Craig Willett is the founder of Utaz Development Corporation, an innovative real estate development company that pioneered the “Own For Less Than Rent” concept in a professional village. He developed more than $750 million in real estate projects. Craig has also been the founding shareholder and director of a community bank, a public biotech company, a CPA firm that grew to more than 700 small business clients, and a strategic advisory firm.
Craig is also a world champion equestrian and the voice of The Biz Sherpa Podcast, a podcast that inspires others to step on the path to small business success. In today’s episode, we’re going to discuss Craig’s entrepreneurial journey and the four keys to success he learned along the way.
Craig got his degree in accounting, worked for a year at an international accounting firm, and earned his master’s degree. He then met a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) who asked Craig to work for them, and he accepted.
About eight months later, Craig quit and opened his own CPA firm, beginning his career as an entrepreneur. He knew the industry very well and it reflected in his interactions with his clients.
However, things changed abruptly. One day, Craig noticed his pregnant wife was worn out from taking care of their three sons. He offered to take them to McDonald’s to let them play and get their energy out. While they were stopped at a red light, a car hit them from behind.
While his sons were safe, Craig began to feel some pain. However, he declined the ambulance since he seemed okay, and continued to go to work Monday morning. Partway through the day, he temporarily lost the use of his arms and legs.
He went to the hospital and worked to get the motion back. While he recovered, he learned he had compression fractions that would make it difficult for him to sit behind his desk all day at his CPA firm.
While wondering what to do, a friend in real estate called Craig asking for money since he had just lost an investor on a project. Craig had a background in real estate since his father was a real estate broker, so he’d learned the language of real estate sitting around the kitchen table during his free time. When he couldn’t find a part-time job in school, he sold real estate. Through a few deals, this friend ended up pulling Craig into the real estate industry.
Craig eventually founded the Utaz Development Corporation, helping small business owners buy office buildings. His business became very successful because he knew what his customers were passionate about owning their own buildings. Craig knew he had hit a nerve.
“It was based on the needs of small business owners to have a building with their name on it,” Craig said. “[They wanted clients to] walk into a really beautifully decorated, nice building that really reflected their professionalism and their personality.”
Craig came up with the tagline, “Own for less than rent,” and put it up on signs around the communities. He explained this strategy worked so well because a sign never calls in sick, never goes on vacation, never sleeps, and it stays out in the rain. It can really do a lot for a business.
Eventually, with his knowledge and expertise on entrepreneurship, Craig started The Biz Sherpa Podcast.
“I’m really passionate about inspiring the next generation to be entrepreneurs,” Craig said. “I really think it is one of the greatest expressions of freedom, and it’s based on the principles upon which this country was founded. That’s why I started this Biz Sherpa podcast to inspire people to step on that path to success, express themselves, be creative, find their passion, and get greater fulfillment in life.”
Throughout his journey, Craig learned a few key secrets to success and happiness. He shared four with us.
4 Keys to Success and Happiness
1. Surround Yourself with the Right People
A huge part of obtaining success is surrounding ourselves with people who uplift and encourage us.
“In my case, it’s who I married. Carol kept me grounded through all the fears and all the success,” Craig said. “I remember one day . . . as I was getting on a plane to fly to Washington DC to testify in Congress on some tax legislation, she said, ‘You know, you can go back and visit with all your important people, and that’s fine, but someday your children will grow up and not know who you are.’ I came back from that trip and I . . . started resigning from some community boards to spend time with my sons and my daughter. . . . That kept me grounded.”
We should strive to surround ourselves with people who can support us while also grounding us and reminding us what is important.
2. Be Prepared for Opportunity and Hard Work
Entrepreneurs need to be able to recognize opportunities and be willing to work hard.
“I’ve always said opportunity knocks, but you better be listening to hear it knock and it’s usually disguised as hard work so most people don’t want to open it,” Craig said. “You need to be ready to open it. You need to be ready to jump in. You need to have the energy and you need to have the drive and the passion.”
We should prepare ourselves for opportunities. This means constantly searching for new opportunities and continually working to improve our skills and talents. Craig explained we need to maintain our physical stamina, something only achieved if we continually put in the work and effort to be better.
3. Save and Invest
Craig recommended we set aside 20% of our income on a regular basis for savings. This is a lesson he learned from the Bible through the story of Joseph and Pharaoh in Egypt.
Pharaoh had a dream that neither he nor anyone else could interpret. Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer remembered that Joseph had previously interpreted his dream while he was in prison. The chief cupbearer told the Pharaoh of Joseph, who then brought Joseph up from the dungeon to interpret his dream.
Joseph interpreted the dream to mean that there would be seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine. Joseph recommended that a wise man be put in charge and that a percentage of their food should be taken away to storage to use during the famine.
Because of this, Egypt began preparing in the seven years of plenty by setting aside 20% of all food to store it away for when the famine struck. Doing these things saved all of Egypt.
Craig explained that economies go in cycles. There may be seven years of huge economic growth followed by seven years of crisis. We should prepare as Joseph did by setting aside a portion of our earnings to prepare for when a “famine” hits.
Craig learned this lesson the hard way. During a financial crisis, he lost 80% of his net worth. From this lesson, he highly recommends that we set aside savings and investment to give us safety for when hard times come.
4. Be Customer Focused
When I asked Craig to share his best monetization strategy with me, he said it is to focus on the customer.
“Understand who your customer is and what their needs are and how you can make their life better,” Craig said. “If you can make someone’s life better, easier, and more successful, then endless is the amount of business that will come knocking on your door.”
When we focus on our customers’ needs, sales will come naturally. When Craig started his real estate business, he chose the tagline, “Own for less than rent,” because he knew what his clients wanted and were passionate about. He knew they wanted to own their own building so they could create an office space that represented their company and personality. And the only way they could do this is if they found something affordable, which is what Craig offered them.
Craig explained that one of the biggest tectonic shifts we see is the growth of the digital world. With the growth of the digital world, we can sit in our houses and reach people from all over the world. This shift has made it very easy for businesses to lose personal touch with their customers, however, Craig explained that the personal touch is what brings people back.
“There’s an emotional currency that comes in business,” Craig said. “That’s when life has changed, and someone is happy because of something you did, whether it’s a product or service, but it changed their life. There’s no greater reward. It’s not the money they paid you. It’s the change that you see and the gratitude that they expressed that kept me going.”
If we can design our products and services to be focused around our customers, and maintain a personal connection with them even in a digital world, we will be much more likely to find success.
Thank you so much Craig for sharing your stories and insights with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:
1. A huge part of obtaining success is surrounding ourselves with people who uplift and encourage us.
2. Opportunity knocks, but you better be listening to hear it knock and it’s usually disguised as hard work so most people don’t want to open it.
3. We should consistently set aside savings to give us security for when unexpected hard times come.
4. If you can make someone’s life better, easier, and more successful, then the amount of business that will come knocking on your door is endless.
Connect with Craig
To learn more about or connect with Craig:
1. Get my free ebook about passion marketing, and learn to identify and leverage the highest passions of our ideal customers at PassionMarketing.com.