Earning a Client for Life

Lead generation, great marketing and customer service — these are the basics for any REALTOR®’s business. Having a successful business involves being proactive, just as much as it is being reactive. It’s not just implementing the basics, either; you can stand out by utilizing special and unique tools to provide above and beyond service.

In developing your unique marketing, customer service and relationship-building tools, think about what your clients’ needs are, and consider what you do or know that’s unique. Then, pair it all together and package it in a way that adds value to your clients’ lives. We all have something that makes us just a bit different than the next broker, and we shouldn’t be shy about honing in and continuously working to improve or perfect that unique trait. Real estate is a relationship-based business, and I am acutely aware of the importance of building a strong foundation for each client relationship based on trust, integrity and confidence. Authentic relationship building is a key part of my mission statement, and my Little Black Books helps to augment that!


Back in 2015, I realized I was spending a significant amount of time each day responding to client inquiries for referrals for plumbers, painters, contractors, attorneys, inspectors and lenders — all the resources that relate to buying or selling a home. I was also fielding requests for other services and recommendations, like:

  • Where should we go for a romantic dinner?
  • Where can I get a wedding dress altered?
  • My family and I want to visit Logan Square. Can you recommend a favorite bar or restaurant?
  • Sorry to bother you at 11 PM on a Friday night, but our furnace isn’t working and it’s 30 degrees out. Help!
  • Hey Deb, saw your post about your friend’s new restaurant opening in the West Loop. Can you help me with a reservation?

Clearly, there was a desire to tap into my knowledge and relationships, so how could I centralize it, brand it and make it most useful?

Together with Eva Palloto, my Director of Operations, I created a cheat sheet of my go-to resources, in addition to my favorite haunts for food, drinks and shopping. Over a few weeks (and many nights of drinking bubbly and margaritas — for research purposes!), we decided a cheat sheet wasn’t enough space, nor was it pretty enough to share everything we wanted.

That’s how Debra’s Little Black Book (DLBB) came to be.


Eva, who rightfully calls herself the “Manager of All-Things-Beautiful,” is responsible for the design of the book. Our first edition took about four months to create, from concept to the finished product. Our recently-released second edition took roughly two months of work on a part-time basis, with approximately 50-plus hours per month dedicated to proofreading, fact-checking, sourcing photos and selecting font type, size and color for the readers’ viewing pleasure.


A hard copy of the Little Black Book is mailed to each of my past and current clients, as well as anyone who requests one through my website. We also make it available as a digital flip book. This past spring, we launched the second version of DLBB. Within 48 hours, we had over 100 downloads and multiple hard copy requests from clients wanting to share with friends and family.

We update the online version regularly, based on new finds and recommendations from friends and clients. It’s a nice tool to solicit feedback and stay in touch! We already have two new recommendations from clients who received version two of the book and contacted us with suggestions. So many clients tell us how much they use and love DLLB, and they often get back to me with their happy experiences after having worked with my trusted resources. For example, a client had her townhome painted by one of my recommended painters and is wildly happy with the end result. I now have a happy client and a newly-painted townhome to list for sale. We’re excited this book has become so collaborative, opening up a new avenue for communication between my business and my clients, ultimately leading to more opportunities and stronger relationships.

An added bonus? I’m also nourishing the many business-to-business relationships I’ve developed since my real estate career began in 1984. I’ve known many of my go-to professional resources for 25-plus years, including one of my lenders, my home inspector and one of my general contractors and painters.


Building and updating DLBB is so enjoyable for me not only because it helps my clients, but also because it was built out of things I really love and believe in.

Buying or selling a home is a uniquely personal experience wrapped within a business transaction, so it’s important to relate to clients on an EQ as well as IQ level. I’m a total data junkie and love spending quiet evenings pouring over market data and comps or reading about the latest trends in real estate. I also love Chicago, exploring all its neighborhoods and finding new, special places. My clients can sense this authenticity when they work with me. DLBB extends that connection and invites my clients to keep in touch for reasons that go beyond another deal. I love that!

I encourage all brokers to create their own special tools to complement their business, like DLBB does for mine. Involve your peers and staff in the process, to add their own ideas or special flair. Start and end with the philosophy that your client is the star of the show and work passionately to deliver an outstanding experience. This is how you earn a client for life.