Self-Taught MBA: A Real-Estate Lawyer’s Advice, Part 1
I have known Nancy Loftis for about 20 years. We met during a 10K foot race in Lincoln, Neb., in 1993. A mutual friend introduced her as “Lincoln’s best real-estate attorney.” As it turned out, this wasn’t an overstatement, but there’s more to Loftis than being a great lawyer. She’s also a civic leader who is active with several groups working to develop local recreational trails, and she has served on a number of nonprofit boards and public-interest committees. Loftis also teaches continuing-education courses for real-estate professionals.
I asked her how she would advise an up-and-coming builder-remodeler wanting to cultivate a growing business; what it takes to ride out the recession; and what she has observed in her clients’ successes and failures. She talked about money; connections and how to acquire them; and the basic services every contractor needs. She ended with a warning about the most common hazards her clients have faced, and how to avoid those hazards and stay on track. Here’s what she said:
Money: Look at the people in your town that seem to have ridden this recession without hardship, and by and large, you’ll be looking at those that came to the game well capitalized. If you must earn every nickel on your own, it’s a lot tougher. Not that you can’t-there’s penalty of people that do. It’s just very difficult. You will have to grow your business slowly and very, very carefully.
People: Another important element is who you know. Many successful people find opportunities because they are connected to power. A word of caution: You can’t cultivate these advantages in a brashly self-serving way, but if you start with the double-barreled shotgun of money and connections, you can make a few mistakes and still succeed.
Rags to riches: Of course, a lot of us lack both capital and connections, like I did, and this does not mean you should hang it up and go look for a job. Just recognize these are important elements for any business. If you have them, appreciate the advantage and use these tools properly. If you don’t, then you will have to acquire them.
Acquiring capital can take a long time, and many entrepreneurs get ahead of themselves, getting into trouble by entering into ventures they can’t afford-at least not yet.
Develop connections: You start by networking with people in your industry. In construction, you need to know the chairman of your local home builders association, a few respected Realtors, the owner of the local lumberyard, the managers of the home-improvement centers, the director of the chamber of commerce, your local bankers, etc. These are all important relationships to cultivate if you hope to grow, especially in remodeling and home building, where the real marketing is done by word of mouth.
Start volunteering: It doesn’t all have to be business-related. Just recognize you fit into a bigger community, as well as an industry, and look for ways to give without getting anything for it. The question to ask is always “What can I bring to the table?” rather than “What can I get out of it?” This way, you will get invited, and you’ll actually be at the table.
Educate yourself: If you join national organizations and attend national events, you can then bring home a bigger perspective as an ambassador for new ideas and trends. I’ve noticed that my clients who are engaged in personal and professional enrichment tend to do very well. They have value to bring, they are viewed as constructive and engaged, and again, they get invited.
Get involved politically: If you want to develop real estate, you’ll need political as well as personal and industry connections. Here, it helps to get involved at the grassroots level in civic work, such as raising money for a new trail or to preserve a historic building. You’ll meet people of all walks, and when it comes time to hobnob, you’ll get to shake hands with the mayor and other persons of influence. The day you come in to city hall to discuss your new project, you’re not unknown.
Take small steps: A long time ago, I was asked to help with a fund-raiser for the new secretary of state. I found that my $50 contribution to a relatively unknown candidate-back then-put me on a list that turned out to be a nerve center for the political community. Contribute and participate in races like the county clerk, and you’ll suddenly start receiving invitations. Sometimes, one of those little candidates becomes a major figure, and you have the connection.
In the next post, A Real Estate Lawyer’s Advice, Part 2, Loftis offers advice on consulting services, entrepreneurial road hazards, and the qualities she observes in clients finding success in these difficult years.
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