Commercial real estate attracts those that thrive in a high-risk, high-reward setting. While most would scoff at the idea of going salary free for upwards of a year to get their business off the ground, CRE brokers are ready to dive in head first, confident that the initial investment will pay off in the future as they build a client base, learn a market and eventually start closing deals.
But there’s a lot that goes into succeeding in commercial real estate, even after that first year or two is done. Yes, there are a prescribed set of activities that most brokers follow in order to start closing deals, but this is entirely different from establishing and following a strategy.
Tactics and activities will allow you to maintain the status quo, but establishing an effective, long-term strategy is what differentiates the average from the great.
We’ve pulled together some tried and true advice on creating a strategy and getting promoted in commercial real estate—throughout your career.
1. Produce consistently.
Above all else, commerical real estate is a numbers game.
According to Lee Kiser, founder of Kiser Group, a firm based in Chicago specializing in mid-market apartment sales, the number one thing he looks for when promoting brokers, is production:
“In brokerage, knowing when to promote is easy; it’s all based on production and hitting your numbers year after year. The more you produce, the faster you move up. Brokers impress me through productivity.”
But, as Kiser points out, many brokers begin to get frustrated when, even 1-2 years into their brokerage career, they still aren’t making what they were in their years before entering CRE. Kiser attributes this trend to brokers losing sight of that initial drive and resilience that got them into the industry. He explains that it’s not just using the tools and following the steps laid out for CRE professionals, it’s essential to stick to a strategy and maintain that desire to fight your way to the top.
2. Leverage your coworkers and take advantage of every educational opportunity available to you.
Yes, in some ways being a commercial broker is like being a business of one. You fail or succeed based on your own drive and competence. But hesitating to leverage those around you is a huge mistake.
Brandon Geraldo, a Senior Vice President at Colliers found that taking the time to get to know and learn from those in his brokerage — even brokers within different niches — was essential to his rise up the ranks:
“Talk to brokers who sell other product types — everyone does things differently so you can learn a lot from the people around you, even if they aren’t working directly in your niche.”
Often, simply asking for advice or help getting past an obstacle can signal to leadership that you have the discipline to work through things, rather than take shortcuts.
According to Geraldo, “When older brokers see someone coming in and asking for advice, they will take an interest because they see you working hard. Soon, my senior colleagues were willing to bring me in on deals and give me a cut because they knew I was willing to put in the time.”
3. Maintain discipline.
Despite the rise of CRE tech and products that make it easier for brokers to stay on top of deals and nurture client relationships, commercial real estate remains an industry reliant upon discipline and good-old-fashioned hard work. Maintaining discipline through good times and bad is what differentiates successful brokers from the rest of the pack.
John Meyer, also of Kiser Group, has been in the multi-family real estate business for over 13 years, yet he still attributes the strength of his client relationships to steady follow up and discipline:
“For me, my biggest point of contact between deals is quarterly phone calls. Now, there’s a fine line between being helpful and being annoying, so you don’t want to call too often. I try to aim for one phone call a quarter where I deliver valuable information and focus on striking up a conversation.”
Similarly, Brandon Geraldo believes in setting up a business plan, centered around discipline:
“Your plan should be detailed down to the actives you’re going to do on a daily basis, otherwise, you get side tracked. When I started, we had to make 150 calls a week, meet with three new clients a week and write one new proposal a week. If you don’t have a business plan, it’s hard to get momentum.”
4. Create a personal board of directors.
Another tough yet necessary component of signaling to leadership that you are ready for the next step is to address your blind spots and weaknesses.
This means asking for feedback — and not just from people who like you.
Executive coach, Sabina Nawaz, recommends establishing a “personal board of directors” to guide you throughout your career. Just as a business might select its board of directors, these people should encompass a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints. She suggesting finding 6-8 people who can serve as critics, sponsors and fans but who all have the goal of helping you uncover and improve on your weakness and navigate tough career stages.
The last thing you want is to approach leadership for a promotion, only to be notified of a weakness you aren’t already aware of. By seeking honest feedback consistently, you can pinpoint your failings and structure an action plan for overcoming them, long before they become a hindrance to your career.