The Power Of A Story

This morning I was blown away by the speech of a 15 year old. It wasn’t that she was more intelligent than the average 15 year old. She was. It wasn’t that she was more composed than the average 15 year old. She was. It was that she had a story and told it from her core with conviction.

For a few brief minutes she owned everyone in the audience. I have no idea how many thousands of dollars were raised as a result of her speech, but I can tell you she was the reason for my donation.

In a world full of sales gimmicks and half truths, the power of a story has never been stronger. It has the power to capture our emotions, to tap into our empathy, and to communicate in imagery. Stories aren’t pushy. They allow us to draw our own conclusions. In a world where talk is cheap and advice plenty, stories are a breath of fresh empowering air.

If you want to sell me something, tell me a story. Tell me a powerful story that’s not about clever marketing phrases or rhetoric. Tell me a story that is about hope, a better life, or the chance to make a difference for people I care about.

It doesn’t matter if what you sell is a clean house or a multi-million dollar investment. Your product or service is there to solve a problem. What is the solution you provide? What is the powerful story that communicates your solution? Do you truly believe it?

Find your story and your clients will find you.


"What's In It For Me?" Lessons From Morocco

Anyone who has visited Marrakesh (Marrakech), Morocco knows that it is a unique destination—and sometimes awkward for Americans. The city is packed with guides who aggressively push their services on foreign tourists. Most tourists instinctively distrust these guides, but understand that Marrakesh’s maze of streets is nearly impossible for foreigners to navigate on their own.

These guides profess to be free, but they are not. When they bring you back to your hotel, they will resort to begging and pleading in order to cajole some currency from your pocket. Even more interesting are the revenue sharing arrangements that they have with local vendors. Don’t be surprised if you end up taking detours to specific carpet shops or other stores where the tourist price is much higher than the price for locals.

This type of arrangement is not unusual in many foreign countries, but it certainly feels foreign to most Americans. The idea of someone pushing us toward a store or product for a commission seems repellant, but this same scenario takes place in the U.S. every day. It’s probably why most Americans have a distaste for salespeople and rank them somewhere between lawyers and politicians in the hierarchy of “the kinds of people we trust”.

If you want to earn trust, stop asking, “What’s in it for me?” Instead, start asking, “What will best serve this client?” Sometimes the answer will be a service or product that you provide. Other times it will not. Instead of trying to push a client into a product or service that’s not a perfect match, consider sending them to a provider that will better serve them, without expecting something in return. This not only builds good will with your clients, but also with the businesses to which you refer them. Good will leads to more referrals to you and a growing business.

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U.S. Real Estate Agents Selling International Property

The dollar has been steadily losing value against most major currencies for several years, and it appears that the dollar has further to fall, given the Federal Reserve’s commitment to dropping interest rates in hopes of spurring the economy out of recession. This provides an opportunity for real estate agents to market to two new types of clients.

Foreign investors

As currencies in other nations rise against the dollar, it becomes less expensive for foreign investors to own real estate in the United States. Not long ago, I read an article about how real estate prices were continuing to rise in Manhattan, despite the general real estate malaise. It turns out that this was primarily influenced by foreign investor purchases.

I just talked with Amy Phillips from Deedquest, a real estate analysis website. A majority of visitors to her site are international investors researching U.S. real estate opportunities. International investors are out there and searching. Do you have a web presence that helps cater to those investors? My guess is that few do, so there seems to be much opportunity still available to claim that Web real estate.

Americans investing abroad

Americans looking to purchase in other countries are another group that offers opportunities for real estate agents. Though most real estate is becoming more expensive for this group as a result of the declining dollar, purchasing property in other countries is a way for investors to diversify. For example, an American purchasing property in Canada would own an asset valued in terms of the loonie. Even if the property didn’t appreciate, the investor would experience a gain if the dollar dropped in value with respect to the loonie.

In my experience, there are many Americans interested in foreign property. The difficulty is getting past the knowledge and distance issues. This is much easier to overcome if there is a trusted, local service provider that specializes in a specific foreign area and visits it regularly. Could you be that trusted, local service provider? Would it be that bad if you had to regularly visit Mexico, Costa Rica or Brazil?

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FREE: Why The Future of Business Is Zero Dollars And Zero Cents

On Wednesday night, I had the pleasure of hearing Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail and the editor-in-chief for Wired magazine, speak at the 18th annual Economic Insight Summit in Seattle. He is finishing his second book, titled FREE, which suggests as its premise that the future of business is giving away more.

In the past, the business model has been built around giving away 1% in order to sell the other 99%. Anderson’s belief is that the future of business will be giving away the 99% in order to sell the 1%.

This is a powerful concept for any service or investment provider. The internet makes it possible to distribute information for nothing, or nearly nothing. That means that all investment information is in the process of becoming free, or—at the very least—much lower cost. You can already see this taking place in specific industries like real estate. Zillow, Trulia and Redfin, for example, are taking market share and changing the rules of the game within the real estate community.

Service providers have two choices when approached with this phenomenon. They can choose to fight it, as the music executives continue to fight the idea of sharing music online, or they can embrace it. Those who choose to fight may find themselves in a situation similar to music executives who are spending their energy to hold onto slipping margins in CD sales.

Others within the music industry are embracing the change. Prince, or the artist formerly known as, recently released his entire CD free with copies of The Daily Mail in England. Why would he do that?

CDs are low-cost to replicate. My guess is that The Daily Mail or some other advertiser happily obliged to pay the cost of CD production and distribution in order to drive exposure for their businesses. Prince, on the other hand, was selling tickets to his concert at Wimbley stadium for $600 a piece. He used the CD as advertising to push his concert.

Prince used his music—a resource now abundant through online music-sharing—to drive traffic to a scarce resource—seats at Wimbley stadium. How can you use the power of the internet to share information that will become abundant (your knowledge) in order to drive revenue through your scarce resource (the specialized services you provide)?

This was precisely the question that led to the development of our “how to” article platform for alternative investment service providers. It is a way to share knowledge that can grow your business by expanding your audience, establishing your expertise, and driving traffic back to your website.

There are plenty of platforms and avenues to make this trade across the internet: your knowledge for business exposure. Consider embracing that trade now and you can gain market share in your niche. Fight it at your own peril.

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Who Wants To Be Comfortable?

I’ve always thought that being comfortable was something to which I wanted to aspire. I have recently changed my mind.

During a conversation with an entrepreneur friend, he defined being comfortable as the absence of pain, or freedom from worry and disappointment. The definition seemed harmless, but something about it stuck with me.

One of my core beliefs is that growth and learning are essential to happiness, and I don’t believe it is possible to learn and grow without experiencing some pain, or risking worry and disappointment. That means being happy and being comfortable—according to my friend’s definition—are no longer congruent ideas in my world.

Someone looking to avoid pain, worry and disappointment would never start their own business. They wouldn’t invest in something that offered a decent growth return. They would never live a life of adventure that involved traveling to foreign countries or jumping out of airplanes. To be uncomfortable is to be alive, and alive people are the world-changers that are able to accomplish big things because they are not willing to let fear of discomfort dictate the path of their life.

How does this relate to investing, you ask?

Good investors know that they won’t get it right 100% of the time. However, good investors recognize the opportunity in fear.

The time to buy is when everyone else is selling. The time to sell Is when everyone else is buying. Yet most people continue to invest with the pack. There is a level of comfort in doing what everyone else is doing. If you lose your money, then at least you know that there is someone else who is as bad off as you. That’s why there will always be endless opportunities for people willing to be uncomfortable.

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Action Cures Fear: Overcoming Investment Paralysis

I wish I could claim these words as my own. They are not. In fact, they are directly out of one of the most revered personal development classics, The Magic of Thinking Big. This is one of a handful of books that I have read more than once.

One of the most profound statements made in this book is, “Action cures fear.” In essence, we can spend our time worrying about what might happen or we can push forward.

In the alternative investment world, buying a piece of real estate, making a loan or starting a business is not an investment decision that can be easily reversed. Investors should absolutely perform diligent research and introspection before moving forward with a deal. There are always reasons not to invest, just as there are always reasons to invest.

The challenge is that the majority of us have an incredible fear of making mistakes, so we take the easy road where we are assured of not making mistakes. You can’t mess up if you do nothing, right?

I can look back at many moments in my life and know that I could have made some better decisions. Yet strangely enough, I wouldn’t go back and change any of them. Every one of those poor decisions has been an integral part of shaping the direction of my life. Without mistakes and lessons, there would be no progress.

What of regret?

There is no worse regret than the regret of inaction. It has a deteriorating effect. Have you met people trapped in the world of coulda, woulda, shoulda? You know who I’m talking about. They are the people that just missed the internet stock boom, that just missed the real estate boom and that are now sitting on the sidelines scared to death of their own shadow.

This is not to say that you should ever invest with abandon. Warren Buffett, arguably the world’s most successful investor, is fond of the “always in/always out” school of thought. Since even he can’t claim the ability to precisely time markets, he has decided to always be in those markets...and he hasn’t done too badly. Once you’ve decided that you’re in, then you can turn your focus toward how to maximize benefit and limit your risk.

This is not just a lesson for investing. If you want to get to your end destination, you have to move. That means action. The next time that you find yourself scared of making a phone call, having a difficult conversation or pushing forward on a well thought out decision, take Nike’s advice: just do it.

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Should I Start A Blog? The Pros And Cons Of Blogging

Should I start a blog? It seems like I’ve been asked that question a lot recently. It tells me that service providers are waking up to the power of the internet as a communication medium, but many of these professionals seem hesitant to move forward with a blog, and probably for good reason. Although blogging can provide some great benefits, it requires work: work which is often outside the realm of expertise for salespersons and service providers.

PROS: The Benefits of Blogging

Expanding your reach
The number one reason most service providers and professionals consider blogging is to help grow their business. A blog, done correctly, can aid in that endeavor by providing exposure for a business to new consumer prospects.

Highlighting your niche or expertise
A blog can help a service provider focus on a profitable niche by highlighting their expertise in a narrow topic. For instance, there are likely very few experts on foreclosures in Santa Barbara. In fact, a search for “Santa Barbara foreclosures” on Google yields a first page of nothing but generic foreclosure listing websites. A professional that consistently wrote a blog focusing on Santa Barbara foreclosures would likely be able to rank highly for that term over time. This could lead to a greater business focus on foreclosures and a reputation as the expert in the topic.

A Website for dummies
The best part about blogs is that you do not have to be a computer programmer to use one. Blogs focus on the content and have a built-in system for managing it. This allows users to focus on their expertise rather than programming. Websites like Blogger and Wordpress offer hosted blogs for free. A little customization, and you can be off to the races.

Building an asset
Blogs, like any website, are long-term assets. That means that the return on your investment in the short-term will usually be low. However, once you’ve created the content and built your reputation, it can usually be maintained with minimal effort. The content that you create today could and probably will receive traffic for years to come. Look at it as an investment. Devote a small, regular amount of time to it. When it starts to show some results, you’ll be motivated to devote even more time to it.

CONS: The Challenges of Blogging

Even professional writers require a certain level of discipline to write on a consistent basis. It can be a frustrating process, where hours of effort yield no results. However, there are also times when a half an hour can yield a wealth of content. The key is discipline. If you do not force yourself to write on a regular basis, and set time aside for that express purpose, then you may never hit those sweet spots of productivity. If you feel like you are having difficulty writing, I recommend the book Write: 10 Days to Overcoming Writer’s Block. Period.

The time commitment
Blogging is a long-term investment, and thus often conflicts with those with a short-term focus. Not only does it take time to write posts, but it also takes time to build relationships with other bloggers and website owners in order to build the links that will turn your unique content into traffic. If you are not willing to give blogging at least three to six months before evaluating its effects, then it may not be worth starting one.

Consistency is a must
Blogging works best when you post on a regular basis. This makes a blog friendlier to search engines and to RSS feed subscribers of a blog. There are, however, ways to minimize this challenge. If you are the kind of person that likes to focus on one project for a longer period of time, you can create your blog posts all at once and post them at regular intervals during the week or month.


Networking And Asking For The Sale

Networking is easy for some and painful for others—even for those that are good at it. Meeting new people, having small talk, trying to build business connections and deal flow...It’s always been a bit of a struggle for me personally. Somehow, I have trained myself to think that asking for business from people is a violation of a trust. Even if I think that one of my businesses has something to offer, I still have to fight the little voice in my head that says, “If you ask for business, then they will think that you are only friendly with them because you want something from them”.

This, of course, is ludicrous. To my closest friends and family, I am constantly suggesting products and services that offer solutions for them.

As I set a coffee appointment with a new contact this morning, I was reminded of the advice that most helped me overcome my anxiety of networking and asking for business. It came from a gentleman that built a dynamic sales career by selling books door to door. He rose through that company to become their head of worldwide sales. Believe it or not, they sold hundreds of millions of dollars of books...door to door. I figured if anyone knew how to ask for the sale and get comfortable with it, this would be the guy. So, I asked him for his secret.

I can’t recall his response verbatim, but it translated roughly as, “Focus first on how you can help them, and then ask for the sale.” It was poignant for me. I wondered if my anxiety in networking situations came from focusing on what I wanted out of the new relationship instead of focusing on listening and finding a way to help the person. I began to put it into practice, and it worked.

The power of sending a referral, making a connection, suggesting an unknown resource or sharing a piece of new information is amazing. For me, the most powerful part was that after giving something to a new contact, I no longer felt guilty about asking them for business.

The next time that you have coffee with a new contact or are talking with someone new at a networking event, try to find at least one way that you can immediately add value to them (it must be something for which you do not get paid). I have found that nothing fosters loyalty more than a willingness to give to someone without expecting something in return. Too many service providers believe that they have to protect the value of their knowledge (i.e. share it only with their paying clients). I have found the opposite to be true in business, in internet marketing and in life; the more knowledge that you share, the more business will come your way.

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