• National Association of Realtors predicts home prices to increase between 5 and 6 percent in 2016.
  • Take time to tidy up -- and that includes your online house.
  • Successful agents balance online marketing with offline marketing every day.

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The beginning of a new year is a critical time for real estate agents as they look ahead to what the year might bring. It’s an opportunity to analyze past performance, make goals and set concrete plans to realize those real estate business goals.

It’s a good time to not only look over how the market has performed in the past year but also to benchmark your own progress against where you’d like to be.

First, the market: according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), total existing-home sales increased 6.5 percent in 2015 from 2014. This year, more modest growth is expected with sales increasing by 1 to 2 percent.

Sales prices increased as well, with the national median existing-home price for all of 2015 expected to increase roughly 6 percent from 2014. NAR expects home prices to continue to increase between 5 and 6 percent this year.

This means that most real estate agents can expect a fairly stable market in 2016, which will help as you plan for the year ahead.

Now, it’s time to look over what you accomplished in the past year and to think ahead about what kind of performance you’d like to see this year. Here are five things you should be doing right now to prepare for a successful 2016:

1. Determine your financial goals for the year ahead

It’s important to make concrete and realistic goals, so this might require some math.

First, determine a goal for your gross commission income before any splits. Let’s say you want to make $100,000 in gross commission income. What does that mean in terms of your monthly goals?

If you calculate your average commission per transaction, you can break down how many transactions you need to meet your goal.

So, for example, if your average commission per transaction is $6,250, you divide your gross commission goal by your average commission per transaction, which gives you the number of transactions you’re shooting for this year ($100,000/$6,250 = 16 transactions).

Next, determine how many transactions you will need to complete per month to reach your goal, but instead of dividing by 12 months, divide by 11 to build in vacation and down time (16 transactions/11 = 1.5 transactions per month).

This helps you break down a big goal ($100,000 in gross commission) to an achievable goal (1.5 transactions per month).

2. Do some housekeeping

The beginning of a new year is an excellent time to take a look around and tidy up. Think about this in both metaphorical and literal terms: Is your office clean and organized? Does is represent the image you want to project to clients?

This also applies to your online presence, so make sure your online “house” is in order by doing the following:

  • Google yourself, and see what clients, buyers and sellers will see about you online.
  • Update online profiles. Make sure that your information is current and engaging. As the market and your experience change, update your content.
  • Make sure your headshot is current. Your photo should reflect how you look today and not how you looked three, five or 10 years ago.

3. Prepare an online marketing plan

Now that you’ve tidied up and set concrete goals, next figure out the best strategies to help you meet those goals by crafting an online marketing plan. Consider:

  • What’s your online lead system? Will you invest money in additional online leads this year? Are you going to invest more time and money in your own website to try to increase leads?
  • How will social networks impact your marketing plan for the year ahead? Will you use Facebook or consider adding in LinkedIn or Instagram?
  • Will you use blogging, podcasting or videos to market your brand?

Some elements of all of the above might be part of your marketing plan, but pick just a few that you’re really good at, and make those the focus of the year ahead. Don’t try to do everything.

4. Prepare an offline marketing plan

This is still a relationship business, and you need to be able to connect with people face-to-face. Networking is a key component to success as a real estate agent, and balancing online marketing with offline marketing is what top real estate agents do every single day.

For your offline marketing this year, consider:

  • Networking events
  • Open houses
  • Door knocking
  • Community events
  • Drop-by visits

5. Prepare a ‘you’ plan

Last but not least, consider yourself and what your goals and priorities are for the year ahead. You’re an integral part of your own business plan, so be sure to set time aside for you. Consider:

  • Self-improvement should be incorporated throughout your career. Is there an area that you want to improve upon, like becoming a better negotiator? If so, how you will you build that skill? Will you take a course, read a book or listen to a podcast?
  • Stay balanced. Making time for both your work and your personal life is critical to success. You don’t want to burn out.
  • Pay attention to nutrition, fitness and sleep. You can be knocking your financial plan out of the park, but if you’re not looking after your physical well-being, you won’t be able to enjoy your success, nor will you be able to sustain that success for long.
  • Consider what it is that you want to accomplish. A financial plan looks just at numbers, but what do those numbers represent for you? What are you working so hard to achieve?

If you follow these five simple steps, you will be well on your way to taking your business to the next level this year.

Wendy Forsythe serves as executive vice president and head of global operations for Carrington Real Estate Services. Follow her on Twitter.

Email Wendy Forsythe.