8 strategies to help entrepreneurs navigate uncertain times

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Brace for impact, everyone. The real estate industry is undergoing record-setting disruption at a pace and magnitude that draws significant attention, with further changes on the horizon.  And we need to be ready for it all … from a business and emotional stance.

Everything including the rapid emergence, and now dominance, of cloud brokerage models, the NAR legal settlement, the potential for disruption from AI, the seeming inevitability of blockchain ledgers in real estate transactions, and so much more are shaking our reality and making many nervous about the future.

Navigation and meditations

We can all agree that navigating where to direct focus often proves challenging,  especially when the ground feels shaky. How to stay on an even keel is an even bigger issue. The reality of our uncertainty sets in, and, for many, it creates a growing sense of fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Emotional stability and resilience are being tested like never before, and agents and leaders alike face disruptive threats and paradigm shifts at every turn. Perhaps there’s good news, though. As Sun Tzu famously stated, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.”  

Understanding the nature of uncertainty can be tough. We’re all human, and as such, we crave stability. As business owners, we’re not exempt — we need certainty to operate in both the short and long term. And yet, predictability is no guarantee. Change is a permanent concept, so if we know that change will always be coming at us, how do we then stay focused and find our own opportunity amid the storm?  

You may be wondering what’s necessary to keep stillness and shift your mindset from fear to opportunity. After all, since some changes are chosen for you, the only real choice is how you anticipate, plan, prepare and maintain an agile approach to business.

I think to  myself often, “respond, don’t react.” It’s not uncommon to see overarching claims across the  industry touting proud monikers like “We’re built for this,” but I like John A. Shedd’s best:  “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” So, let’s talk about how to get our “ship” together as business leaders in real estate (pun very much intended).  

Leaders understandably try to position their companies in public-facing statements as ready for the future or prepared for what is next. However, collaborative research from MIT Sloan Management  Review and Deloitte has documented that 90 percent of all corporate executives acknowledge that their company is confronting disruptive change catalyzed by digital technologies. However, less than half indicate their organization is actively implementing a digital strategy.

In a change-riddled landscape, those who can see change as an opportunity will ultimately thrive. Your personal strategy is all that matters. Don’t assume someone is coming to save you … they aren’t.

Here, I’ve laid out seven core concepts that I believe make the most difference when confronting disruption in your business life.  

No. 1 : All change creates new objections

Think NAR settlement. Sellers might ask about commissions in different ways. Buyers may balk at signing docs they’ve never before signed or they may fear having to cough up extra cash they may not have. Brokerages might be fearful of agents getting itchy feet due to shifting landscapes and teams may fear declining agent count to solo pursuits and industry attrition. All in all, change begets more change, and that ripple effect amplifies uncertainty.  

One of my earliest business mentors said that when everyone else gets fearful, they lose focus and stop competing. I know that to be true and I can see this opportunity in our marketplace as a clear differentiator.

In other words, the agents who craft brilliant responses to client concerns will get many more clients, not just a few. The brokerages who figure out how to present value and train for these changes will see massive gains in headcount, not marginal.  

No. 2: Everyone craves leadership

Leadership is what clients see when agents show stability in an uncertain contractual shift. It’s what causes the brokerages who embrace change and train into that agile stance to grow faster and more exponentially.

Ultimately, in a season of uncertainty, the leaders (whether that be agents, owners or team leaders) who demonstrate clarity, focus and direction in times of doubt will ultimately win out and see disproportionate market gains as a result.

This is a time when agents can easily pick up market share not available to them in the prior boom market. That said, it’s critical to remember that leadership is a perception that is based on your decision to lead.

This means that a clear focus on leadership traits like confidence, clear communication, empathy, a vision that enrolls support, adaptability,  active listening, open collaboration and humility will build your leadership profile and, if executed at the level of your business, will provide you with the rocket fuel you need to get to the top.

Leadership will be the key differentiator in the next season and that, my friends, is a good thing for the industry.  

No. 3: Study the past to prepare for the future

I’m always a bit saddened when I  speak to any agent who says that some change is unprecedented. Are you sure? What I mean is that we’ve experienced some analog to basically every change in the past, if you’re willing to look. Humans are amazing at convincing ourselves that everything is new all the time.

AI is new, but the rise of the internet, cell phones, wifi, online data storage, big data, Y2K, etc. all had similar traits and created similar market responses. The NAR lawsuit is new, but before NAR, there was a different approach to real estate agency, compensation, and so on — not altogether dissimilar from the current approach in some aspects of commercial real estate.

Again, we have to be willing to look for patterns and relationships, but they’re there for the taking. Remember that you have a rearview mirror for a reason. Use it.  

No. 4: Run all scenarios

You can’t hit a bullseye if you can’t see the target. Throwing darts in a dark room is not a great strategy, and, not surprisingly, your business needs a plan, or you won’t hit your personal goals either. As my father used to say, “Plan the work and then work  the plan.” This is true now more than ever.

You need to run all available scenarios in your head.  Start off with your worst fears and ask yourself, “If my life depended on me doubling my income  because of this fear scenario, what must I do in order for me to succeed anyway?”  Resourceful thinking might mean you have to ditch some old rigid beliefs.

If you find yourself  thinking, “That’ll never work,” ask yourself instead, “How could I make this work despite this  obstacle?” Your brain will absolutely find the answers, but like any muscle – you have to work for it before it works for you.

Howard Marks may have said it best: “You can’t predict. You can  prepare.” So, let’s get prepared to be successful by running scenarios, creating resourceful solutions, and then choosing the plan. After that, it’s just execution.  

No. 5: Be nimble

The concept of agility gets talked about a lot, but in execution, it’s tougher to achieve because it might mean changing the core identity of your business (or yourself), and operations may have to adjust to accommodate the forced change. In other words, when you know a boulder is in the way, go around, go over, drill through, blow it up or choose a new path entirely. I spend a ton of time coaching agents at every level, and it always stuns me to see how stuck we can get as humans to an idea.

It’s frustrating to know that you’ve got a plan and then something happens and now everything gets thrown out. But, those moments are when the greatest innovations occur — when you have to find a new path and create a new reality.  

No. 6: Build your network

Going it alone has always had a certain allure to me. The feeling that we can do it all and don’t need anyone has an empowering magnetism, but it’s the wrong answer when heading into the most uncertain waters. Humans are network-oriented adaptation machines. We operate most effectively at the intersection of connection and innovation, and as a result, when things are changing rapidly and creating uncertainty, we need our network more than ever.

So, if you have an amazing network of incredible leaders around you, lean in and stay connected. If you’ve been going solo for a while, start building your tribe with smart, driven leaders who push and challenge you and (especially) don’t always agree with you.

If you’re looking to grow through a challenging time, you’ll need to stress test your ideas with those who will give you constructive feedback and not simply be “yes” people. When everyone around you has the same thoughts, you’re trapped. You’ll only ever hear how “right”  you are, not that there might be a better way or another concept to consider.

We’ve all experienced this in politics. Someone has a firm belief, so they only watch or read news that confirms what they already believe. They only talk to people who believe what they believe, and before long, they’ve lost the ability to adapt, change and challenge their current line of thought.  This is dangerous in most aspects of life.

Confirmation bias is really nothing more than getting stuck. At the end of the day, the best way to break the cycle is to build your network with strong people whom you respect, but not all of whom will simply agree with you all the time. 

For that matter, get mentors, coaches and trainers who are willing to spend the time with you to break into the next level. Our industry is loaded with people who’ve been around the block more than once and have a lot of experience to offer.

No. 7: Failure isn’t final

A lot of us are perfectionists, but you’re going to need to fail in a pressure cooker of change. So, how do we prepare for the inevitability of failing forward as we proceed through more unknown territory? Well, I’ve found that staying connected to the vision while releasing yourself from a rigid trajectory helps this a lot.

We’ve all seen the graphic with a straight line on one side and a squiggly line on the other. The straight line is what we tend to think success should look like, but the squiggly line is inevitably what it ends up looking like. This is OK. And remember, while failure isn’t final, success isn’t either. Everything is a journey,  so try not to take yourself (or your failures) too seriously.  

No. 8: Put on your own oxygen mask first

It’s tempting to see ourselves as martyrs for everyone, especially as leaders. The challenge with that approach is that when you run out of juice, you can’t be of service to anyone else. You must take care of yourself. I love this approach, and I really like to start with my physical health because of the ripple effect it creates across most other areas of my life.

Simple things like drinking more water, increasing vegetables, moving more often in fun ways, eating less food and less often, eliminating toxic habits, and meditating will all give you the emotional fortitude to make clearer decisions and operate with a higher stress load without “feeling it” nearly as much. Your body can only take so much, and a major health event certainly won’t move you any closer to your goals or serve your vision.  

Beyond that, spend time on your mindset. My wife and I like to track our moods using a mood meter. We then go through the exercise of seeing how rapidly we can improve our mood. We operate with the core belief that mood is a direct result of predominantly physical conditions that can be manually adjusted. Think of yourself getting a mood adjustment, just like you’d get a spinal adjustment at the chiropractor.

It’s easy. Some things that work fast include jumping on a rebounder, doing a cold plunge, sitting in a sauna, drinking some cold water, going for a run, or doing some box breathing. There are so many others, but there’s an entire body of research emerging right now that suggests that what we think of as our “mood” is really a result of physical conditions under our own control.

Even your gut health (think probiotics and diet) is directly responsible for your serotonin levels. Serotonin is the “feel good” juice you’re going to need when facing down stressful times.  

Alan Watts said, “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with  it and join the dance.” I agree. The way we interface with change, stress, uncertainty, fear and doubt is actually more important than the change itself. There’ll always be the next big thing just around the corner, so the only thing you can really work on — to navigate through the inevitable uncertainty in business and life — is yourself. 

Dr. Jeff Richmond shifted from music scholar to real estate titan. He and his wife, Lexy Sanchez, made a strategic move to eXp Realty in 2016 and founded “The Community,” Connect with Jeff on Linkedin and Instagram.

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