ESTATE agents, surveyors, architects and all property professionals are finally seeing prospects of growing their businesses after the toughest five years imaginable.
Having cut costs and retrenched to survive, the idea of spending precious time now prospecting for new business may not be attractive. But the best time to make a strategic move for market share is when your competitors are "bombed-out" from recession and don't have the capacity to react.
Professionals have a qualification and a technical skill which commands a routine fee. One way to increase revenue is to work an extra 10 hours per week and that will earn some more routine fees.
However, most professionals have little capacity to work extra hours and the real opportunity to add value comes from developing the "emotional IQ" and social skills required to win new clients. An extra hour or two a week under this heading will reap great rewards.
Business would be blissfully simple if your best friends were also potential clients because they would surely give you all their business.
So the key to success is to turn your contacts into clients and your clients into friends. Developing friendships with clients does not mean forming intense relationships where you share personal information but rather signalling that there can be more to the relationship than the normal sterile professional relationship which finishes when the fee account is sent out.
The starting point with any client is to establish a genuine and friendly personal connection. Take an extra minute or two to chat about "the match" or some topical event. Let them do most of the talking and if information is volunteered on family matters take note of names and age groups.
Listen for information on their interests. Next time you meet you'll know what subjects they like talking about and the more they talk the more interesting they will find you. The important thing is that you're chatting about matters outside the professional sphere.
Some professionals with a more extrovert personality are instinctively good at developing new relationships and they tend to rise to leadership positions in firms. But most people are very uncomfortable developing this skill outside their routine work and need training and encouragement.
Here are some of my tips for success:
The fastest way to turbocharge your career is to hold a party -- but it must be in your home. This is the very best way to totally change the dynamic of your relationships with clients and signals that you are open to establishing a connection outside of work. It's even better if your partners get on well and strengthen the connection.
It doesn't have to be a fancy affair -- you could have drinks and snacks or a barbeque before a sporting event, but no corporate goodie bags or fawning waiters in tuxedos.
Look for opportunities to help people -- outside of your routine work relationship. Once I was taking a man to see a property and he took an interest in the hand controls on my car.
His mother had recently been ill and was unable to drive. The next weekend I called to his mother's house and showed her how to drive with hand controls. She returned to driving and regained her independence. That man became one of my best clients for over 25 years.
I'm sure we would all like to think that we would do these things naturally but be aware that most people will never forget how you helped them out and will go out of their way to help you, for years.
You must be out meeting your market -- instructions always flow from meetings and you will get a poor return from emails and posting flyers and reports.
Developers and corporations may not be active now, but now is the time to be meeting them regularly, building friendships and putting yourself in pole position for the next wave of activity.
My formula for success is "Make 'em feel special". If you can make each client feel that they are treated as special by your firm then you will enjoy ever-increasing business.
It's usually down to small things and a "personal touch".
Quote of the Year
I've attended a lot of conferences this year and I'm awarding the "Quote of the Year" to Smith and Williamson director Sean McNamara. Speaking last week on the fact that one-in- five mortgages are still in arrears, he described some banks' approach to arrears as "a rolling loan gathers no loss".