It creeps into consciousness sometime in mid-to-late September. By mid-November, partners in firms everywhere are feeling either personal or institutional pressure (or both) to come up with a business development plan for the coming year.

If you’re in the midst of this planning, you’ve happened onto the fourth installment in a series on building a business development plan. The objective is to provide a real-world framework for planning that does more than go through motions that result in a document that is largely irrelevant, having no impact on either business development or the bottomline.

We’re outlining a proactive approach that leverages the resources you have — however robust or constrained — and provides a roadmap for effective and efficient efforts.

That’s an easy line to type. But this is not a suggestion that creating a plan that works is easy. It isn’t. Not because it is rocket science; but because it requires regular attention to a thought process and action items that are typically nowhere close to what most professional service provides would otherwise choose to be working on.

But with that disclaimer, it is emphatically doable. If you missed the early installments, here is where you’ll find Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Today’s installment — Part 4 — is about creating visibility.

This may feel like more comfortable ground. It is, after all, (unfortunately) where many marketing, business development and sales efforts tend to focus first — and where conversations tend to linger…in search of a silver bullet. It often begins with something like “we just need to get our name out there…”

The unspoken implication is that brand visibility would make the development of new business a breeze. Or at least easier.

As ineffective as it is, the conversation is irresistible. We have scores of tools at our fingertips. Place the right ads, sponsor all the big events, have the best tag line, and then…when the market needs what we offer…we’ll be the logical choice.

But We’re Not Apple. And We’re Not Selling Phones

Don’t get me wrong. When it comes to creating awareness, there is little doubt about the effectiveness of broad-casting — spreading the word far and wide, via any means available. The only trick is that in order to be effective this plan requires time (for repeated messaging) and the budget necessary to carve out shelf space in the consciousness of potential clients — enough space to be top-of-mind when a potential client needs the service you provide.

For firms located in a mid-sized market, the budget for this kind of visibility will run well into seven figures annually; and one year won’t create the ever-present-awareness necessary, so be prepared to make this investment year after year. Firms competing in a major market (or multiple markets) should be thinking in terms of multiples of that seven figure budget..

No problem if you’re 1) working with an Apple-like budget; 2) already enjoy measurable brand recognition; and 3) are selling a commodity.

Most professional service firms — probably including yours — are not willing or are not in a position to make the kind of budget commitment necessary to create a dent in the visibility universe.

So if shouting from the rooftops isn’t the answer, how do we address the need for visibility when it comes to the marketing and business development challenge in a highly competitive marketplace?

Cue The Broken Record

The good news is that we’ve already covered the basic building block when it comes to addressing the challenge of visibility. In Part 2 of this series we dealt with what lies at the heart of an effective approach — the strategic selection of specific targets. This can prove to be a problem for a number of reasons. For starters, it is in stark contrast to the approach that says “my-ideal-client-is-anyone-who-needs-the-service-I-provide — so let’s just get the word out.”

Anyone still clinging to this as a viable go-to-market methodology will continue to be frustrated by (or scoff at) strategic business development planning conversations. If you are unable to name specific targets, you are operating in a reactive arena…hoping the market brings you an opportunity.

On the other hand, it is completely possible to create awareness and visibility among the targets you’ve identified.

  • Wondering what organizations to join and what meetings to attend? Find out where the targets you’ve named hang out. (And while we’re on the subject of attending meetings, conferences, and the like, differentiating yourself from every other professional trying to create visibility requires more than just showing up. Do the advance work necessary to reach out to targets you know or suspect might be in attendance. Schedule coffee, lunch or just a quick base-touch. And then keep the conversation going with appropriate follow up.) Focus on targeted visibility.
  • What about content marketing — is writing a waste of time, or is another article worth the investment? Should you author a blog? Do a podcast? Host or sponsor a Continuing Education / Professional Development event? Begin by considering two questions. 1) does it give me a way to directly connect to one of my targets? 2) If not, is it connected to something one of my targets cares about? If the answer to either of these is ‘yes,’ ask one additional question before you dive in — is this something every other service provider in the market is focusing on? If ‘yes’, look for another way create visibility. (A strategic plan helps you know when to say ‘no.’)
  • When it comes time to weigh requests for support, we recognize that business development is not the only factor here; but to the degree that it is a consideration, create visibility by supporting and getting involved in organizations and causes that are important to your target. (And be certain they are aware of your involvement.)
  • And what about social media? Do Linked In, Twitter, Facebook and all the rest play a role when it comes to creating visibility? The test is the same — can the tool be used to establish visibility that accrues to your benefit? Wherever the answer to this question is ‘yes,’ the use of social media should be explored. But note that social media is most effective when used as an engagement tool. Simply building a firm page on Linked In hardly qualifies as engaging or strategic visibility. Social media is a venue for conversations.

A quick sidebar. Do you have access to a team of BD or administrative professionals? They are looking for ways to assist. Engage them in this planning process — they live for this stuff, and will help you leverage your resources.

The list of ways in which you can begin to create meaningful visibility is only limited by the degree to which you’re willing to creatively pursue opportunities to connect with targets.

Where To From Here?

The next step is to go back to your list of strategic targets, and begin creating a visibility strategy for each one. (If your target list is large, cherry-pick the top six to nine for starters.)

As you focus on each target you’ll begin to develop a menu of visibility action items. Be alert to ways to generate leverage across multiple targets on your list, as well as with targets of your practice/industry group, office and across your entire firm.

The makeup of the visibility portion of your overall plan will depend on a number of factors, including the maturity of your professional network, the nature of your practice, and the degree to which you are able to tap into a group/team approach. That said, an effective effort to create visibility and awareness will typically include a focus on content marketing (articles, blogs, speeches, CLE, website features, etc.), personal appearances (attending conferences and network events), and firm-or-practice-wide targeted events.

When it comes to getting your name out there, the fact of today’s market is that it is highly unlikely you can become known by and relevant to everyone. However, for everyone able to identify sweet-spot targets — the select few whose service needs will change the shape of your practice overnight — it is completely possible to create a business development plan for the new year that creates visibility, awareness, and connects with decision makers.