Eight Lessons for Success (And Some Other Insights) by Barbara Corcoran

Marissa Levin
Marissa Levin
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I had the privilege of speaking at the National Women Business Owners Corporation (NWBOC – www.nwboc.org) conference last week in Palm Beach, Florida. One of the highlights of the conference (where 200 women business owners came together to learn, share, and connect) was keynote Barbara Corcoran.  Barbara is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the country. She took a $1,000 loan to start her real estate company, The Corcoran Group, which she grew into a $5 billion business. She sold the firm for $66 million in 2001. 

Barbara is also a host and investor on ABC’s Shark Tank. During the last three seasons, she has bought 11 new businesses. She is also the author of three best-selling books, and is a regular small business and real estate contributor on all of the major networks.

Like all great entrepreneurs, Barbara’s journey to success has been filled with wonderful lessons. I have summarized them here for you.

1: The best things happen on the heels of failure. One of the greatest gifts of a setback is that it usually leads to something extraordinary… something we never could have anticipated that exceeds our expectations. Once the negativity is cleared, we are open to a world of possibility. This timeless lesson is also discussed in one of my favorite books. “Three Feet From Gold.” I wrote a blog about this book and the premise that our greatest successes lie behind our greatest challenges: https://www.successfulculture.com/your-greatest-success-lies-directly-behind-your-greatest-challenges/

Failure and setbacks happen to everyone. The only difference between people that are amazing and everyone else, says Barbara, is that extraordinary performers refuse to “lick their wounds.”

“The ordinary take too long to get up. When they get hit, they stay down too long; they feel sorry for themselves too long. The amazing performers don’t stay down,” she said. Resilience is absolutely the most important factor for sustained success. 

2: Create Competition and Exclusivity.   “Everyone wants what everyone wants and no one wants what no one wants,” says Barbara. If you want people to want your product or service, create a sense of urgency and selectivity. This tactic served her well when she sold out of a building of multi-million dollar condos in one afternoon.

3: Perception Creates Reality.  Make the business look bigger and better than it is.  “The big mouth shall inherit the earth,” says Barbara.

Women especially need to learn to be better self-promoters, and stake their claim. “A man says ‘I am king of the mountain’ halfway up the mountain. A woman goes to the top of the mountain, sets up an entire house and says, ‘I think I might be queen of the mountain.’ This is a big mistake! We must broadcast what we want to be.”

In addition, it’s necessary to understand “the power of the press.” If you are quoted as the expert, everyone thinks you are the expert. Act like an authority and get the message out first.

 4: Two Kinds of People are Needed in Business: Expanders and Containers.  “Every company needs a person to expand the company vision and message to the world, but it also needs people to contain ideas and lasso things in, says Barbara. In other words, speaking from my own experience, every business needs a visionary who operates at the 50,000 foot level, and an implementer who is on the ground. These are never the same people.

Again, speaking from my own experience, an outstanding operational partner (the container) is the single most important contributor to the organization. Without process, structure, and controls, the company will be in chaos. Every business needs a checks-and-balances system.

Experience has taught me that passion without strategy is dangerous, and vision without process is ineffective, inefficient, and expensive.

5: The Best Leaders Kiss Down. “If you want to find someone to grow your business, find someone that will love your team. Stay clear of people who kiss up.” Barbara explained that the best managers in a business nurture, mentor, and appreciate those that are on their teams. Kissing up to the C-Suite will not result in a growth-oriented business.

When scouting companies for investment,  Barbara invests “in leaders and companies that love their staff.”

 6: Build Firewalls. Dismissing the idea of “balance,” what has worked for Barbara is to “build a wall between work and home.” She compartmentalizes all aspects of her life. “There’s no such thing as balance. As soon as you forget about the notion of balance, you will feel better,” she says.

I support Barbara’s suggestion to forget about the notion of balance. For me, I’ve learned to strive for work-life integration, to not criticize myself for failing to show up everywhere 100% of the time, and to celebrate my wins. I’ve also learned that what works for one woman does not necessarily work for another. We all must find the right formula for our own circumstances. My daily mantra is Progress…not perfection.

 7: Fun is good for business.  “An investment into fun will get you more bang for your buck than any other investment,” says Barbara. “The best brainstorming sessions come when they are outside of their normal environment. Fun and innovation go together.”

 8: The Big Guy has the Corner on Money; The Little Guy Has the Corner on Creativity. “Big guys can always outspend. But when things go south, the big companies are saddled with bureaucracy. Small businesses can pivot and be nimble. The most powerful card small businesses have against the large businesses is the creativity card.”

As a small business owner who frequently competes against the larger companies, our ability to respond quickly, to shift direction quickly, and and to try new things is a definite competitive advantage. Customers also recognize these benefits, and will often be willing to try out a small business when looking for new ideas.

In addition to these eight lessons, Barbara shared these additional insights:

  • Business plans are so over-rated… Because life happens!
  • Fear isn’t natural. You learning it by falling on your head or by watching someone else get hurt.  Get to the root of why a person has a fear. They can only stand up to their fears when they are pushed against the wall.
  • Entrepreneurs don’t know what they are made of until they are pushed against the wall. The heroes surface when difficulties arise. “When the chips are down and your back is against the wall, you will rise to the occasion and put your best self out there. Because you have it in you.”

For more information on Barbara Corcoran, visit her website at http://barbaracorcoran.com, and for more on Shark Tank, visit http://barbaracorcoran.com/shark-tank-on-abc/

Marissa and Barbara

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