I’m sure we’ve all been in that stomach-churning position of wondering just exactly where our next new decent client is coming from, especially if we’ve recently taken a leap of faith to start winning our own clients. It’s truly gut-wrenching, particularly when you’ve been actively getting your name out there and supposedly doing the right things. To help you not feel so lost, I’m sharing my top 9 tips that make up a sound business development strategy, one which has helped my clients and I personally keep the faith that we are doing the right things with our business development efforts.
1. Consistency is key
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. With that being said, as long as you are working away at doing the right things (and more experienced business developers than you have confirmed that you are), don’t panic, it will happen for you. 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.
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 out 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.
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. 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. The key is staying front of mind with your existing clients.
5. Stick to the plan (or make a plan!)
Very often people fail to get decent or any results for their business development activities because they fail to work to a plan. It is all too easy to turn up to a networking event ‘on spec’ or arrange 1:2:1’s with your ‘safe’ contacts and fool yourself that you are doing your business development because you are doing something. 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.
8. Get to know the seasonal patterns.
Every January and early February I used to have a huge lull in new business leads. For the first few years that this happened, I would get very anxious. Then I learnt that this was a seasonal pattern and I should be aware of this and react accordingly. Think about your ideal client and identify when they are unlikely to be reaching out for your assistance. Of course, there are no hard and fast rules with this. After observing this, however, I now know that I am unlikely to be starting a big client project in August or the middle of December so I plan to take time out in these periods of the year.
9. Measure and monitor what you are doing
You may feel as if you are not making any progress, especially if you haven’t started getting leads through the door yet, so during this time it’s important that you measure and monitor the impact of the activity you are doing. For example, are you meeting more introducers by taking an active role in a young professionals group? 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!)
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 just prioritising other things, but it is important. Remember that stomach-churning feeling we were talking about at the beginning of the article? If you are consistent with your business development efforts and you do a little a day, when you lose a client or you finally take that leap to start winning your own, you may find that you know exactly where that next client is coming from. Imagine for a moment how that would feel.