If you’re working from home, possibly with the kids underfoot and wanting your attention as much as your boss, team and clients, it’s understandable to think that you don’t have time to network and keep at your business development activities. With everything that is going on, it’s also understandable that you may feel a bit lost. Although everything has halted – and this may feel truly gut-wrenching, particularly when you’ve been actively getting your name out there and making progress with your business development – it’s important to keep these efforts going. To help you keep the faith and soldier on, here are my 8 top tips that make up a sound business development strategy (ones that actually require you to spend much less time on it).
1) Consistency is king
However much you dress up business development, marketing or networking, it is all about consistency. It is never normally just one article which brings home the bacon but rather a series of articles along with diligently building up your profile and deepening your relationships with the introducer network. If you are struggling to maintain a consistent business development routine, then it is time to diarise your business development strategy day-by-day and week-by-week. Soon you’ll find that consistency makes business development less of an effort and more of a habit! If you’re still finding it difficult, try prioritising your business development activities at the same level as a client project. At a difficult time like this, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. If you’re thinking that you need to be doing business development as a whole, that’s a daunting task, but if you put together a business development strategy and do a little of the right things each day, then you will surely move forward.
2) Remember awareness and visibility don’t happen overnight
In business development terms, there is rarely such a thing as an overnight superstar. The best business developers have their business development strategies that they’ve been plugging away at for months, sometimes years before the leads start to roll in. If you are just starting to develop your own profile, a good rule of thumb is to expect to not see much return for at least 3-6 months. To put this into context, it took one of my clients six months of consistent networking, blogging and profile building to break into a new marketplace which started to deliver leads. Once the leads had started coming in for this client, however, their number and quality just grew and grew and grew. So what better time to spend on your business development than now? If you chip away at it every day for the next three months, you’ll be in a much better position once work resumes and you’re back to having even less time to do it.
3) Many firms are looking for a track record of you doing the right things rather than winning your own work
Many fee earners who are looking to make partner or junior partners can get very anxious about their portfolio and it’s lack of tangible growth. What they don’t realise is that many firms know that it takes time to grow a practice and are prepared to give their future leaders the time to do this (obviously, not all firms realise this so it’s important to check your firm’s stance). An example of this is Magic Circle Firms as they do not expect their junior partners at the time they are admitted to have already built a practice. What is important for professionals to note, however, is that they do expect to see verifiable evidence that you are working on building your practice and see business development as part of your day job – hence the need for a business development strategy early on!
4) Remember that transactional work, litigation and “distressed purchase” type work is often thin on the ground
One of my clients is an insolvency practitioner. They face the challenge, like many professionals who offer a transactional type service, of vast swathes of their introducer network potentially only having a bit of work for them once a year. As a result, you can’t expect to meet someone and they are able to give you work every time you meet. The same goes for compliance or advisory type services. Even if they could give you a referral, they may not feel as if they know and trust you well enough to be able to do so. As a result, it can often, in the early days of establishing your introducer network, mean that you are spending a huge proportion of time having coffees, teas and lunches without a return on your time investment. It can cost five times more to attract a new prospect than it does to retain an existing one and research has shown that increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%. What these statistics show is that it makes more sense to focus your efforts and funds to nurture your existing clients and stay front of mind with them. As long as you are routinely keeping in touch with the right people in your network and educating them on who you help and the results you help your clients get, the work will flow through in time.
5) Stick to the plan (or make a plan!)
A study by professors Baumeister and Masicampo found that while tasks we haven’t done distract us, just making a plan to get them done can free us from this anxiety. Not only that, but simply writing these tasks down will make you more effective. Now that’s not to say that writing your to-do’s down will guarantee that they get done (if only!), it just means that we remember that they need to get done in the first place. Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik was the first to note this so-called “Zeigarnik effect” – where our brains remember things we need to do better than things we’ve done. Very often people fail to get decent or any results for their business development activities because they fail to work to a plan. With business development, it is incredibly easy to be a busy fool. As part of your business development strategy, you should have created a business development plan which directly aligns with your strategy to grow your practice and as long as you are consistently working to the plan, the work will come in time. This may not sound promising enough to you, but it’s the small efforts you make every day that count!
6) Check how targeted and focused you are
The broader the target audience you are trying to appeal to, the less likely you will appeal to anyone. As the saying goes, “jack-of-all-trades, master of none.” If you are finding it very difficult to get decent leads or convert decent leads, then consider niching down a level. i.e. instead of chasing local small businesses, how about going after local small professional practices? If you are concerned about being spread too thinly, then ask your introducer network about whether you have differentiated yourself enough from your competitors and peers. For example, one of our clients started to get a steady stream of new clients from her local bank manager when she showed her how passionate she was about delivering an affordable, high quality and personable service to technology-led businesses. Being targeted and focused isn’t just about how wide your target market is. It is also about how targeted you are with your relationship-building time with the right introducers and how defined your business development routine and activity is. If you are concerned about not being targeted and focused enough, then consider taking some advice from your mentor or coach.
7) Increase your activity levels
Lead generation is a numbers game, plain and simple. If you are not getting enough new business through the door then seriously consider upping your activity levels. For example, if you blog monthly, then increase the frequency to fortnightly. When one of my clients went from a bi-monthly to a monthly newsletter to his key contacts, the leads started to roll in. As an overwhelming 77% of internet users regularly read blog posts, online content could be a focus while you’re at home. According to the statistics, it’s better to post longer (more comprehensive) content with less frequency than it is to put out shorter blogs more often (see image below). This is most likely due to the finding that articles with a word count over 2,500 tend to earn the most links. You can only produce as much content as you can but it is important to remember that consistency and staying front of mind is essential to business development. 95% of buyers buy from someone who gave them content at each stage of the Buyer’s Journey so when it comes to your business development strategy, think of this overall journey rather than just the sale.
8) Measure and monitor what you are doing
You may feel as if you are not making any progress, especially since everything is up in the air during this time, so that is why it’s so essential that you measure and monitor the impact of the activity you are doing. For example, are you making more beneficial connections with your social media efforts? Have you strengthened relationships or gotten more work from your existing clients specifically because you’ve touched base and reminded them of your availability? The more data and information you have about what looks like it’s working and what isn’t, the better informed decisions you can make about where to invest more of your time in the future. When it comes to business development strategies, measuring your success is essential to progress. Otherwise, how else are you going to improve if you don’t know what’s working?
Business development takes time (but it’s more than worth it!)
To get through this difficult time, you need to adapt your mindset (and your business development strategy) from winning new clients to focusing on building trust and relationships. After all, it is just as, if not more, important. As Seth Godin put it, “People don’t believe what you tell them. They rarely believe what you show them … They always believe what they tell themselves.” For this reason, you need to be consistent in your building your online presence and stay front of mind with your clients. It may be easy to shrug off business development; you may not want to do it, you don’t have the time or you are feeling a bit helpless, but it is important. If you are consistent with your business development efforts now and you do a little a day, that stomach-churning feeling will cease and you will start to see results. Imagine for a moment how that would feel.