Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher

Mind Your Own Business

One of the most common challenges businesses face is when someone says, “Hey, So-and-So down the street is doing this thing! Let’s do it, too!” It’s easy to copycat; it’s harder to mind your own business. You decide.

In any business, the fundamental question is: Are you unique or are you the same as your competitors? Uniqueness comes in different formats: different price, services, tools, different outcomes. Even when you have things in common with competitors – such as selling the same things – you can differentiate your company and create a compelling service proposition that attracts your customers and creates your success.

The key is: your customers and your success.

Unfortunately, companies without a clear mission don’t know who their customers are or what their success should look like. Too many leaders don’t manage by objective, but by reaction. They “follow along” with their industry, letting other companies set their strategy. And their budget.

They simply copycat. Which leaves them with only one or two ways to differentiate: the most dangerous of which is price.

In fact, copycatting is so prevalent, some companies destroy themselves by trying to duplicate things their competitors – with larger budgets – do. Rather than follow their own path.

In the real estate industry, this is a systemic and legacy challenge. It’s systemic, because many of the agents at a given company today came from another agency yesterday. It’s a great big recycling bin where growth is based upon importing ideas from where someone used to work, rather than making decisions based upon the firm’s actual mission and culture. It’s also legacy: much of the industry just does “what the MLS offers” or “what the Board supports” that the result is a vast sea of sameness, with different logos. The collective undermines the competitive uniqueness of the individual firms.

And who wants to work with the Borg?

Consumers don’t. In fact, most consumers couldn’t tell the difference in a blind taste test of three firms’ listing presentations, websites or use of iPads (read: virtually none). This isn’t a jab. It’s a fact. It’s a suggestion:

Work your own plan. Follow your own destiny. Make decisions about what to sell, how to sell, who to have selling for you, and which customers to sell for based upon your own plan.

If an agent is so enamored with So-and-So’s tools down the street, ask yourself: is that tool really for us, or would it make more sense to ask that agent to go work for them? If an agency down the street starts pricing a certain way, or selling certain homes, or working with certain customer segments, does it make sense – or could it be suicide to your business plan – to react by doing the same thing?

Copycat disasters abound: The luxury car maker who builds a sub-$40,000 car to try to compete with the middle-class car maker loses it’s reputation for prestige, loyalty and quality. The computer operating system company that keeps trying to be a mobile phone company earns neither customers nor accolades. You can think of others. Firms that practice “me, too!” strategies often find themselves running someone else’s business plan.

And achieving that firms success levels, not the ones they hoped to achieve for themselves.

Does this mean some ideas shouldn’t be copied, imported, adapted to your firm? Of course not. But too often, firms simply go “me, too” to the detriment of their time, capital and customers. There’s little reason to think a small firm of 25 people should operate the same way a firm of 1000 people does. There’s no reason to think that everyone can get away with using the same tools – like websites, compensation plans or service pricing models.

Nor does it matter if you’re a broker-owner, or a sales agent. The same rules apply. Minding your own business means what Sally Competitor down the street matters less. Maybe not at all.

One of the ironies of the level-playing-field danger business owners worry about is that most often, we level our own fields. Smart companies know when to adopt the right ideas into their business. Smarter ones know when to take a pass.

Which are you?


  • “In the real estate industry, this is a systemic and legacy challenge.”

    This is not only true with various systems and practices from Brokerage to Brokerage but with real estate practices, in general.  No where is this more obvious than the Open House. 

    As your Realtornomics video pointed out, the median amount of new business from an Open House is 0%. Zero. Nadda, Goose Egg. Nothing. Yet, week after week after week either Brokerages or individual agents continue to acquiesce to tradition or best practices or whatever you want to call it and hold Open Houses.

    There are other practices both obvious and subtle or I’m sure you wouldn’t have blogged about it. 

    Traditional practices from postcards to Open Houses to the mindless submission to buyers’ demands to see house after house after house because it looked good online needs to be challenged but it’s hard to do.  Stuff like this makes us look busy. Like we’re doing something for our money.

    Systemic and legacy challenges are the hardest challenges to overcome.

  • Ken: Good points. I’m actually a fan of Open Houses – just not Sunday afternoons. I think you can generate business IF you’re willing to innovate. But the bigger point, which you and I are making, is that the systemic challenges are holding us back. It’s a matter of LEADERSHIP now. And there are just too many companies run by people who really don’t WANT anything to change. Or if they do, it’s only in REACTION to someone who leads it, and then they play catch up. The real challenge is deciding whether we’re just servicing a business model we invented in the 1970s, or we’re leading a company in the 2010s…. and whether it’s OUR model, or someone else’s we just copycat… Thanks for your comment!

  • Interesting quote! But I have to agree: Since most people aren’t prospecting, aren’t selling, aren’t using social media, aren’t using an iPad, it seems like a piece of cake to do the opposite and be a success in this business!

  • John dambrogio

    Great article – If you’re not pushing the envelope, you’re just licking it!  Things like lifestyle search, online open houses, agent ratings, etc. would never exist if we all agreed to the “status quo.”