As part of my “How To Create a Successful Service Business” series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Todd Conklin, Owner and CEO of Coldwell Banker Distinctive Properties.
Todd is a graduate of San Diego State University and began his real estate career in Sun Valley, Idaho, where he specialized in high-end resort properties. Todd quickly became a top-selling agent in the area and opened his own office in July of 2006. Since that time, Coldwell Banker Distinctive Properties, based in Grand Junction, Colo., has blossomed into a thriving 13 office, 300 agent franchise which includes a commercial real estate division — Coldwell Banker Commercial Prime Properties. The company was named the 25th fastest growing real estate company in the nation according to the REAL Trends 500, has had multiple agents ranked in the REAL Trends America’s Best Real Estate Professionals list, is routinely ranked in the annual Inc. 5000 list of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies, is a part of the prestigious Coldwell Banker Chairman’s Circle and is the only company in Coldwell Banker history to have agents named on an Under 30 list for three consecutive years. Todd has also founded a top-notch coaching company, The Corner Office Coach, where he continues his passion for the enterprise by helping other CEOs grown their businesses and change lives.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company, what was your vision, your purpose?
Our vision has changed from when we first started. I would describe our start as a more traditional, top-down type model. It wasn’t until 2010 that we made the decision to focus 100% of our efforts on serving the agent as our client. Our battle cry became changing lives, and everything that we did was to help our agents grow. The belief then, as it is today, is that if we help our agents to achieve their goals, we won’t need to worry about our goals.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
Creating “Distinctive” lives for our agents and staff is not for the faint of heart. It requires a commitment to identifying their challenges and seeking and delivering solutions. We are their partners in the types of businesses and the lives they live. One of the most common questions you will hear at any of our offices is, “What can I do for you?” One of the ways that we demonstrate the philosophy of creating “Distinctive” lives lies with the services we provide to our agents. All of our agents and staff have access to personal and professional coaching at no cost. The services we provide all answer one question: Will this help them to spend more time doing the things ONLY they can do? Helping buyers, sellers, tenants? Spending time with their families, and serving their communities? Whether we are talking about marketing, design, skill-building or transaction concierge, they are all focused on helping the agent serve more clients in less time, and creating a “Distinctive” business and life.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Giving first was a challenging transition for us. It required that we have complete faith that the company would flourish if we only stay focused on one thing: helping agents grow their businesses and live “Distinctive” lives. Back in 2012, when the economy was still reeling from the Great Recession, focusing on agent success and having faith that it would lead to company success was a financial challenge. I was still in production and that money went to meeting payroll, covering losses and paying to feed my family. At the time, I was traveling to different offices 50% of the time, while my wife was at home taking care of our children. The impact on my personal sales was significant. I can remember coming home from one of those trips to find my wife distressed. She told me we were out of money and had $287 in our personal account. There comes a time when each of us is confronted with doing what we believe in our hearts is the right thing, or doing what may be right, right now. I have never felt like more of a failure as a man and provider than at that moment. I am blessed to have a wonderful and supportive wife. While she did not always understand me, she was there to support and counsel me through this valley. I stayed committed to giving first and changing lives, and over the next five years, Coldwell Banker Distinctive Properties was named to Inc. magazine’s fastest-growing companies list three times and named a Coldwell Banker Chairman’s Circle company.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service-based business?
1) Clarity: As a leader, you need complete clarity, in high definition, of what you are trying to accomplish. Without it, you will struggle to tell your story and, not only will no one follow you, but you will fall prey to the next shiny thing.
2) Embrace the Pain: Success is won, like a battle. There will be blood, there will be sweat, and there will be tears. The sooner you accept that it will be hard, the easier it will become.
3) Edit your life: We all have people, places, and things that hinder us from achieving our goals. There will be people in your life that will not understand you, or you will make uncomfortable with your aspirations. There are habits in your life that are not serving you. The sooner you edit those from your life, the sooner you will start growing.
4) Have a great corner: Just like a prizefighter, you need to have a great corner. These are people on your team or in your circle that help you a) stop the bleeding, b) change your mindset and c) help you strategize your next move.
5) 100/0: It is 100% your responsibility — makes zero excuses! I am convinced that this is what is meant by “it’s lonely at the top.” In the beginning, in the middle, in the end, you will share all the successes and you will shoulder all the losses. Understanding that it is 100% your responsibility will help you to make decisive, hard and unapologetic decisions.
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