July 30, 2015

Weekly Book Scan

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Updated: 1 hour 15 min ago

Use Search Like a (Web) Master

Tue, 07/28/2015 - 14:43

If information is power and the World Wide Web hosts it all, then the No. 1 skill set to access what you need when you need it is search. And how you search for information is just as important as the particular information you seek.

mconnors, Morguefile

Here are the common searches you might perform in the course of doing business:

  1. Competitive search: keeping up to date about what other companies in your industry are up to.
  2. Customer search: accessing the best data about your clients and target customers.
  3. Technical search: finding the best tutorial in order to solve a specific problem.

The trick is to use a search engine like Google among other tools to have the right information so that you never say to a customer, “What have you been up to?” or “I wasn’t able to find out.”

And the best book I’ve read on searching for the right byte is Sam Richter’s Take the Cold Out of Cold Calling: Web Search Secrets for the Inside Info on Companies, Industries, and People. Richter’s tips will save you a ton of time in your use of the search bar. Plug in a combination of symbols and characters on the right site and you will be surprised at what you are able to find. Here are a few of the tips that I found most useful in the book:

  • On Google you can begin typing in the search box to see other suggested searches have been made without continuing the entire search. This gives you an idea of what people look for online, which gives you a better view of what potential customers want to know about real estate.
  • Knowing how to search by file type will allow you to find documents on websites that are not password protected. Some companies disclose news via PDF only (as opposed to a searchable website or blog entry), so this skill could help a relocation specialist know ahead of time if a big company is thinking about moving to the area.
  • You can also sort Google search results by “news” to find the latest mentions of customers, competition, or constituents.

Using the corporate relocation example again, search can help you understand the dynamics of a larger company. These specific search tools will help: Manta can help build lists of leads according to customer fields, revenue, or company size. InsideView provides a brief overview of a company’s description, financials, and news feeds. And Smash Fuse will help you navigate the social buzz around a specific company or industry.

If you are searching for specific people, you can use reverse 411 to locate other contact information when all you have is a phone number. Zaba Search helps you find personal contact information from a name + region search. Claritas is a subscriber service from Nielsen Ratings that provides psychographic data on local consumers attitudes, lifestyles, and behaviors segmented by geography.

There are hundreds more of websites, tips, and tactics loaded in Richter’s book. Reading his reference guide will save you time doing the homework that used to take hours to retrieve. If you don’t want to take my word for it, then search for know + more + web + secrets and you will get your answer.

Want to Predict the Future?

Tue, 07/07/2015 - 11:30

As the manager of a blog that publishes things encouraging people to read other things, I like hearing what authors are reading. But even better is when an author has a list of things you should read if you want to accomplish something.

Ryan McGuire/Bell Design

Back when I interviewed Rohit Bhargava in 2012, I could tell he was a curious guy. This was both because I’d read his latest book at the time, Likeonomics, and it was also evident in the way he talked. Each time I asked him a question, he usually ended up folding in some recent research or personal observation in his answer. But he wasn’t doing it for the reason that most people do (to validate their point or win over converts). He seemed to be mentioning these points because he found them genuinely interesting. The fact that they bolstered his message was almost secondary.

That’s what makes Bhargava’s latest book, Non-Obvious: How to Think Different, Curate Ideas & Predict the Future (Ideapress Publishing, 2015), so appealing to me. Bhargava publishes these trend reports each year, but this isn’t really a book about trends (heaven knows we have enough of those, right?). He’s basically telling his readers, “You can do what I do. You just have to want to know.”

The book contains more resources than I can possibly cover here, including workshop ideas and breakdowns of why trends matter and how to use them in a practical way. But you’re here at the Book Scan because you want ideas on what to read. And right up front, Bhargava’s recommends reading for those who want to be as savvy about predicting the future as he is. See, he suggests cultivating the five habits of trend curators in order to be able to identify shifts coming to your industry, and he includes reading recommendations that will help you improve these skills. I might mention that, even if you’re not interested in firing up your own person crystal ball, these are still pretty good habits to form.

  1. Be curious: “Curiosity is a prerequisite to discovery,” Bhargava writes. And is reading not a great indicator of curiosity? Cultivate that part of yourself that you know already exists with historical fiction and curated compilations such as these:
    • The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larsen
    • The Professor and the Madman, by Simon Winchester
    • This Will Make You Smarter (series), edited by John Brockman
    • You Are Not So Smart, by David McRaney
  2. Be fickle: Don’t get too caught up in the negative connotation of the word; Bhargava says. “Being fickle isn’t about avoiding thought—it is about freeing yourself from the time constraints you might feel around collecting ideas.” Alongside finding a way to save interesting ideas for later consumption, try this book to cement the habit:
    • The Laws of Simplicity, by John Maeda
  3. Be observant: This isn’t about the big picture at all, Bhargava says, but rather “training yourself to pay more attention to the little things.” Examine how everyday processes make the world go ’round, and read:
    • What Every Body Is Saying, by Joe Navarro
  4. Be thoughtful: The Internet is fully of knee-jerk reactions and thoughtless commentary. Fight back by taking a moment to rethink and reread your contribution before hitting the send button. Also, try reading this:
    • Brain Pickings, by Maria Popova
  5. Be elegant: Embrace the simplicity and poetry of nature’s solutions to complex problems, and you’ll find just the right way to eliminate the clutter of your words and ideas; in that spirit read:
    • Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman

To repeat, this is just a small sub-subsection of Bhargava’s idea-packed book, so I recommend picking up a copy alongside this brilliant collection of books that can help you prepare yourself to see the big picture.

Bringing Humanity Back to Business

Mon, 06/29/2015 - 15:22

There’s an app or a website for just about any service nowadays, which seems to make person-to-person contact obsolete. Why would I call a car service when I can just get an Uber driver to come pick me up with the push of a few buttons? Or why would I hire a personal trainer when there’s thousands of workout videos available online for free?

Credit: Ryan McGuire/Bells Design

But just because it seems more convenient to e-mail or text someone rather than talk in person doesn’t mean it’s the best strategy for communication, especially in terms of running a business. That’s the foundation of Peoplework: How to Run a People-First Business in a Digital-First World (2014, dotloop), written by Austin Allison and Chris Smith. Technology can enable companies to be more efficient. But Allison and Smith urge people in any type of business to take advantage of the “people revolution”: valuing personal interaction above all else. Both authors have tested a Peoplework business strategy within their own companies: Allison is founder of dotloop, a company that facilitates online real estate transactions; Smith is co-founder of Curaytor, a marketing firm for real estate agents and companies. Allison and Smith enforce the idea that going back to basics, which involve human interaction, is the best way to run any type of business.

The book outlines 10 principles on how to run a Peoplework business among constantly changing technology, ending each chapter with examples of companies that have successfully used these principles. Apple is a reoccurring example throughout the book of a company that values people first—customers and employees. The company treats its customers as friends from the moment they walk in the door, and that’s what Peoplework is about: putting the humanity—including humility, honesty, and respect—back into your business. Peoplework businesses are interested in long-term relationships with their customers as well as their employees in order to network, or create an exponential “people grid.”

“First, you must understand that since the beginning of time, and forever into the future, people just want to work with other people and will more often than not choose people who they know, like and trust. No matter what the business model or product is, it is always people on both sides of the transaction.”

Peoplework generally focuses on how to manage a business, though the 10 principles can easily apply to just about any entrepreneur. The first seven chapters of the book focus on how employees, not just employers, can capitalize the business they work for through the way they treat their customers. The “Quality Creates Quantity” chapter, for example, emphasizes how every customer should be treated as a lifetime employee would be. This may restrict a company’s customer outreach initially but focusing time and energy on each customer leads to loyalty and virality, which in turn lead to more and more customers. Allison and Smith even break down an example of how to obtain a $120,000 salary in the real estate market through Peoplework, based on the model Starbucks uses, called the Lifetime Value of a Customer (LVT). The last three chapters focus on the business person as an individual: how a Peoplework business starts with the passion, motivation, and ability of each employee and employer. Allison and Smith don’t hesitate to show where specific companies have gone wrong or explain that sometimes you just need to get rid of employees that don’t fit your culture as soon as possible. Peoplework is meant to inspire readers to see their business through a unique lens, though, where change is always possible.

An 800th Birthday for Property Rights

Fri, 06/12/2015 - 09:55

On Monday, June 15, historians across the world will celebrate eight centuries of a dusty old document. So, what does that mean to you, a modern real estate professional? Everything.

The King’s Great Seal, which was attached to the Magna Carta as proof of his assent to the agreement (Credit: British Library).

The Magna Carta was the first agreement in the modern age to guarantee certain rights to individuals and ensure that leaders obey laws. The tyrannical King John, who ruled England from 1199 to 1216, exhausted and frustrated the landowners of his kingdom to the breaking point. He’d levied massive taxes, known as scutage, to pay for his costly foreign wars. When folks didn’t pay, he’d seize their property or lock them up. By 1215, the so-called “rebel barons” had had enough. They renounced their allegiance to the king and captured London in May. At that point, the king had no recourse but to negotiate, finally agreeing to meet them at Runnymede, on the River Thames in the south of England, in June of that year. After some negotiating, King John granted the Charter of Liberties, which became known as Magna Carta, at Runnymede on June 15, 1215. Though many provisions were eventually stripped and the document was reissued several times throughout the coming century, the main idea of individual rights and liberties reverberated for centuries, especially those contained in this passage (emphasis mine):

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.

This sentence is often cited as the inspiration for constitutions and declarations of rights around the world. Most importantly for real estate professionals in the United States, it’s perhaps the oldest source for the fifth amendment of our nation’s Bill of Rights:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Of course, it would take a while for both England and the United States to extend said rights beyond landowning elites, but the notion did set a standard for property rights that had not been officially expressed in the modern world. Sometimes the wheels of justice and human rights turn slowly, and in this case we’re talking centuries.

I had assumed that back when NAR was founded, around a century ago, property rights were still a major concern. But after talking to Managing Director of NAR’s Information Services, Frederik Heller, I learned that Americans had a moment of security—albeit brief—about the issue of property rights around the turn of the century.

“Property rights weren’t seen as being threatened or limited in the ways they are now, so I think it just wasn’t a major concern,” Heller says. “That changed pretty quickly, though. Beginning in the 1910s, the right to own property popped up in the National Real Estate Journal more and more often, as zoning ordinances took hold to put limits on what owners could and couldn’t do with their land. Then in the 1920s and 1930s, property taxes became popular ways for municipalities to generate income.”

And though the idea of preserving the right of property ownership wasn’t mentioned as one of the goals of NAR in its Constitution and Bylaws until 1961, the idea was securely planted in the preamble of the Code of Ethics, written in 1924. It was the first time NAR officially identified property rights as an idea for REALTORS® to uphold & protect:

Under all is the land. Upon its wise utilization and widely allocated ownership depend the survival and growth of free institutions and of our civilization…

As we all well know, the issue of preserving property rights is now key to a number of important initiatives at NAR. So, as members of an association that clearly sees the importance of property ownership, I hope you’ll join me in a salute to one of the most famous documents in history, and one that at least started us down a path toward the relatively fair and free society we enjoy today. Happy birthday, Magna Carta. You don’t look a year over 350 to me.

Learn more and watch an animated video about the story behind the Magna Carta at the British Library’s website.

The Gentle Art of Asking

Thu, 06/04/2015 - 09:58

Every day we ask for help. It could be as simple as asking for a referral or it could be as complicated as asking a broker to join your franchise.  Either way the ask not only depends on what you ask, but more importantly how you ask it.

In Edgar Schein’s book, Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013), he shares the process of influencing others depending on the level of trust that exists in any given relationship and gives concrete examples of the type of questions you might ask in each case. These apply in all areas of business, personal situations, and every day conversations.

Are you close enough to ask the big questions? Credit: Alejandro Escamilla/Unsplash

I’ve laid out the four types of questions that Schein defines below. Let’s explore each one in detail and see how it relates to your real estate business. That will help us figure out the most appropriate time to use them.

Humble Inquiry

When trust has not been established yet, it’s important to ask yourself, “How can we get the other person to share what’s on their mind in their words, not ours?”  Questions like, “What is happening with you” or “go on; tell me more” express a sincere desire to learn what the other person is thinking rather than assuming you know their issues and exactly what they need. Humble inquiry is ideal for initiating conversations with customers, building relationships at networking events, and deciding if/how you can help the other person.

Diagnostic Inquiry

Now that you have a general sense of who the person is and what they would like to communicate, you can dig a little deeper. But not too deep! You might not have established a strong enough foundation of trust yet. Ask, “Why do you feel that way” or “what do you think caused that to happen?” Here you want to keep the other person talking by asking a question that allows them to share their issue in more detail.

Process-Oriented Inquiry

Once you have developed some rapport with the other person you can then ask process-oriented questions that involve your role into the mix.  Let’s say a customer asks, “How much should I price my house for?” You could reply, “What answers do you want to know from me about pricing your home?”  This way you can keep them talking and in some cases they will answer their own question simply because you asked them to share it with you.

Confrontational Inquiry

Starting off a conversation with a seller with: “If you couldn’t get $XXX,XXX for your house today in 30 days, would you still sell it?” won’t be as effective unless you have an existing relationship or you took the time to build trust properly over time. The time to consult with a client is when you have earned the right to consult. Be careful about using confrontational questions too soon otherwise it might jeopardize the sale, and more importantly, the potential relationship.

So now I have a question for you: Which end of the question spectrum do you use most when communicating with clients? Are you overly confrontational, or do you stay in the humble safe zone even after establishing a steady rapport?