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   ARTICLE   |   From Scotsman Guide Residential Edition   |   January 2007

How to Implement a S.M.A.R.T. Strategy

One simple acronym can help your business focus on its goals

Industry experts project that loan originations declined by 14 percent in the past year— and that’s a conservative estimate. This is on top of the 19-percent decline that took place the previous year.

While the pie is large from a historic perspective — with more than $2 trillion expected to fund this year — it still comes up short of the more than $3 trillion of recent record years. And as the pie has decreased in size, the number of loan originators fighting for it remains about the same as those who were fighting over borrowers only three years ago.

This means that we have more to accomplish and fewer resources with which to do so. It is a real challenge, but every challenge also is an opportunity. In pursuing that opportunity, it is imperative that we remember the importance not of working hard but of working S.M.A.R.T.

S.M.A.R.T. isn’t about IQ. Rather, it is an acronym used in many industries to detail an effective, strategic business philosophy. Though it varies among businesses, it essentially is:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Actionable
  • Reasonable
  • Timely

So what do S.M.A.R.T. business practices look like? And how can they improve your bottom line in today’s declining market? The strategies outlined below will help you structure your approach in the New Year to take advantage of today’s challenges and to create opportunities by setting S.M.A.R.T. goals.

Specific

This is simply another way of saying “well-defined.” Your purpose should be clear to anyone involved in your business and should be easily explained in a single sentence.

This first step is often the most overlooked in the process of developing a strategic business plan, however. This is especially true in markets such as today’s, in which we are prone to panic and at times may feel like we are flailing helplessly as we throw loans against the wall to see what sticks.

To avoid this scenario, you must identify your strengths clearly. You also must refine your business to cater to those customers who most likely will value your strengths. If you excel at jumbo loans with high-end properties, for example, why waste time and money marketing to first-time homebuyers? If you have a passion for helping underserved populations achieve the dream of homeownership, why work with a CEO who is looking for a new mansion?

The more specific you can be about what you offer, the easier it is not only for you to sell yourself but also for your contacts to sell you. Would you rather have your Realtor send you every lead or just those that you are actually likely to close? Consider how much better your time can be spent if you can hone your skills to a niche that makes sense for your strengths.

Measurable

Once you can specify your business goal, decide if how to measure it. You must feel confident in knowing that your goal is obtainable and knowing how far you are from achieving it. After all, if you can’t measure it, how do you know when you’ve achieved it?

For example, if your goal is to increase loan volume, how will you know when you’re done? What is the benchmark? And will that benchmark be replicable?

Instead of hitting the pavement with the goal of “increasing loan volume,” consider a goal of “talking with 10 new first-time homebuyers by the end of the month.”

By including measurable numbers in your goal, you can build a stronger business that ultimately can withstand market fluctuations.

Actionable

When you have a specific and measurable goal in mind, it’s time to take action. Do you have the infrastructure and resources in place to achieve your goal? Are there steps you must take to prepare yourself for attaining it? Are the members of your team on board? If you have push-back from your staff, it will be difficult to reach your goal.

This often can be the step in planning that sends many S.M.A.R.T. business leaders back to the drawing board. If your strengths and goals weren’t originally well-defined and measurable, it is in determining their actionability that will uncover those weaknesses.

The power of solid research into your market and your customer base becomes critical here as you recognize what you need to achieve your goal.

Reasonable

Perhaps the biggest mistake people can make in sales is to reach for the stars when they know they can’t even touch their toes. There are few absolutes in this business. But one of them is this: Never overpromise.

If you overpromise, when you fail — and you will — you have lost not only your customers but also every referral they may have ever sent your way. The surest and straightest road to a happy, referral-rich customer base is to underpromise and overdeliver.

Consider whether your goal is realistic. Can you get to 10 new homebuyers in a month if you’ve only been in business for six months and have only ever spoken with three new homebuyers in a month? Be honest with yourself and with anyone else you might have in your business network — from Realtors to insurance agents — and set realistic expectations.

Timely

There are two aspects to timeliness: relevance and deadlines. When considering relevance, ask yourself if your goals make sense for current market conditions, your current customer base and your current business health.

If your city’s office space is saturated, for example, it might not be the right time to develop a niche in commercial-property lending. If the largest employer in the region just laid off the bulk of its work force, it might not be the right time to focus your attention on high-end homes. If you are managing debt from a recent technology or other business investment, it might not be the right time to take on a new employee.

Risk is a necessary part of success, but proper, relevant timing can reduce unnecessary risk.

You also should set aggressive but realistic deadlines. Make sure you have enough time to achieve your goal. Just as setting realistic expectations about defining your goal is critical, so too is the need to perfect your timing. If you have too little time, you may get frustrated and frazzled; with too much time, you can find yourself procrastinating.

S.M.A.R.T. success

The most-successful people in any field or industry are innately strategic in their business approach. You can work 14-hour days and get six-hour-day results. Or you can work six-hour days and get eight-hour-day results.

That’s not to say that working S.M.A.R.T. is easy. It’s a discipline that requires constant diligence and, if you are fortunate enough to have a good team on your side, the right accountability and motivation.

In markets like today’s, you can’t just show up and expect to succeed. The 10-percent close ratio you had in 2005 won’t work in 2007 because your pool of potential loans is shrinking. You must harness more closures by better qualifying your leads and by refining your sales process. And the only way to do that effectively and consistently is to be S.M.A.R.T. about it.


 


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