At this time of year, many professionals find it hard to get back into business development. And that’s understandable. The holiday period is well and truly over, the kids are back at school, the serious work has started in earnest and billing has returned to being the number one priority.
But, as I’ve noted before if you’re a lawyer, accountant, engineer, architect or other professional and you want your business development efforts to yield the best results, you shouldn’t be turning them off and on all the time. They should always be there, running in the background, keeping up the interest in your services so you always have a pipeline of work and the chance to really grow your practice the way you want.
So if you’re finding it hard to get back in the swing of things, here are 6 tips to help you ignite the spark that will start your BD engine again.
1. Have a drink with someone
Business development isn’t something you can do alone. The best tips, intelligence and advice - as well as the work - will always come from someone else. So if you’re always head down and tail up at your desk just billing away, you’re not going to get anywhere. You need to get out from behind the screen and speak to people to remind them you exist.
So pick up your phone now and ask someone if they’d like to go for a coffee (or something stronger). It could be a client, a referrer or even a colleague. Don’t sell, just shoot the breeze with them and let them know about the kind of work you’re doing. But, more importantly, ask them about themselves.
And then, when you’ve had your first informal chat, promptly organise another, then another so that you’re having coffee with someone at least every couple of weeks.
You’ll find it soon becomes second nature and that in no time at all you’ll have a consistent process in place.
2. Start your client feedback
If calling a client out of the blue isn’t your style, why not start getting back into the BD swing with a good bout of client intelligence? This will give you a formal framework to start having conversations as well as some of the very best information you can possibly have when it comes to BD.
When you do start calling clients to set up meetings though, begin with a few of your friendlies - the kinds of clients who you know will have positive things to say. Don’t throw yourself into the deep end and begin with the ones you know (or think) you’ve disappointed. Their feedback is likely to send you back into your shell, or at least back to your desk. Besides, I think the best feedback often comes from understanding what you’re doing right, just as much as what you’re doing wrong.
You can read more about setting up a simple client listening program here.
3. Do a CPD unit (and get someone to come along)
One of the biggest crimes for any professional is when they leave their CPD to the last minute. It almost always leads to the day before the deadline being spent sitting through a whole block of seminars they’re not interested in (or worse still, a big block of online units they’re not interested in).
Instead, I’d encourage you to see CPD as the perfect excuse to build your skills at a subsidised rate - or even free if your employer’s paying.
So choose a CPD event that will actually help you build your practice and invite someone to come with you - preferably a referral source or colleague (or better still if they’re one and the same).
Or, if you’re feeling really bold, why not put on a CPD seminar yourself, and invite your peers, colleagues and clients to it?
4. Get your next blog out
If you're going to be an expert in a field you need to publish. And it’s never, ever been easier to publish in the entirety of history. And yet you’d be surprised how few professionals blog regularly. Fewer still do it well.
If you’re not blogging as a professional, you’re missing a trick. You’re also probably letting one of your rivals hog the airwaves and become better known for what you do, at your expense.
So set aside a few hours and bang out your first article for the year. If you don’t know what to write about think of a question you keep getting asked or something interesting that’s happened in your field. Tell people why it matters and what they need to know about it and then get it published on your firm website.
That will give you something to send to clients too, which should of itself spark a few conversations and remind people that you’re out there.
Read my tips on how to write better articles here.
5. Get all Marie Kondo
If last year left you feeling a bit burnt out when it comes to BD, it’s time to start afresh. Think about what pleases you in your work and how you can get more of that. And then think about what displeases you (including the clients) and work out how to get rid of that part of your practice.
While you’re at it, shake up your schedule and start to do things a different way around. For instance, pick 30 minutes of the day where you call people to check in on what’s happening. Swap around the time of day you answer emails or even when you have lunch. Put aside 30 minutes or an hour every day for a bit of exercise.
A change in choosing what you do and when can lift productivity. In fact, studies even show that swapping the furniture around or assigning new seats to people can lead to tangible benefits, including making people happy and more work getting done. And when you’re happy and productive, you’re more likely to be better at BD too.
6. Recheck your financials
This time of year it’s always beneficial to take a look over what’s been happening the past little while. In fact, given that the Australian Financial Year ends on 30 June, I think you should now know pretty much exactly how your year is going to pan out and even have billed for 80 per cent of it.
So pull up the spreadsheet of who you’ve billed and what you’ve billed for and see if there are any surprises. (If you really want to take in his information then print out the list and take a highlighter to it). Is there something that’s been particularly profitable you weren’t previously aware of? Or perhaps there’s something that you’ve invested a lot of time in that hasn’t been profitable at all?
BD always works best when it’s based on data. So whatever you find, use these numbers to inform the next steps you’ll take. Work out how you’re going to find more of that lucrative stuff and how you can get rid of the work (and the clients) that don’t pay - or even better, how you can make it pay.
After all, business development is analysing where you’re at and refining your practices to make it better - just as much as it is about getting out there and rattling the cans.
Getting going again from some off business development always takes a bit of effort - not least because it takes a shift in mindset from doing, doing, doing to lifting up your head and planning what might be. But you’ll find once you’ve taken the first step, the second one comes more easily and if you keep going and keep up the hustle in no time at all, you’ll be up and running again.