The Right Moves: For better contracts and fees, be a trusted advisor
I am often asked for advice on business development by firms in the property sector and one of the first things I say is "Don't get pigeonholed." It's vital that you think of yourself as a businessperson first, and thereafter as an agent, architect, surveyor or engineer. Being "pigeonholed" will restrict your value in the eyes of a client and will reduce your ability to win more business.
Over many years of working on development projects, I have seen great examples of how some professionals cement themselves into a clients business, to the extent that many of the top developers often assemble the same team of professionals for all of their work. This is the ideal "trusted advisor" relationship where the level of your fees is not going to determine whether or not you get the job. The professionals who achieve this behave as "businesspeople", and they don't restrict themselves to providing technical advice in their own area.
"Businesspeople" are seen by their clients as bringing more to the project than just technical expertise, they "add value." They talk in strategic terms, always thinking of how each aspect of the project affects the clients business, are knowledgeable on the economy and industry trends and they take a long-term view. They present themselves as successful businesspeople and that includes how they dress and the cars they drive. They become so close to the clients business that the client would not consider doing a project without them.
The opposite of this is, for example, the architect, who arrives for the project team meeting wearing a green check jacket, a check shirt and wool tie. He probably has a beard and drives an old VW.
He will talk expertly about some element of the design or the landscaping but will have little knowledge or interest in the bigger picture. This architect may be successful, to a point, but he will never be seen by his clients as bringing any more than architectural expertise.
Look for opportunities to stand out from the crowd. For example, one of the biggest issues now in Ireland is the lack of development finance, although overseas equity funds are increasingly filling the gap. You are probably part of an international alliance with contacts overseas. Why not ask them to introduce you to a fund they know which is already active in Ireland, or is considering investing here? Then introduce your developer clients to that fund. It may lead to a great success, but even if nothing happens, you are demonstrating to your client that you are operating at a higher level.
Architects, surveyors and engineers are all active in the development world and increasingly abroad. By keeping your ears open, you will pick up leads on properties and enquiries. Don't be afraid to bring appropriate opportunities to your clients as they will see that you regard their business as a top priority. Do you have a good personal contact with a large corporate occupier? Even if they have no space requirement now, why not arrange a lunch with your developer client? Relationships are built and again, your client sees you as looking after his long term interests.
Do these things consistently to widen your influence and become a "trusted advisor."
It was an honour to MC the Irish Independent Property Industry Excellence Awards last week at the Convention Centre, Dublin.
A packed house of 750 professionals saw Cork architects, Carr Cotter Naessens presented with the overall winners award by Paul O'Connell. I have no doubt that this awards programme will go from strength to strength, given its credibility and its emphasis on "corporate social responsibility," for example the creation of the DIT Doctorate in Property Research.
It is a healthy thing for firms to enter their best work into awards programmes and the boost to your brand from winning top awards helps to win more business. A great night was had by the attendees, although, looking down on the sea of tuxedos, I was reminded of the reduction in the number of women in the business.
That is turning around again now and I have never had more enquiries from women about routes into the property business from other professions. There are full and part time courses available from both the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland and The Institute of Professional Auctioneers and Valuers, and there are great opportunities for women wishing to join the pursuit of excellence in the property industry.