Be So Good At The Basics…That You Are Cutting Edge!

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Be so good at the basics that you are cutting edge!

Those are the words from best-selling author, Joe Calloway that really struck home and got me fired up!

If you spend enough time around me, I will eventually begin reciting words from books that have inspired me and which led me to keep on reading more.  I have written in several previous articles, that I am a voracious reader and spend hours each week reading not only books but periodicals and blogs.  It is one of those things that I picked up as a younger man and has slowly grown into a habit.  But that habit has helped me develop some pretty good intuition about how to handle myself in all sorts of situations from business dealings, contract negotiations, labor disputes and even workforce training, customer service and program development.  Reading has helped me to prepare for when I meet opportunity!

Opportunity is exactly where I found myself 6 weeks ago when I was preparing for our staff’s upcoming weekly meeting.  We spend the first 15-20 minutes every week going over customer service education.  It just so happened that we were studying a book titled “Becoming A Category of One” by Joe Calloway.  I flipped the book over and saw Joe’s website on the back and decided to dig a little more into the author.  What I found was a pretty sharp guy who had written a book, which our company loved, and he happened to live only 3 hours away.  I decided what the heck, I’ll call the guy and talk to him about his book.

I had read a great book many years before titled “Selling to V.I.T.O.” by Anthony Parinello (Very Important Top Officer).  I thought back on that book and it inspired me to simply pick up the phone and call Joe Calloway as if he was my next door neighbor and I needed to borrow his lawn mower.  No big deal!  What I got was a huge surprise.

After a great conversation and some email back and forth, Joe agreed to come to Memphis and meet with our staff at one of our Tuesday meetings.  Today was the day and to say that it was inspiring would be an understatement.  To say that he fired up our staff from top to bottom would be an even greater understatement.  But, it was the simple messages that he delivered throughout the morning that struck the deepest and it is those lessons that will ultimately have the most profound effect.  You can read about it all day long in his book, but in person, it is powerful times 10 and here are some lessons hot off the notepad!

Be So Good At The Basics…That You Are Cutting Edge

I almost did a double take.  If you are reading this thinking that was a real let down for starters, I want you to read it again.  How low has the bar been set in so many different industries today?  How low has the bar been set in our own industry of real estate?  How low has the bar been set in all of the ancillary services that go hand in hand with buying, selling or investing in real estate today?  It is a sad piece of commentary on this industry when most of us consider simply showing up on time to be a sign of over the top performance!

That is how poorly this industry is perceived.  That is a golden opportunity to make your self or your company stand out.  Simply being great at the basics will make you cutting edge.  It will set you apart from most of your competition and raise your brand awareness.  While in Denver for the BiggerPockets Summit last March, I shared the stage for a panel discussion on marketing with some great people.  One of them was J. Scott who I thought summed up this point beautifully.  He and his wife run a real estate company that buys, renovates and sell properties to owner occupant buyers in the Atlanta area.  He has perfected the basics so well that many of his houses are sold before he puts them on the market, and he routinely receives calls from agents with buyers looking for properties to see what he has available.  Why is this?  He understands that cutting corners and fixing on the “cheap” may boost profit on one property quickly but destroy a brand for the long haul.  Realize how rare it is to receive phone calls from a real estate agent actually asking if you have any properties available.  That is called having an incredible reputation!

When you talk to J. Scott, you get the sense that he is so far in front of everyone else when he would tell you he is simply providing great value at a great price and on a consistent basis.  For this industry, regardless of what he says, J. Scott is definitely on the cutting edge.

Be Ferocious About Guarding Your Culture

Your culture is everything!  When Joe Calloway handed us his business card, the tagline said it all.  Culture Drives Results.  I used to think people were crazy when they talked about dressing for success.  It took me a while to understand and even longer to put it into practice, but they were absolutely correct when they said it.  Whether you are a company of one or a company with 20 employees, the culture you create will be the culture that drives your business.  If you are a one-man (or woman) show who drags out of bed with an alarm clock after hitting snooze 4 times and pulls on whatever outfit you feel like wearing and routinely get distracted by things that are “fun”, then that is the culture you have created for yourself. That does not mean you dress in a 3-piece suit, but at the very least, leap out of bed in the morning!

I get the opportunity to meet a lot of people as I travel the country and every once in a while I meet someone who simply blows me away with their determination and character that they truly inspire me.  I met a woman who was very interested in becoming a real estate agent on the west coast with absolutely no knowledge what so ever of the real estate industry.   She, however, was determined to become a real estate agent and not just any agent, but the TOP AGENT.  And oh by the way, she was located in one of the most competitive markets on the planet, coastal Southern California.  To make a long story short, she set her goals, cultivated her own culture of excellence and surrounded herself with top mentors and associates and simply worked herself harder than anyone else was willing to work.  She dressed for success, refused to take short cuts and her culture of excellence what obvious in everything she did.  Today, she is a top producing agent in her company and closed millions of dollars in transactions her first year.  She routinely has people that want to associate with her because of the culture of excellence she created and she guards that culture as if it were gold!  There were no cheat days and if she even felt like quitting, she double downed on her culture and went door knocking.  There are no short cuts and if you will become exactly what you surround your mind, body and spirit with…make sure it is a culture of excellence.

If you have employees, then the culture you create is even more important.  By creating an atmosphere where people thrive and they know exactly where you as the leader are directing the company and they clearly see your vision for the future and what matters most…they will follow and work their tails off to get the company there.  If you expect nothing but the best effort from your team and you expect them to learn from mistakes and anticipate what you would do as a leader as well as give them the ability to react on that anticipation, then you are crating a culture ripe for growth.  Regardless of the culture you have created, you must absolutely fight for it.  You must protect your culture daily from your own actions and the actions of your employees, partners, customers and even competition.  Do not let anything undermine your culture.

Winners In Business Don’t Do Everything…They Do Simple Things Great

I think this is a common problem with many real estate professionals and we see this a lot on real estate forums.  It doesn’t matter if the person asking the question is new to real estate or a seasoned vet, when someone says they are trying everything they can think of to strum up business with no luck, and want to know what to do next, the answer is simple.  Winners don’t try to do everything they can think of.  Winners do the simple things great.  There is a big difference!

Action is not an indication of success and I use the word winners there to signify success.  Those that are finding success are not turning circles like they have no head chasing every opportunity, and trying every little thing that comes to mind.  That is a textbook example of mistaking simply taking action for taking the right action.  Real estate professionals that are finding success – especially in this market – are the ones that do simple things great and then they do them again and again and again.  They have superior customer service skills (like showing up on time), they have an uncanny ability to say thank you (which you would think everyone would do in this market) and they are not using marketing gimmicks, but opting to use very straight forward messaging and word of mouth referrals to grow their business.  While others are complaining about how difficult this market is, they are busy knocking on doors, setting up one-on-one meetings and generally checking the basic tasks off their daily to-do lists.  While others are complaining about how difficult this market is, they are closing transactions and taking all the steps to secure their future and their future income.  It is not a question of how to do everything that comes to mind, winners simply do the basics great!

Improvement Is A Process, Not a Project

I am quite sure Joe Calloway is going to use that phrase somewhere in a future book!  Wow…what a statement.  If ever there was a statement to end on it would be that one.  All of us, as real estate professionals, should be looking to improve not only personally but also in business.  When he made this statement you could see all the eyes of our 35+ employees turn to us as owners and smile.  This is something that we harp on as owners constantly and we practice the idea for all of our staff to see.  We are constantly seeking to improve.  The biggest difference between understanding it is a process and not a project is how you approach improving.

If you set aside an hour a day to talk about improvement and white board some ideas, then you are treating improvement as a project in my opinion.  However, if you set aside an hour everyday and practice cold calling expired listings then you are actively learning and actively improving.  Its not a project – it is a process that you jumped in the middle of with both feet.  If you set aside time to stop talking about reducing costs and start digging deep into the numbers every week and measuring every cost on your project or P&L, then you are treating improvement as a process and learning how to reduce your cost.  There is a big difference between constantly evaluating; watching, listening and learning about every way you can improve your business and talking about how you can improve your business. Improvement is an every day all the time thing.

Those are three of the insights we learned today from hosting Joe in our office.  I was blown away by how down to earth and nice the guy was when he came over and how genuinely interested he was in our business.  I think I am going to pick up the phone and call Anthony now and let him know how much I learned from reading his book and how it resulted in a fantastic day of learning.

Photo: fearghalonuallain

About Author

Chris Clothier

In 2005, Chris Clothier (G+) began working with passive real estate investors and has since helped more than 1,100 investors purchase over 3,400 investment properties in Memphis, Dallas and Houston through the Memphis Invest family of companies.


  1. Great article Chris. Like you said, I believe that you if you perfect the basics of this business and always act with integrity, success will follow. There used to be a saying that said you should “dress for the position you aspire to have”.

    • Sandy S Harris on

      Thank you Chris. This is so timely for me. The basics are the nuts & bolts, and as a new investor, this is where my focus needs to be. Just mastering this will put me ahead of the curve, and set a great foundation. Thanks again!!

    • Chris Clothier

      Sharon –

      Thanks for commenting on the post. It is such a small part of our daily lives, and as I said, I am not a huge believer in the dress for success mantra. But, I do believe that you are correct in what you wrote. You dress for what you aspire to be and simply dressing for success will not lead you there, but wearing your pajamas all day won’t either!

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

      • That was my point exctly Chris. You just aren’t productive if you don’t get out of your pajamas and show up to “work”..

        I don’t think you need to be dressed like an executive. But on the other hand, when you show up in muddy work boots, dirty clothes and your are covered in drywall dust, that makes a terrible statement about your professionalism.

  2. Chris,

    another solid post. The basics are what we fall back on when times are tough or we are very busy. That can often save a company.

    Thanks again, I enjoyed the read.


    • Chris Clothier

      Jason –

      You are so correct about what we fall back on. It’s not that we ever stop doing the basics, they are just what stand out when times are tough and everyone else is panicking. The people that are calmest during the storm have a wealth of experience and time on their side being consistent and it shows!

      Thanks as always for reading and taking some time to comment!

      All the best – Chris

    • Chris Clothier

      Hey Amy –

      Thank you so much for commenting on the article. The interesting thing is that so many people are willing to work hard, or at least their definition of work hard. But, the most successful people, in any endeavor, are those that are laser focused on the right things to work hard doing! There is a big difference. She is a great agent and hasn’t completed her first year in the industry yet. With that being said, she has already made a name for herself by working harder at the basics of being great than anyone else is willing to work. That is really key to being successful.

      Thanks again for reading! All the best –


  3. Erik Hitzelberger on

    Excellent post Chris.

    It is very easy to be distracted by shiny objects in an effort to grow your business. Focusing on the basics seems more mundane until you realize this is how you build real momentum ala the flywheel in ‘Good to Great’. It is something I certainly need to work on more. Thanks for the reminder!

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