Mother-in-Law Knows Best

It sometimes takes counsel from unlikely sources to get outside yourself and take your business marketing to the next level.

May 2, 2014

When I was growing up, there was nothing better than getting my mother’s glowing approval. She was—and still is—the biggest fan of all things “me.” Then I met my wife, and she became a pretty vocal advocate of mine as well, always able to communicate with love how I can make something even better.

But last autumn, something happened that neither the praise of my mother nor the support of my wife could fix. I had tasked myself with creating my company’s new website. It was a complete redesign from the bottom up.

The problem was that nothing I created satisfied me, and I was driving everyone around me crazy. I heard things like: “It’s fine.” “It’s good enough.” “You’ll never be satisfied.” That was all true.

I barreled through until Christmas Eve, when I found myself working away at my mother-in-law’s house. I was positively fuming: After four months of work, I wasn’t happy with the results and decided I would have to trash the site.

“OK, who is making you do this?” my wife asked.

“I am,” I replied.

“Right, but what’s the rush?” she countered. “Getting it right is more important than releasing something that isn’t ready.”

Of course, she was right. My release date was arbitrary, based on my goal to launch before the Inman Real Estate Connect conference in January. It was ego-driven, not wisdom-driven.

I started on my design again with a pen and paper. I sketched it out, stopping only when I reached a place of calm. I finally got it! I started feverishly creating the coding for the Web design. Then, my mother-in-law got involved.

Now, unlike my mother and wife, my mother-in-law is virtually unbiased when it comes to my abilities. She loves me, but she’s not vested in what I do.

“What’s that?” she asked, pointing to an image I used to represent my company. The image was a retro graphic of a woman with a phone, which basically meant to say, “Contact us.” I explained it to my mother-in-law.

“The image is wonderful,” she said. But there was one problem, she added: It didn’t inherently get across the intended message. If I wanted the image to tell people to contact my company, then it should literally say so. “Don’t make me think,” she said.

“You know, my focus goes here first,” she continued, pointing to another spot on the site. “Is it supposed to?”

Holy moly—no, it wasn’t supposed to! I had just started the new design, and it was already being torn to shreds. Or was it?

“Mom, what do you want to see first?” I asked my mother-in-law.

Over the next hour, she told me what she loved and hated about the design. She became my focus group of one—the best money I never spent. As I developed the site from the initial sketch at her kitchen table, I would send her updates weekly. I would listen and take notes. I’d ask more questions. Then I’d act.

Now, the creation I’m most proud of in my professional adult life—aside from my own brokerage—has been realized. My company’s new website gets nine times the clicks that the old one did per week, and the average usage time is 6.5 minutes, up from one minute.

And I owe it to my mom. Not the one who gave birth to me, but the one who came into my life 15 years ago. Next year, I won’t complain about the long drive to get to her house. I think I owe it to her.

Note: Opinions expressed in “Commentary” do not necessarily reflect the position of the National Association of REALTORS® or REALTOR® Magazine. Submit Commentary ideas to

Darrin Friedman is the strategic brand specialist for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices The Preferred Realty in Pittsburgh.