The days when you could get to partnership as a brilliant technician are long gone… Even if you only work on very big-ticket items, to get to be a Magic Circle, Big Law, Big 4 partner or partner at a large firm you still need to have proved your ability to win work and be seen as someone who can build a client portfolio worth over £1m (if you are in the UK Big 4 firms, this is £2-3m). If you are in a mid-tier or smaller firm, your ability to win work probably has to be more evident to get to partner than if you are in a Magic Circle, Big Law or Big 4 firm.  This means you need to have effective business development strategies in place – or risk wasting large amounts of time on business development activities or tactics which go nowhere or give you a poor rate of return.

Effective Business Development Strategies: Avoid these 7 deadly business development mistakes

Long story short, you need to have effective business development strategies in place! In our work with potential partners and successful junior partners, we find that these 7 deadly business development mistakes occur time and time again. If you are making any of these 7 mistakes you will be slowing your progression to partnership.

Mistake 1: Neglecting your network

This is probably the biggest mistake that any professional makes with business development. Although your network will provide you with your first leads and clients, they won’t start sending referrals after meeting you once at a networking event. Typically, there will have been a lengthy relationship in place BEFORE anyone will send you a referral. These lengthy relationships are often started when you studied with them at university or when you were trainees together. 

If you are not making time for your network when you are a qualified or associate, then you are storing up some huge business development problems for later. Many professionals who have made partner have said that one of the most effective business development tactics is to grow and build your network as early as possible so don’t miss these opportunities.(Read Relationology: How your relationships will help you make partner)

Mistake 2: Focusing too much on client work

Yes, you heard me right, racking up high levels of chargeable hours may actually be hindering you from making partner! Whilst that may not make complete sense, let me explain. What got you to manager and senior manager will not get you to director or what got you to associate will not get you to senior associate or salaried partner. Typically the difference between those in a senior manager and a director role (or associate and senior associate role for the lawyers out there) will be the level to which they are bringing in business to the firm.

If you solely focus on chargeable work to the detriment of business development, then you run the risk of making this business development mistake. This is a mistake because too much client work is stopping you from actively networking, spending time with introducers, and bringing new business into the firm, all things of which are absolutely essential if you want to make partner. This may be one of the reasons why it is pretty damn tough to make it as a partner at a city law firm or big law firm. After all, if you have to bill 7-8 hours of chargeable work each day, when do you get the time to do the non-chargeable business development stuff that will actually help you to make partner?

Mistake 3: Becoming a ‘mini-me’ of an existing partner

If you want to build your own client portfolio, then you need a compelling reason for others internally and externally within the firm to give you the referral. If you end up being a ‘mini-me’ of the partners in your department, who is going to get the referral? You or them? Them, of course!

One of the risks of becoming a ‘mini-me’ of an existing partner is that you start to lose your authentic self. At the end of the day, people buy from people. Any inauthenticity will impact on your ability to form these relationships. Therefore, try to only be one person – you.

When it comes to effective business development strategies, a very important element of your strategy should be to develop your own strong personal brand that’s memorable. This means finding your niche and becoming the go-to expert!

Mistake 4: ‘we-ing’ all over a proposal or tender

Having read several unsuccessful proposals and tender documents recently, a common theme is how unclient-centric the proposal is. Very often, a proposal or tender tends to overly focus on ‘we’, ‘our’, ‘us’, rather than the specific client needs you will be solving for them. If you are going to win the client in a tender, then making sure your proposals and pitches are written and delivered in a client-centric way is essential. 

For example:

  • How near to the front of the pitch or proposal are you telling your prospective client ‘about us?’
  • Is your proposal/pitch talking about features rather than real benefits for the prospective client?

Mistake 5: Chasing the wrong type of leads

When you are finding it hard to generate any kind of leads, then any lead generated is a relief and feels like a success. However, generating and progressing the wrong type of leads can be incredibly dangerous to your business development activities and results. 

For example, not converting the right type of clients often wastes your time, wastes others times, and gets you on the wrong side of your marketing and business development team. Winning the wrong type of clients lessens your profitability and team’s recoverability/chargeability. It also ties you up, preventing you from going out and spending time focusing on winning the right type of client.

Effective business development strategies should include researching and qualifying your leads before you spend time trying to convert them. We have a few blogs on this to help you find the right clients:

Business Development Clinic: How do I qualify a lead?

How to convert a prospect into a warm, pre-qualified lead who is ready to buy from you?

The 3 most likely reasons why your leads are not converting

Mistake 6: Ineffective key client account management

Time after time after time, we see this business development mistake happening. Whether or not the often-quoted statistic is actually true, it is 7-14 times easier to win business from an existing client. From our own experience, we are not disputing this fact! However, if you don’t spend time with your clients outside of the engagement or assignment, is it any wonder that you are failing to win more work from your existing clients?

The key to eliminating this mistake is using relationship plans for your key clients and contacts. Download now a tried and tested relationship plan template to ensure your client portfolio grows through the time you spend with your current clients. (Find out what should go in your relationship plan?).

Mistake 7: Trying to be all things to all people

When you were a junior, your aim was to be as technically able as possible. This meant you were more likely to be picked for jobs and be in demand on the planning board. Unfortunately, the same logic does not work at manager, senior associate, director or partner level. If you try and be all things to all people, you will become too much of a generalist. Consequently, it will be hard to justify your charge-out rate to clients because of a lack of a specialism (be it sector or technical specialism).

This is why, as you move up the ranks, you need to be thinking about effective business development tactics such as finding your niche as early as possible. Clients want to work with an advisor who truly understands their world, business, marketplace and challenges. Whilst 80% of all client challenges are non-sector specific, it’s this knowledge of the 20% which will get you continually hired by clients and referred by others. Can you afford not to be a specialist?

Avoid these BIG business development mistakes

If you avoid these mistakes that prevent many professionals from making partner then you can’t go far wrong when progressing through the partnership track. To make it to the top, you need effective business development strategies and tactics in place as early as possible to help you get there.

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