If you want to have your best year ever in 2012, raising the bar in your business and your personal life is the key to achieving the success you want.

Several months ago, a new group on Facebook began an ongoing discussion of what it would take to raise the bar in the real estate industry. This is a laudable goal and the discussions in that group have tackled a wide variety of important issues.

Editor’s note: This is the first of a four-part series.

If you want to have your best year ever in 2012, raising the bar in your business and your personal life is the key to achieving the success you want.

Several months ago, a new group on Facebook began an ongoing discussion of what it would take to raise the bar in the real estate industry. This is a laudable goal and the discussions in that group have tackled a wide variety of important issues.

When a member raised the same question in a different forum, however, a number of agents attacked her. What would drive such a response? At first, the response seems puzzling. There are two factors, however, that probably explain the hostility.

First, some agents may have been offended that they were being judged as not being good enough. They are working as hard as they can, they’re struggling, and they don’t see a way to get off the treadmill. "I can’t work any harder" sums up this issue.

A different factor is that most people fear change. This results because they view change as "taking away" rather than "adding to" what they are already doing. When someone goes on the attack, the underlying reason is almost always fear.

In this case, the fear is taking something away from them. If you can view change as "adding to" what you already do, it becomes much easier to cope.

If the real estate industry is going to raise the bar, here are just some of the steps that agents and brokers can take.

Tip No. 1: Think like a top producer.

The first step to take to raise the bar in your real estate business is to think like a top producer.

To illustrate this point: "I am constantly learning. I listen to tapes in my car, attend as many conferences as possible, and am always looking for new ideas to improve my business. If I learn just one new thing that can help me improve my business, it was worth the time and the effort."

Top production is almost always tied to continuous learning. While top producers eagerly seek out new ways to grow their business, most agents do not.

As numerous real estate leaders lament when they bring in an outside speaker to help their agents: "All of my top producers were sitting in the front two rows. The agents who really needed to be here didn’t even bother to show up."

How can you implement continuous learning in your business? Reading articles, listening to videos like those on InmanNext, and being in conversation with other agents online to see what is working for them are all great ways you can raise the bar in your business.

Tip No. 2: Baby steps.

The rate of change today is overwhelming. Agents are expected to be great marketers, expert negotiators, detail oriented enough to manage the 100-plus steps required to close a transaction, and be able to use video, blogging and social media effectively. Does anyone seriously expect 1 million agents in the U.S. to be highly competent in all of these areas?

To address the rapid rate of change, begin by evaluating your business. Look at where each of your closed deals originated in 2011.

Next, be brutally honest: What did you do in 2011 that did not generate any leads? Your goal is to identify the top 50 percent of your lead generation activities and to eliminate the bottom 20-30 percent that did not generate any leads.

By eliminating those nonproductive lead generation activities, you now have room to experiment with something new. The best agents always search for new ideas to implement in their business. Rather than trying to implement a series of steps at once, the best approach is to take baby steps.

For example, some agents will implement one key change a quarter or even once a month, depending upon how big the change is. For example, if you have been using Facebook and are considering experimenting with a different social media platform, you could consider adding LinkedIn.

A primary reason for being on LinkedIn is that the median income for LinkedIn members is more than $100,000. This would probably take a full quarter to implement. Next, evaluate the return from the change. If it produces results, keep it. Otherwise, discard it and move on to something else.

A different change that might take only a week to implement is adding the ZIP code to the tags on any pictures you post of your listings online. The research from Oodle shows that people search for property in one of three ways: street, city and ZIP code. This can be a simple way for people to find you more easily online and to generate more page views for your listings.

Need more ideas on how to raise the bar in your business? See Part 2 on Thursday.

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