We’ve said it before — business development will never be mistaken for rocket science. It isn’t even Algebra I…unless you employ the most basic of formulas — Success = X + Y.

But this isn’t to suggest it is easy.

Strategic business development requires a combination of factors: focus; tasks and activities that are difficult for some; tenacity; and time. And this combination — the “X and Y” if you want to be scientific about it — can prove problematic in many professional service environments, particularly when intense attention is given to the issue only when business is slow — and there is an expectation for results now.

Even so, consultant-speak notwithstanding, business development is not complex. Yet, aside from exceptions that tend to prove the point, many in the professional services sector struggle mightily to formalize a strategy that generates organic growth.

To clarify, this is not a conversation about growth by way of M&A activity; much less, the manipulation of pricing. While these can mask the absence of organic progress (as well as other issues) for a season, that is a separate conversation.

This is about actually generating new work for a practice or a firm that aligns with present capabilities. Strategic organic growth delivers increased revenue, an improved profit margin, and often a measure of cultural stability.

So what does it take to achieve organic business development success?

Let’s stipulate that there are no cookie-cutters. One size never fits every situation, challenge or opportunity; but with that said, it has been my experience that anyone wrestling with where to begin when it comes to developing a practice suffers from at least one of two issues.

  • A network that is too small or anemic;
  • A shortage (or absence) of strategic targets.

Addressing The Network Dilemma

If you have a distaste for what you believe networking means, try to suspend preconceived notions for a moment. Consider that a network is essential because this is your connection to the marketplace, and the mechanism that pushes work your way. The more strategic and robust your network, the more consistent the flow of work.

A professional network can be put together in a number of ways. Good ones consist of multiple types of connections, and are both diverse, and large enough to put you in touch with numerous sectors of a market. The right connections create a pipeline of referrals, recommendations, market intelligence, and of course, contact with individuals making hiring decisions.

Translation — your network is what actually puts you in the right place at the right time to take full advantage of opportunities.

The problem is that networks are about relationships. This is where we bump head-first into the challenge.

While none of us are afraid of the requisite work, it is a rare strategy that defines an investment of time. Pesky realities like hourly quotas, quarterly reports and annual budgets tend to take precedent over the time necessary for organic greowth — nevermind having to juggle work you may already have on your desk. And business development initiatives tend to get buried under other priorities.

Without exception, successful business development plans meet this challenge by doing three things:

  1. Leverage time and business development resources by identifying the right relationships in which to invest. This means knowing where your target market hangs out, what they read, what they care about, and what they invest time in — and this knowledge becomes your roadmap for where to speak, what to write about, what organizations to join, and where to lend your support.
  2. Create sustained visibilitiy in pursuit of dialogue. The oft overlooked focus here is the word sustained — one-off or infrequent visibility is of little value. And if your efforts don’t point toward dialogue, you’re not on the path to relationship.
  3. Find multiple ways to deliver value (as defined by the target). The richer the dialogue (see #2), the easier you’ll find it to identify what your target values. Delivering real value is the single surest way to differentiate your efforts from those of the competition, and expedite the creation of a relationship.

Where To From Here?

Step one is to take stock of your network — your contact database, those business cards scattered in your desk drawer, the roster of attendees at that last association meeting you attended.

To what degree do the business development activities in which you’re investing actually connect you to a cross section of your target market?

If anemic, the task is to invest in growth. (You should always have an eye on opportunities to expand your connections to your market.) If large and diverse, the first phase of your plan is to identify the specific ways you can create visibility, deliver value, and instigate dialogue.

The relationships that spring from a healthy network are going to help you identify a handful of strategic pursuit targets. And we’ll focus on this second essential element next week.