Graham Smith is a Little Rock Native, who graduated from the University of Arkansas with a general business degree, and right out of college he became a stockbroker with Merrill Lynch, then worked for Morgan Keegan for 12-14 years.
Graham realized he was living his dad’s dream and not his. At 34 went through reformation and realized that his talents were geared towards real estate. In the late 90’s started out rehabbing houses and adjusted into new reconstruction. He now has his own residential construction company and builds 30-40 houses every year in Central Arkansas.
In 2004 he saw the demographics of the baby boomers started to specialize in single level patio 2 bed, 2 bath, 2 car garage houses with no stairs. This allowed him to be successful thru 2008 and 2009 crash. Graham noticed he was buying a lot from developers who were pretty successful, so they set up a development company where they put the streets in, sell the lots to their construction company, set up real estate company, and they were able to take one product and make money three times on it. This is known as being vertically integrated.
During the real estate crash of 2009, Graham started a private bank buying notes and mortgages from failed banks around the country, buying them for 30 cents on the dollar, when no one wanted them. He then became familiar with companies in the storage business in 1996, because self storage always intrigued him. Graham spent 15 to 20 years trying to find right self storage property. In 2013 he bought ground and built a 100,000 sq foot self storage facility, know as Chenal Storage in west Little Rock. Since then, they have grown to 9 storage facilities in Arkansas. The goal is to move to Georgia and Colorado and have 30-40 storage facilities in the next 14 years, because he will be 65 then.
That used to be the retirement age but small business owners never retire. Work backwards and the last thing they work on are the numbers, they are important but there are other things that are more important. If you do the right things, the money will follow. Numbers are a language, just like English and numbers don’t lie. They tell you what the picture is. Multilingual, speak English and speak numbers and it’s important but a lot of things have to happen before the numbers can be right. Not knowing where you want to go, is as difficult as coming back from a place you’ve never been before.
If your goal is 100 employees, and make 20 million dollars but you don’t know why. The odds of you failing are going to be higher than if you have a plan. When talking about business plan, he said locations, and number of units and didn’t mention how much money he wanted to make because they money will follow. He knows those numbers, but that’s not what’s important. It’s all about the A-B approach.
You’re at point A, and you want to be at point B, and the shortest distance is a straight line. You have to go to point B to figure out the straight line and the path.
Do you set aside time to make sure that everyone on your leadership team has the same vision?
If you’re going to build an organization, you can’t do it by yourself. If you do, it’s very lonely. Success and life is more than money. More fun and invigorating to have a team, and to have them involved.His team is his family and he will always love them, and they have to be involved and accept the strategy. If they don’t think he is going down the right path, he has to listen. It’s not “this is what you’re doing and this is your job.” The ideas may come out of his brain, but by the time everyone puts their fingerprints on it, it’s going to look completely different, and that’s okay. Just like there is a checklist for pilots, there is a checklist in a business, but there is also the organic side of the business where you have to let it grow. The balance between those two will lead to a lot of success.
Graham read a couple of books by Robert Kiyosaki. He sat down with a legal pad over the weekend and came up with a business plan and filled three legal pads. He went into the office on Monday morning and gave his notice at Morgan Keegan. They thought he was crazy, and he thought he was crazy too. He felt like he had to go on this journey. “The easy road is not necessarily what you need to do, sometimes you have to fight through and you got to listen to what’s in your body and what you’re feeling in your inner spirit and you’ve got to fight through those moments.”
There are points in your life where your journey is going to shift and you have to decide what that journey is going to be. In 2003, he was a builder, building 8-12 homes a year, wearing blue jeans and driving a pickup truck. The restless spirit came up in his head again and said “what do you want to do Men came in his life that were looking for work and that wanted to be mentored. They didn’t know what they wanted to do with their lives, but they wanted to come work for him and they wouldn’t go away. God was telling him that there was something greater for me and that he was going to take me on a journey. God doesn’t ask him if he wants to go, he just goes, and embracing that and accepting that, even if it hurts, coming out on the other side you’ll be stronger.
You’re blessed, but God gave you a brain and he expects you to use it. So buying lottery tickets, that’s not the answer. God gave you the power to think, so think. The tipping point for Graham was that even though he was successful, he was miserable. To figure out who you are, you have to figure out who you aren’t first. Money is not the thing that makes you successful, if you do the things that make you successful, the money will follow.
You aren’t the only one on this journey. The artistic beauty of thinking outside the box and working backwards so you don’t fail, that’s all part of it. The tipping point comes from inside. If you know who you are and what you’re trying to achieve, the rest will take care of itself. To be successful, it requires patience. It takes a little bit of intelligence, and a lot of patience. If you’re a small business and you want to grow to a big business, start with why. Why do you want to be a big business, a lot of big businesses don’t make money? Figure out what drives you. Talk to your spouse and make sure they are on that journey with you, because what you do is going to have a huge impact on them.
Understand that life and business are a series of plateaus. You’re going to grow, and there will be point where you will level out and you just can’t bust through the ceiling. You’ve got to figure out how to bust through to the next level. Same struggles as a self employed guy has, how to get to the next level. Do I want to go to the next level? Is it healthy? I don’t need to go there, but my spirit tells me that I do. In order to be successful you have to be happy, and you’ve got to be doing something that you’re passionate about. And money is not Graham’s passion. A lot of people get right where they’re supposed to be, but they are so busy working and in the noise so much that they don’t realize where they are.
Find your passion and figure out your why. Stop working in the business and work on it.
- The E-Myth Revisited – talks about working on your business and not in it.
- Be Do Have Theory – if you want be the successful business owner, do what successful business owners do, then you will have what successful business owners have.
Say that you want to make 100 million dollars in the next 14 years, not because you want the money, but because it creates a goal. There have to be challenges in life. The office is like an engine, and it has many different parts and components that help make it work. Every piece is important, and everyone understands their role. If everyone performs their duties correctly, the engine runs correctly.
What is the most important thing that you look for when you want to expand your engine, and add another part?
How do you find the right people?
Find what is important to you, and find people that are like minded and that are trying to build the same thing you want to build. Let the market dictate what you do. Recognize a need, and make sure you fulfill it. Accept failure as apart of daily life, and learn from it. Find guys who are at that level, do what they do, and you will have what they have. Understand that it is more than just money and pounding 70 hours a week. Reduce things down to the simplest level. His mission statement: Work less, make more.
A lot of patience, little intelligence, good planning, and they plan has worked out so far. Life is a journey, figure out who you are and what you want and the rest figures itself out. Some of the most successful men have nothing. Defining success on the size of a business, or on the amount of money that you make is not reality. It is defined differently for everybody. Businesses will not love you back. People pour so much of their identity into their work, and then are highly disappointed. Making money is a means to an end, and a chance for his kids to have opportunities and experiences that he may not have never had. Tactics are different in every person, and the important this is that you have one life and there are no do-overs. Figure out who you are and get done what you want.
If you define success by being a big company and making a lot of money, then figure out what that looks like for you. Step forward in your life 20 years and step out of your mind and find out what it looks like. Figure out where you want to be, and work backwards from there. Find your road map. Build a plan, where are you going to be in 14 years? First comes God, or higher spirit. Second comes family. Third comes personal health and fourth comes your job. If you do it in that order, then you know that you will be more successful that if the order is reversed. Don’t chase the money, chase the idea. Chase the idea of having your life in order and doing the right things and having the plan. If you do those things everything else will take care of itself.
If you do these things, and you’re successful, you will leave the world a better place than when you got here. Take the focus off of the money, and put it on your life and who you are, who you want to be, and who you’re not. In the end, the numbers are the most important thing, in the beginning they are the least important. The concept and your mind frame are so important in the beginning. The numbers are so important, and they have to be written down. They can’t be something that you keep in your head, and they have to be attainable. You have goals, and you go down the process and adjust them as you go. Writing down goals, and friendships, are important to write down too.
Find your passion and figure out your why. Stop working in the business and work on it.
- Business owners fail to make a plan.
- Sharing the story. Great idea in their head but nobody around them knows about it and can share it with them.
- Knowing the numbers. People build a business that can’t financially support the ideas in their head.
- Empowering your people. So you can focus on where to spend your time.
Everyone is a team, and all of that is important. But getting them to believe, buy, and have the passion. Do what’s right, do your best and care for others and the rest will work out. You don’t have to be smart, or know everything because if you can eliminate the unknown, you can eliminate the risks.