Some Good Thoughts From Barbara Corcoran's Experience
Barbara Corcoran, is the founder of The Corcoran Group, a business she built from a $1000 loan into a major real estate company which she eventually sold for $66 million dollars. Today, she serves as one of the investors on the tv show, Shark Tank, where she keeps busy nurturing those partnerships into successful businesses.
A Lousy Student
Corcoran had a rough childhood growing up. She was routinely teased for not being able to read and write until she was in the fourth grade. Being labelled a loser early in life taught her adversity and how to cope and even become comfortable with failure. When she finally finished school she felt free, no longer was her life going to be defined by the marks she would get in her school subjects.
However, success outside of school would also elude her through most of her twenties as she frequently moved from job to job. It wasn’t until twenty-two jobs later when she got a $1,000 starter loan from her boyfriend – along with a suggestion to try something in real estate – that she finally found her true calling. For the first time in her life, Corcoran began working for herself and she relished the opportunity. She became “engaged (in her work) and married into the concept that she could build a world (for herself).” She was able to put people where she wanted them, do what she wanted to do, and if things didn’t work out there was nobody to punish her except herself. She “loved being (her) own boss” and the freedom that came with it.
Thinking in Pictures
Working under her own rules for the first time, Corcoran was finally able to show off her dormant business sense. This was her acute ability to sense what works in business – all told it was what made her great at making money. Corcoran admits it never worried her whether she was going to make money or not, but she did give a lot of thought into how a business should be run and to make it successful.
To understand what works Corcoran doesn’t sit down and think of a business plan, she think visually in terms of pictures, “not in words or charts or deductive reasoning.” She imagines a “visual roadmap” that guides her to make her decisions. This was a method of problem solving that she couldn’t properly utilize in school and thus resulted in her getting poor grades. Yet, years later this detrimental way of thinking would become invaluable as she would put it to use to not only build her business empire but to save it during one of its most dire moments.
During one particularly lean period in real estate, one in which the stock market had crashed, no one was buying property in New York, and her company was on the verge of going out of business – her innate sense of visual thinking kicked in. As Corcoran sat down to write her goodbye speech to thank her salespeople before closing her doors she suddenly had an image pop into her head. It was a memory from her childhood in which she remembered a chicken farmer selling Jack Russell puppies. There were five puppies for sale and there were ten people who all wanted one. The farmer had cleverly invited all ten people to come look at them at the same time so there weren’t enough puppies to go around.
Corcoran used that same tactic to sell 88 New York apartments nobody wanted. She took all the apartments, the good and the bad, and averaged them all for the same price. She then told her clients that it was a secret sale and that they should only tell their best friends, clients, and family members because there weren’t enough properties to go around. They were also told them to come early so they could pick the best ones. The gimmick worked. Three days later she unloaded all 88 apartments that were labelled unsellable, profited $1 million dollars in commission, and saved her company. She says, “The guy who got the worst apartment, who didn’t get the pick of the litter, he was happy with his choice, because he saw all those other people complaining behind him, who got nothing.”
Work to Your Strengths
For Corcoran, having a successful business was her way of proving to the world that she wasn’t stupid. She was turned on by the fact that she could “(make her) own hours,(hire) her own people, (create) her own marketing” and just do things for the thrill of “seeing how far (she) could go.” And to get to the top, she used every available means at her disposal.
Corcoran relied heavily on the use of public relations. She believes P.R. is the most unutilized tool in building a business. She used it to build her brand in The New York Times, New York Magazine, and The Wall Street Journal. She would routinely publish reports and articles in these outlets. It was through one of those articles, The Top Ten Condominium Surveys, that she met and eventually did business with Donald Trump only because she had left his Trump Tower out of that list.
Corcoran even went so far as to publish reports on where Madonna was going to buy a house in New York City because she wanted her business to attract celebrity clients. The article landed her her first celebrity client, Richard Gere. After Gere came on board, Corcoran parlayed that exposure into attracting even more famous clients and eventually her company became a major broker for celebrities looking for homes in city.
Corcoran says having good P.R. “is like having a rich business partner with wads of cash, willing to spend it on you without any question being asked, and there’s always more cash there for whatever you needed.” Of course, for Corcoran, P.R and attracting attention comes naturally. Growing up in a household with 9 siblings, getting attention from her parents was not an easy task. Everyone vied for it. In her family only those who talked the loudest and the most often got any attention.
Corcoran says the ability to tell a good story is important and that on Shark Tank, the entrepreneurs who got her to take notice were the ones that told engaging stories of how they had first came up with their ideas. She says if you “(fall) in love with the person…you’re buying into them–which means you’re buying into their business.” What turns her off are the people that go on the show and start off with charts and numbers to explain their product before they’ve even made that personal connection.
Always Learn Something New
For Corcoran, her career has always been a learning process. As her real estate company became bigger and more prominent, she also went through a similar process where she starting “getting fancy and making (her) head full because she kept reading (her) own quotes in the paper.” For the first time in her career she started head-counting her market share against everyone’s else, she was so mindful of her competitors and occupied with her appearance that her business didn’t capture any market share that year. Once she realized her mistake she vowed never to repeat them again and went back to her old ways.
Find the Right Person, Then Find Them a Job
To succeed in real estate, Corcoran also had to surround herself with the best agents. Naturally, to do this she recruited people who she thought were the best salespeople. Sometimes this meant she would hire someone with no experience in real estate if she simply liked that person and thought they had a good sales personality. Her philosophy is finding the right people and then finding the right job for them afterwards.
Corcoran believes people can always be trained to do a job as long as they have the right qualities for it. For instance, she onced hired a society lady to real estate. She was very charming, well-mannered, and well connected. When she tried to sell real estate she worked very hard trying to hustle clients and doing all the things a real estate agent was supposed to do. Despite all her efforts, she didn’t make any sales in her first nine months and was put on notice. She was on the verge of being fired when Corcoran gave her another chance. She advised the agent to go back to her luncheons and dinners and just be herself and make friends. When the agent came back several months later she became one of Corcoran’s top agents because all the pressure had been taken off of her. She was finally able to make use of her natural gift – which was being someone that other people wanted to be around – and that Corcoran says is “sometimes all you need to have to be really good at real estate.”
Corcoran also attracted top agents by wooing them away from rivals firms. She would read the newspapers and send flowers with a complimentary note to the top agents that had won public awards. Of course, these agents never received such attention from their own bosses so it was easy for Corcoran to bring them over to her company. Flattery works and Corcoran never felt guilty about what she did because she was the one spending her money and time on flowers and notes.
Don’t be Afraid of Getting Turned Down.
Not long after Corcoran signed the contract to be an investor on Shark Tank, she was notified by the show’s secretaries that they were replacing her with someone else. Rather than give up, she immediately called the producers and insisted that they watch her compete with her replacement for that spot. Suffice to say, Corcoran won out and is grateful for the opportunities that have since come her way, but the real shock was learning after the first season had ended that they had rejected 45 other investors who had signed contracts and not a single one of them put up a fight to stay on the show. “The key is that who wins…(comes) back swinging,” Corcoran says, you should assume rejection is there because “it’s just a question of how hard it’s going to hit, and when. And it’s going to hit much more often, if you’re an entrepreneur, than you ever envisioned.”Written by Tara Riddle from Essay4Students.