates. They feel bad.
Tracy: Yeah, and I do. I still do.
Tracy: Yeah, I still do. I still struggle with it. I’ll be honest, it’s tough. It’s a tough business. And as a woman, I find it’s more so. I am very emotional with my clients. I’ve cried with my clients. I hold them very dear to me. And like I said, they’re not a client to me, they’re part of my family. They’re part of my team here, as well. So when we have clients that have had struggles—financially, emotionally, health‑wise—and they’re looking for somebody just to listen to them and help them through that window, I take that very personally. And it’s tough for me to charge huge rates. I don’t do it. I’m probably one of the ones around my area that probably charges the least. I know the girls in my office get mad at me. There’s more, “You need to charge more. Like we spent a lot of time”, but I can’t. It’s tough for me.
The way I explain it to a client, too, is I call it a band-aid effect what we’re doing. We’re fixing a situation for a short‑term to get you into a better window of opportunity going forward with your financing. So if we just do a year of a higher rate and we really stay on top of that client with their credit, in a year’s time the window opens up and we’re able to get them into AAA ratings again. And they will have more appreciation of their credit. Or it might be an issue with their health, and because their credit has deteriorated, we help them their credit score back up and on track again and get them back into AAA rates.
So when I approach it that way for myself, as well, I have a lot more peace with it. Because we’re here to truly help the client. I just don’t charge huge rates. I don’t like it. On the B stuff, I won’t do it. And if I can’t help the client for some reason, if it’s just not going to work on getting them a second mortgage, there’s other programs out there and there’s other different avenues that you can go for support for them. Like I’ve even refer people to get counselling. We’ve got a great family counsellors we know and divorce counsellors as well. Like I’ve built up that kind of network because I tell the client it’s not just about the rate we do here. We truly want to help the client overall and give them avenues of support.
You know when they come back they have it. They’re like, “Tracy, you really helped me out. You really spent the time and gave me support over and above just giving a mortgage”. And I find that type of commitment you have your client, you end up having them for life.
Catherine: Yes, and they’ve also shared so much with you and you’ve really listened to them.
Catherine: And they really see your concern and now they’re invested. You’re invested in them and they’re invested in you.
Tracy: Absolutely. And you know, most of my business, if you look at the percentage of business I do and I’ve broken it down, 75% of my business is my repeat clients. That’s huge.
Catherine: Yes, but 25% new business, that’s all so big.
Tracy: Yeah, very big. So, a lot of that is geared to my business I do a lot different because I market. I market and market my team, and I market consistently in my community. And I learned that a long time ago. When I first got on the business, I was trying to look at avenues of where I could educate myself in terms of how to grow my business. And what I looked at was businesses that complimented a mortgage broker, and one was a real estate agent. So what I did is I looked at one of the highest top paid real estate agents in our community here in Kitchener-Waterloo.
At that point there I was new. Nobody knew me. I mean, I tried to approach her. She wouldn’t meet with me and that’s fine. She’s very busy. But I did approach her team and I had the opportunity to be able to sit down with her team and really get just vast knowledge in terms of what they do and how they do in terms of their marketing. One of the greatest things that one of her agents told me is just you need to be everywhere. She goes, “You don’t have to be marketing in every place, but be in great areas where people think you’re everywhere”.
I really took that information and I started really brainstorming and writing stuff down and I started to really study where people market in the area. Whether it be a real estate agent and just any type of self‑employed business, small business, where they market and where I thought I would get the most visibility with the consumers and the most feedback, and that’s what I did. Which is actually pretty funny because one of the first advertising I did was for a bench sign, and what I did is I called the company and I asked them, “What’s the busiest intersection that you have in Kitchener-Waterloo?” So they told me which one it was and then I asked, “What’s your highest traffic, in terms of the highest traffic which intersection has the most accidents?” and it was the same one. And I said, “I need to be there”. And it took me a year-and-a-half to get on there because there was a waiting list. There was other people that had contracts. And when that was up, I have not given it up yet.
Catherine: Oh wow!
Tracy: Yeah, and I consistently get business off of that.
Catherine: So marketing is expensive.
Tracy: It is very expensive.
Catherine: So, do you have a hard time sometimes? Like do you ever cheap out and then decide not to do something or how much do you invest in yourself?
Tracy: A time where my business truly picked up in terms of volume was, I would say, about three years ago. At that point I started reading a lot of books from people that were very successful in their business; whether it be real estate or doing promotional speaking and business strategies. And I read a lot of books and they always said you got to make sure you write down everything. Write it down and take the time to read it, not just once, but spend the time every day to read it and analyze and break it down. And I realized that in order for me to really grow my business is that I have to take my marketing to the next level. So, years ago I spent 60% of my income and I put it all into marketing.
Catherine: Wow, 60%!
Tracy: Yeah. And I grew. I grew my business in a year by 50%.
Catherine: Oh wow, so it did pay off.
Tracy: Absolutely, and it really did. And there’s some stuff that did fail, there’s no doubt about it. You have to try, right. I mean, failures also bring successes, right? That’s what a lot of people say. A lot of successful people in whatever business say that you have to fail to be able to succeed, and so you learn. And marketing companies can be very aggressive and I’m sure every other agent that listens or some broker can appreciate that. Sometimes you just get overwhelmed where you get about 20 calls and they usually call at the beginning of the month or at the end of a quarter. They’ll call and try to get your business. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can really get tapped into it and tapped out, financially. So you have to be careful.
I’ve done enough of it now that I really do take ownership of what I do market. I understand it. I make sure that I’m on top of it. You can’t forget about it because you have to change it up. So whatever advertising you have out there, you’ve got to make sure you’re on top of what else is going on in the marketplace; whether it be rate or product or what’s going on in the community, to make sure you change your marketing to accommodate that. You can’t keep something the same because it’ll become stale. So that money that you put into it, you might as well just throw out the window. So it’s a big commitment. It really is if you go that route, it’s a big commitment.
Catherine: Did you do this all on yourself? Like three years ago, you’re like, “I’m going to do this” and you did it or did you get help?
Tracy: I did. Yes, at that point there I did it on my own, but then I started to get help. I was getting overwhelmed because you’re trying to run your business and then you’ve got the marketing and so I’m up till two or three in the morning. I’m like, yeah, I can’t keep on doing this. So I did end up hiring a marketing team that I have now, so I do hire people on contract with my business that are very good in marketing and will give me suggestions and make sure that they’re also on top of when my marketing material needs to be changed.
Because you can’t do it all, right? So you have to have people to support you. And so I’ve got a really good group of a team for me that do my marketing, and they’re great and they have my back. And that’s what’s important. It took time. I mean, I didn’t have that overnight, so it took time. I have three people on my back‑end for my marketing, and then one of the girls in my office, she answers the phones but she also does my marketing, my online social media as well.
So, you have to have that team and it can be overwhelming at first. I understand that, but it’s baby steps, right? So as you evolve and as you get more volume coming in and as your income increases you put more money aside, and then you can make the decision if you need to hire somebody on. A lot of people with marketing groups and in companies will hire on contract, which is great. You don’t have to hire them on full-time. And you don’t need necessarily a person full-time in your office to do that. They take a couple hours every month to do it and then they just charge you a fee, and that’s a great way to do it. And then you’re not broke, right?
Catherine: Yes, and it’s a manageable expense.
Tracy: It is. Absolutely.
Catherine: So your office, you have a storefront, correct?
Tracy: I haven’t, no. I’m on the second floor. Yeah, I’m not storefront. No, I’m not. And I didn’t believe in it when I got were my office is right now. I wanted to keep my expenses low and I wanted to be able to be able to market like this. This is what I wanted to do. This is how I wanted to grow my business. We do financing. I don’t necessarily have to be storefront for that. I can be in a business building, which I’m in, and I’m on second floor and I have signage everywhere. So people know who I am. I mean, no one’s questioned me in regards to that, and it’s from that perspective, it’s kept my business costs low.
I’m looking to expand on that and I’ll still probably look at a second floor, just because I don’t need storefront. And I explain to people or clients when they do come in, I’m different from the bank. You can go in the bank. Banks are storefront. They’re usually corner spots and on major streets as well. But you know, we’re more personalized and we’re more about you for the longevity of your financing, right.
And for every aspect of what goes on in your life; whether your first-time home buyers to upgrading because you’re having a family now to sometimes unfortunately down the road, people end up getting divorced and having to downsize. We want to be there for the journey for you, right. So, the location, for me, is key in terms of making sure that I’m in-between Kitchener and Waterloo area because it’s from two cities we’re in. But in terms of storefront, I don’t think it would necessarily bring my business up higher than what I’ve got.
I think being in the market and spending my money in doing my marketing is where I need to be because then people know they’re like, “Oh my god, Tracy, I see you everywhere!” and I’m really not everywhere. I’ve just picked really good areas to be visible in high-traffic areas. I have a lot of people say, “Oh right, you’re in Waterloo. I see you all the time on these benches and that”. I’m not. [laughs] I’m not even on one. It’s so funny and I get it all the time, but they just see me every day when they drive by for work, and they’ve come in from Kitchener-Waterloo and they think I’m everywhere. It’s amazing what marketing can do for you.
Catherine: That’s great. You’re right. Like financial planners and lots and lots and lots of businesses aren’t storefront.
Tracy: No, absolutely they’re not.
Catherine: Some are. It’s just a different business model.
Tracy: Yeah, it is. I mean, I’ve seen this storefront model be very tough on brokers. As we know, the market can go up and down and your volumes can go up and down in the course of a year, and you’re paying high rent with storefront. I mean, it’s not cheap. Commercial leasing is not cheap. It’s very tough to purchase commercial property in town that I think would be in a great area to compensate for the expense of that. So leasing, for me, and when I look at it from a business perspective in the area that I’m in, is really my only option. Being on the second floor takes that stress away that if it’s a slower month I don’t have to worry. I mean, the expenses here are very low, right. I’d love to own a house and do my business out of that, but it’s just not possible where I’m located. There’s just no area like that here that will do that. So this is good.
And anybody starting out should do that. You really do need to have an office. I’ve had a lot of agents that have come in and out of my business and try to do it out of their house and go to coffee shops and it just doesn’t, to me, give the broker industry a professional image. You need to have an office location where they come in, they feel secure, you take their documentation, you have it locked away in your files and everything’s secure. It’s not just meeting up. I just never understood that concept. I think, for me, you need to have a professional office. And I know it takes time and it’s tough when you’re first starting out, but there’s lots of spaces that I know around town here as well, and I know they’re all over, where you can get into a professional business office space and rent one of the offices out.
Catherine: Yes, they are so professional and it great, they have coffee and everything, so you don’t have to provide it.
Tracy: That’s right, and they have a reception at the front desk as well. So there’s lots and you just have to look into that, and you can do that for a long time until you get yourself established and you get yourself your own office. I didn’t get this overnight. This took time, I rented a space from the brokerage I was at. When I first started out, I rented a space. I did that for a long time. I did that until I got this office space in 2009 when I became a broker. I rented a space out. So, it just takes time.
Catherine: So you were a new broker once, which as everyone was. Did you lose deals and what did you do to stop that. Like what did you learn about yourself so that you could overcome losing deals? We all start new and obviously the first one is very stressful, but you probably notice trends.
Tracy: Yeah, absolutely. And I found at the beginning it was tough because I think you’re just getting into the business, you’re still trying to learn different lenders, meeting the clients, understanding what their needs are, financially as well. And I found I did lose quite a bit of deals at the beginning and I realized what it was is my confidence when speaking to the clients, it just wasn’t there. I wavered on a lot of what I was saying to the clients, without having conviction because I wasn’t secure in myself. So what I realized at that point there, and that was in my first year of being an agent, is that I needed to get some assistance.
Again, it was tough when I first started out. There wasn’t a lot of women in the industry. It was very male-dominated and at that point the people that I was with were just about getting rent for that space, teaching me a little bit, but saying, “Okay, here you go”. So no type of real support or compassion for you losing deals and struggling with the clients. So I really started to look at courses. I took some marketing and I took some speaking courses through the college. I went to Toastmasters. It was great and I would we recommend that for everybody to go through Toastmasters. Even though I’m doing public speaking in front of a large group at that point, but I was speaking to a client and I wanted to have that confidence as if I was in a room with a thousand people in it, and that really helped me. Once I did that I never had an issue. I really didn’t. I never had an issue with people wavering on what I said. And I really started to appreciate spending the time with a client.
I really understood what my gifts were at that point, when doing this profession is spending the first half an hour with every client just listening to what their story is. Most people don’t have that. When they come in here, a lot of clients come in and they’re very vulnerable. They are telling you personal information. Half of them don’t even tell their families, and they want that help. You have to feel honoured that they’re coming to you with this and you have to spend the time and really appreciate it.
Like the girls here say at my office, you should have not just mortgage broker but have counsellor on the door too. [laughs] Because that’s what we do. I do. You spend the half the time talking and relating to them, understanding what they go through with their kids and when they’re little to when they’re teenagers. Or if they’re going through issues with their spouse or having parents that are older and have health problems and having to put them into a retirement home, and understanding and having that compassion and empathy. And I do that that. I do that with every client coming in.
That’s my first thing. It’s not financing. No, I don’t have a client sit down and go, “Okay, now give me your statement and let’s go through it”. No, because a rate’s a rate. Everybody can sell a rate. Everybody’s got 239 or 249 right now. You have to think of what’s going to differentiate you with that client and resonate and get into their heart. It really is. It’s very personalized. I’m not one, for me in my office, it doesn’t work where I just deal strictly with a client online. I have a few of those just because of circumstance of where they work and they can’t come or if they’re not in my area, but most clients I want to see you face-to-face because I know when I see you face-to-face, when you leave you’re still going to be with me. They’re still going to appreciate the time I’ve spent and understand and see the compassion that we have here, that were truly here for the client.
So yes, we’re here to get you the best rates and best product, but we’re also here to support you as you’re going through this.
Catherine: Right, and when you meet face-to-face, they see your facial expressions. They probably open up and share a lot more, because they’re there.
Tracy: Exactly. And a lot of clients have helped. They’ve given me ideas too and given me support in different areas that we just end up having the same similarities with. So you end up not only just having them as your client, but having them as a personal friend too, which is nice. And I like that. That’s the way I build my business. I know there’s a lot of people that don’t, but that’s just the way I am. I’m more of a homeschool type of team that we have here, and community. That’s what I like about Kitchener‑Waterloo. Everybody knows everybody here still. It is getting bigger. Don’t get me wrong, it is very big here and it is growing, but it’s still that type of very homeschool.
Catherine: So do you still do a lot of networking and going to events and showing up and being there as Tracy Valko, mortgage extraordinaire?
Tracy: [laughs] Well, I do go to a lot of events. I mean, my team, we all go together. I do a lot of community events as well, and that’s a big part of my business and making sure we’re involved in the community. So we do our movie night here at our community centre. We do it outside. We have we have a park in the back of where my office is. It’s just great. There’s tons of parking and there’s a park. So we have a movie night where we have a theatre outside; weather permitting. We have everybody out there. We have our annual community event by my office as well. We have a lot of smaller shops around where my where office is and we all get together and promote our businesses outside and bring the community. We want to bring everybody there, so we have games for the kids and clowns and face painting, and a band as well. So that’s coming up for me, actually in about a week. Which is great and we love it, and I get a lot of clients from that. I do, because people know we’re here in the community and it’s like, “Oh yeah, I need to come and see you. My mortgage is coming up for renewal”. It’s just a great way to connect with the community, but it’s also a great way to make sure people know that you’re here. So we do that.
And my big event, which I’m really proud of, this will be my fourth year, is our annual skate, and I love it. I really love my skate. At first I did it as a client appreciation event and then I switched it to just for the community, across the board. And it’s a way to really kick off the winter and Christmas spirit, so we do it closer to the end of November. We get the biggest rink we can in the area, we rent it out. We have face painting, we do crafts there, we bring out the fire department, we have Santa on the ice. And I’ve grown from 50 people there to 450. And it’s not just my clients. It’s anybody in the community. I’ve had ladies that are retired and don’t drive and have taken buses, a group of these ladies—god bless them, they’re like 65. We have two city buses to come to my skate, and it was great. They just skated around and had fun we had hot chocolate. I mean, it was a great event and we’re doing that this year as well. We’re going to start planning it now in terms of getting everything prepared for it. But we promote that in the paper as well, so I’m hoping this year we’ll get record attendance as well.
So trying to give back and it’s not just about you having to do financing with me, but just trying to give back and it’s free right. So it’s free for any family or anybody coming in and you’ve just got to bring your skates and away you go. So it’s a couple hours of just having some fun. We do a lot of events like that. So I think it’s important. You’ve got a business, but you have to give back in the community as well, and that’s what we really try to do. I think a lot of women out there are very compassionate that way and I think growing our businesses we do that. We tend to be able to that. It comes more from the heart. And so, having that part of it, and the girls here love it at my office. They love doing that stuff too. It’s important to give back.
Catherine: And your marketing, it has to align with you as a person.
Tracy: Yeah, absolutely. Yes. And we incorporate that as well. One of my biggest mottos at my office is it’s all about honesty, integrity, commitment, and loyalty. And I live by it. That’s day and night, I live by it. So I write down my goals, I do them every morning. I do them at night without fail.
Catherine: It’s every morning and every night?
Tracy: Every night. Every morning and every night.
Catherine: Are they the same goals every time?
Tracy: They waver a little bit in terms of my—I write down my goals but then I do my action plan. So my action plan, I’ll waver from them, but my goals really don’t. I set my goals for between this year and the next five years, so it takes a lot of time for me to do it, but it works. It resonates and it’s amazing the power of doing that and what comes forth for you in life when you do that. Because subconsciously, it goes into your mind, and from there you attract people in businesses and just different circumstances that will come to you from you doing that.
I can’t tell you how much it’s that. I used to think before that oh that’s crazy. I thought, you know what, a little bit. And it takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of time. I just started that this year. It took a lot of time but what has come forth with me in this year, I tell my husband, I said, “I can’t believe it”, and he said to me, “See, I told you. You should have done that three years ago”. He’s a big believer of that, too. So it’s just, I can’t tell you how much it does. It makes a huge impact on your business, and your life. I’m very focussed on my kids as well. I mean, that’s a big priority. The most priority in my life is my kids. I’ve been very passionate about them. You know,
I’m proud of them. No matter where they go in life, they’ve got determination, they’ve got focus. My son’s 20 this year and he said to me—he’s getting tattoos on him right now, on his arm and that. I don’t mind. It’s funny. And he was showing me which one he was going to get, and he goes, “I’m going to get your initials”. I said, “You don’t need to do that”. And he goes, “Mom, you’re the person I look up to” and he says, “You’re my hero”.
Catherine: Oh, wow!
Tracy: Like who says that, at 20?
Catherine: Oh, I did a good job! [laughs]
Tracy: Yeah, I know, it’s crazy. I said to him, “Like why use that?” He goes, “Because look what you do”. He goes, “You love your work. You love your clients. Every day you do this, with your goals. You always put me up here, and I don’t feel like I’m up here”. It’s great. Here I’m getting emotional. Anyway, it’s all good.
Catherine: That’s really great.
Tracy: You know, you’ve got to be proud of what you do every day. I’m proud of my kids. I’m proud of my business. I’m proud of everyone here. The girls know here at my office too, I have their back, no matter what. All these girls have kids. They have circumstance in their lives. One of my team members here, she’s been with me the longest, but I’ve known her a long time. She’s been with me 7 years, but I’ve known her longer than that. She’s got two little ones with diabetes, type 1 diabetes. And it’s life‑changing and it’s a struggle. I’ve seen her go through it, and she’s got three kids, but two of them have it. It’s tough, and she needed someone to work with that has compassion and understanding. She had to go and help them out at school, she goes. But when she’s here, I know she works. She’s 110% committed to me. But you have to have to have that in your team and that takes time to build that up. And it takes time to find people like that. I understand what she goes through and she doesn’t have to stress when she’s got to leave. But then she knows when she’s here, she works 110% and we’re here for the same goals. So it’s give and take for your team as well.
Catherine: Tracy, you’ve given me some great insight and this is what I’ve learned from our talk is
1. Be involved in your community.
2. Learn to public speak. I think that’s really important to help people with confidence. And some people love public speaking. I’m a public speaker lover. Some people, they don’t and so Toastmasters is a great way.
3. Spend your first half hour really listening to your customer. Make that a commitment. The first half hour is about them.
4. Have self-confidence and be goal‑oriented.
5. Find the right team members for you. And we know that’s hard. It’s super hard, but it’s so important to find those right team players.
Catherine: Thank You, Tracy. Thank you so much. We wish you the greatest of success and a great end to 2016 and an amazing 2017. Thank you from WIMI Talks and from myself, Catherine.
Tracy: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
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
Please feel free to reach out to me, your host, Catherine Halkyard—via Facebook, email, or phone—with podcast ideas, people you would like to hear about, and topics that would help us all become better mortgage professional.
Until next time, let’s close some deals!
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