“You’re either growing or you’re dying.” This is the motto of a former colleague who is now responsible for generating tens of millions of dollars of annual revenue for his firm. While this sounds like a somewhat trite aphorism about business development, after several years of advising small (and large) businesses, I have come to understand just how true this is, and how ignoring this advice can lead to disaster.
Many firms are started on the strength of one or two large relationships which they hope will continue to support them for decades. While having one or two significant sources of revenue is very helpful to starting a new business, it is critical from the outset that you focus on diversifying your client base so that you are not overly dependent on any one client relationship to sustain your firm.
In addition to diversification of your client base, it is crucial that you have both deep and broad relationships with each of your clients. As people change jobs and companies more and more often, a multi-million dollar relationship can dwindle to zero in just months if you don’t have multiple champions in the firm when your key point of contact moves on. Similarly, your firm can go from stability to teetering in that same period if you don’t have multiple other clients to backfill that revenue.
In order to avoid these common pitfalls, it is imperative that you both stay in front of multiple people within each of your client firms as well as work consistently to broaden your relationships. This can be done in numerous ways, including writing newsletters that are distributed to your network, offering on-site training sessions to both existing and prospective clients, and spending as much time as possible meeting in person with members of your network to make sure that you are top of mind as potential assignments come in. In addition, it is always a good idea to be meaningfully involved in industry associations and philanthropic organizations so that you can continue to broaden your contacts and increase both your and your firm’s name brand recognition in your community.
While all professionals are busy with servicing existing clients, business development is as much a part of any successful professional’s job description as delivering work product to clients. Without consistent growth, your firm and future are in jeopardy. But when business development is a constant part of how you operate, you will find that you have increased “stickiness” with existing clients and routinely bring in new clients and projects, which is the key to sustaining a successful and healthy business for the long-term.
Getting your professionals started on business development takes activity on your part. Help them to identify and target contacts that are potentially important to your firm. Show them how to leverage the people they know to get introductions to those that they don’t. Encourage them to get out and spend time with the people they are targeting; meals, drinks, concerts and ball games are all time better spent than in the office where there are no clients.
Keeping focused can be the hardest part. Meeting regularly to discuss progress of business development efforts is critical. Meetings should focus on the discussion of next steps for each target, feedback on what has worked and what has not and the exploration of how connecting people can assist the process. Encourage your professionals to include others in your firm when they can. When progress isn’t occurring, don’t hesitate to reassign prospects and let someone else have a try.
Keeping your firm growing will help you to reach a number of objectives, apart from simply driving higher profitability. Employees engaged in business development will feel more connected to the objectives of the firm, as well as cultivating important skills. New clients and deeper client relationships will likely bring in different types of work, variety that attorneys will find interesting and motivating. And the success of the firm will keep employees proud to be a part of it, with the knowledge that they are directly helping to build its success.
Beth Anisman is the CEO of B&Co., a NYC based consultancy and an executive advisor to NexFirm. She can be reached at email@example.com.