Wednesday 26 October 2016

The right moves: Where now for small firms?

Paul McNeive

Published 18/02/2016 | 02:30

Make sure you have a strong business profile on LinkedIn and Facebook.
Make sure you have a strong business profile on LinkedIn and Facebook.

A comment made by the owner of a small estate agency whom I interviewed recently, sparked quite a reaction.

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The comment was "smaller firms can't enjoy the luxury of employing negotiators who just handle sales, as might be the case in a large company. Our negotiators have to be able to introduce their own business and hit the ground running." Owners of smaller agencies empathised with this but some larger firms pointed out that their negotiators are also expected to win their own business. So where does the truth lie and how can people develop these business winning skills?

Like many disputes, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Large firms with strong brands will attract business purely because of "who they are."

The shareholders in the business maximise their earnings by leveraging off the brand that they have worked hard to develop. The principals in the firm employ scores of professionals to handle the jobs. Thus there is some truth in the perception that large firms sometimes employ a proportion of professionals to do the routine work and who do not tend to be "business winners."

This of course looks like a luxury to owners of small firms, where "the brand" is not bringing in instructions of itself and every new job has to be won through a personal effort or connection.

This type of "handling role" in large firms suits a lot of people who may not have the confidence or skills to win their own instructions. They develop a high level of expertise over time and a reputation as a "safe pair of hands."

The large firms will hold that all staff are expected to bring in business but over time it becomes clear that most of the valuable instructions are won by a handful of people.

This ability to win business is probably the most valuable strength you can have and "business winners" tend to rise to the top of the firm.

Many "business winners" are "born", in that they have a charismatic personality and an ability to forge and maintain trusting relationships with a wide variety of types of people. But all professionals can improve their ability to introduce business and enhance their earnings, and their value to the firm, by developing a few new habits.

Introducing business is all about maximising the number of personal connections you have. Widen your circle of contacts and don't restrict yourself to connecting with people in your own area of expertise.

Most clients aren't aware of the level of specialisation there is in many agencies. To them, it's a "property problem" and you want them to see you as their "go-to" property person. So always look for opportunities to introduce business to other services provided by your firm. If your contacts don't need commercial services, then they will all have a house to sell at some stage.

Most firms pay a 10 to 15pc introductory commission to the person that introduces new business and if you develop the habit, this can dramatically enhance your earnings.

A first step is to make sure that all your contacts, your friends, neighbours, alumni, parents of your children's friends, doctors, dentists etc know what you do.

It's frustrating to see business being handled by a competitor on behalf of someone you know -only for them to tell you later-"Oh, I would have given you that sale. I didn't know you were an estate agent." So don't be afraid to hand over a business card and if the contact looks like a potential source of business, suggest meeting up for a coffee. If you then do no more than send them your firm's property reports from time to time, a number of these people will come to you when they need advice.

If you're serious about developing your career you should become an active member of your local chamber of commerce, or rotary club, or your professional organisation, where you will make invaluable contacts. There are "women in business" organisations which are great for networking. Make sure you have a strong business orientated profile on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Always look to maximise the personal connection with people. Sometimes professionals don't want to appear pushy but never be afraid to "ask for the business"-you'll be surprised how often you'll get a "Yes."

Becoming a business winner means developing your own personal brand. The stronger your own brand becomes, the quicker you'll be climbing that promotion ladder.

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