Two things are often true of professional service providers wrestling with how to build a practice, and we discuss both frequently:

  • an anemic network — which translates to a severe shortage of connections that can either hire you, or refer and introduce you to the folks in a position to do the hiring; and,
  • the absence of strategic targets — which makes it difficult to leverage resources (including a network of valued connections) and mount a productive pursuit.

If your’re finding it difficult to identify a quality target, your network isn’t doing what it should do; that is, produce opportunities. If this is the case, this is where you should focus first — in order to create a pipeline of work. You’re invited to check here and here for fodder.

This post is about the next big stumbling block for many — how to identify targets for strategic business development pursuits.

It begins by making yourself consistently valuable to your network. Here are 4 on how to approach this.

  1. Become a connector — providing introductions, references, referrals and recommendations to others in your network (and think personal as well as professional). Many in your network value this more than almost anything else you might deliver. Become known as a connector, and you’ll find your network connecting you to conduits for business.
  2. Share your expertise versus simply talking about it. Ofine an easy place to begin is to stage CLE events, and produce timely seminars and blog posts that deliver thought leadership, analysis and insight.
  3. Become a curator — accumulate and share content that is important and relevant to your network…including content from sources other than you or your firm. This level of communication has the added benefit of demonstrating that you have a broad awareness of your target’s business.
  4. Communicate with regularity — and if this seems a bit repetitive it is because regular communication is central to the development of quality relationships — the kind that result in referrals, recommendations and work. Your plan of action should include a communications calendar that specifies a touch point every six to eight weeks in most cases.

These are just ideas. There are no cookie-cutters. Be aware of what your target cares about. Remember that effective business development is about building quality relationships. Delivering real value to your network is the most eloquent marketing message there is, creating visibility with staying power.

Become valueable enough to the right kind of network, and over time some prospects will begin to self-identify. But what are the keys to proactive identification of those you want to pursue?

Here are 5 suggested criteria that can help you prioritize, and build a target list that maximizes your efforts.

  1. Consider where your subject matter expertise aligns with the business drivers of a target. If alignment (or the lack thereof) isn’t clear, dig a little deeper. Identify business drivers and making a relevant and productive presentation or pitch becomes much less challenging.
  2. Do you have a relationship with the decision-maker? All other things being equal, investing where you have a direct relationship with an individual empowered to hire you should take high priority;
  3. Consider the arithmetic. Do enough homework to know the rate, project costs and timeline of working with a target will not end up being an issue when your pursuit is successful.
  4. Where do you have allied and extended relationships. Draft a relationship map that shows all known connections between you/your firm, others in your network, your target’s organization, and the decision maker. Targets should increase in priority where you possess strong connections closer to the decision-maker.
  5. Do you have a personal affinity for the work done by any of your targets? Work that touches on areas you care about will almost always help make a pursuit more organic.

Smart targeting will have dramatic impact on the marketing and business development plan you create. It helps you select what events to attend and which ones to pass up; when a speaking engagement fits as a development tactic; what to write about; when to say no to “opportunities;” and where to invest resources.

Smart targeting — as difficult and uncomfortable as it may be at times — is the key into map the shortest distance between where you are today, and the existence of a pipeline that will deliver opportunities over the long haul.