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I love answering questions from agents, and they tend to take on a different tone in the fall months. People become more apt to ask big-picture questions because they’re thinking about a fresh start in the New Year. “What can I do to be more successful?” is a question I hear a lot.

There’s no easy response, but I always frame my answer in these terms: Success is harder to recognize when you stop setting goals and taking risks.

This time of year is perfect for framing your own definition, especially as you’re re-evaluating the past year, adjusting strategies to meet year-end goals and creating a new plan for a strong 2012.

Here’s some food for thought.

Give Yourself Latitude
Think about the times you’ve recognized some level of success in your business, whether it be finally selling a tough listing or finishing out the month three closed transaction sides ahead of last year’s pace. I’m sure you’ll agree that these moments typically follow a period of high pressure and uncertainty. But be honest. Aren’t these victories a little sweeter because of the uneasiness along the way?

The people you look to as examples of success certainly experienced bumps along the way. But for some reason, we tend to put pressure on ourselves to have a clear, smooth journey every time. The trick is to anticipate some obstacles, but meet them with a certain level of confidence that can’t be shaken by a bad experiment or less-than-expected results.

Give yourself the latitude to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and make the necessary adjustments. Otherwise, you’ll exhaust yourself trying to get a different result doing the same thing over and over. If you only do what makes you comfortable, you’ll always run with the pack. Wouldn’t you rather lead it?

Maintain a Foundation
In no way am I suggesting that you throw every new idea at the wall to see what sticks. I do, however, recommend strategically choosing one or two new directions for your business each year, and giving them a full chance to work.

For instance, if video is an area you’d like to develop, there’s more to creating valuable clips than setting up a YouTube account and uploading videos haphazardly. Instead, create a video marketing and messaging plan to follow throughout the year. Consistency is key whether you post daily, weekly or monthly.

Likewise, if you’re interested in helping distressed homeowners, you don’t want to experiment with your clients’ situations, because often you have only one chance to get it right for them. Instead, take time on the front end to expand your skill set through top training programs, such as the Certified Distressed Property Expert (CDPE) or Short Sales and Foreclosure Resource (SFR) courses. That way, when you do finally reach out to vulnerable homeowners, you’ll be fully prepared to pursue the best possible foreclosure alternatives for them.

As you’re implementing new strategies, be careful not to let your tried-and-true practices falter in the process. Be sure you have support in place to maintain the same level of service and productivity that prepared you for the new step you’re taking. As long as the foundation of your business is solid, you can easily recover if your new ideas don’t go exactly as you planned.

As you close out the year, my hope is not that you measure your success by my standards, but that my perspective helps you define your own. Once the picture is clearer in your mind, your goals for the New Year will almost write themselves—and you can avoid arriving back in the office after the holidays wondering what to do next.

Margaret Kelly (CRB) is chief executive officer of RE/MAX. RE/MAX earned “Highest Overall Satisfaction For Home Sellers and Home Buyers Among National Full Service Real Estate Firms” in the J.D. Power and Associates 2011 Home Buyer/Seller StudySM.

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