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  • Writer's pictureJustin Sterling

1/4 Mile

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

Nashville is not only home to Country Music, it's home to the contemporary christian music scene as well. In the early 2000’s when Music City was my home, a good friend and I went out on the town one crazy night in search of an adventure. Little did I know how this evening would make continue to impact my career in real estate.

The Christian music industry has their version of the Grammys, which is known as the “Dove Awards”. It might have been the allure of hanging out with artist types, or it could have been the lack of wisdom resulting from the drinking we had done beforehand, but my buddy and I decided sneak in to an after party that was hosted by a record company known for producing rap and hip hop music. Fueled in part with the confidence of 3 PBRs and the lack of decent venue security, our lack of an invitation wasn’t a problem. We easily shuffled right in with everyone else.

When the DJ announced a freestyle rap competition, my friend looks at me and said “ You should totally do that”. As I have the absolute worst singing voice, and no rhythm, I tilt my head and said “Yeah Boi”. What happened next is basically like the movie 8 Mile except for the part where I showcase my talent or mastery of connecting with an audience.

The first two rappers were really impressive. I’m 3rd in line. The crowd is still clapping for the efforts of the last guy when they give me the mic. The energy and optimism of the crowd works to my advantage as I waste no time asking the DJ to give me a beat and I tell the crowd to “ Wave those hands from side to side”.

The beat drops... Boom crack, Ba Boom Boom Crack…Boom crack, Ba Boom Boom Crack. 10 seconds hasn't passed yet and I can tell the crowd loves me already. For a country kid, I sure felt like a gangsta, and I drop my first line with something obvious… “My name is Justin Sterling an I got something to tell ya”. I’m now bending my knees with my arm extended above my head, and my brain locks up and I can’t quickly think of anything that rhymes with “tell ya”..

Fortunately for me there is a “Boom crack, Ba Boom Boom Crack” to give me time to come up with a brilliant lyric, and my arm has crossed my face with the beat like I'm a human metronome. I say “gonna take ya home, then I’m gonna smell ya” .

I kid you not, the music stops, and it's dead silence. The jaws are on the floor and those faithful followers of the Lord Jesus are staring at me like I just blasphemed Christ himself. I look at the DJ like “hey man, can we keep going?” Then he motions for me to give him back the microphone.

I exit the stage and stand by my friend. The gravity of shame became physically obvious in my posture. I could feel my shoulders collapsing in on themselves, and my eyes were drawn to my own navel. Hoping that the confidence and poise of my friend could work thru osmosis, I rhetorically asked him “how was that? ” But he wouldn’t even look at me. He looked away from me while asking “You want to leave?”. I said “Yeah, this party is lame”.

How this self deprecating story works to my favor, and hopefully to your as well, is to realize that just like an entertainer, we need not only understand our audience we need to respect them.

Every week, I’ll be asked by a start up about real estate, and like that DJ who gave me a microphone, I want to give them a chance and see them succeed. I assume positive intent, and hope they can deliver reliable rent payments to a Landlord. All I can do is set the stage, and hand over some real estate tools and watch what happens next. If the prospective Tenant has no “business plan”, they are going to freestyle their way thu it. With no entrepreneurial experience, no plan, and no one to guide them, they are going to fail.

What are Tenants looking for in their site criteria? What financial expectations do they have? Do I even have a solution to their needs right now? Great questions for an agent to ask, but completely irrelevant without a Tenant's plan.

Detailed questions about finances, work experience, and the vision for your business, isn't passing judgment, it’s conveying a sense of responsibility that we have to the ultimate success of the transaction.

The Tenants preparation affects the bankers decision who underwrites the loan, the insurance company who’s policy protects the property, and the Landlord who’s taken the risk in providing a platform for the Tenant to operate.

Early on in my career, I took a phone call from someone with an idea and they sounded competent on the phone, drove an hour to meet them at the space, and spent an hour talking with them before I asked them, “What are you doing now?” They responded “I work at Shoney’s”. Are you an owner? No. Manager? No. Franchisee? No. Did you inherit some money? No. Did you study the culinary arts in school? No. Any other experience in the hospitality industry? No.

I apologized to them right then and said "I should have done a better job preparing you for this meeting. This lease is over $100K a year, and could cost you $200K in start up cost. I don’t want to make any assumptions, so let me just ask, how will you pay for the start up costs?" No surprise...he couldn’t

Before the prospect left, I told him this story about my short lived career as a rap mogul. We want to see him thrive as a rockstar in his business and respect the risk he will have to take, but when the Landlords does not give you a chance right now it's possibly saving decades of pain.

Have a great idea? Before you take the stage, take some business classes, find some case studies of similar concepts, and start writing a business plan. Take some smaller risks with a side hustle and see how that goes. Before asking for a raise, ask for more responsibility.

Prepare yourself for the person you are going to be every day and the cumulative effort will produce something you can be very proud of.

Rock forth America!

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