Word-of-mouth advertising is one of the best sources for driving business, in large part because it is free. These days, that can include online rankings and customer feedback.

Sam Sharp, a senior vice president for Guaranteed Rate in Chicago, has experienced this firsthand, when he discovered positive online reviews from past clients was helping bring in new mortgage customers.

As a result, he makes it a point to proactively encourage clients to provide feedback online about their experiences with him.

Last year, Sharp originated 340 mortgages for a combined dollar volume of $107 million — putting him No. 17 on National Mortgage News' 2015 Top Producers list. The year before that, Sharp's dollar volume ranked 28th overall, with $114 million from 393 loans.

Sharp started in the mortgage business as a broker with New Horizon Mortgage in 2000. In 2006, he switched to the mortgage banking side when he joined Professional Mortgage Partners, now known as Wintrust Mortgage. In 2009, Sharp moved to Guaranteed Rate, a nonbank lender.

As part of National Mortgage News' selection process for its Top Producers list, loan officers were asked to complete a survey. Below are Sharp's answers, edited for length and clarity.

Tell us about your most creative or successful marketing strategy. How did you come up with the idea? What were the results?

Online reviews have been the top source of my business from marketing. I actually stumbled into this. I had a few reviews that were posted and I started to receive business from random clients that had found these reviews online. Since then I have focused on increasing positive feedback online which has led to a strong return. The best part is, it's free.

What's unique about the local market you serve and what do you do to address those needs?

A large portion of the properties financed in Chicago are condominiums. I have developed my team to include an assigned expert that focuses on the approval of these condo projects for loans in process. By identifying problematic buildings at the inception of the file we have been able to address the issues more efficiently, and in a timely manner. This saves everyone involved time and allows the team to handle more business.

Tell us about an unusual or difficult loan scenario and what you did to ensure a successful closing.

I once sent a notary to the county jail to obtain a spouse's signature.

What do you know about the mortgage business now that you wished you knew when you started out?

I have learned that setting expectations in the beginning can lead to a more manageable and satisfying relationship with clients. I provide a clear breakdown of the requirements that the clients must meet and a specific timeline on the process.

Who is someone in your life, personally or professionally, who helps contribute to your success?

My peers in the industry have been instrumental in my success. They allow me to see the potential in this industry and constantly break down perceived limitations showing me just how successful you can become if you focus on your business.

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