In this recurring column on all things agent and broker finance, Jack Gross explains why establishing financially savvy habits starts with self-awareness and how he learned that the hard way.
In this recurring column, Inman hosts various contributing writers who share personal and business finance insights they’ve picked up throughout their careers to help agents and brokers stay financially fit.
For the most part, people tend to evaluate success based on financial terms. I did the same in the earlier years of my career to the point that I believed that financial success would solve other problems. It didn’t, but that’s another article!
Most people consider me to be financially successful, so for the purposes of this discussion I am going to share those things that, when employed properly and consistently (barring other unforeseen influences), will help keep your work on track and always moving forward toward your financial goals.
Most of these insights did not come naturally to me. You need a level of self-awareness. I screwed up several times and had to evaluate what went wrong and adjust. What I realized was that I was stubborn and a control freak, and these traits got in my way.
So here, without further ado, are the lessons that I learned from my mistakes.
1. Understand the value of a good assistant
In my early days, I was such a control freak that it was about a good five years too late when I hired my first assistant.
Fear was my delay because I prided myself on personally handling every aspect of the transaction. It was difficult for me to give up any control even down to the simplest of details because I didn’t trust anyone to live up to my standards. However, 80-100 weeks, and hundreds of transactions a year will take a toll on you.
Stress and sleep deprivation kept me from perfection anyway, and I got to a point where there really wasn’t an option — if I wanted to maintain my level of production. I eventually overcame my fear and hired my first assistant.
I got lucky with the first one I hired. She was a very driven and hardworking individual. After the first year, I was kicking myself for not having done this much sooner.
I was able to now take unproductive, repetitive task and paperwork hours and convert them to client building, productive hours. It was a blessing! Having a good personal assistant also enabled me to have a personal life and spend more time with my family. We grew from there and hired more assistants and team members. New people don’t always work out, but when you get the right blend of people working together, it can change your life.
2. Build an excellent network that knows how you work
This network is an extension of you and your team; in effect you are partners.
Your success and your client satisfaction has a lot to do with keeping everything moving forward. A bad referral can cost a relationship — and relationships are the lifeblood of a successful business.
So you need a network of business partners who understand and adhere to your standards.
3. Treat your business like a business
During the most productive years of my career, we were handling between 650-750 units/sides per year. I was not the owner, the broker or the manager of the company I worked for.
Anything that a normal business would do, I did or learned to do. In effect, my organization was a business within another business.
4. Be organized
Successful agents have no choice but to be organized.
You can be a sloppy unorganized top producer (I have seen them) but if you want to be truly successful at the next level, you have to be organized and you have to train your assistants to be organized without compromise.
5. Don’t be afraid of disruption and experimentation
I was and still can be a disrupter — not to the point that I was difficult or breaking the rules of the game — but to the point that I didn’t care what others thought about my business model or how it affected them.
I built one of the first real-estate owned (REO) focused businesses before anyone knew what REO was. In order to do this, we created systems that required our fellow agents to operate differently than in traditional transactions. I received a lot of backlash from the local real estate agent community. There was lots of talk, and not too much of it was positive. But it worked for us, and our systems made the process efficient and time effective.
Today I see different agents and teams employing all types of creative techniques to simplify their business and generate leads that are outside of traditional methods. I think anyone who thinks outside of the box, as long as it’s ethical and compliant, has an edge.
6. Recharge regularly
I learned this one too late. Do yourself and the ones you love a favor: Take time off regularly.
Recharge with the ones you love. Don’t miss things with your family. Make them a priority.
My first broker told me that if things weren’t right at home, they will never be right at the office. At my young age at the time, I confused money with happiness. Periodic vacations and making your family a priority are a must. I burnt out three times in my career and put my health at risk often. That was stupid.
7. Put yourself in others’ shoes
Successful agents understand the saying: “They will forget what you said, but not how you made them feel.”
This was another hard lesson I learned: Being top dog didn’t give me the right to treat others poorly. At one point, my ego and my pride got in my way and made me a real jerk.
One day in a simple conversation, a certain agent took the time to politely tell me what other people really thought of me. I thank God for that conversation, because it made me take a hard look at myself. I realized that I had allowed ego to damage my reputation.
It took me several years to change and improve my reputation, become approachable and earn respect.
Without a good reputation and healthy relationships within your industry you may get to a point that looks like success, but it will have a ceiling.
8. Embrace technology
One of the main reasons I was able to maintain a high level of production is that I embraced technology at a time when the real estate industry was in its infancy of technology.
Instead of fighting against it, I focused on its value in saving time, system generation and efficiency. I was ahead of the curve and was even invited to speak at real estate conferences to share my knowledge — most of which was gained through trial and error. Today, the technology we have at our fingertips amazes me.
9. Take care of those who take care of you
Successful agents know they didn’t get where they are on their own. The reason they are where they are is because they have good people around them. They never forget to acknowledge a good job or extra effort to get a job or assignment done. They know that there is no “I” in a team. They reward those who deserve to be rewarded.
10. Reinvest in real estate
This one isn’t for everyone, but it should be. The smartest thing I ever did was invest in wealth building real estate. I remember driving down Broad Street back to my office one day after a closing with a particular investor whom I had sold dozens of rental properties to. At the closing, he was telling me how his primary (non real estate-related) business was in jeopardy due to a new technology that might make him obsolete (it eventually did).
On that ride back to the office I was thinking about that conversation. I realized that I was making awesome money. I was working very hard and long hours, but making awesome amounts of money. The problem was that if the market shifted and nothing was selling, I was going to be out of luck, and in turn put my family in jeopardy.
Here I was, the local foreclosure and investment guru, and I didn’t own one investment property. It was at that point that I decided that my best hedge for future security was to practice what I preached. I now have a sizable rental portfolio that provides consistent income no matter what the market conditions are.
Conclusion: Be honest with yourself
In closing, your definition of success and your priorities will change and adjust. The best advice I can give above all the other points is to employ your strengths, compensate for your weaknesses and above all, be honest with yourself.
If you can’t be honest with yourself, you won’t be able to see your strengths and weaknesses, and you won’t be able to make the necessary adjustments to operate your business at an optimal level.
With that, I wish you all the success you can achieve!
Jack Gross is the president and CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Cassidon Realty in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter.
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