Chameleon? Nope!

We all know that we have to change with the times, change with changing markets, or we get left behind. We do not always do it before we are forced to, however. Some might express admiration for a chameleon at this point, an animal that can change to match its surroundings.

I’m not going to do that. Chameleons react to their environment, they do not choose the change. Human beings, on the other hand, are amazingly adaptable. You can find us in the Antarctic or the Sahara, in the tundra of the Yukon or the rain forests of the tropics. We can choose where we want to go…and we are generally smart enough to choose how to adapt to the environment we choose. Parkas or sunscreen? Warm boots or waterproof boots? We are able to adapt wisely.

We need to apply that same talent to our businesses. We need to be just as knowledgeable about the environment in which we are conducting business (our markets, the economy, trends, etc,) and know how to adapt as they change. That requires intentionality, research, and foresight. You do it in the rest of your life. Do it in your business, too!

Sprint or Marathon?

How do you think of how your work in and on your business or that new initiative you launched…or perhaps your marketing program(s)? Do you view them as a sprint or as a marathon? A sprint is a short-term, all-out effort to reach a specific goal. A marathon is a steady, long-term commitment to reach a bigger or more distant goal. There is a time and a place in business and real estate investing for both approaches.  It is good to know when to apply each.

In a marathon you pace yourself, expending enough effort to keep pressing forward on the pace you need in order to go the distance and meet your goal. Endurance matters. Planning and knowing yourself matter. In  a sprint you go all out with a burst of energy designed to do the same thing: Go the distance, meet your goal before your energy is depleted. Planning and knowing yourself matter…and preparation is extremely important. In both you have a finite amount of energy to expend. The rate at which you expend it is dependent on the distance to be covered.

In business we need to also acknowledge that we have only a finite amount of energy to expend. If you wear yourself out in a perpetual sprint, fatigue will impact your decisions and productivity. You will be forced to maintain that pace to just keep up. Lower productivity and mistakes you will later need to correct will displace what could have been creative time, if you were more rested. Pace yourself in your ongoing activities to run the business, including marketing. Save the sprints for meeting deadlines. However, take your deadlines seriously. Give it “sprint” energy. Marathon pacing to meet deadlines will assure that they slide or are met with less than stellar quality.

So, sprint energy for short-term deadlines and goals, marathon energy for long-term goals. Yet even marathoners know they need recovery time between races. Give yourself appropriate breaks!

Over-Promise–or NO Promise–and Under-Deliver?

While the conventional wisdom is to UNDER-promise and OVER-deliver, it seems quite a few real estate agents and entrepreneurs of all kinds do not have the personality to be good at follow-through and following up. They tend to OVER-promise and UNDER-deliver…and then wonder why they are not swamped with repeat business and referral business. They have to struggle continually to find NEW business. They can be very good at what they do, very creative, very motivated, very committed, hard-working, and all that. They just have trouble delivering on what they have led their clients to expect. Some make no attempt to help the client set those expectations. As a result, they may not even know what the client expects.,,which pretty much guarantees they will fail to deliver.

Why does that matter? The easiest sale is to someone who is a past client, someone who has already demonstrated they like and trust you. The next easiest sale is to someone referred to you by someone who likes and trusts you. The hardest sale involves finding someone you can convince to like and trust you. To create a sustainable business, you need more than half your business coming from referrals and repeat clients. Otherwise, you will be spending so much time finding new clients that you will not have enough time to make as much money as you would like with the ones you find.

Exceeding expectations is one of the most effective ways to ensure repeat business and referrals. Investing the time to carefully think through your strategy for ENSURING you do effective follow-through and follow-up is a good way to make the most of every new client you find, both now and in the future. Create an efficient and effective system to make it happen (including perhaps hiring someone who is good at it),

Always learn what your clients expect of you. Be intentional about warning clients in advance about potential pitfalls, what is normal (both good and not so good), and what they can expect from you. Do whatever you can to accept their expectations as your standard of behavior with them, but do not hesitate to adjust their unrealistic expectations. Take good notes, review them regularly as you work with that client, and do everything you can to meed and EXCEED the expectations you affirmed (“follow through”).

Then stay in touch (“follow up”), so they don’t forget about you. Monthly newsletter? Quarterly visit? Annual gift? Whatever works for you in your business is what you need to do to keep your name alive and fresh. (More on that next time.)

Where do you rate when it comes to following through and following up? What can you do TODAY to do both better tomorrow? Take the time to think about what you do well in that regard and what you can improve. Then pick one thing that will make a solid, positive impact…and DO IT!

Leads: the Lifeblood of Success

Without an adequate supply of leads, no business can be successful. Though there are many other steps that must follow, if you do not have at least ONE lead, you cannot even START to do the rest of the steps toward success. Sure, you can be busy. You can be active. There are many ways you can waste your time and think you are working. But without leads you are running on empty…and therefore going nowhere.

If you are not currently as successful as you’d like to be, count the number of leads you are currently working on. Then count the number of leads you have worked on in the last few days, weeks or months. Divide your total for any of those periods by 100 and round it down, drop any fractions or decimal positions. For instance, 60 divided by 100 is 0.60. We round that down to 0. How close does whatever number you got line up with the number of deals you closed in that timeframe? Any more questions about what your problem might be?

Is this a bit simplistic? Yup. But in my experience, it is one of the core reasons beginners are not seeing the success they expected.

So start here. No matter how many leads you are generating, you always need more. Find ways to ensure a steady, sizable stream where you can exert at least some control on its size. If sending 100 postcards could yield 1 lead, to get 3 leads, send 300. A similar principle would apply to any lead generation activity you might choose. Door knocking? If it takes 25 doors to get one lead and you want 3, knock on 75 doors. That is the control of which I speak.

If you have plenty of leads, are talking to lots of potential clients, but do not seem to convert them to closed deals, tune in for future postings. I’ll explore some other steps in which we often torpedo our own success.

Does this apply just to real estate? Nope. Without leads, your business…whatever it is…will not make it.

 

Leadership and Coaching Resources

I have brought forward much of the material and many of the resources published in past years regarding, leadership, developing strong organization, coaching, and consulting. These items have been posted as my earliest postings on this iteration of a weblog. Check the archives. You may find some hints for greater success in the days and years to come! You may even find some way I can help you be more successful. Contact me for more information or if you have questions.

Teaching Leaders to Fish

Teaching Leaders to Fish

by Jerry Straks

ABSTRACT: To help twenty-first century clients deal with the fast pace of change in today’s marketplace, consultants need to adapt their methods to create sustainable leadership. Moving beyond “giving them a fish” is not enough. Even “teaching them to fish” is not enough. We must teach them to “adapt their fishing” for new realities as they come along. Consultants and leaders need to learn these keys to sustainability.

Sustainable Business Practices

Over the last couple days we have been exploring how to maintain a sustainable business. Yesterday we looked at some things you can do right now to better prepare you for recognizing business threats that may come your way. Today we will look at some things you can do to make your business practices more sustainable.

It is sometimes helpful in understanding a topic to look at what it is not. Sustainable business practices do not deplete or endanger non-renewable business assets or resources. You do not kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Sustainable business practices do not harm humans or devalue human relationships. You do not treat your customers like dirt. Sustainable business practices are also not unnecessarily complex. You do not define a business practice that requires that a detailed manual be referenced every time it is used because of all the subtleties, special conditions and nuances.

Sustainable business practices are easily repeatable. They are intuitive or nearly intuitive once the underlying strategies are understood. For instance, it may not be intuitive to give things away for free if you are trying to make money. However, once the strategy of free samples is understood, giving things away in a controlled sort of way (small, infrequent, with appropriate incentives to buy, etc.) can make sense. Sustainable business practices reflect balance and control without being controlling. They do not oscillate between extremes or fail to consider the impact on the whole system. For instance, a grocery store that ran a sale on bread every Tuesday when a week’s bread shipment arrived, sold out all it received, and was breadless for the rest of the week would not be utilizing a sustainable business practice. Customers want bread when they are there, not only on the special day of your choosing. The impact on the whole system would probably include a reduction in regular customers, a nightmare for stockers, and an overall reduction in revenue. Sustainable business practices are designed with the whole system in mind and require a whole-system-oriented mindset for optimum effectiveness in their execution.

There are undoubtedly other characteristics we could add to the list, but if your practices follow these, they will have a much higher probability of being sustainable for the long term.

Join me next time for a look at sustainable leadership skills.

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Leadership QuickTip Application Question: What other characteristics of sustainable business practices would you add to this list?
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Please feel free to use the blog comments to share hints from your personal experience.
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Lead as though the future depends upon it!

(originally posted to my “Leadership QuickTips” blog in April 2007)

A Sustainable Business

We are in the midst of exploring sustainability in a business setting. Today I want to challenge you to think about an activity you can do right now to help assure a sustainable business. A sustainable business does not imply an unchanging business. Your high-tech consulting business might morph into a bio-tech training business as high-tech wanes and bio-tech booms. Your training business could morph into a coaching business as businesses seek more personalized help. Your life insurance business might morph into a long-term care insurance business as baby boomers age. For purposes of this discussion I’ll define a sustainable business as one that continues to support you and your goals at a consistent and growing level, while meeting customers’ needs in ways that satisfy their expectations and motivate them to want more of what you offer. How would you describe a sustainable business?

The starting point for sustainability is deciding what business you are in right now and what your strengths are. The classic examples are deciding whether you are in the railroad business or the transportation business, whether you are in the telephone business or the communication business. Rail companies today haul containers and have trucks. Amtrak runs buses. AT&T offers Internet access and television programming. Can you define your business in a way that does not paint you into a corner? Take a moment to make a first stab at it. It may take some serious pondering over the next weeks and months to come up with a satisfying answer.

To be sustainable a business must also adapt to changing surroundings. The sooner the business can start to adapt to the changing business realities, the better its chances of survival. IBM used to depend on large margins in its hardware businesses. Now it is largely a services company, and a very successful one at that. GM used to depend exclusively on margins on cars for its profits. Now their loan-making arm, GMAC, accounts for large contributions to corporate profits. This shift is less sustainable: As imports continue to eat away at GM market share, car loans for GM vehicles will be shrinking, too. Berkshire Hathaway used to make textiles. Now they are an investment company. Warren Buffett understands sustainability.

To adapt to changing surroundings, a business needs to recognize the change and then find a way to leverage their strengths into the new reality. The key word is “recognize.” Most businesses that peak and plunge do not recognize the threat until it is too late.

What are some possible changes that could become threats in your own business area? Whether you are a leader in an organization or an independent professional, nothing is forever. Remember when organizations eliminated middle management to “flatten the organization”? How many of those middle managers were expecting their jobs to go away? I was one who was not expecting it. It still went away.

Here is an exercise you can use to sharpen your awareness of potential threats. The process involves three steps. They are simple to state but challenging to do well. First, list the key ingredients in your success. Include people, processes, organizational structure, technology, products, services, business models, government action or policy, global realities (How will China’s voracious appetite for raw materials impact your custom cabinet business, for instance?), the customer problems you solve and the options they have to solve them, or anything else which, if it changed dramatically or went away, would radically change—or doom—your business. Be as specific as you can. Don’t just say, “Customers.” Use detail to narrow the list to your best, your most numerous, your target customers. You might for instance write, “Married couples with at least one child who own their own home and live within 30 miles of my business.” Don’t say, “Insurance.” Elaborate, as in, “health insurance and life insurance.” In a corporate setting, you might describe your customer as “the CFO” and your product as “the weekly operations cost analysis.” The more complete and detailed you make your list, the more sensitized you will be to watching for potential changes in an “ingredient” that could impact your business.

The next step is to list as many ways as you can think of that each ingredient could be changed and impact your business. For instance, the married couples above could lose their interest in health insurance if the government implements a comprehensive health care program. That would eliminate those costs from the family budget. The CFO could lose interest in your reports if the IT department implements a click on a web page to automatically produce the report you have spent hours creating every week for years and years. By the way, the danger here is that you will go into denial as you think of a possible change, “But that won’t happen.” Don’t evaluate the likelihood of the changes that come to mind. Just list the different threats and write them down. Your aim is a long, potential list rather than a brief, likely one.

The third step is to try to identify early warning signs that the potential changes you listed might be on their way: rising clamor about health care starts to get political traction, the IT department starts talking about package integration and online business reporting, a report comes out highlighting the next generation’s tendency to discard rather than collect—which bodes ill for your collectibles business, etc. Repeat or review your lists and this process at least once a year, looking for any early evidence of a potential threat and adding to your lists any new ideas, based on current events. One goal here is to sensitize your unconscious mind to make you aware of things your conscious mind might otherwise miss.

Using this exercise in conjunction with a classic S.W.O.T. analysis (strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities) can make it even more powerful and useful. Will it guarantee your business can avoid catastrophic market change? No, but having your eyes open gives you a chance to maybe anticipate a significant threat. That might give you time to do something about its impact before it does something to you.

Join me tomorrow to explore sustainable business practices.
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Leadership QuickTip Application Question: What are you willing to do today to take your preparedness for catastrophic change to the next level?
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Please feel free to use the blog comments to share hints from your personal experience about maintaining a sustainable business.
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Lead as though the future depends upon it!

(originally posted to my “Leadership QuickTips” blog in April 2007)

Sustainability

We hear a lot about sustainability from an environmental standpoint. I’ve been thinking about sustainability in other contexts lately, as in “sustainable leadership” or “sustainable business processes.”
The topic of sustainability has been near and dear to me for decades, especially in its organizational applications. I have watched too many things done “one-off” with no consideration for precedence, repeatability, skill transfer, or anything else. I have watched too many companies and nonprofits peak and plunge. I have watched processes that were made so cumbersome they collapsed into disuse through their own weight.

My observations have morphed over the years into a list of requirements strong leaders can apply to make something sustainable. “Sustainable” in a human or organizational context means to me that the system of people, processes and resources operates and remains relatively stable without requiring ongoing, overt, external action to support it. When necessary, the system takes the initiative to draw from its own reserves and from its environment the information and resources needed to adapt to any changes. The overarching goal is to survive so it can continue to maintain its ongoing successful functioning, however its members define “success,” without needing a caretaker or hovering benefactor.

Sustainability is not the same as maintaining the status quo. Companies and organizations that try to maintain the status quo only manage to peak and plunge. Trying to avoid change when everything is changing around you is a recipe for disaster, though it may be a slow-death type of disaster. True sustainability requires savvy, strategic leadership that knows when to make evolutionary course corrections and when to make revolutionary, transformational changes.

Everyone knows the metaphorical example of buggy whip companies. Compared to the early 1900s, the need for buggy whips today is drastically less. The number of buggy whip companies is correspondingly drastically less. Any that attempted to maintain the status quo are gone. Those that leveraged their skills and resources into new domains (steering wheels? leather seat covers?) and made the transformational changes needed, could have survived.

The kinds of changes that made buggy whips obsolete still happen in markets with deadly regularity. Your market is probably not exempt, either. Sooner or later something is going to change about your audience or in your market that could put you out of business if you have not been the kind of leader who knows how to maintain a (1) sustainable business with (2) sustainable business practices using (3) sustainable leadership skills. Join me for the next few days to explore these topics.

Join me tomorrow to explore how to maintain a sustainable business.
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Leadership QuickTip Application Question: What examples of “peak and plunge” have you experienced? What did they teach you about how your business could peak and plunge?
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Please feel free to use the blog comments to share hints from your personal experience about “peak and plunge”.
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Lead as though the future depends upon it!

(originally posted to my “Leadership QuickTips” blog in April 2007)