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Do you start each New Year full of great intentions only to discover, before January ends, that you've slipped back to "always done it that way" behavior and thinking?

To kick 2016 into high gear without changing where you do business and what you sell, first take stock of where you're starting from:

Seemingly small changes to thinking can have significant impact on your established sales and business patterns. To be powerful, this fine-tuned fresh thinking must be applied consistently and with creativity and commitment. How conscious are you of what differentiates your work and of who values the services you offer?

Begin by identifying the top three things holding you back. Don't waste a lot of time obsessing on this. Your first reactions about the barriers to your success are a good place to start, because if you think they are a problem, you've made them a problem. As you progress, you'll discover which shifts in thinking will bring you—and, therefore, your clients—the most benefit.    

Think about each of the Three Fresh Thinking Starts below as it specifically relates to what you do and what you would like to accomplish this year. Generalities are impossible to implement; specifics get the job done.

If you're intent on shifting into high gear and staying there, use these Three "Fresh Thinking" Starts to tweak and improve what already works and to transform your weaknesses into strengths:

#1. Substitute "Goals" for "Resolutions" to Achieve Greater ROI

Resolutions are generalized wishes like stop smoking and earn more. Goals are practical, actionable strategies tailored specifically to you and managing the path to your desired future.

Before you set 2016 goals, verify how well you used your time and expertise in 2015. Spend an hour or so going though your 2015 calendar to tally up unrealized leads, dead-end time wasters, disruptive interruptions, highly productive client relationships, and percentage of time spent marketing your practice, not just listings. Compare this information to income earned, number of clients served, time off, and referral business. How exactly would you like these significant numbers to improve for 2016? Once goals are set, break down endpoint success into progressive steps, detailed tasks, and achievable deadlines, so you can measure progress and stay on track even if you become very busy. Make it easy to succeed by thinking ahead. Commit to 365 days not just the first week.

Tip: For more on goal achievement: Digitizing The Paper Trail: SMART Goals.

#2. Eliminate Unproductive Distractions & Pay Attention

Trends are emerging right in front of you. If you always expect someone else to tell you about new trends, you will not see any yourself. Is there a gap or an opportunity in your trading area that you could build on to spark a new trend? For instance, interest rate concerns will be new territory for many buyers and sellers. This means your experience and knowledge will reveal room for improvement on many levels if you invest time on fresh thinking.

Trends emerge subtly. For example, a long-used term is replaced—an indicator that a new way of thinking is emerging. For a number of reasons, this change catches on and spreads. For instance, if "SOLD" is replaced with "BOUGHT" on listing signs to indicate buyers willingly bought the home, flaws and all, and sellers were not manipulated to get the real estate sold, a new message is being delivered. Buyers and sellers who like the distinction will be attracted to real estate brokers and salespeople who emphasize the value of this informed action. The marketing process is transformed into a clear, innovative process for achieving "bought" and avoiding "sold." Early adopters of this concept shift will create a brokerage that trains buyers to be great buyers, and/or sellers to be great sellers. These graduates could get hooked on real estate and start a trend to multiple property ownership to realize their life goals.

3. Let Go of "Everybody" & Get on Target

Whenever I hear a real estate professional say, "I want to help everybody." I am worried about how well they can help anyone. Although you may like the thought you could help every buyer or seller you come across, in reality, that belief will distract you from clarifying exactly who you are best suited to help and how. You have accumulated a specific set of experiences and real estate knowledge, so you'll be well suited to help a specific target group whose goals align with this expertise. Put these two specifics together and you'll be on brand. Go off brand to help another type of buyer or seller and you'll have to spend extra time learning the new specifics to provide excellent service to this consumer. This wasted time should have been invested applying your tried-and-true expertise to help more members of your target group buy and sell. Instead, you've diluted your brand and you may expose yourself to litigation.

Emphasize "benefits" not features like "I am a top-producing real estate agent." Add enlightening detail to sales presentations and advertising to outline benefits to the buyer/seller target and, therefore, to reveal the value in working with you. To do this successfully, you must have a crystal clear image of your ideal target. The more detailed the profile, the more clearly you'll explain benefits and value to peak their interest and cement relationships. This focus can enhance marketing. Engage clients in delivering your message and their homes will sell more quickly and you'll continually build target prospects and referrals. For instance, instead of sending out "I'm number one" postcards of exteriors and beige rooms to notify neighbors of a new listing, try a personal letter from the sellers aimed at target buyers for the property who are probably similar to the sellers and their many neighbors. That is, one target family communicates the benefits and value of your service to fellow target families.

PJ's Push: If you don't know what your "brand" involves, ask the clients who keep sending you referrals and come back to buy real estate with you.

Let technology and social media assist you with these improvements, but don't let this set of tools distract you from the individuals and families you want to serve. The more technology changes the way you and your clients can buy and sell real estate, the more important it becomes for you to understand when this change is a genuine improvement and how you can make things even better for all concerned.

Take off in 2016!

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