25 Tips for a More Profitable Year
Watch Your Business Grow With These Productivity-Boosting Ideas.
What better time to plant the seeds of success than at the beginning of a new century? By cultivating new skills and weeding out bad habits, you can improve your productivity and harvest the rewards of greater profitability.
To get you started, commercial real estate professionals, marketing experts, and others offer their most valuable success-generating pointers. These include a bouquet of new tips as well as the hardy perennials that come up every year.
Where is the most fertile ground for improving profitability? Technology continues to change the commercial real estate landscape with each new crop of products. Many real estate professionals who have integrated information services, the Internet, and new software and hardware into their lives profit from the results daily. Sowing a few seeds of change in this field can improve your work efficiency.
Better marketing skills often produce a bumper crop of new business contacts or can help you revitalize old ones. In a strong market with lots of activity, brokers tend to overlook marketing. But establishing regular marketing habits now can help prepare you for the inevitable downturn when it comes.
Finally, improving daily work habits is a small change that can blossom into big productivity gains. So take a look at all those things you do each day and see if there isn’t something you can do faster, smarter — or not at all.
1. Use Contact-Management Software.
"There is no one productivity tool outside the telephone that has impacted the commercial real estate industry more than the use of contact-management software," says Philip J. McBride, CCIM, president of Real Estate Computer Solutions in Denver and creator of TransAct! productivity software. A number of other industry professionals agree with him. "It has closed transactions for me, kept me out of problems, maintained my calendar, and helped me throw away those bundles of rubber-banded business cards that sat in my desk for years," he adds.
2. Organize E-Mail Contacts.
After broadcasting an e-mail announcing an available retail property to just two groups, Thomas L. Mather, CCIM, had a letter of intent within two days. It resulted in a contract with a buyer for $10.7 million for the sales associate with Re/Max Commercial Group in Naples, Fla.
Just about every e-mail program lets you place your contacts into specific groups and send one message to all of them at the same time, usually just by typing the name of the group in the e-mail address. Some brokers organize their contacts by property interest, such as triple-net retail, while others use affiliation or geography.
3. Downsize to a Palmtop Computer.
Robert G. Lowe, CCIM, manager of the national apartment team for Colliers International in Toronto, uses Hewlett-Packard’s Jornada 680 palmtop computer on a daily basis. "It has pocket versions of Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, and Quicken," he says. Lowe uses the software daily, along with a 1,500-name Act! database that he installed. The palmtop’s built-in modem, color screen, efficient data exchange, large keyboard, and speed "make me question the need for a laptop," he says. "Many other features including software that mimics the HP financial calculator make it valuable to me."
4. Synchronize Your Data.
With the advent of palmtop computers and personal digital assistants, most brokers enter as much data on the run as in the office. Mike Merrifield, CCIM, an independent investment real estate broker in Vancouver, Wash., recommends using LapLink (http://www.laplink.com/) to transfer data from one computer to another. "You can set the transfer criteria that only replaces existing data with newer dates and such," he says. While Merrifield uses a parallel port cable connection, its successor is LapLink 2000, which transfers data over the Internet between two computers that are running LapLink software.
5. Back Up Your System.
Any computer user who has experienced a crash knows the value of backing up information stored on the hard drive. But sometimes even that can be a hassle: Tape drives won’t reinstall, floppy disks can have bad sectors, and zip drives can have software conflicts.
As an alternative, install multiple hard drives as backup systems. "Not only are they faster than the other backup methods, but they are a lot less expensive and if one fails, I have at least two more in reserve to switch to," Merrifield says.
6. Sign Your E-Mail.
"The Web is all about making connections, so make it easy for clients to contact you," says technology guru Peter Pike, president of PikeNet, a commercial real estate Web site. "Almost every e-mail program enables you to automatically include a signature at the bottom of each e-mail. It should include the same information that would appear on your letterhead: phone number, e-mail address, and physical address."
7. Use Voice-Mail Effectively.
"Even with e-mail, having voice-mail take an accurate message saves time and cuts down errors," says Elizabeth J. Helwick, CCIM, a broker in Gulfport, Miss.
Business etiquette experts recommend organizing your thoughts before making calls to avoid hesitation or rambling. Include the time and date of your call, and state exactly what you want. Always include your phone number and more contact information if you are requesting information that will be faxed or mailed.
On the other end, update your voice-mail greeting regularly, let callers know when you will return calls, and tell them how to reach a "live" contact if the call is urgent.
8. Get a Business-Card Scanner.
These timesavers take details right off cards, import them into contact managers, and even save scanned images of cards. Joe W. Milkes, CCIM, owner of Milkes Realty Valuation in Dallas, recommends the Corex CardScan 300.
9. Don’t Enter Data Twice.
"Copy and paste" is the motto of many computer-savvy professionals. Copy information from e-mails, Web sites, or other software programs such as spreadsheets and presentation programs and paste it directly into word-processing documents. Use templates and stationery for standard documents such as leases and brochures.
10. Learn to Use Your Software.
Productivity experts agree that mastering the nuances of software programs you use daily can help you take advantage of timesaving shortcuts. Community colleges and adult learning programs are good sources of live classes.
If you can’t fit going to a class into your schedule, investigate online classes that you take when you have the time. For example Learn2University offers online tutorials in Windows operating systems, Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Excel, Access, Outlook, Front Page, and PowerPoint), Lotus Notes, and Act! programs.
11. Take Digital Photos.
Why wait even one hour for film developing and then pay for overnight delivery when you can e-mail digital photos in minutes? True, downloading more than a few images from camera to computer takes some time, but using a digital film reader shortens the transfer time immensely.
Digital film readers connect between computers and printers, sharing the same parallel port. Plug a film memory card into the film reader slot and the device will transfer images up to 20 times faster than using a camera’s serial interface.
12. Invest in Rechargeable Batteries.
The downside of technology is its high dependence on AA batteries, according to digital imaging expert and Presentations magazine columnist Jon Pepper. Most digital cameras use up four AAs for just 12 photos, he says. His solution? Invest in a charger and a couple sets of rechargeable batteries; rely on regular batteries only as a backup.
13. Use Technology.
"My marketing success in the retail real estate business has improved dramatically in the last few years through the use of computer technology," says Scott Shillings, CCIM, a broker with Boyd, Page, & Associates in Houston. "I use Act! contact management to sort through my database to target specific customers. I send them marketing materials via mail, fax, and/or e-mail. I use Microsoft Word documents with attachments that are scanned (site plans, aerials, maps, photos). I use demographic mapping software to explain demographics."
14. Know Your Clients’ Business.
Richard H. Monaghan, CCIM, a broker/associate principal with Tulsa Properties in Tulsa, Okla., faxes articles to clients relating to their business or to their competitors. "It keeps your name before them and shows the depth of your interest in their business. Many times they will follow up with a phone call to thank you, giving you an opportunity to discuss possible investment or real estate activities," he says.
Other brokers track companies of interest to their clients on the Internet through PointCast and other business news services.
15. Market Your Web Site Offline.
Marketing expert Jay Conrad Levinson, who coined the term guerrilla marketing, points out that most of the real world still lives offline. "That’s where you’ve got to let them know of your online site," he says. He suggests marketing your Web site everywhere: in all the usual business stationery places plus on packages, business forms, faxes, article reprints, advertising, "almost anywhere your name appears," he says in "The Two Worlds of Marketing" found at http://www.gmarketing.com/tactics/weekly.html/.
Commercial real estate, more so than other industries, is built on relationships. The more people you know in your field, the greater your chance of doing business with them. Edward Craine, CCIM, a principal at Smith-Craine Real Estate Finance in San Francisco, suggests joining Business Network International, an organization that sponsors the development of strong contact referral groups. Over one 18-month period, he made more than $200,000 as a result of referrals from group members.
17. Make the Most of Memberships.
Join organizations twice: First generally, then volunteer for a task force or committee. When Judi Woodyard-Suntic, CCIM, a broker with Lee & Associates in Las Vegas, relocated from California, she set out to market herself as a "highly visible member" of the local investment community. After evaluating several local industry organizations, she joined a couple and immediately volunteered for committee assignments, because, "if you do not commit to an organization, you will not achieve your marketing goal."
18. Track the Market.
Helen Jobes, CCIM, a broker with SynerMark Commercial Real Estate Co. in Austin, Texas, specializes in office buildings and makes sure investors are aware of her market knowledge. Every three months she sends out a bound report to investors detailing buildings on the market, buildings sold, and those under construction.
19. Spread the Good News.
Several brokers say that when they close transactions, they send out announcements to everyone — investors, friends, colleagues, and clients. "It keeps your name in front of people and lets them know you’re doing business successfully," Jobes says.
20. Make Contact Easy.
W. Darrow Fielder, CCIM, a broker with Re/Max Beach Cities in Manhattan Beach, Calif., only uses his Web site address and toll-free telephone number on his marketing pieces and signs. "Keeping it simple, easy, and direct has provided me with innumerable leads and easy accessibility," he says.
21. Market Properties Creatively.
C. Ralph Kitchens, CCIM, a broker with Blanchard and Calhoun Commercial in Augusta, Ga., tells of handling two "gifts" for a fee. "By any other name they would be called bargain sales," Kitchens says, "but more doors opened with the word gift." In both cases — a restored building with little chance of receiving its appraised value and a longtime problem property — the new owners were tax-exempt organizations that assumed the remaining mortgages. "The old owners took a tax deduction based on the difference in the appraised value and the mortgage," he says.
22. Organize Yourself Daily.
"I write down all the phone calls, meetings, documents, letters, and projects I need to complete the following day on a single page in an organized format that I designed — before I leave the office that evening," says Jeremy Kronman, CCIM, director of Oxford Realty Services in Pittsburgh. "This provides me with instant organization the next morning, saving valuable time, as well as a record of what was done that day."
23. Track Expenses.
Many brokers use accounting software programs to organize and chart expenses. "When I began using Quicken, I set up my own chart of expense accounts," says Shirley Hildreth, CCIM, assistant manager of NAI/Americana Commercial Group in Las Vegas. "I can monitor my expenses by category for any given period in time. This process lets me evaluate and control my expenses as an ongoing process. The chart provides a visual of the relationship of my expenses to the whole."
24. Negotiate Better.
In his book, The Power of Nice: How to Negotiate so Everyone Wins — Especially You!, sports agent Ron Shapiro outlines his version of the win-win philosophy: "You can get most of what you want by helping the other side get some of what it wants. Aim for a substantial win for your side and a satisfactory win for the other side." To accomplish this, he suggests following his three Ps: "Prepare: Learn precedents, alternatives, strengths, and weaknesses. Probe: Discover the needs of the other side. Propose: Try not to go first, but when you do propose, aim realistically high."
25. Follow the Urge to Merge.
Sometimes it’s not a little adjustment but a big change that brings the best results. Jim Maenner, CCIM, and his brothers represented the third generation of the family-run Maenner Real Estate in Omaha, Neb. Even after the firm’s three best years from 1996 to 1998, "We could see the overall market curve getting away from us due to size limitations," Maenner says. Merging with the largest commercial brokerage operation in Omaha provided "a vastly improved marketing system, additional brokerage support, and also allowed the principals of our company to focus solely on brokerage and development."