I never intended to be a real estate and money expert. Seriously! I was going to be a screenwriter and in fact have written more than a half dozen scripts (don’t ask me where they are – somewhere in a box in the basement, I think) and two-thirds of a novel (a social thriller set in a newsroom, of all places) and was even represented in Hollywood for a time.
But at the same time all that was happening, I had to figure out a way to support myself. So, I became a full-fledged member of this country’s self-employed workforce, took my real estate sales person’s class and licensing exam for the State of Illinois, passed it and started writing about real estate for the Chicago Tribune, local business for Crain’s Chicago Business, travel for the Washington Post, and any other writing work I could scrounge up.
Really? You’re Going to be a Freelance Writer?
Yup. I loved it. I loved selling stories to various newspapers, magazines and trade publications. Loved making connections. Loved writing hundreds of stories per year. And then, in 1993, I was offered a “nationally-syndicated” column with exactly two newspapers buying.
For $15 per week. Which I had to share with the syndicate.
At the same time, I sold my first book (at auction!) to Random House. The book, 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask, whose title I thought of when I was hiking down Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon with my sisters (and without a piece of paper to write on), has since gone through two subsequent editions and sold more than 325,000 copies. The next year I sold 100 Questions Every Home Seller Should Ask, and started writing (about) a book a year.
Life continued on for awhile, as I wrote the syndicated column (which by then I had built up to 8 newspapers, and then 34, and then about 135 and then, thanks to the Great Recession, only about 70), had two amazing kids with my husband and partner Sam Tamkin (the world’s best real estate attorney, book editor, and now co-author of our nationally-syndicated column), and kept pumping out books (and going on book tours).
In 1998, as Random House was publishing my fourth book, 100 Questions You Should Ask About Your Personal Finances (yes, I definitely had a numbers/SEO thing going on long before Buzzfeed), I got invited to promote the book on The Clark Howard Show, a radio show based at WSB-AM, in Atlanta. That went so well, that Random House sent me to Atlanta for a 3-hour stint on the show. That led to an offer to be Clark’s permanent guest host – and lucky for me, Clark had about 7 weeks of vacation per year! (I still want to hire his agent.)
At the same time, I went on WGN-TV, in Chicago (my hometown) to help promote the book. And got hired to be the “Money Expert.” So, I went on the air twice a week (three times during sweeps), and started doing regular appearances on CNN, Lifetime, Fox News, CNBC, and a host of other local and national television and radio shows.
Don’t You Have a YouTube Channel?
After spending 8 years at WGN-TV, I went off the air but starting creating video for our corporate clients. In addition, I started taping a show called the Real Estate Minute, which airs on my YouTube channel, Expert Real Estate Tips. Today, my YouTube channel has 6+ million views. I’m also shooting a weekly series called Big Money Real Estate, which you can find on my Expert Real Estate Tips channel.
I also started doing regular speaking engagements around the country, including one memorable weekend in 1998, in Scottsdale, AZ on behalf of a large mortgage company. After the speech, I sat with the CMO and his marketing team and he said 5 magic words I’ll never forget: “Ilyce, we have a problem.”
I asked what the problem was. And the CMO replied: “We have 6 million customers, but when they go to refinance, they don’t think of us. Do you know why?”
And I did know why. It’s the same problem large, regulated financial services companies continue to have today: Your customers need you, but they don’t understand you – or everything you are required to tell them. The communication platform is broken.
The company hired me to develop a lead generation machine built on educational content. I deconstructed the process of getting a mortgage (whether you’re buying a home or refinancing) and created a wildly successful information campaign with a predictable close rate. The company was thrilled.
That was the beginning of Think Glink Media, a digital content agency that creates unique, award-winning work that helps companies solve a variety of problems. We do a lot of interesting things in a bunch of industries, including real estate, financial services, health, manufacturing, energy, technology, media, and so on.
In what little time I have off, I like to travel, hike, spend time with my husband and kids, cook (I’m a pretty good cook and a very mediocre baker) and garden (I’m just awful at it – black thumbs everywhere). But my favorite thing to do is find innovative solutions to all sorts of problems.