– Part 1 of a 2-Part Series –
In my 32 years as an associate and partner in two big international law firms and always keen on business development I have found many reasons why certain business development activities work – and others do not work. More importantly, I have found plenty of reasons that keep people from becoming successful business developers or even rainmakers.
Your review of the list of 10 common mistakes below ( and another 10 in a subsequent article) should at least cause awareness of where to improve, change habits, be more motivated, change mindsets, get training or seek the help that you deserve within your firm or from outside sources like a coach or mentor.
As I have managed to avoid, correct or overcome all these mistakes, challenges and obstacles (often by trial and error), I have eventually become a rainmaker. And since I have started my coaching business about 12 months ago I observe the same issues across an even larger spectrum of different law firms, service providers and professionals of all seniority levels. So, all 20 common mist and the solutions proposed have been tested, proven and reflect best practices for excellent business developers.
And please be assured that the common mistakes I will discuss below (and in the subsequent article of this 2–part series) can be dealt with and overcome.
The 20 topics discussed are the most common and obvious reasons that hinder you from being the successful business developer that you could and should be and that you certainly have the potential to become.
And taking them into account and applying the solutions proposed may also serve as a business developer job description and practical guidance for your bright future in your professional environment.
How do I know that you have the potential to become a successful business developer, you may ask?
Because you have taken the very first step by searching the internet for help and advice and are willing to look into articles like this one.
Welcome to the journey!
Lacking key capabilities
There are number of quite basic but essential reasons, which may limit a business developer’s success:
1. Lack of know-how
Many service providers have never properly learned what effective and efficient business development is all about. And they have never been encouraged to be business developers – i.e.to go out to the market and attract new clients to themselves, their team or their firm. They may have been trained in the details of their profession – whether as a lawyer, accountant, tax adviser or business consultant – but that training never comprised the skills and know-how required for a good business developer.
Many, at most, get involved in doing a presentation at their firm’s in-house event or are challenged to build a network from which instructions should follow.
But in-house presentations are not necessarily the most effective means of personal business development, because many of the attendees (in the worst possible circumstances even all of them) are already clients of the firm anyway; and in my experience, they will either instruct the firm anyway, or rather use your event simply as a training opportunity offered free of charge.
Similarly, building a network sounds easier than it is done. In particular, just any number of contacts may have any kind of work for the firm but not necessarily for your speciality or niche. Therefore, building a network specifically in the chosen field of speciality is far more effective.
My current personal summary of proven business development tools and possible initiatives lists 40 of them. But before applying any of them, find out where you really want to go with your business and what strategies you prefer and fit to your personality.
Find out about your preferences as a business developer as much as you can, develop a vision and strategy ( see below under 3. for details) and start applying what you learn directly or in variations.
Here are a few hinters for starting:
- Seek out colleagues or teams within your organisation that are active and fruitful in business development and learn from them about the many different ways of successful business development.Check out how they enter new markets, generate new opportunities identify their target audience for speeches or presentations or conferences or trade fairs to attend, approach new clients ( including cold calling ?), which skills they have and employ, and what generally comprises a good business developer’s job.
- Alternatively, read up on it as much as you can – for instance on this webpage. In particular, in order to start gaining know-how, please have a look at my three articles Business Development Strategy, Implementing Business Development and Business Development Challenges
- Ask in your firm for good training – for instance the HR or Marketing/Business Development departments or at Managing Partner level.
- Consider or find out how your firm’s business development team can help. Let them share with you what makes a good business developer.
- Last, not least, seek the coaching of a professional specialist. He will have more time for you individually than most colleagues or partners in your firm.Also, if your firm does not provide adequate training opportunities, seek the help of a coach individually. This means financial investment in your future but the rewards will be plenty of new business opportunities and many prospective clients, long-term value and the advance of your career.
2. Lack of practice
Many professionals, entire teams or even the whole firm simply are not used to any form of continuous and consistent business development. There is no understanding or emphasis that everyone is or should be a business developer and be involved in promoting and marketing him or herself. In other words, there is no culture of business development.
The reasons therefore may vary but often it simply was not necessary in the past, or the partner did it all by him or herself and never empowered their team members to start their own business development efforts.
The result is a lack of experience of what works and what does not work in acquiring new business generally or for the individual person; there are lots of missed opportunities for “trial and error”, “research and development” regarding different business development activities or simply gaining experience in it. Ultimately the business developer’s skill set has not been developed at the individual or even corporate level.
All of the reasons have limited the freedom of trying different methods, have confined creativity in inventing new approaches and have hindered self-promotion ( in a good sense) and marketing as well as the ability to learn; or have limited the awareness of new business opportunities and how to seize them.
Practice comes from doing.
- Just start by initially thinking/brainstorming about possible initiatives to promote yourself or your team and your expertise and experience in the market.
- Dare to implement your ideas and simply start putting your skills into practice. Become your own business management executive.
- Explore all business opportunities as and when they arise; for instance, when prospective clients approach you, your partner or the firm and invite you to lunch; when you are asked to give a presentation, deliver a free workshop or pitch for a project or join a panel (to name a few) – make sure you get involved and practice! Don’t avoid these opportunities to train and learn because they may spoil your evening or weekend.
- Undertake market research regarding your fields of interest, seek the help of the business development team, explore the potential of entering new markets or offering new services and form views as to which business strategy and skills would be helpful to generate good business.
3. Lack of vision and strategy (and no related personal brand)
Business development can run wild without any focus, strategy or vision. This usually happens when professionals simply attempt to win any new business or enter new markets, address different potential clients or various target groups without any deeper thought or concept or without any clear picture of what they want to achieve with their business development.
Any networking attempts may bear fruit in that ultimately some new work is generated but you will never create a reputation as a leading professional in your field, a thought leader and a person, team or firm „to go to“ for particular issues. And accordingly, you will not be known in your own firm as a good business developer.
The reason is very simple: you do not perceive yourself as a market leader, as a thought leader or as the specialist to go to; and you may not have the ambition to become one and be perceived accordingly. You simply lack a vision for your future and for what you want to become and be. Therefore, your marketing, your branding and your business development will not be drawn up and your skills as a business developer applied to highlight the relevant features of your expertise and experience.
You will not become what you do not have a vision for; you will not realise your full potential if you do not see your own potential and promote it or have the vision to realise it to the fullest
Even if there is an existing considerable practice and client base, if that is meant to grow, vision and a strategy as to what you want to achieve are highly recommendable. This does not mean that you limit yourself necessarily only to clients and instructions within your chosen business development scope – you of course carry on serving all of your existing clients and do any new work for which you have the required skills. However, your business development efforts are focused according to your vision for the expansion and growth of your preferred business. That will make you a good business developer.
Develop a vision! For without a vision you may perish or your business development efforts may be in vain.
So what are the key features for building a vision for your future business development efforts?
- The will to grow your business
The willingness to personally invest in business development and your personal branding needs to exist. Even pressure from your firm’s management may be a good reason for your motivation to undertake business development and growing your business.In contrast, not everyone has the will to grow one’s business. Some are happy with what they have or there are other reasons why more is not what they want.
- The right kind of network
Be keen to build a network of contacts and clients that are actually in the position to instruct you and give you work or will likely reach that position in future. The focus on such decision-makers is essential in order to connect with or build and maintain relationships with the right kind of people who will instruct you. Building that kind of network (and not just any network) is a part of the key skills of a proficient business developer.
- Lucrative Work
Choose an area of your profession for your focus and specialisation, which will generate enough demand for your services by clients who are able and willing to pay for your expertise and advice.It makes no sense to be the utmost specialist in a niche area for which there is not enough demand to build a full practice on and make a living from. Or which is not paid well.
- Enjoy your chosen area of work and specialisation
Consider which area of law, which area of tax, which area of accountancy or which area for business consultancy you enjoy and would like to carry on working in more and more in the future.
What would likely make a particular area of your profession enjoyable? A personal affinity to the kind of work that you want to focus on, an appreciation of the mentality and culture of the people working in your preferred area of specialisation, a real and authentic interest in your chosen field( to name a few criteria).
- Personal Brand Building
Be determined to build a personal brand and reputation as a market leader in the chosen area.
Are you able to do that?
Most likely you are, because anybody can attain such a reputation and status if there is enough focus on and specialisation in the particular chosen field.
However, it may be far easier in a new area of law or regulation that just emerges due to new legislation or regulations. And it may also be easier in an industry sector or even only in part of an industry sector that is disrupted by new technology. Because for these areas there is a level playing field for both the newcomers like yourself and those who have been involved in a sector or in a (legal) area generally for a long time; in these new areas suddenly everyone starts from scratch and past experience and skills are non-existent and do not give a competitive advantage (as they do in long established areas). Renewables and renewable energy legislation are good examples – when they came up, even the most seasoned energy lawyers had no longer any relevant know-how and competitive advantage.
- Never too young
You are never too young to form a vision. Visions can develop over time. So never have the mindset of just being a “junior business developer” to whom most of what I share here does not apply.On the contrary – the earlier you start, the better you will get at the business developer’s job. And learning the secrets of a good business developer should be part of your career path anyway. If you are questioned about your youth, you simply refer to those whom you work closely with. But your interpersonal skills and networking may well be enough to solicit new opportunities. Creating proposals is an art that cannot be practiced too early.
In summary, your vision should be able to answer all queries in the following sentence:
“In which industry or in which area of expertise (legal, tax, accountancy or other) do you see a need for advice that will be paid well and for which you have a passion and enjoy dealing with and advising on?”
Business developers succeed if they have created and pursue a vision for whose implementation they have formed a great strategy.
Once the vision is formed it needs to be undergirded by a strategy for its implementation. The strategy sets out the broad lines along which you will take the necessary steps to make the vision become real. The strategy should focus on the business development tools and methods for which you have personal preferences and which you find easy or comfortable to implement and pursue. The strategy is like a business developer job description
Even though I currently probably have a list of 40 different ways of going about effective and efficient business development, these 40 items can probably be broken down and summarised under 15 major headings.
It is these 15 major approaches and ways forward that you need to assess and evaluate as to whether you want to invest time, energy and effort into any of them for building or growing your book of business.
To give you an example: if you think that social media is something at which you excel and which will causes you to generate connections and clients, then it is your primary strategic decision to focus – hopefully among other means and tools – on social media. But whether you pursue LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram or even TikTok is a secondary strategic decision. Once you have chosen one or more of these social media the weekly or monthly goal is to be really active on them in a useful way for the implementation of your vision and its underlying strategy or strategies.
4. Lack of Specialisation and its convincing communication
Increasingly clients want the expert for every issue they need advice on. In the legal field, this can probably also be tracked back to the increasing number of general counsels who have previously spent time in big national or international law firms and who are used to very sophisticated and detailed specialisations. And accordingly, they choose the lawyers that are most specialised. Clients have also become more and more sophisticated in researching the specialisation of potential service providers on the Internet and through social media for any given assignment. The advancement of legal operations for instance shows the willingness to engage and the need to manage an ever-increasing number of law firms with very diverse specialisations or rather teams of specialists.
Against this background it appears that many law firm profiles of lawyers are either far too general or far too detailed – in the latter case listing everything that the relevant attorney has ever advised on once in a lifetime. Either way, the potential clients will get only the impression of good general practitioners and not of experts in a particular field. This ties in with the fact that the attention span to reviewing profiles on the Internet or anywhere is decreasing all the time.
So the challenge is twofold: what is this specialisation and how is it communicated?
The specialisation is ideally based on an express vision and has been built intentionally and continuously over time.
You may never have expressly stated to yourself the vision for your business development efforts, but if you have gained experience in a particular industry or area of (legal, tax, accountancy or other) expertise and you feel comfortable in pursuing that, this is probably your implied vision.
Either way, your chosen field of specialisation and the related expertise, ability, experience (“street credibility”), passion and thought leadership would need to be clearly defined for written and verbal communication. For instance, it should be easily and clearly notable to anyone glancing at your profile on the Internet or LinkedIn (or any other business network). The same applies to pitch documents and your profiles in them or any other documents for promotional purposes.
Working on one’s communication skills to make new clients aware of what one stands for and has to offer is a key skill of any good business developer.
Part of being a good business developer is to remain visible by highlighting your experience, expertise and specialisation time and again.
Marketing your services and the markets your are active is always part of a business developer’s job. The question only is how much of that is delegated to the firm’s marketing department. But even then it is your job to ensure that the marketing benefiting you and your team’s achievements and capabilities is done.
5. Lack of creativity
Many professionals are not normally associated with great creativity. This will likely relate to lawyers, accountants, and tax advisers. Their profession as well as their professional personalities are often perceived as dry and boring. In contrast, creative people are often assumed to be flamboyant, exciting, fun and lively. These stereotypes are neither helpful nor true.
The truth is, that the services all these professionals offer are highly creative – just in a way which differs from creativity as generally perceived in culture or society, i.e.as the key feature of artists or musicians.Drafting a contract (or even developing one from scratch) as well as reviewing one, is highly creative. Setting up the accounts and the balance sheet of a company, likewise (in a good professional sense).
However, even many professionals would not perceive themselves as creative. And this perceived lack of creativity may well limit their growth mindset (for details please see my Article Business Mindset on this Webpage) and their phantasy in inventing new business development ideas and strategies or branching out from their chosen speciality into a related field.
Be more creative in your business development plans and strategies. Maybe even dare to be greatly creative in devising and implementing new ideas of promoting and marketing your team and yourself.
Boldly try what no one has done before.
Thinking creatively does not mean making things more complicated – it can actually simplify the development of a business development strategy significantly.
Employing creativity in business development means thinking out of the box, allowing one’s phantasy to go wild as to the various tools of effective business development and their application to the particular industry or legal area to be developed and grown.
Perhaps even look at what others do and have the courage to expand on it, develop it further, improve it and make it fit for you and your target clients.
Have the mindset of research and development and even trial and error for at least some of your activities. Then you will be an innovative business developer.
6. Lack of priorities and routines
The more senior one becomes in an organisation, the more responsibilities arise. Consequently, it becomes more and more challenging to juggle all the different requirements the firm, its employees and the clients or customers demand from you. Conversely, as a junior to mid-level employee or executive, there is so much to learn on the business side (the law and provision of legal advice, accountancy rules; tax issues; the consultancy work for which you are hired) that business development is the least thing on your mind.
Typically, in all these cases priorities need to be adjusted, time management improved and probably also client management inaugurated or significantly improved.
Nothing should keep you from doing business development regularly, permanently, consistently and with intentionality, tenacity and excellence ( for details on the latter three see below at 8.).
- Setting aside time for business development on a regular basis should always be a top priority. If that is not possible for you naturally or automatically because that is not your personality or you have never learned it before – now is the time for it. Get the required skills by all means – good business developers have and apply them well.
- Develop routines for actually doing business development ( see more details on building routines in my Article “Creating Routines for Successful Business Development”). Routines will help to improve your time management ( and therefore improve yourself).What is often missing is the good habit or routine of regularly and almost naturally, i.e. without much thinking or deliberation, pursuing and implementing business development opportunities and activities.More broadly, our daily, weekly or monthly routines will help to realise our vision, implement the related strategies and stick with our priorities.Creating routines can be learned and developed over time. It takes a bit of effort, consistency, intentionality and even tenacity.
- It may also require being accountable to a trusted friend, colleague, family member or external support like a mentor or coach during the period you begin integrating this routine into your life and stick with it.Please see my article “Creating Routines for Successful Business Development for more details.
- Locking time in the diary and granting it the same importance and relevance as client calls, contract negotiations or court hearings (and which therefore cannot be moved, postponed or overridden) is a good way forward.
- Managing your customers or clients may also be required. The deadlines for sending advice, legal opinions, balance sheets, strategy recommendations or any other work products to them should fit into your overall timetable for the week which also comprises time dedicated to business development. If we always disregard such times and submit to every wish or demand of the customer or client for work products we will likely never have time for business development. Thus, client or customer management requires setting boundaries. Setting boundaries and the management of the demands of customers and clients as well as your own requirements, and even sticking with scheduled times for business development rather than replacing them with other work may require some learning, mental acceptance and daily implementation. The latter may initially be very much ‘trial and error’ but if you stick it out it will become a good habit or routine. (More on routines in my article)
7. Permanently too much work
If you never have time for business development because of the amount of work on your desk (or if you feel you cannot spare any time for it because you are snowed under by clients’ demands) it is likely that
- your professional life is not well-balanced or
- you hide behind the excuse of too much work (or have other excuses).
Yes, there may be times when client work demands all your energy, time and intellectual capacity and there is simply no time for business development and in particular relationship building.
This is okay for a limited period of time. For instance, if there is a major (new) transaction or litigation instructions have just come in requiring you to issue a defence within a very short period of time.
But none of this should ever be a reason to forgo business development activities for any longer periods of time or even permanently.
If business development wasn’t possible for a while for any reason, then there should be periods when business development gains a higher priority than it normally would.
And if you have routines for business development, then starting after such a period it’s so much easier as you simply employ your routines again.
For further details on this and other excuses please see my article “Why Business Development“
But more importantly perhaps:
You should honestly evaluate your (work) schedule/time. If you are consistently overworked, you are likely to (have to) cut back on developing your business and may even experience physical and emotional setbacks (burnout) over time.
A coach/professional from outside your firm may be able to best help you to reduce your workload and work times in an appropriate manner.
8. Lack of personal determination:
Many professionals do business development half-heartedly, casually, opportunistically, inefficiently and without excellence. Their personal attitude towards business development activities can be summarised as follows: They are preferably done only when invited by clients or colleagues, but not pro-actively; they are not pursued with any clear vision and direction; if an initiative does not work right away, it is suspended; there is no thought or understanding of exploiting any one single measure in multiple ways.
All of that reflects a lack of personal determination to make the most of your abilities both as a professional and a business developer keen on new clients:
- Be intentional
Being intentional means to stringently pursue your vision, strategy and goals without being distracted by alternatives or diverted by the ideas and demands of colleagues for winning clients. Intentionality also requires making choices and decisions that always align with your objectives, and the general direction prescribed by your vision and strategy. It requires taking deliberate steps towards your intended outcomes and specific goals, and proactively working towards fulfilling your business development goals, and not merrily, reacting to invitations, opportunities, and chance occurrences.It also requires dedication and excellence in the activities you undertake.
- Be tenacious
Tenacity avoids giving up quickly or early, if there is a setback, For instance, if clients do not instruct you on your first attempt of winning them, tenacity means you stick with the contacts, you keep in touch, you build the relationship and are in it for a long run.
I had clients who instructed me after 6 years of our first contact and I kept the relationship alive and pleasant, without push or showing frustration over all that time. And it eventually really paid off. Tenacity to me is the determination not to be discouraged and – almost like playing a game – trying again and again until you score the goal and win the clients on your list or their instructions for work.
- Be pro-active
Never wait until someone invites you to give a presentation or to send your promotional materials. Always proactively seek opportunities, learn to think and live with a determined business development mindset and deliberately approach your targets or look for ways to meet them or be introduced to them.
- Be efficient
Whatever you plan or do, consider how to employ your initial activity repeatedly and make the most of it. Multiplication is one key to efficiency. Efficiency also means choosing the right colleagues, partners within your firm or cooperation partners outside your firm that are as committed to your joint business development efforts as you are. In my article Implementing Business Development on this website, you can find more details and explanations on being efficient in business development.
- Be excellent
Always be excellent in all that you do in business development. If you are not excellent, why should a client or customer trust you with his issues and potential work and assume that you will be more excellent in your chargeable services than when reaching out to him? Therefore, always be well prepared for calls or meetings, produce documents without typos, get the spelling or pronunciation of names and addresses right, know the history you have with the target (e.g. 5 failed pitches) and be sure to have your Unique Selling Points always at your fingertips.
These 5 characteristics of your attitude and determination towards building your network and your business will make you an excellent business developer.
Challenges, hindrances and obstacles within your firm
9. No budget for business development activities
Many business development activities will cost money. Therefore, a budget is required. Many firms have a system requesting each partner to submit his or her individual business development plan and potential budget before the start of a new financial year. Whereas this is generally, of course, a good system which also reflects the interests of all partners (avoiding overspending by some partners), it often does not work for lateral hires (unless they have agreed a budget as part of their joining process or lateral hire agreement) and all professionals below partner level.
In addition and perhaps even more importantly business development opportunities may arise or become necessary during the course of the financial year and therefore, had not been taken into account for that financial year’s business development budget.
Furthermore, in times of economic upheaval and uncertainty budgets are often reduced substantially or all such activities are even stopped by the firm’s management.
And, of course, firms normally do not grant the full budget applied for, but limit it.
That raises interesting questions on how to still get all the business development done that you deem necessary or useful in growing your and the firm’s business.
In many instances there are individual solutions to these issues – but suffice to say here that budget should always be considered from the outset in order to avoid later disappointment.
One important lesson I only learned over time was that some budget will always be available from some source somewhere. It is more a matter of investigating and finding it. Particularly towards the end of a fiscal year, budget is often left over as not everyone who asked for and got budget assigned has really used it fully or at all.
Never be deterred from starting an initiative to win new business.If need be escalate to management. If you are known and trusted as a business developer you are likely to have favour and get the necessary budget.
And not all business development activities require money , especially when you attend to them on your own – like writing an article for a learned publication, a blog or a LinkedIn contribution, to name but a few. These may not necessarily be the most efficient and most effective means of successful business development. But blogs on the Internet or LinkedIn contributions are a good way forward, if the former are SEO optimised and the latter are not only an occasional one-off post but part of a strategy.
10. The firm’s strategy differs from your own strategy
The firm you are working for has a particular strategy which does not fit with your own vision and strategy. In the pharmaceutical sector for instance one can consider to only represent the manufacturers of generic pharmaceutical products or generic medicines in contrast to the manufacturers of original products. Similarly, in the automotive industry, one can decide to represent the car manufacturers or the component suppliers along the supply chain only.
If your firm opts for one of these groups but your preferred target group is the other group you may run into conflicts all the time because the firm’s strategy and your own strategy do not match.
A matching of strategies should be part of forming the vision for winning new business. If it has not been taken into account previously, then it needs to be considered now very seriously.
However, as firms develop, so does their client base and this may change over time. Thus, suddenly and in spite of your own best efforts to protect your vision and strategy, it turns out that the firm has taken a different direction and suddenly your strategy and the firm’s strategy differ. If that is a potential limitation or has grown into an actual hindrance of the success of your business development efforts you may either need to change your vision, strategy and implementation or decide to leave and move to a firm where you do not face these issues and where your vision is embraced and supported.
And more generally, to avoid later disappointments, if you are not sure from the outset, always run a conflict check as to whether the target of your business development efforts may be an adverse party to the client of someone else in your firm so that you would be conflicted.
Further 10 common mistakes will be discussed in the final part of this 2-part series in an Article on my webpage entitled “Developing a Successful Business – Solutions to a Further 10 Common Mistakes” which will also have the general conclusion.