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Leading the Way

by Tracey Velt

BarbaraLachThere's a certain type of go-getter who is willing to put in time to volunteer in leadership roles in the community, as well as the real estate industry.

This type of person doesn't do it to get more business. In fact, for many of them, the benefits don't even cross their minds. What they want is to effect change and build a stronger community or association. "I was on many of the community boards before I even built my business," says Barbara Lach, ABR, CRB, CRS, GRI, PMN, with Coldwell Banker King Thompson REALTORS® in Columbus, OH. "I enjoy the arts, so I joined the Lincoln Theater Board and the Columbus Association of the Performing Arts. I've done that for 20 years," she says. "I never went into this expecting to get more business. My mom and dad were civic-oriented, so it was just something I wanted to do."

In fact, says Lach, "I don't really talk about real estate with my community organizations. They all know what I do, but I don't push that."

Ann DeFries, PMN, sales manager of Balistreri Realty in Boca Raton, has been a Florida REALTORS® director for the past 16 years, was the 2008 WCR national president of Women's Council and currently chairs the National Association of REALTORS® Leadership Advisory Group. For DeFries, getting involved was a way for her to learn more about the business side of real estate.

AnnDeFries"I want to make an impact in the industry. You can never stop learning as you gain so much from it," she says.

For those of you on the fence about getting involved in either a community cause or with your REALTOR® association, think again. Of course, you'll reap the rewards of a bigger network, thus securing more referral business. But, there are other, more obscure benefits:

1. Referrals. We'll start with the obvious: referrals. Being active in your community or in the industry puts you in contact with hundreds of people who want to do business with people they know and trust. "About 40 percent of my business comes from referrals from those who know me through my charitable work," says Lach. While DeFries is no longer active on the sales side, as a manager she’s able to use her network to secure business for her company.

BarbaraRealtorCares2. Reputation. Obviously, this benefit is well known, but it's worth mentioning. "Being involved on a local level means that others know I'm professional and ethical. It really helps when working with other agents in the marketplace," says DeFries. "Many agents have told me that when they're showing properties, they pick one of my listings because they know my name and my positive business reputation." DeFries' daughter is now a real estate professional and, says DeFries, "She is finding out that she has to live up to the name. There's a lot of responsibility that comes with your name being out there." Lach agrees: "People recognize me and know that I've contributed to the community."

3. Business Skills. No matter if you're on the board of the local theater or chair of the Catholic Foundation (like Lach,) or mainly involved in real estate-related leadership positions (like DeFries), one thing you'll gain is better business skills. "I've learned a lot from board meetings," says Lach. "It's helped me recognize the differences between how men and women approach issues. When you get outside the sphere of real estate, you see how people approach problems differently, and you can’t help but learn from that."

4. Organization and Focus. Because these activities take a substantial amount of time for both Lach and DeFries, being organized is vital. "You have to change your hat at a moment's notice," Lach says, "so it's important you live in the moment, so you don't miss anything. That really helps in business because you're able to focus on your customers fully." For DeFries, having to manage her time so carefully has helped her realize how important a business plan is to her success. DeFries has read and helped build strategic plans for many of the organizations in which she's had leadership roles. "Everyone needs a strategic or business plan no matter what area of real estate you’re in," she says. "If I had not had that training through my leadership roles, I wouldn't have known how to go about implementing a solid plan."

5. Conflict Resolution. As a manager, DeFries serves as a mentor to agents, both professionally and personally. She says she's most helped with conflict resolution. "I've been managing for eight years, and on a daily basis I speak with irate people. The work I've done on committees has served me well. I know to truly listen. By doing that, I'm usually able to solve the problem, and the caller hangs up pleased." That's because DeFries has experience sitting around a board table where, she says, "I must choose my battles carefully. I've learned to sit back and listen, and that has helped my negotiation skills. I'm a far better listener than I was 20 years ago."

One benefit we didn't highlight is a sense of well being knowing you're positively impacting your community or achieving positive change for your industry. "As a real estate professional, you should be involved in your community and industry," says Lach. "When you support the community and what others are doing, they will support you and what you're doing."

TraceyTracey C. Velt is an Orlando-based freelance writer.




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