Lori Ballen has always been addicted to teaching.
It started when her sister was born. Though only one year her senior, Lori helped guide her through everything from getting dressed to finding the right seat on the bus. Her second student—a younger brother—was born seven years later, and the lessons continued.
Early in school, Lori became a teacher’s assistant, tutor, and even ran her own “mini-school” in her family’s basement. She learned sign language in her teens. At 17, she became the youngest certified interpreter in the U.S. and was on her way to becoming a full-time teacher for the deaf.
But life had other plans.
Lori married her former husband at age 21. And even though she didn’t have any formal education after high school, she took over the marketing for his Las Vegas-area catering company.
Business exploded after she came on board. The couple pulled in nearly seven figures in their first year together and soon began catering for 30,000-plus people at the Flamingo, Hilton, and other massive Vegas venues. They also opened a wedding facility where Lori cut her teeth as an SEO and content marketer.
They didn’t intend to sell their catering and entertainment company. But in 2003, the right buyer came by at the right time, and again, life had other plans.
By Lori’s own admittance, boredom—and perhaps a bit too much time in the casinos—eventually led her to real estate four years later. She took the same SEO strategies she learned at the catering company and applied them to her new endeavor with even better success.
By 2010, Lori had adopted YouTube and incorporated video content into her SEO content strategy. Her social media presence added another notch to her marketing belt and helped her boost her web traffic, grow her email list, and start building a community of like-minded entrepreneurs.
After building her personal brand, Lori saw an opportunity to rekindle her passion for education. She began teaching other realtors to develop websites, rank on Google, and how to increase website traffic organically. In 2014, she began building digital courses and creating content for websites and webinars and live streams to give fellow entrepreneurs the tools they need to grow their businesses.
Her teaching extended offline when her real estate broker approached her with an opportunity to teach a small web-building class. The class became popular enough to evolve into a weekly marketing course. And before long, Lori opened her classes to everyone in the Vegas area.
“That was my first introduction to the fact that it’s even OK to charge for teaching,” Lori said. “At the time, morally, I thought that would have been a little weird.”
Today, Lori has her hand in a little bit of everything. She’s a digital marketing strategist, affiliate marketer, real estate agent, and prolific creator.
“But I’m a teacher first,” she said. “Above all other things, what matters to me most is that I can take whatever I’m passionate about and help others understand it and use it in their business.”
Cutting through the noise with SEO content and an omnichannel strategy
Education is at the core of everything Lori produces. And as someone who has made a living ranking on search engines, SEO strategies are always in focus.
But the SEO environment is entirely different now than when Lori was starting her career to the tune of dial-up internet. Back then, competition for the attention of AOL’s primitive web crawlers was thin. In fact, most marketers were still coping with the transition from direct mail to email as a way to grow their brands.
But that all changed when Google disrupted everything in the new millennium and turned SEO into an essential strategy. And with the advent of social media shortly thereafter, Lori needed to adopt an omnichannel approach to stay relevant on search engines.
“The main difference between now and then is just the sheer volume of what’s out there. There is a massive opportunity, but it has just gotten so competitive.”
To cut through the noise, creators must produce both video and written content depending on the subject matter. They also need to keep production consistent and on-brand. For Lori, that means crafting her message for a specific audience of real estate professionals and entrepreneurs.
“A jack of all trades is special to no one.So I really focus on who I am.”
As a real estate agent herself, Lori builds trust with that audience by talking shop about the industry and speaking to their pain points. That rapport, she said, is the first step to cultivating a community that will follow you anywhere.
Cultivating trust to build more than a fanbase
By the mid-2010s, Lori had a dedicated core audience that consistently showed up for her content, sent referrals to her real estate team, bought her webinars, and signed up for her affiliate links. The audience was more than just a fanbase—it was now her “tribe.”
“These real estate agents were doing business with me over again,” Lori said. “They were just constantly feeding this engine.”
But Lori’s online community was interested in more than just real estate content. They also wanted to get to know her as a person.
This became clear when Lori deviated from her usual programming after she and her former husband divorced in 2016. In addition to real estate and SEO-centric content, she decided to document her weight loss journey using the keto diet. She recorded the successes, failures, and everything between until she eventually reached her 50-pound weight-loss goal.
The content was a hit. By making herself vulnerable and showcasing each challenge she encountered, Lori noticed her community grow even stronger.
“For most creators, we differentiate ourselves by showing our personality and building a tribe. And it’s also the best for longevity.”
But Lori’s new content gave her more than just relatable, episodic subject matter. She now had an opportunity to help her community reach its business and lifestyle goals. With that in mind, Lori created a new website, became a certified coach, and started a weight-loss program.
By now, Lori’s tribe was showing up everywhere. They bought her keto course and subsequent affiliate marketing course. They even supported her daughter in selling pins on Whatnot’s community marketplace and contracted her sister for freelance writing gigs.
“The fact that they will move from one niche to another with you—that’s a tribe,” Lori said. “They’ll go to bat for you. They’ll refer you. They’ll fight for you.”
To keep that relationship strong, Lori interacts with her community whenever she can. Sometimes it’s through email, text message, or the occasional handwritten card. But mostly, the back-and-forths take place on social media. Whatever form that outreach takes, she always tries to keep it real with her tribe.
“When you share how you crashed and burned and got back up, people can relate to that. Now you’re human, and they feel they know and like you. That’s where all the magic happens.”
How brands can do outreach the right way
Although her tribe has made her a desirable partner for sponsorships and affiliate partnerships, Lori said she rarely entertains proposals from brands. Unless it is an absolute homerun, she prefers to focus on her existing endeavors.
But occasionally, something will pique her interest. And when it does, she starts the vetting process by looking to see if she aligns with the brand and determines how its product or service might benefit her audience.
“Real estate agents are a big part of my bread and butter pool,” Lori said. “So I need to make sure I know how they are going to implement it and see value.”
But collaboration proposals are rarely well-received. In fact, Lori said that outreach is generally “pretty terrible” and often involves a brand telling her to “check us out” instead of introducing their product and explaining its value.
“If I see the benefit right from the get-go, yeah, I might jump on board. But there needs to be a much better introduction and conversation around it.”
Brands do get it right sometimes. And that usually happens when they begin the conversation by mentioning a piece of her content they particularly enjoyed. Then they’ll get right into their product and how real estate professionals can take advantage of it.
“Now I’m going to pay attention because you’re telling me and my audience you have a product they can use,” Lori explained. “There is something far more interesting there.”
From there, Lori looks for reviews from people in her industry who are using and liking the product. If that checks out, she’ll take a look at the brand’s marketing assets and see if they provide quality FAQs, banners, swipe files, or any other resources she can use to provide her audience with everything they need to make an informed buying decision.
Brands seal the deal when they can provide a dashboard that tracks visits, conversions, how much money she’s making, and when she can expect her next paycheck.
“All of that has to be visible,” Lori said. “I wouldn’t touch anybody that didn’t have that full dashboard so I can see what’s happening and measure conversion rate.”
A career built on experiential marketing
No matter the project, there’s a recurring theme in each of Lori’s successes: an unforgettable experience.
Early in her career, pony rides and bounce houses gave her clients a full-on carnival rather than just a catered event.
She wanted her real estate clients to experience the ‘wow’ too—so much so that she rebranded her team and changed its domain name to experiencethewow.com. A bowl of full-sized candy bars in the office and business cards that opened like an accordion made sure her clients got the idea as soon as they stepped through her door.
For about three years, Lori sent every new Facebook friend a personalized greeting card. Each one included a little bit about herself and a link where they provided everything from their birthday to their favorite alcoholic beverage.
A personalized experience is still at the core of Lori’s business model. Her audience has seen her grow her business firsthand and trusts that she can help them do the same. And as a teacher by nature, nothing makes her happier than sharing what works.
“More than being inspired to do something, I want people to feel empowered to do something. And the biggest compliment they can give me is telling me that I made it easy.”