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Ready to make big improvements in your business in 2010? Most of us make a list of things we currently aren’t doing – and probably still won’t in the New Year. So rather than work against ourselves – a formula for failure and disappointment – why not resolve to keep doing what you are already doing. Perhaps just a little differently!

At Matthew Ferrara & Company, we don’t believe in the “overcoming weaknesses” method of business planning. Rather, we think everyone should focus on their strengths and find ways to maximize the use of them every day. If your resolutions involve working on things you don’t like to do, don’t have a propensity for, and mostly do poorly, you’re heading for underachievement, frustration and disaster. On the other hand, if there are some things you’re already doing that leverages your natural talents, you enjoy doing already and would be more inclined to do more of or better, those should be the focus of your strategy for the next twelve months of business.

Focusing on your strengths lets each of us create business resolutions that best suit us – and therefore have the greatest chance of success. Rather than adopt someone else’s “must do” lists that we’ll never even try, we’ll be more successful if we take our “already doing” list and fine-tune it. Here are ten ways to do just that.

1. Know your strengths: The first thing you need to do is identify what you already have some talent for doing. Very few of us have talent for everything in business. So we need to figure out where our talents lie and organize our strategy around them. So sit down and make a list of what you are already doing that you do fairly well every time. Every other resolution you’ll make must focus on taking those talents and turning up the “volume” on their effectiveness.

2. Accept your strengths: If you list the things you have talents for, you’ll also bring to mind everything you’re not so good at doing. Make a side list of those things. Review the list and label each one “QP” or “NC” – Quick Possibility of mastering and improving or No Chance of being really good at soon. There are some things you might be able to improve – if they already relate to your existing strengths. Maybe you’re a strong prospector, but you are fairly week at generating new contacts. That is probably a QP with a little technology and technique. On the other hand, if you are really bad at paperwork and numbers, then list if NC and put it aside. You will deal with it – but not personally – later.

3. Outsource everything that’s a NC or clear waste of time. Look at your No Chance list from #2 above. Decide whether you can simply stop doing it (and nobody will notice) or if it’s a vital activity required for your success. If it’s vital, determine how you will outsource it. Remember, you’re already not doing it – or not doing it so well you should stop doing it harmfully – so someone else is going to have to do it for you. Find an office staff, another agent or third party business who can do it for you – at peak quality and performance – and resolve to stop wasting time trying to fix things you’re never ever going to actually do well.

4. Set goals, not to-do lists for your business. Rather than make a list of lots of things you’ll buy, try or do, focus your mind on the most important outcomes you wish to achieve in your business this year. Stress and chaos are created by task-oriented planning. You can easily create a list of things you can never get done in the time you have each day. If you want to succeed differently this year, stop worrying about tasks and keep your mind on the goals. Whether it’s financial, professional or personal, three clear and measurable goals which you review and keep in mind every day will more effectively guide you to what needs to get done than a “master list” of intimidating to-do’s and tasks.

5. Organize your time. Most business professionals make the mistake of trying to organize their tasks, rather than their time. They erroneously think the goal is to find the magic combination of scheduling tricks to get the most things done in the least amount of time. That works if you’re a machine on an assembly line. However, most real estate sales is knowledge work, and your brain cannot work “on command” in an unbroken stream of activities. Deal with your time differently this year, by organizing it into periods of most useful outcomes. Determine what is most useful to your business – prospecting, training, presentation skills, negotiating – and then organize your time around getting those things done consistently. Look at the week and ask yourself how to best use the time you have to work towards your goals. Then schedule the right amounts of time to using your best talents to achieve those goals. Eliminate, delegate or forget about everything else.

6. Get effective before you get efficient. We sometimes mistake efficiency for effectiveness. This often leads us to mis-use our talents and time, and especially technology. For example, using technology to organize our databases and create labels for mass mailings may be highly “efficient” compared to the days when we tried to remember everyone’s name and send handwritten notes. However, it could be massively ineffective if the consumer’s preference for contact is email or social media. When you look at turning up the volume on your talents, don’t just take for granted that improvements come from simple efficiencies. You could outsource your prospecting calls to a call center, who could call 1,000 people a week for you; but that might not be nearly as effective as making friends with your past ten clients on Facebook, and writing a personal note on their Wall each week. Both are prospecting. One is efficient by volume. The other is effective by goal.

7. Fire things. Just like you clean out the drawers of your desk at the end of the year, simply throwing away paper and items you packed away rather than dealt with all last year, start your new year by firing everything that no longer works toward your goals. For managers, this might be non-productive salespeople, unattended office meetings, or handing out leads to agents who just throw them away. For , this might mean unreasonable sellers who refuse to market-price the home, buyers who won’t work under contract and other who refuse to pull their own weight in a deal. Your problem solving must be different this year. If avoid-and-forget didn’t work for you last year, fire-fast-now might be the different approach you need.

8. Stop copying others. Too many of us think that if we just copy someone else’s activities, we’ll reach the same success they have achieved. This is a bad strategy for two reasons: We only see the outward side of others’ success, without the back-story of challenges they handle, but some of which might sink us. We are simply not the same people; problems they can handle with their talents could overcome us if we have different strengths. Secondly, copying others activities means implicitly accepting their goals. Our goals should direct our own activities; There are many paths to success, and it’s important for each of us to follow their own. Some agents achieve high sales performance with lots of technology; others are masters of the telephone and handshake. Both can achieve measurable successful outcomes – based upon different strengths. But adopting the techo-approach for a techno-phobe could be the wrong strategy, and vice-versa.

9. Listen to customers. Lots of consultants, planners, leaders and technologists in the industry claim special access to the future. They have systems, tools, programs you can purchase to get there. Some work; some don’t. But what always works – every year, boom or bust – is talking to customers. They will tell you exactly what they want, how they want it and how they would like to pay for it. And since they pay the bills – not create them, like everyone else – they should be your most important source of information. Then you can go back to the others and ask how their products and services jibe with what are saying, and incorporate the best of these into your optimal use of time and talents.

10. Get to work. While this sounds obvious, it is most certainly not. Most people go to the office but never go to work. They hang out, chat, catch up, eat lunch, run errands, do paperwork, upload a file, check their email, and lots of other activities. But they never actually get to work. If your job is to make sales, then going to work only happens when you make sales. At the very least, you’re only working when you’re doing activities that directly correspond to the next sale you will make. The sales will not make themselves. Others – your fellow agents, your broker, the government – will not make the sales for you. If you want to really do something differently in the next twelve months, then go to work and get to work for every minute you’re there.

So there’s a quick list of ten things to do differently in 2010. Note that none of them are silver bullets, get-rich-quick schemes. There’s not a single specific techno-gadget or snappy-comeback to use for or against consumers. The list requires each of us to assess, evaluate, plan, organize, delegate, focus and do that which is necessary to reach our goals in 2010. To create your next year of success, wishing for a thing is not enough to make it so. It’s time to do the right things – and differently – to make next year your best in the business.