More than a dozen years ago I stepped into my first business development meeting with a lawyer. When I asked this individual to describe his target market, the reply was something like “my ideal client is the next person that calls or walks into my office, needing help putting a business deal together.”

Translation: this lawyer was trusting the market would find him, and do so in sufficient number and at a frequency that would keep him busy.

He did good work, was part of a large firm, and this was, in his view, how a number of more senior partners in the firm had built their practices. What worked for them should work for him. Right?

But his plan wasn’t working. He was half-way through a slow year, had barely hit 20% of his projected budget, and had no idea where his next piece of work might come from.

This is the anatomy of the reactive approach to business development.

Why Do You Need A Network? Because Your Network Is Your Market

Every day far too many professional service providers face the same issue — not because of inferior work product or poor client service; but because their network is not large enough to sustain them.

Wherever this is the strategy for growth and business development, something akin to “just get our name out there” is often the familiar refrain heard by marketers.

But visibility is not the issue here.

My lawyer friend had a tough year. But as he focused on growing a relevant professional network, he became increasingly adept at developing business. Twenty-four months later he had a clear picture of his ideal target client.

This is where marketing and business development plans in legal (and other professional services) will do well to focus. Identifying, growing and cultivating a relevant and robust network of targets is the foundation of business development.

If this resonates, here’s where the process begins. Identify three categories of individuals.

  • Those able to hire you
  • Those able to introduce or refer you;
  • Those able to coach you…providing intel that strengthens other aspects of your network.

If you’re basically waiting for the market to find you, consider the upside of networking. Build relevant connections — through social media, events and one-on-one conversations, and any other available tools — and, whether you call it this or not, you’re executing a plan that will grow a network, and create a pipeline of future business.