Interview: Todd Smith on Earning $27M Over 23 Years & His Book Little Things Matter

by | BiggerPockets.com

I was about to sit down and do another deal structure outline, and I thought it would be best, given the time of year, to do one more article that addresses sort of that “inner game” that is required to have success in any business. I’ll get back to deal structuring topics in the coming articles.

I had the fortune of interviewing a good friend recently on my podcast. Todd Smith from Sarasota, Florida has been an entrepreneur for over 35 years and has enjoyed extraordinary personal and professional success. He owned his first business at the age of 18, became one of the youngest real estate agents ever inducted into RE/MAX’s Hall of Fame at the age of 28, and became an internationally recognized leader and trainer, earning—get this—$27 million over the last 23 years in that industry.

I met Todd at an industry meeting way back in the early ‘90s and we’ve stayed connected since. Todd has conducted more than a thousand training sessions and seminars for audiences around the world. He’s also developed numerous training manuals and audio-visual sales tools, teaching entrepreneurs how to achieve professional success and accomplish their personal goals.

His journey taught him that success comes from the compounding effect of doing the little things correctly and consistently. He’s the author, quite appropriately, of Little Things Matter. It’s a resource for all those who place a priority on being the best they can. It’s the first step in a comprehensive program designed to help people improve their business and their personal lives. I’ll let you “sit in” on this interview as Todd shares some amazing nuggets. Remember, those you listen to, hang out with, and network with are extremely important and directly affect your income.

Advice on Success From Todd Smith

I wrote Little Things Matter because one of the things that my life’s journey has taught me is that it’s not the big things that separate “the best of the best” from the rest. It’s the little things. Reflecting back on my real estate career, I got started at age 23 in my first year selling real estate, and that was 32 years ago. I made a quarter of a million dollars, and within four years, I was the second-highest producing real estate agent in the state of Illinois at age of 28. I did set goals, but it wasn’t that I had a dream of being a top-producing real estate agent. It was all the little things that I did to stand out from the rest as an individual.

The “little” things were making sure that I arrived at all of my appointments five minutes early—that I rang the doorbell at the exact time of the appointment, that I smiled and greeted the prospective seller, that I made equal eye contact with both the husband and the wife, that I showed an interest in the children, that I got down and took time to pet the cats and dogs, that I talked about things that were of interest to them. I sent hand-written thank you notes. I was always smiling and upbeat and pleasant and focused on them, and I never brought in my mobile phone. I focused on the people in front of me.

One of my biggest things was that I was disciplined. I pushed myself every day to do what most people aren’t willing to do. My discipline combined with my focus on making sure that I was doing every little thing allowed me to achieve that success. I remember listening to Anthony Robbins’ audio program “Unlimited Power,” which I’d recommend for any of you reading this.

I made sure I was mirroring and modeling. If they talked slow, I’d talk slow. If they talked faster, I talked faster. If they seemed like they just want to talk and build more of relationship, I talked and built more of a relationship. If they seemed like they wanted to get into talking business, I got into talking business. If they were leaning forward, I was leaning forward. I was always dressed in a suit and tie. My shoes were always shined. I was doing every little thing to build a relationship to connect with them, to have them like me and to have them respect me. As a result of that, my closing rate was 92% over my career. When I say “my closing rate,” I mean that when I met with sellers who were interviewing multiple other agents, I closed 92% of all my sales.

Even with that kind of success, I was saying to myself, “OK, why was I successful?” I didn’t really understand it at the time. Even though I was intentional about the little things, I had no way of comparing myself to anybody. Then I moved into the direct sales career, as Chris indicated above, and I continued to implement that strategy of looking at every little thing I could do to be better. I believed in the global economic system, which is that income follows value.

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If you want your income to grow, your value must grow first.

Very seldom in life does anybody get paid more than their value. If they are getting paid more than their value, one of two things happens. Either their income comes down to their value or their value goes up to their income. Just because you’re choosing the real estate market and maybe flipping homes, or buying and selling on terms like Chris and his family to some capacity—or you’re considering doing that—understand that your success is still going to be determined by your value.

You’re just not going to say, “OK, I’m choosing to do something different with my life and I’m going to go from making $20 an hour to $100 an hour.” Life doesn’t work that way. Certainly, the vehicle makes a big difference, but it’s who you become within that vehicle that makes the biggest difference. There are people who make big money in everything in life. It’s all about choosing the right vehicle and pursuing that.

The point that I really focused on was continuing to grow myself and be the best that I could be. When I say “the best that I could be,” it’s not just the best that I could be in business. It’s being the best person I can be. We can’t just say, “OK, we’re going to be a certain way in our business life and then be different in our personal life.” I’m striving to be the best husband I can be, to be the best father I can be, to be the best friend I can be, to be the best contributor in our community that I can be, and to be the best that I can be in my business. These things are based upon where my priorities are and how much time I allocate to each thing.

In business, we are a reflection of who we are as people. We built a brand for ourselves, and that’s who we are. Our brand is not just “here’s our business brand, and our business brand is different than our personal brand.” No, our brand is more than brand. I am somebody who throughout my career has striven for excellence at these little things. As a result of it, my businesses have sold over $2 billion and I’ve learned that there are not very many people at the top. The reason is that most people aren’t willing to put in the effort to get to the top.

Oftentimes when you’re successful, you don’t know why at the time. As I began to analyze why I was successful, I eventually came to determine that it was because I strived for excellence at the little things. I felt I wanted to write a book—not so much to make money with the book (and I haven’t made money with the book). You don’t write a book to make money; I know very few people who have made money writing books. For me, I wanted to write a book that taught what I believed was the key to success. I wanted to highlight the things that I felt would have the greatest application to the broadest audience of people.

Related: My One-Word Answer to: What Separates Those Who Succeed From Those Who Fail, Give Up, or Never Try?

It doesn’t matter what profession you’re in. It could be about professional football—it’s that wide receiver that can catch the ball with a defensive player in his face on a corner of the end zone and get his feet in bounds. Those are the guys who make it to the NFL. It’s not the guy who can catch a football. Everybody can catch a football. Everybody can run. Everybody can run fast. There are a lot of people who can run fast and catch a football, but can you run fast and catch a football in the right circumstances, and handle pressure the right way?

It’s not the big things, and I could give you analogy after analogy. It’s not the big things that make the difference. It’s you becoming the best at what you are doing. You become the best at what you’re doing by honing in and refining and becoming the best at the little things. If you become great at all of the little things, the compounding effect of your intentional efforts allows you to become the best at what you’re doing.

5 Steps I’ve Used to Find to Success

I have trained hundreds of thousands of people, and I’ll tell you that everybody wants a better life. Everybody wants a nicer car. Everybody wants a nicer house. Everybody wants more money. Everybody wants to travel the world. Everybody wants a better quality of life. Everybody wants to put together five deals in six months. It all boils down to what are you willing to do to achieve that goal?

But you’ve got to set realistic goals. I have found throughout my experience in working with entrepreneurs all over the world that 90 percent of people set unrealistic goals. As I noted above, somebody’s making $20 an hour, and just because they begin to do something else, they think they’re going to make $100 an hour. It doesn’t work that way. The world doesn’t work that way. That’s “pie-in-the-sky” thinking.

For anybody that wants to do something, it’s most important to begin by asking yourself, “Why? Why do I want to do this? How bad is my desire?” Because if you don’t have the burning desire to be successful with anything you’re going to pursue, you’re not going to be successful. To be successful in life is not easy. I believe you can be great at anything, but you can’t be great at everything. You have to pick what you’re going to be focused on—what you’re going to be successful at.

1. Have a burning desire.

You’ve got to have a strong, burning desire to be successful—a desire so strong that it will push you every day to do what is required of you. If you’re not willing to do what is required of you, then you might as well not even get started. This is how I coach everybody. I’m just not the kind of person who plays games. I say, “Hey, if you’re not going to do what’s required of you to be successful, then don’t waste your life on this project; find something else that’s important to you.”

2. Build your knowledge.

How can you be successful at something for which you don’t have knowledge? So you say, “OK, how do I build my knowledge? How do I become as educated as I can be on this subject?” Obviously, I admire all of you who are taking the time to read this, because it tells me that you’re wanting to learn. You’re wanting to get better.

I talked to a guy recently who is at the absolute top of his game. He is unbelievably successful and listens to all of Chris’s podcasts at 1.7 speed, just looking for a little nugget here and there. He says, “Hey, 99 percent of the time that I spend listening to something, I may not be learning anything, but it’s that 1%, that one thing that I learned, that makes a difference.” You have to continue to build your knowledge. You have to start building your knowledge, and then you have to continue building your knowledge.

3. Create a plan.

“OK, so now I know what I want to be successful at. I built my knowledge and what’s my plan going to be?”

Your plan needs to be not just the big picture plan, but it needs to be a plan broken down into what you should do every day. A lot of people will set a goal to have six deals closed, but they don’t build their knowledge. They don’t have any plan. They’re just saying, “I’m going to do it.” Life doesn’t work that way, and that’s not the kind of thinking that comes out of anybody’s mouth or mind who’s ever been successful, because people who have been successful know that success takes time.

Success doesn’t happen overnight. Yes, there are a few people who will put together six deals in six months. Nobody would’ve thought that I would have had the success that I did selling 68 homes in my first year in real estate and making a quarter of a million dollars. Yes, it can be done, but it can only be done if you build your knowledge and you have a plan.

4. Execute that plan.

Let me just say that most people don’t have enough of a desire to push themselves, so most people fail on step one. Of those who do have the desire, very few people will go and say, “OK, let me build my knowledge on something.” Then you get down to a smaller number that will put together a plan to execute in order to achieve what they have set forth. When you get to step four—executing the plan—this is where you’re down to less than 2% of the people that have gone through the first few points and who are disciplined to execute that plan with excellence.

5. Refine.

Based upon what you have learned, you’re refining, you’re tracking all your numbers, you’re looking at all your data, and you’re determining: Where do I refine? How do I get better? What is not working? What parts should I focus on that are working? I determined very early on in my real estate career that I was going to focus on for sale by owners. That was my target market. I was very clear on my target market, and I determined I was going to be the best at targeting that market.

For each of you reading this, what is your target market? You’re going to try different things and you’re going to say, “Well, that didn’t work.” You don’t want to say it after trying it one or two times. You have to have enough statistical data to say that something doesn’t work. I called my first for sale by owner and they agreed to meet with me. What if my first 10 people had said, “No, the reason we’re selling for sale by owner is because we hate real estate agents”? What would that have done to my psyche? But overall, the numbers were what my numbers were regardless of 10 noes in a row or 10 yeses in a row.

Expectations begin with goal-setting, and goal-setting is dependent on one’s true desire. You can set goals until you’re blue in the face. If your desire is not strong enough, you’re not going to do what’s required of you to achieve those goals.

If somebody has got big goals and big expectations, then I hope it’s a person who’s already been successful at something else in life. If this is the first thing you’re hoping to be successful in at an extraordinary level, it’s highly unlikely that it’s going to happen, whether it’s this or something else. How many times have you met somebody who began to do something new and who was amazingly great at it right out of the gate? I can’t even think of one person, and I know a lot of people. That’s why I say the best of the best are the best at the little things, and the people who are the top achievers are the people who are an inch wide and a mile deep in a single category.

As Malcolm Gladwell said in Tipping Point, it’s when you’ve got 10,000 hours in something. That’s because you’ve learned enough, you’ve refined enough, you’ve executed enough, and you now are dialed into exactly what it is that you should be doing to get the optimal level of conversions and success. I’ve hung out with Chris, for example, and I know the level of discipline he has in all five of these areas; I know the hours he has invested since 1991 in real estate, and as a result, the level of success he and his family are experiencing is no surprise to me. Success leaves clues—follow the path.

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Build Your Influence: Be Likable and Respectable

Let’s begin at the beginning—the foundation. John Maxwell says that “leadership is one word: influence.” If I were to ask, “What describes influence?” the answer would be respect. If you are respected, you have influence. When you have influence, everything in life goes better. Trust falls under respect. You can be trusted but not respected. But you can’t be respected and not trusted. If you’re not trusted, you’re not respected either.

Whether you’re leading people that work with you, work around you, or work alongside you, your degree of success with them is determined by how these people view you. If you want to have the ultimate success, you want to be the kind of person that people look at and think, “I like him/I like her,” and “I respect him/I respect her.” You want to build a brand that when people think of it, they say, “I like you and I respect you.”

If people can say, “I like you and I respect you,” they will want to do business with you. They will want to come to your birthday party. They will want to come to the talk you’re giving about what you’re doing. Your ultimate goal is to be a person of influence. If you want to be a person of influence where doors of opportunity open, where people look at you and say, “I want to do business with you,” where people refer others to you, you need to be somebody who is liked and respected.

When you look at being liked, it’s all the obvious things: smiling, having a pleasant personality, being positive and upbeat, not talking about negative things, not talking negatively about people—being a source of positive, upbeat energy. Whether it’s over the phone and you’re smiling while you talk, or whether you’re meeting with somebody and you’re smiling, and you’re greeting them, and you’re repeating their name, all of this is what makes you likable.

There are hundreds of factors that influence people’s respect for you. Are you on time? Do you get back to people when you say you will? Do you schedule firm appointments or do you leave them vague and open? What does your communication look like? Do you open your emails by saying, “Hi Dean, I hope you had a great weekend”? And then you dive into your subject in a new paragraph, and you have white space between your paragraphs, no big monster paragraphs, and everything is proofed and your communication is clear and concise. What do your text messages look like? How long does it take to respond to email? How long does it take you to respond to a phone call? How long does it take you to respond to a text? What is the tone in your communications?

These are the hundreds of things that I talk about in my blog and in my book. When you’re meeting with somebody do you let them finish talking before you talk? Are you quick to interrupt? When you’re listening to people, can they tell you’re listening intently or do they think you’re waiting to say something? When you’re listening and looking at them, are you looking off to the side? All of these things influence people’s respect for you and influence whether they like you.

Related: Sorry, But Real Estate Investing is NOT Easy. Still, You Can Succeed if…

If you want to be somebody that is highly successful in working with people, sellers, buyers, owners, you need to build a brand for yourself such that when people think of you and when they look at you they think, “I like him. He is different.” “I like her. I like the way she accepted responsibility for that challenge rather than making an excuse for it.” Or, “Even though this was a challenging situation, I respected that he always was on top of his communication with me. I would love to do another deal with him,” or “I certainly would not hesitate to refer any of my investor friends to her because of the way she handled herself during this entire transaction.”

It’s not just about getting the deal put together, so to speak. It’s about how you handle everything from front to finish, and whether they want to do more business with you, and have talked about you to their investment clubs, and talked about you to their friends. People hang around people like themselves. People who own apartment buildings hang around other people who own apartment buildings. People who own multiple pieces of residential real estate hang around other people who own multiple pieces of residential real estate.

If you want to be highly successful in this career over the long-term, these are the kinds of things you want to do. And by the way, “long-term” is how I would be looking at it. This is not a six-month or one-year thing. Don’t waste your time if that’s what you’re thinking. You won’t be successful in anything saying, “I’m going to do this for six months to a year.” You have to say, “Hey, this is what I want to do. I would love to build this into my lifestyle. I would love to be a guy or a gal that can put together deals and make an income and build a residual income through investment properties. I’m going to become the best that I can be at this. What can I do to become the best?”

You have to look at everything, including your social media posts. Who is going to refer you to some of these people? Maybe it’s the people who are following you on Facebook. You’re putting pictures of yourself up there partying. Let me tell you, that is not the image that’s will cause people to respect you or even like you, so you’ve got to be thinking about everything. Your brand is your brand. You don’t separate it.

It’s not like, “My brand in business is this and my brand in my personal life is that.” No, your brand is your brand and people aren’t stupid. If you think they’re stupid, you’re wrong. They’re going to see it, and they’re going to determine whether or not you’re somebody they want to do business with. Maybe somebody comes to them and says, “Hey, do you know Eric Milander?” “Yeah, I know Eric.” “What do you think about Eric? I’m thinking about doing a deal with him.” “Well, I wouldn’t do a deal with Eric if my life depended on it,” or “Eric is somebody that I really like. He’s a great guy. I love his personality. He just seems to always show interest in me. He’s a good listener. He’s highly responsible. Everybody that I know that knows him thinks highly of him.”

This is the brand that you want to build if you want to be successful in the world of busines. Especially if you want people to trust you with their money and their real estate, it is important to build this kind of a brand.

Plan, Prioritize, and Act—Daily

Have a to-do list. I know what I need to do so the day is spent doing one thing. While I could have 20 other things on my to-do-list checked off in the same amount of time, those 20 things weren’t more important than the one thing I did. Going back to my five steps to success above, number three is you put together your plan. Your plan must be broken down into what you’re supposed to do every day, and your plan needs to be arranged in priority sequence.

If you’ve got a plan, ask, “What are the things that I need to work on first in this plan? What are the things I need to work on second?” Then you need to make the decision, “I’m going to work on things in priority sequence,” not “I’m going to work on things that I want to work on.” The things that you don’t want to do are the things that make you the most money. That’s how life works. That’s why  I say of the thousand little things on my list, not one has a higher value to the market than discipline. Discipline is pushing yourself each day to do what you know you should do even when you don’t feel like doing it.

If you want to be successful—and this is number one on my list—you’ve got to put first things first. You have to make sure you’re spending your time doing exactly what you predetermined you should be doing with your time today to be productive. It might mean that you’re sitting there with your phone in your ear and you’re making outgoing calls because you determined right now the absolute most important thing for you to achieve your goals is to prospect. If that’s the case, then you stick the phone to your ear and you prospect.

I remember when I was getting started in my various careers, where I would sit at the phone all day and prospect. I remember there were days I made up to 300 phone calls. Why? Because that was what I should do today. I didn’t sit there and say, “Oh, I’m going to redesign my brochure” or “I’m going to make my website look better” or “I’m going to make my business card look better.” “I’m going to think through my presentation again,” or “I’m going to work on my phone script.” No, it was me picking up the phone with my heart beating out of my chest, making phone call after phone call after phone call after phone call. It was refining my approach. When people didn’t do business with me, I always asked them why and I learned a lot by asking them why.

Number two for being productive is working your to-do-list in priority sequence and pushing yourself to do the things that you know you should do without excuses and without justifying those excuses. You could say to yourself, “Today’s not a good day for me to make prospecting calls because it’s cloudy,” or “today is not a good day for me to make prospecting calls because I’m a little tired. I’m going to wait until tomorrow.”

This is what everybody says. This is what 99.9% of the people do. They make excuses for not doing what they know they should do, whether it’s eating right, whether it’s exercising, whether it’s prospecting. Whatever it is they know they should do, most people don’t do it—and that’s why most people aren’t successful. You have to have a plan. That plan needs to be broken down into what you should be doing each day. You need to be executing that plan each day with excellence. You need to be looking at everything you’re doing each day and saying, “How can I do what I’m doing better?” and then making adjustments. As Chris indicated in the introduction, it’s the compounding effect of these little things.

The first time you’re focused on making equal eye contact with each person in the room, you may not be great at it, but if you work on it every time you’re in a room of people, you’re going to get a little bit better every time. Each time you’re in a room like that you’re saying to yourself, “OK, I’m going to be very deliberate in making sure everybody in this room feels included in the conversation.” We all know we should remember names, but how many times do we remember a person’s name? It’s about being in the present. It’s about being intentional, “I’m meeting somebody. I need to make sure I remember their name. Oh shoot, I forgot their name. Well, I have to get better tomorrow.” It’s about every day, pushing yourself to get better at the things that you know you should be doing.

Takeaways

  • The “little things” are the small, meaningful actions that make your clients like and respect you.
  • Income follows value: You have to create higher value before you can create higher income.
  • The five steps to success are: (1) Have a burning desire, (2) Build your knowledge, (3) Create a plan, (4) Execute the plan, (5) Refine.
  • Success comes after a lot of hours!
  • Each day make a to-do list with the one important thing you need to do.
  • Don’t procrastinate; do it even if you don’t like it. The things that you don’t want to do are the things that make you the most money.

What little things do you do to differentiate yourself in your market?

Leave your questions and comments below!

About Author

Chris Prefontaine

Chris Prefontaine is the best-selling author of Real Estate On Your Terms. A real estate investor with over 27 years experience in the field, Chris is the founder of Smart Real Estate Coach and host of the Smart Real Estate Coach Podcast. He lives in Newport, Rhode Island with his wife Kim and their family. Chris is a big advocate of constant education. He and his family mentor, coach, consult, and actually partner with students around the country, teaching them to do exactly what their company does. Between their existing associates nationwide and their own deals, Chris and his family are still acquiring 5-10 properties every month and control between $20 to $30 million dollars worth of real estate deals, all done on terms without using their own cash, credit, or signing for loans.

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