The real estate professionals who’ve established themselves as community advocates and local economic experts are often the more successful ones in any given market. But how did they get there?

One organization that can point the way is the National Main Street Center, an independent subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The group, which has been working for more than three decades to bolster historic downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts, is convening its annual Mainstreet Now conference this week in Pittsburgh. REALTOR® Magazine is on hand to glean hints that can help real estate pros improve their business and marketing efforts.

Here are three examples from Mainstreet Now speakers of how volunteers, staffers, and business owners have highlighted what makes their town special.

  1. Write the story of your town. Publications large and small regularly seek free, quality content from locals. But that doesn’t mean you should limit yourself to pitching a real estate column. Mike Jackson, an architect in Springfield, Ill., recommended that attendees think about ways to promote their community through a regular column in the local newspaper or its website. He suggested write-ups that celebrate local businesses’ “birthdays,” or posts that compare historic photos of what the town center looked like in the past with modern ones. “That’s a great regular feature to do,” he says. “It’s very clever, and it’s not that hard to do.”
  2. Show local businesses the money. Dionne Baux, director of urban programs at the National Main Street Center, notes that small-business owners are often eligible for special grants, fast-track permitting, and favorable lending terms under local, state, and federal programs. The problem is they often aren’t aware of what’s available. “Incentive programs can be buried,” she says. “How are you communicating these incentive programs to small-business owners who do not have time to research this?” Such a strategy works best for real estate pros in the commercial sector, but small-business owners buy homes, too!
  3. Get involved in your area’s big event. Many cities and towns have at least one event—an art walk, a car show, a special shopping event, or an ethnic or historic celebration—that brings the public to Main Street. Make sure your business is represented there. Kathy LaPlante, senior program officer for the National Main Street Center, notes that it’s not just restaurants and retail establishments that can benefit from these events. “Any kind of business can be involved in an art walk,” she says, noting all a brokerage would have to do is give space to an artist (though offering free tchotchkes with your logo on them can’t hurt, she adds). Even if you’re not directly involved, she says, “Open your door. Have a popcorn machine.” You never know when your interactions on Main Street will lead to a new client.