Planning ahead is a crucial aspect of long-term business success. Here's how Carlene Herring took steps to prepare for uncertainty, and how her company prospered as a result.
There was no defined roadmap for success when Carlene Herring, the owner and operator of Radiance Realty, was growing up in inner city Trenton, NJ. “A lot of odds were against me, but I knew that there was more to life than this,” she said.
The lack of role models or positive influences in her local community did not discourage Carlene. In fact, it motivated her to aspire to greater things. “From a young age, I knew that I wanted to be an inspiration, for my family, for my peers, and for Trenton.”
Carlene’s drive to motivate and inspire those around her only grew when she became a mother two years into her real estate career. It certainly wasn’t easy balancing her new duties as a parent with her lofty business goals, but Carlene didn’t let it slow her down. Instead, her son became the force that pushed her forward and spurred an even greater desire in Carlene to become a role model and a good example of what is possible with hard work and dedication.
Today, Radiance Realty is a successful brokerage firm serving the Trenton region with big plans for the future. But Carlene’s path to success was anything but a straight line.
As she reflects on her business journey and the challenges she faced along the way, Carlene shares insights on running a successful company—especially in an industry with seasonal fluctuations in business volume—and how she used her motto to overcome life’s challenges: “Everything works with a plan.”
Discovering Your Passion
When Carlene began her professional career, she had no idea she would end up in real estate. In fact, she originally went to school to become a paralegal. However, after receiving her paralegal certificate (and a significant student loan burden in the process), Carlene struggled to break into law—which often requires lengthy unpaid internships to gain entry to the industry.
So, Carlene pivoted. She went back to school, attained her real estate license, and shortly afterward secured a job as an agent for a local brokerage in Trenton.
Almost immediately, Carlene realized that she had found her passion and decided to become an entrepreneur. “When I was only a year into my real estate career, I knew that I wanted to have my own brokerage. That was already my dream.”
As soon as she gained the experience required to pursue her brokerage license, she jumped at the chance and opened Radiance Realty in 2019.
Here is Carlene’s advice to other business owners seeking to grow their companies and plan for long-term success.
Prepare for the Unexpected
Unfortunately, the early days of Radiance Realty coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting social and economic challenges. During the first week of the pandemic alone, Carlene lost five lucrative real estate deals due to buyer uncertainty.
However, Carlene’s careful planning and prudent saving helped her weather the storm.
This brings us to Carlene’s first piece of advice to new business owners: be sure to save for a rainy day, because you never know when you’ll need to overcome a decline in cash flow.
How to Manage the Slow Season
Many industries—from tax and accounting services to tourism and food service—experience seasonal fluctuations in demand. For any company that faces seasonality in revenues and operations, understanding how to manage cash flow disruptions is critical.
Below, we’ll discuss Carlene’s advice as an established owner of a successful seasonal business.
Maintain Steady Spending Habits
Real estate is a notoriously seasonal industry with most homes being bought and sold during the warmer months of April through August. Carlene’s ability to plan ahead served as her secret weapon and enabled her to conquer the emotional roller coaster associated with large fluctuations in income throughout the year.
“I realized early on that I can’t be out spending the first three months of the year because traffic will die down.” Carlene emphasizes that maintaining healthy financial habits and managing emotions is key.
“Make sure that you’re not getting too happy when those commissions hit, because there will be a time when things slow down.”
Seek Alternative Income Streams
In addition to planning ahead and managing emotions throughout the year, Carlene has positioned Radiance Realty for success in a seasonal industry by securing alternative sources of income that can pay off during the down seasons.
“That’s why I started doing rentals, because it offsets the seasonality of my business,” she says. The key here is to offer complementary services your customers need during the slow seasons. There are a variety of ways this can be accomplished. For example, a landscaping company may offer snow removal services in the winter.
Three Additional Tips to Help Manage Through the Slow Season
There are many other ways businesses can take advantage of the slower months. But true to Carlene’s motto, planning ahead is the key.
- Train Employees: During the busy season, the best use of employee time is serving customers. The slow season offers a great opportunity to provide advanced training and education to existing employees or to onboard new ones.
- Plan Your Annual Advertising Strategy: Taking the lessons from the previous fiscal year, the slow season is the best time of year to plan your marketing and advertising efforts.
- Fine-Tune Your Inventory: The slow season allows for detailed inventory evaluation that is difficult to accomplish when business is booming. This is a great time to evaluate and optimize your inventory data, such as cost of goods sold (COGS), inventory turnover ratio, holding costs, and more.
Looking to the Future
Carlene is excited to create the future of Radiance Realty, with big plans for business expansion. Using the knowledge she’s gained, Carlene’s next goal is to expand her business by offering real estate license examination training to aspiring agents.
“My new goal is to purchase a building,” she says, “with my school in the front and brokerage in the back, turning my business into a full-service operation.” Adding a training academy to her practice would have multiple business benefits; it would not only provide another off-season revenue stream, but also serve as a potential source of new talent for her brokerage. Carlene’s plan is already well underway—she became a licensed real estate instructor in 2021.
Carlene also hopes that her son will play a big role in the continued growth of her company and that one day in the future, Radiance Realty can become a family business. “It’s important that my son gets to experience and be involved in my business so that he can follow in his mother’s footsteps when he’s ready.”
Although Carlene’s ambitions have broadened in scope, her primary message for other business owners remains the same. Create your vision. Implement a plan. And stick to your plan, even in the face of adversity.
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