This post is part of our Weekly-ish Tips series.
It’s been nearly six years since I wrote about easy ways to make time for business development (BD). I reprised my Top 10 list with a workshop group the other day and it occurred to me I should do the same here. While I’m at it, I’m merging what was two lists of five into one for easy access, and adding some prioritization that creates a dramatic lead-in to my favorite (#1).
Here are my top 10 tips for making time for BD:
10. Schedule it. We’re all more likely to do something we’ve actually set aside time for. Give it the same weight you give a client meeting.
9. Work with a buddy. Join forces. Schedule the same 30 to 60 minutes on, say, Friday morning to (respectively) reach out to people in your network. Touch base two or three times during the hour: beginning, end, maybe middle. If you’re like I am, you’ll need this extra accountability, and it works beautifully because you’re far less likely to cancel on your buddy than on yourself. Plus it’s more rewarding when you can celebrate your accomplishment(s) with someone.
8. Make it a team effort. You don’t necessarily have to be The One to do the reaching out; give others a chance to learn and grow by making connections. And if you really do need to be The One, then find ways for an admin or a colleague to help—like having them set up and maintain a simple tracking spreadsheet.
7. Take five before the day’s madness begins. You’ve probably seen one of the many articles on the “10 Habits of the Most Successful Business People,” so you know most of those lists include early morning rituals. Make BD one of yours. Five minutes is plenty if it’s five minutes well spent.
6. Use anchoring. This is a technique from Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit. Link your business development task to a specific trigger. For example, reach out to two people every time you turn in your timesheet (or something else you know you’ll do without fail). Several people in last week’s workshop also advocated for making a point to connect when you’re sending an invoice.
5. KISS. As in, Keep It Simple Sweetheart. I’ve been known to send text messages (to clients who like to text), or emails that are only a sentence or two long with the subject line “Drive-by hello.” I have one client who regularly reaches out to their clients with a subject line only (“You OK?”) It doesn’t have to be long and complicated. Just connect.
Important add-on: In case you’re just plain pooped and the mere thought of connecting with people leaves you with a sense of dread— either mild or acute—consider that there are ways to stay in touch without completely burning out.
4. “Kill two birds …” Don’t let BD be yet another thing that tips the work/life balance scales far too heavily towards work. Get creative about combining efforts. The “You OK?” leader above sends those messages when they’re on the treadmill. I have another client who (pre-COVID) routinely invited clients and their families—along with his family—to special outings.
3. Make meaningful connections. You know how it is when you get back in touch with a dear friend after months or even years, yet it feels like no time has passed? It can be like that with clients, too, if you make the investment early on to create a meaningful connection. Real relationships are much lower maintenance.
2. Seize the moment. I am my own worst enemy sometimes, like when I come up with a long list of things I have to do before I can reach out (e.g., the rabbit hole of LinkedIn and/or Google), or when I feel a spontaneous urge to get in touch and then over-think it. I made a point early in the pandemic to follow my instincts, not my CRM system and it’s a practice that I plan to continue long after we’ve put this historical chapter behind us.
In short: When the mood strikes, act on it.
1. Have fun with it. We all make time for things we enjoy. Why can’t BD be one of those things? If you hate making phone calls but love sending hand-written notes, well … send more notes.
To this day, I still think the best BD is ongoing and genuine, not time-consuming.
Make It Real
This week, choose one best practice from the list of ten and test it out. Is it worth repeating?
Read more about five specific behaviors that help delivery people get more comfortable with BD or discover the first critical step in developing new business with existing clients in Chapter 17 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.