I was told off the other day. It was for something that I have done many times before. I really should know better by now, says Adam Walker, property business guru. What was my crime?

I tried to give someone advice that they did not ask for. It was advice that they badly needed but did not want and, by giving it, all I did was to offend them.

I am constantly fascinated by the qualities that separate my most successful clients from the rest. I have known some of my clients for over 25 years now and some of them have done spectacularly well.

I am thinking now of a man that I first met when he attended a course that I ran in 1992. At the time, he was a trainee branch manager for one of the big corporate chains. Now, he is worth over £50 million, every penny of which he has earned through his own hard work and good judgement. There are many others like him.

What’s the secret?

So what does this person have that thousands of my less successful clients don’t? Well, he has intelligence and a tremendous inner drive and business acumen and a willingness to take risks and no doubt he has had his fair share of luck. But what he also has is humility and a
willingness to take advice and to learn from others. Now I come to think of it, this is a trait that is shared by many more of my most successful clients. Most successful people are willing to take advice from others whilst less successful people think that they know everything.

Elon Musk, who I think must be one of the most clever and most successful people alive, famously employs a very highly paid member of staff whose job it is to try to prove him wrong. He is copied into the details of every major decision that is made and if he is successful at proving Mr Musk wrong, then he gets a bonus. I think we could all do with someone like this in our own businesses!

Find your own guru

If you can’t afford to employ a dedicated person to prove that you are wrong, then where can you find such advice? Well, an excellent place to start would be with your own staff. On many occasions, I have been told by a member of staff during a consultancy project that they cannot understand why their boss does X, Y, Z. When I investigate it, I often find that they are absolutely right. Successful companies have a culture where staff are encouraged to share ideas and suggestions and are rewarded for doing so.

Elon Musk, who I think must be one of the most successful and clever people alive, famously employs a very highly paid member of staff whose job it is to try to prove him wrong.

Ask your customers. Really.

Another source of excellent advice can be your own clients. When a client complains about something, it is so tempting to dismiss them as ill-informed or unreasonable but if you stop for a few moments to consider their point of view, you will often be able to learn something from them. Instead of asking questions like, “Why are my clients so stupid and unreasonable?” try asking a better question
such as, “What can I learn from this customer’s criticism of us?”

Customer feedback forms can also be an excellent source of positive suggestions. The most useful question on the form is often, “What could we have done better?” It is also important to send feedback questionnaires to non-customers. The feedback from clients who withdrew their property from the market or from applicants who did not buy or rent a house from you is often much more useful than
feedback from customers who did buy, sell or rent successfully through you.

Get professional

Business affinity groups can also be a very useful source of ideas. Joining the local Chamber of Commerce or a regional entrepreneur society can give you ideas on general business matters whilst property-specific groups of non-competing agents can give you industry-specific ideas.

Lastly, don’t forget management consultants like me! I often think that most of the companies that I work for are already successful and need me the least whilst the ones that need me the most never call.

I am sure that a belief that they are already perfect and an inability to accept criticism is a very important reason for this reluctance to accept advice.

Adam Walker is a business transfer agent and management consultant who has specialised in the property sector for more than twenty-five years.

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