We are surrounded by advice to hustle hustle hustle, build an empire and “go big or go home.” In this episode, I present an alternative: small and successful. Watch the video or scroll down for the text version. Highlights
- The shortest real estate career in history (mine)
- The pyramid of performance
- An argument for embracing small and successful
In 1993, my then-husband owned a small real estate company.
I went to work for him as his office manager. I answered the phone, helped our Realtors with paperwork and advertisements and operated our only computer. (The fax machine was far more popular than the space-age mysterious thing on my desk.)
At one point I even got a real estate licence (but never sold a single home – which is a story for another time.)
Mostly what I got was an insider’s look into the business of real estate and I noticed a pattern there that holds true today.
A common saying at the time (and I would guess still gets tossed about today) is that
“90% of the money flows to the top 5% of Realtors.”
Every week, we would get an updated listing, ranking all the Realtors on the local real estate board – by sales.
The pyramid of performance
Top: the super successful
In a board of 1,000 Realtors, the top 5% would be comprised of 50 names. These are the “Top Producers” – the people who were apparently raking in 90% of the commissions.
The very tip of the pyramid – the top 10 – rarely changed. You’d see mostly the same names year after year – they’d change in rank (#1 last week, #4 this week) – but only occasionally would a new name appear and stick.
These were the local celebrities – everyone in the business knew their names.
Most of the people who made it to the top were well established, hard workers, very good at their job and very good at building relationships.
Then you have the opposite.
Bottom: coming in and leaving
These would be the brand new people – who may or may not make it – and the ones on their way out. (And me on both counts!)
Lots of people never made it past the bottom.
They discovered that they weren’t cut out for a commission-only sales job. Or they didn’t have the financial resources to sustain them through the early part of their career (each Realtor was essentially in a self-employed business: lots of money going out in expenses, very little coming in.)
Some of them jumped onto real estate because they saw the large commission cheques and figured this was an easy way to “get rich quick.” These ones tended to jump out just as quickly as they jumped in!
Middle: everyone else
The middle was a mixed bag.
Strivers aiming for the top.
I worked with one of these for a couple of years. He was ambitious, hard-working and smart. And it took a long time, long hours, and a significant start up investment before he started gaining traction. He did finally make it to the very top (long after I left the business) – and the road was far from quick and easy.
Posers trying to jump the queue.
These guys tried to buy their way to the top with money and a “fake it til you make it” strategy. They’d buy full page “best realtor in town” ads in newspaper, while the ink was still wet on their real estate license. Some of them survived, many of them gave up.
Strugglers treading water just above the bottom.
Working year after year and not making a lot of progress. Often missing key bits of education and perspective – unwilling to try something new or improve their skills – and also unwilling to quit.
Most of the people in the middle were simply making a good living without being too flashy about it. They were going about their business, year after year. Serving repeat customers, getting referrals.
My husband was one of them. His name consistently appeared in the bottom half of the rankings. (Which he didn’t follow or care about.)
He wasn’t particularly ambitious. He didn’t care for working in the evening or even on weekends. He spent as little as possible on advertising.
He sold just enough to bring home about 80 grand a year.
His low-profile approach was profitable. He kept his expenses low and built his business on personal relationships.
He brought home more money than our office striver – who out-sold him by a considerable margin, then spent a good chunk of that money on advertising expenses.
Nothing has changed
When I look around, I see the same pattern playing out.
A teeny tiny little group of people raking in zillions of dollars, being “celebrities” in their fields: celebrity life coaches, celebrity fitness trainers, celebrity nutritionists, celebrity counsellors…and in my field: a ton of celebrity business coaches and online marketers.
They have huge followings, a team to support them and money to spend on advertising.
Most of them also have longevity: they’ve been at this for YEARS, toiling away in obscurity until they became an “overnight success.”
They often implore people to follow their lead and to “go big or go home” (have you noticed that 7 figures is the new 6 figures?)
The most obnoxious of them disparage “lifestyle businesses” by saying things like: you don’t have a business – you just made yourself a job.
Because we see so much of this, it’s easy to think that this is “the only way” – but it’s not.
It looks like the only way because that’s all we see.
There are other options – we just don’t see them
With thousands of followers to boost their posts – and lots of money to pay for advertising – their messages are omnipresent.
Here’s what we don’t see.
For every one “celebrity” in their field, there are 1,000s of successful people – making a good living doing the thing that they do – that you’ve never heard of (and never will.)
Our dog groomer isn’t on social media. She also has a voicemail message that says she’s not taking on new clients. Booked solid.
I once had wellness practitioner hire me to set up a mailchimp list to contain her 4,000 client contact records! There was a problem setting it up: no website or social media to link it to. She had built her entire business through 1:1 personal connections.
When I look around my own city – Vancouver, BC, Canada – I see lots of coaches, marketing professionals, counsellors, wellness practitioners, freelancers – all quietly going about their businesses. They’re successful on a small scale.
We don’t hear about these businesses – because they’re low profile!
They’re all but invisible.
Just like me, today, broadcasting this encouraging message to an audience of one. 🙂
So…if you’re feeling sad or behind or not good enough – or just not motivated to hustle hustle hustle your way to the very tippy top of the pyramid – know that there is another way.
Go big or go home is only one option.
Small and successful is also a valid choice.