September Business Feature

Zena Marie Capers, Realtor with Century 21


This month, we worked with Zena Marie, a Realtor affiliated with Century 21, and we know many of you will relate with her story. She’s an inspiration for any woman who’s ready to step up and branch out by starting “second-act career”.  Zena is a former Elite Services associate in catering who worked with Notre Dame University for 13 years. Two years ago, as her youngest child graduated from high school and headed off to college, Zena decided it was the perfect time to take a chance and to create a career for herself that allowed her to start her empty nester years with more freedom. What she did next was life changing…

JAM Creative Marketing: How did you start working in Real Estate?
Zena: A little over 2 years ago, my last son graduated, I had been with Notre Dame for 13 years. I decided to do something for me, as an empty nester. I decided to do something to make me more free, so I jumped. I have financial freedom, I can work as hard as I want to, so I decided to do real estate.

JAM: Oh! Tell us what you did at Notre Dame. And, tell us about what your kids are doing.
Zena: I was an Elite Services associate in catering. I had a schedule where I had to be there from 6a.m. to 2 or 3:30p.m. every day. I’d miss games and stuff with the kids; there wasn’t a lot of flexibility.
I needed to be there because the benefits were amazing, and my kids needed some type of college opportunity. I waited until all 3 kids got at least a bachelor’s degree. And because of that job, all three had the opportunity to choose to go to college.
My youngest son is at Southwestern Michigan College, and my daughter is enrolled at St. Mary’s. My oldest son had a Football and Track scholarship, and majored in Sports Management, with a PE minor. Now he’s going through the Grand Valley State University Graduate program.

JAM: You have to be proud of creating those opportunities for your kids, and proud that they’re all doing so well! Has it been a change since your youngest left the house and you starting a new career?
Zena: It is, and it is so different. From being a mom all of my life, and now it’s time for me. It’s so different—how I see life and myself. I didn’t realize I was 95% focused on my children until they got up and out of the house. You don’t notice it while you’re actually doing it; but now it’s like, “Who do I wake up at 6:30?”
I’m still young. I try to live a purpose driven life. On purpose, intentionally, every day—even when I don’t feel like it. Working for yourself is so different. You have to stay motivated, or your business will go down the drain. Every day you have to look forward to something. 

JAM: Tell us what you do to make yourself stand out, as a new business owner?
Zena: I do my research. I’ve found some success with Facebook, and sending out postcards. I’m always trying to do something to build my business every day. I was told once by a seasoned agent, that if you can survive between your 1st and 3rd year, you’re good; you’ll survive! I just hit my second year, so, I feel real good about it!

JAM: Tell us about what you do to advertise. Since you work through Century 21, but you’re responsible for marketing yourself?
Zena: I use Facebook. I use Instagram too. I started to use Snapchat just to see what happens there, I’ll throw something out for Snapchat then my kids will post it out, because they’re, you know, the younger generation. But Snapchat doesn’t really seem like it works for me. I have a bench, and people have seen it and gotten in touch with me. And, really, I go to all the local Starbucks, so at each Starbucks somebody knows me, and I make so many connections that way. Sometimes you have to spend money to make money. So, I make sure I can do things like videos. I may put that stuff on social media or use it in other advertising. I may take a picture of myself in front of my listing and put that on there. I’ll put signs out for the open houses, put it on social media, and put it in our system for the board of realtors. I try to do everything I can.

JAM: What was that like when you started? Were you uncomfortable promoting yourself around town? We’ve seen that it can be hard for some of our clients to feel like they should be promoting themselves.
Zena: We need to always show up and show our faces as realtors, people have to see me all the time. So, my personal branding message: I’m dedicated to serving you. It came so naturally. I think it was my background at Notre Dame. I was so dedicated at that job. I knew Real Estate was a difficult business when I started, but you have to put that time in when you want something for yourself no matter what it is. I will be just as dedicated with my own business, with my own clients. If I don’t do anything else, I’ll give this business at least 13 years, just like I did at Notre Dame.
I go above and beyond. I notice that my niche is first time home buyers. They don’t know anything about buying a home, they don’t even know where to start. I love building anything from the ground up, I know that people appreciate me when I help them to figure everything out.
I’m linked with a credit repair professional, who just moved here, and we’ll be holding workshops and try to help people. My buyers will always be supported. I have somebody who will help you, she’ll work you through the process. We kind of call it the incubator. I think people will never forget that!
In real estate, you have to have something to stand out, so that people won’t forget you. And it takes time, it’s not quick, but it’s okay. If someone’s not ready to buy, maybe their friends are. I have to be strategic in this business.
If you are giving a service, you have to put yourself out there. It’s almost self-explanatory. You have to try different ways to connect, to see if people like it. If they don’t, okay. It’s not arrogant to put yourself out there. It’s just like our houses—we call that our inventory. We have to put the houses out there, and we have to put ourselves out there because I want you to choose me.

JAM: How do you set yourself apart, with all the Realtors out there?
Zena: The credit repair, offering extended services for the points where you could lose a buyer because of an issue. I want to keep my people close, I want to walk them through the process and be their partner through it. If I can help them at those points, they’ll be able to get past them. That will be the huge open door, they’ll never forget me, and it’s all about referrals.

JAM: How do you think people are liking your approach?
Zena: I’ve been more busy, I almost had to get an assistant recently, but I’m trying to wait for that third year. It can get overwhelming.
I try to work with my clients to help them through the process, walk them through the paperwork and specifically say what each part is for. I try to be sensitive to people as well, I try to stay in my lane. I learned along the way, if I ask lending questions, or title company questions, people need some privacy. I don’t get into that part with them. I think they appreciate that I know the line.

JAM: So, we want to go back to the leap of courage it took for you to change careers. We know so many people who are thinking about leaving long term careers for something that might be better. What do you think is the best thing about taking action and making that happen for you?
Zena: It’s the freedom, I’m not locked in from 6a.m. to 2p.m. or 7a.m. to 3:30p.m. I’m free to do whatever and however I want to do to make my business, and to live how I like to live. I really had to work hard in order to make the life I wanted and the money I desired to make, and I’m free to do that!

JAM: What is your advice for others who might be inspired to do what you did?
Zena: I would say, “plan accordingly”. If it’s okay for me to say… to put prayer into it. Prayer, planning, preparation, and then presenting. You have to put money in, to get money back and that’s not easy. You have to have some type of savings, it costs. I’d say, just start it, but make sure you have some type of plan. I prepared for a year before I actually went out and did it. All of it didn’t make sense yet, but I had to take the jump anyway. It may not all fit together, but if you have even just a little bit of peace, you’ve got to jump!

JAM: Do you mind telling us what your plan looked like?
Zena: I had a countdown going…when time is up: I’m gone; I’m ready to let it go. I think I jumped earlier than my original plan because we had some new management come in after all of the years I’d worked there. I was ready to go, but didn’t know when and didn’t know how. But I was ready, I had personal days, vacation days. I would go to school and have to use some of my time. I had to kind of sneak to go to real estate school. I had 3 weeks before I was done, I was switching my schedule with someone who wouldn’t tell anyone. I had to finally tell her at the 3 weeks that I was doing this, and I was almost done. She had my back and said she’d switch with me as long as she could. So, I finished school while I was there. I was done in December, came back after the New Year, I saw my schedule, and I knew that schedule no longer worked for me anymore. So, I went on-call instead of full-time. I know it was God that there was even the option, because they didn’t have the on-call position before that.
I started telling people that I’d have my license soon, so I started spreading the word, setting up that spirit of influence, telling friends, family, church, things like that.Then, I got license in 2017, and I’ve been doing this full-time ever since.

JAM: And it seems like this has all worked out really well. We’re thrilled for you!
Zena: It was just something. They presented my license in June 2017. I’d just found out there were 40,000 realtors in St. Joseph County, and that was overwhelming. But, my first buyer was a cash buyer, and the money covered what I’d put into the business. You put in all that time, that you think is lost, but it’