Again, I’m not trying to make it too simple, but I think if you’re wildly enthusiastic about whatever you’re doing, people will follow you because people want some fun. They want to be able to be happy like you. So I think people instinctively follow someone who deserves to be followed. I think the attraction there is this sheer love affair the person is having with what they’re doing. Clearly, you have ‘bad’ days too. They were usually bad financial days when the market went awry, and you didn’t know how you were going to stay in business or how you were going to meet your bills. Those are the bad days.
But short of those days, every other day was a blast. You picked up the phone – you had no idea who was going to be on the other end of that line. You met somebody on the street – you had no idea, except for that short phone conversation, how much time you might be spending with them; whether it would be a successful sales call. How long you might be working with them or how short; whether they were phoney, whether they were real; whether they had a real need to move or whether they were just jerking you around. It was always a Pandora’s Box in the best way.
Remember, you had all these people coming into New York, in a city that virtually had no native New Yorkers. Everybody was from somewhere else, people who were buying here anyway, they were from somewhere else. So you’d get to meet usually the most successful people in every field from all over the world. Who wouldn’t covet a client-base like that? It was never boring. To this day, you talk to any real estate broker in Manhattan, even the unsuccessful ones; you could not get anyone to say they’ve ever had a boring day. It’s just not doable. Too much motion and change in this town for that.
Your passion and your love for your business comes across really strongly. What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who want to grow their business like you did?
I think a lot of people are working a wheel that they’re not having a love affair with, and I don’t think you’ll ever become successful that way. So I think the key is finding something you really enjoy doing. I know it doesn’t sound like solid business advice, but it’s a great place to start. What do you really like? A lot of people get hobbies mixed up with occupations – my first husband was one like that. He tried to make a business out of carving ducks. But I think you have to ask yourself: “What do you like to do?” and then can you make a living at it. In other words, does it pay? If not, it’s a hobby. But if you could combine those two, something you love to do that actually can pay your bills, I think you’re half way there. Then if you just put the work into it, the hours into it, why would you not succeed? I think you have the magic ingredients right there all bundled in one tight little package.
What about branding? Do you think branding – and marketing – is part of the key to success?
It depends what you’re after. For my business, branding was why we were so successful without a doubt. If we had great branding but we had lousy people, we would not have succeeded. But if you have a team of good people, even if you have a few clunkers mixed in (which is human nature, you can’t spot everybody). But let’s say you have a team of predominantly strong people with a few clunkers thrown in. If you know how to brand that small group and make them look like a whole empire, it shoots your business ahead of the pack, without a doubt. It’s like speed for business building – branding.
PR – that piece of branding I used much more than advertising. A: it was free. You didn’t have to pay someone to write an article. B: you could take control because you could dream up the stories and send them out there and see if a reporter would bite on them. And C: when The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal quotes you as an expert, it’s far more powerful and convincing than you paying for a full-page ad that’s $80,000, trumpeting you as the expert. Nobody believes that, only a few. They think you might be successful because you could afford the ad. But when you’re quoted as ‘the expert’ in a major publication – which happened in my career, day in and day out – everyone assumes you’re hugely successful and the right person to go to.
So yes, I used branding – particularly the PR piece, the free piece of branding – my whole life, to the degree that most of the conversations I had in the last five years of my business throughout the day were with reporters rather than sales managers, salespeople, suppliers. I hyper-focused on that because it was where I got my biggest bang for my buck, which was virtually no buck at all. But I got such a big bang for it and it shot my business way ahead of the pack.
Also, it’s almost like I stole the stage from my biggest competitors by stealing the limelight. If you steal that limelight, even though your big competitors might be five times your size, the general public thinks you’re bigger. It happens every time. If you’re bigger, they think in business that bigger is better – unless you’re bigger and had a terrible spill and a bad reputation in the press. But bigger, in most people’s mind, is generally better and if you look bigger they assume you know more. So all these positive associations happen if you can build a large image. So I was acutely aware of spending most of my time on that.