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One of the most exciting roles our company plays for real estate brokers and agents worldwide happens when we are called upon to do Strategic Planning with them. It’s fascinating to see how planning energizes people – even though so many of them may have been operating for years without a written plan (or a recently written one :>)

Usually, strategic planning starts out as  “pie in the sky” and then comes down to “I need to make this much revenue!” Somewhere in between, however, the process starts to become unnecessarily confused. Bogged down, is more like it, because too many brokers think strategic planning is about “beating themselves up” on what they aren’t doing well today. So the initial energy from planning starts to fizzle into anxiety and worry over mistakes and challenges. And usually, that’s why most people “stop” planning – or never start it in the first place.

So here are three tips we have used successfully to help brokers and agents use Strategic Planning to energize their companies and create themselves anew in the upcoming year.

1. There is No Spoon. In other words, stop planning to compete in THIS real estate marketplace and start thinking of the FUTURE. A strategic plan shouldn’t just be a bunch of “tweaks and improvements” on how to beat the current competitors – because that means you’re setting YOUR performance standards as only “slightly better” than your competitor’s plans. I am reminded of something about blind leading deaf or some such proverb…… Strategic Planning means looking beyond the limitations and conditions of today and CREATING the future by envisioning your success. Most strategic planning today is not much more than “How many listings do you have to take… how many calls do you have to send… how many postcards do you need to mail…. oh, yeah, don’t forget to do email….” Rubbish! The real estate success stories of the future will be built around companies who FORGET about the Spoon! Leave the “matrix” of current insanity – brokers recruiting people who have never sold anything since their childhood lemonade stands, agents doing mass mailings and denying the validity fo consumer research because of “past” successes, customers driving around with you in your car because the only photo you put on the listing was yet another bad toilet shot. Time to move ON – envision a future you can pursue – and that’s step 1 of Strategic Planning.

2. Work on Strengths, Not Weaknesses. Face it – you’re never going to overcome your weaknesses. Nope. No amount of training will make you “better” at anything you have no talent to do now. You can start practicing the piano today, but you’ll never become a great musician even if you put 20 years into it. It’s just TOO LATE. You ARE who you ARE (The Popeye Principle) and you can only be successful if you organize a business around your STRENGTHS. And your Strengths are NOT the opposite of your Weaknesses – they are just DIFFERENT. So here’s the plan: Figure out what you are GREAT at and arrange your business strategy so you can do that 100% perfectly 100% of the time. As for weaknesses, just stop doing whatever it is – and find someone with THAT talent – a partner or outsourcer or hire someone – to do it for you. Are you a great prospecter but a bad closer? Then arrange yourself to GENERATE business and then partner up with someone to CLOSE deals for you. Are you a great digital marketer but a terrible negotiator? Then stop trying to list homes, sell your services as a web-marketing-person to other listing agents and make BOTH business plans soar. Are you really good with people, but can’t do the paperwork to get closings to go smoothly? Hire an assistant or team up with a micro-manager-person who can’t list but can master the paperwork and the computer. Get a copy of “Discover Your Strengths” and read it. It will tell you more about a strengths-based approach to your business (and life). For now, just remember that it’s a MISTAKE to waste any time, money, effort on trying to “become great” at things you are fundamentally wired to do poorly; it is more EFFECTIVE to figure out what you do BEST and create a business plan that takes advantage of that strength. Remember, Tiger Woods stinks at sand traps – that’s why he PERFECTED his long drive to the green to AVOID getting in the sand in the first place!

3. Strive for Effectiveness, Not Busy-ness. As Peter Drucker said, all effective executives manage their TIME. This is critical for successful real estate practices of the future. If you don’t manage your time, you can’t manage your business. This pertains to how you handle customers, to how you operate your infrastructure, to how you manage your mind. Simple examples include controlling your schedule – such as using a Blackberry to manage email in small bursts rather than an hour or more throughout the day. Other examples include learning how to avoid or cut-loose clients who will simply consume more resources than they create in profits. It even applies to using technology effectively – such as planning how and when to blog (after hours!), versus sitting around all day “NiT-wit-tering” or other tech-time-wasters. What’s more effective – fine tuning your pay-per-click keyworks on Google (zzzzz) or making one call to a past client who loves you and can refer you to three of their friends right now? You have to be effective, not just busy. Remember the story of NASA engineers who spent years trying to perfect a pen that would write in the zero-gravity of space – while the Russians simply used a pencil? The same lesson applies to being effective with your time and effort in sales. Stop “doing” things and start getting things done! It’s the hardest lesson to learn, but it’s ultimately the difference between “working” in real estate and Mastering it.

If you follow these three steps, the rest of your business plan falls into place. Don’t worry too much about a competitive analysis – because most agents and companies around you really aren’t that competitive. Otherwise, why did 25% of them simply drop out this year – with another 30% likely to do so next year, too? Your business plan does not have to “outsmart” the competitor – because it’s not a zero sum game. Every listing you lose doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with a competitor winning it. And basing your business plan on competitors is dangerous – rather than focusing on the future marketplace (one in which there is no spoon!) as the consumer wants it to be.

Two hints for brokers: Develop a set of standards of performance for your agents and communicate it to them. Then, only recruit people who can truly live up to them (and fire the rest). You can’t build a skyscraper if you’re still employing stonemasons.

Of course, if Numbers 1 to 3 aren’t in place, then it won’t make any difference how much planning you do. You’ll just be rehashing an old, 1970s business plan and substituting “blogging” for “printed newsletter.” That’s not a strategic plan, that’s triage, and many patients take the elevator down from the emergency room. It’s time for the real estate industry to evolve, which means it’s also time for their planning process to evolve, too. If you’re serious about practicing real estate (the next generation) it’s time to get serious about these three steps to creating it yourself!

– Matthew