Willard Says...

June 24, 2016

20 Years of Endurance

I have lost count of the instances I have pondered the questions, “Why am I doing this?” or “What was I thinking getting into this business?” or “There has to be an easier way to make a living, right”? Then, the next day (if not sooner), something happens and puts me at ease, causing me to say, “Oh, that is why I do this.”

Presidents Day 2016 marked my 20 year anniversary in the commercial real estate industry. Looking back, it is nothing short of a miracle that I have lasted this long. There have been so many ups and downs that it is a wonder I am still standing.

I am frequently asked to speak with college students or recent graduates who are considering the commercial real estate profession as a career. The one thing I always endeavor to do is be brutally honest as to what they are getting themselves into, as I wish someone would have done for me. What was described to me 20 years ago sounded like nothing short of paradise: You make a ton of money, work flexible hours, go out for fancy lunches and golf outings, and did I mention the money? As a 22-year-old right out of school, how could I resist? After a few months in the business, however, I learned the cold, hard truth.

As I reflected on my journey to date, I decided to put together a list of some of the most important things I have learned over the years that have helped me get this far:

1) Have a very thick skin. You will fail many more times than you will succeed. People will slam the phone down on you mid-sentence, refuse to meet with you, question your knowledge and be generally rude or inconsiderate. Let it bounce right off and move on to the next opportunity; these incidents do subside over time.

2) Use everything as a learning experience. Just when you think you have seen it all, you quickly learn that is not the case. Never stop building upon your base of knowledge. Nothing is ever a waste of time and what causes you to fail in one instance might be directly responsible for your next moment of success.

3) Never get too high or too low. When something good happens, sadly, something negative is probably lurking right around the corner. Fortunately, the opposite is true as well. Always keep on an even keel and focus on the big picture.

4) Be prepared to work extremely hard and make sacrifices. This is not a 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. job and if you try to make it one, you will fail. There will be plenty of 12+ hour days and weekends that you will need to work in order to succeed.

5) All deals are unique. This is part of what makes the industry so fresh and interesting all of the time. Treat every situation individually. While you certainly can–and should–learn from past experiences and use them as a guide, always be open minded and flexible to trying different approaches.

6) Adapt to changes and embrace new technology. When I first started, not only were there no cell phones, I did not even have a computer. When the BlackBerry first appeared, I thought it was the greatest invention ever. Change is constant and it’s important to make an effort to keep up with the times. Being receptive to change can ultimately make your job easier.

7) Follow the Golden Rule and treat everyone with respect, no matter the size of the transaction. Work just as hard for a client looking for 500 square feet as you would for a client looking for 50,000 square feet. You never know if they may grow in the future or who else they may know in need of real estate services. Referrals are a strong source of new business in commercial real estate. Regardless, everyone deserves the same level of respect; at the end of the day, all you have is your reputation. If you provide good service to everyone, you can never go wrong.

8) Become an expert on the real estate market. Having extensive knowledge of what is happening will enable you to command immediate respect when meeting prospects for the first time. When competing for business, people will usually see right through you if you are trying to wing it.

9) Always put the interest of your client above your own personal gain. We all want to make as much money as possible, but never at the expense of doing our job well.

10) At all times, be brutally honest. The truth always comes out. If you lie and try to make up for it later on, the pain of trying to clean up the mess is tenfold.

11) Prepare ahead of time and anticipate. Always take the time to research who you are meeting and try to envision all possible scenarios in advance. When you are informed, your presentation will be that much better.

Undoubtedly, this is a very challenging industry to succeed in long term. It is competitive, cutthroat, grueling, fascinating, stimulating and rewarding all at the same time. Of course, following these steps will not guarantee success, but each of them continue to serve me well and help me endure. It will be interesting to see what other tips I pick up during the next 20 years. Be on the lookout for a follow up blog then.