She’s 73 years old, an icon of entrepreneurship and a regular on Shark Tank.
Beginning as a real estate maven in New York City, she spent 23 years building her real estate business from an initial $1000 investment into a $66 million dollar payday when she sold it in 2001.
Now she advises companies she’s invested in, manages her own personal brand, hosts a podcast and is best known as a Shark on Shark Tank.
What’s her best advice to new business founders and marketers?
1: Fall down a lot
Raised with 9 siblings, Barbara’s mother didn’t have time to help the kids so she learned to fail at everything before figuring it out. She learned that failure is simply a part of the process, and confidence is what gets you back on your feet each time you fall. Keep trying, take failure in stride and you’ll figure out how to succeed.
“I am a great failure. All of my successes come on the heels of failure. Great sales people are great at empathy and great at failure.”
Takeaway: To reach success, fail fast and fail often.
2: Don’t give up
Shark Tank almost passed Barbara up. She was initially offered a seat, but then received notice that her spot had been given to another woman. Barbara was distraught but not willing to give up.
She contacted Mark Burnett, the man who owns the TV studio where Shark Tank is filmed, and sold herself to him. Impressed that she refused to give up, Mark gave Barbara the job.
Takeaway: Never, ever, ever give up.
3: Put in the time
When Barbara was 55, she sold her real estate business to go into media. She wanted to talk real estate in front of a camera, but what she didn’t realize is that she was totally unprepared for this new career.
She was now working twice as hard just to make a start. She found out her contacts were no good, she had no influence and she felt like a loser.
This is where most people would have quit, but she dug in and pursued her new passion until she got to where she wanted to go.
Takeaway: Dedicate a certain portion of every single day to reaching your goal.
4: Start now
Wherever you might be in life – college, starting a career, midlife or retired, now is the time to start on your new business or building your dream. You will likely never have the energy and enthusiasm that you have now.
Delay will cost you in so many ways, while getting started now will reward you with more and faster success. ‘Ready, fire and aim’ can overcome numerous obstacles that otherwise might seem insurmountable.
“If you stand back and analyze the best way to do something, you’ll be standing there forever. You’re always smarter under fire than you are standing on the outside assessing a situation. You can’t study to be an entrepreneur. Sometimes you just have to jump.”
Takeaway: Start now. Right now. Right NOW.
5: Start low and work up
Barbara was the second oldest of 10 kids and money was tight, which is how she learned early on to pull her own weight and find ways to make money.
By the time she was 23, she’d worked in over 20 jobs. She credits her time working as a waitress because learning to serve others was good training for becoming an entrepreneur.
Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to start at the beginning or at the bottom.
6: Haters are motivation
Barbara users her naysayers as motivation for her success.
Perhaps her best known example of this is when her real estate partner and boyfriend Ramon Simone left her for her secretary. His parting words were, “You’ll never succeed without me.”
The burning desire to prove him wrong resulted in her building the number 1 real estate company in New York City, eventually selling it for $66 million.
Takeaway: Be thankful for people who say you can’t do it, because you’re going to use their negative comments to fuel your success further and faster than any motivational speaker could do for you.
7: Look successful to become successful
Barbara wanted to present herself as already being successful.
She knew that having a celebrity client would be good for business, so she set her eyes on Madonna. But since Madonna wouldn’t return her calls, Barbara put out a report listing the things she thought Madonna would want in a home, projecting herself as being a broker to the stars.
This new image brought in business and eventually led to working with Richard Gere and others.
When Barbara got her first paycheck, she headed straight to Bergdorf Goodman to buy an expensive coat. “If I looked like I was able, then I was able. Perception creates reality.”
Takeaway: There is truth in, “Fake it ‘til you make it.”
8: Expand as soon as possible
Barbara admits she’s not good at saving money, but she is good at investing in her own business and expanding that business as quickly as possible.
Even now she invests in others’ businesses and encourages them to grow, with the thought that if your business isn’t expanding into new products, new niches and new markets, then it’s shrinking.
Takeaway – What products and services can you add to your business? Can you outsource some of your work so that you can focus on expansion? And how can you leverage the assets you already have to grow your business bigger?
9: Leverage the media
Perception can be everything. Barbara once had six of her employees on the New York Time’s top 10 brokers’ list.
What most people don’t know is that none of her staff deserved their position because none of them were even in the top 20.
Barbara had taken out an ad in the New York Times showing photos of some of her employees with the title, “Power Brokers”, thereby cementing her company’s status in the minds of journalists and clients alike.
“Perception creates reality. If you want to be successful in real estate you have to look bigger, better, stronger than your competition.”
Takeaway – How can you leverage the media to your benefit? One of the easiest ways I’ve seen marketers do this is to advertise on well-known websites and then include an, “As seen on___” banner on all of their sales pages.
10: Get your price
When Barbara decided she wanted to sell her company in 2001, she called someone she thought might be interested in purchasing it. He offered her $22 million dollars. Not a bad payday, but Barbara insisted she wouldn’t sell for less than $66 million.
With each consecutive offer, Barbara held strong and eventually she got her asking price.
Takeaway – You’re worth more than others would have you believe, and you might be charging too little for your best products and services. Test out higher prices to find the sweet spot where you make the most money.
11: Drop dead weight
This one sounds harsh but it worked. Every six months Barbara would evaluate her brokers and fire the lowest performing employees. Her view is she works too had to let others bring her or her business down.
“If someone doesn’t fit in your company, you have an obligation to get rid of them, because you’re holding them back from excelling elsewhere.”
Takeaway – Are some of your products selling far better than others? Either revamp or relaunch the lowest performers or sell them off.
12: Stay in the game
She once blew an entire year’s profit making videotape tours of her listings, but no one wanted to give them out. By luck, her husband came back from South Korea and told her about this new thing called the internet.
She immediately registered her domain name, posted the listings and had two sales within the week. Next, she registered all of her competitors’ domain names, too.
Takeaway: Stay on top of new trends and technologies and don’t hesitate to immediately put them to use.
13: Create the illusion of popularity
When she was struggling to meet her sales goals, she remembered that, “Everyone wants what everyone else wants.”
She set up a secret sale and asked her brokers to invite their best customers at a specific time when the properties would be revealed. More than 200 people showed up for 88 properties.
“They took worse apartments because they saw 100 other people behind them who wanted them, too.”
Takeaway: Position yourself as someone who chooses your clients, rather than someone who begs for business. Position your products as exclusive, highly desired and without peers.
14: Find your opposite.
Barbara’s business partner was great at everything she was bad at. As soon as you can, hire the person who can do all the things you cannot do. Of the hundred or so businesses she’s invested in, every successful one is a partnership of two opposites with mutual respect. Make it crystal clear from the beginning about what your jobs are.
Takeaway: Find someone – partner or assistant – to fill in the skills you lack and help propel you to the top.
15: Steal. A lot.
While she’s gotten a lot of credit for being an innovator, Barbara says it was all thievery. She noticed billboards that had faces, so she started putting her face on billboards.
She saw a color-coded announcement board in an Italian airport and started color-coding her listings. She says she doesn’t think she’s had an original idea in her life.
“If you have an idea, immediately move on it. To start that fire and get it burning immediately…it’s everything.”
Takeaway: Watch what is working for others and find ways to adapt those techniques to your own business.
16: Follow your intuition.
Your head knows some stuff, but your gut has access to a lot more information that you’re not consciously aware of.
“I don’t listen to my head. Left-brain logic gets in the way. In the earlier years of Shark Tank, I used my head all the time. Now I’m really just sizing up individuals on the basis of my gut reaction.”
Takeaway: Listen not just to your head, but also to your heart and your gut.
17: Be of service.
Whether it’s your employees, your outsourcers or your customers, you work for them. Being a great leader and provider of products and services starts by loving the people you are serving and helping them to be the best they can be.
“The minute you start thinking people work for you, you’re not a good boss. If you focus on building others’ success, they reward you with loyalty and extra work – and they drag you up the ladder with them.”
Takeaway: Treat your outsources, virtual assistants and employees as you would like to be treated, or better.
18: Get out of your own way.
Like many people, Barbara had to overcome the voices in her head and in her life that told her she couldn’t do it.
“Your biggest enemy in business is not your competitor. It’s the negative tapes you have in your head from some other era, some injury, some insecurity. It took me, gosh, probably 20 years to replace those negative tapes. It’s key! People get held back by themselves.”
Takeaway: Monitor your own thoughts as though your success depends on it, because it does.
19: Embrace your fears.
One of Barbara’s most memorable failures was when she lost her voice while giving her first presentation.
Mortified that others now knew she was terrified of public speaking, she realized, “I had two choices: I could stay in the rabbit hole and be ashamed and embarrassed or I could learn how to do it.”
She figured that getting in front of a small group of students was the best next step and volunteered to teach a real estate night course at NYU.
Not only did she overcome her fear of public speaking, but she also found one of her best salespeople in that class and recruited her into her own business.
“It’s when you’re uncomfortable that you learn and grow the most.”
Takeaway: Feel the fear and do it anyway.
19: Know when to let it go.
She let go of her first business with her ex-boyfriend when he ran off with her secretary.
Maybe she could have continued to work with him, but instead she let go of it and founded her own business.
Later, she let go of that business and since then her net worth and visibility have increased a further tenfold.
Takeaway: Build your business with an eye to selling it one day. When you do, you’ll not only have a big payday, but also the ability to start another adventure even grander than the one before.
20: Be thankful
It would be easy for Barbara to focus on the long hours she has spent working as well as all the things she sacrificed to get to where she is today. Instead, she realizes that few people get to be in her position. Rather than complaining, she is thankful to have come so far and built so much.
“I like to wake up and just feel gratitude. Gratitude for waking up, for my health, for my kids, for my family. A lot of times in the evening, I’ll write down what my goals are for the next day; When I wake up, I look at that list again. I meditate.”
Takeaway: Start a gratitude journal where you write down what you are grateful for every day. Commit to doing this for just 30 days and see how it transforms your life.
21: Know that you deserve success
When she was a tiny fish in a very big pond of real estate, Barbara would tell herself, “I have a right to be here.” This assertion gave her confidence whenever she felt out of place or overpowered.
“That singular belief created my success. I cheerlead myself. I think, ‘You have just as much right as that guy to be here, you have the right to be as rich as he is, this isn’t a frat boys club.’ I get arrogant in my head – hopefully I don’t act arrogant on the outside, but that arrogance pushes me forward.”
Takeaway: Each morning, look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself that you love yourself, you are enough and you deserve success.
21.5 Become an irrational optimist.
If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, you need to become optimistic to the point that exceeds logic.
“You have to see everything as half-full even though everyone is saying you have nothing in your glass.” Rational analysis can be dangerous for a budding entrepreneur. Starting out, “You almost need to have a low IQ,” says Barbara.
Optimism can be more important than intelligence.
I’m reminded of the story of two little boys playing on a frozen stream. When one falls through the ice and drifts away from the hole, a neighbor calls the emergency number to get rescue personnel there. But the other little boy sees his friend trapped under the ice, grabs a small tree branch and starts hammering at the ice with all his strength. He breaks through and pulls his friend to safety.
When the firefighters get there, they attend to the boys and send them to the hospital by ambulance. Two firemen then survey the scene and wonder how the little boy rescued his friend.
They take turns trying to break through the ice with that same little tree branch. These are big guys using all their strength and they can’t do it.
One of them turns to their fire chief and asks, “Boss, how did the child break through when we can’t do it?” And the fire chief replies, “He broke through because there was no one here to tell him he couldn’t do it.”
Takeaway: People will give you a hundred good reasons why it won’t work. Whether or not you choose to believe them is up to you.