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How to build your practice when you're busy

‘How can I possibly work on business development? I’m flat out doing client work.’

It’s something I heard at the recent Practice Reboot seminar. And it’s something I hear all the time from busy professionals.

So, if you’re struggling to find the time to build your practice, here are six tips to make it happen.

1. Eat the elephant

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

It’s one of my favourite expressions and it’s spot on for business development. Success relies on doing a little bit consistently; not on an all or nothing approach.

If you’re busy, stop putting it off. Start your BD push with small, easy tasks. For instance, take a moment to scan your client and referral list from the past year for ideas, get in touch with a referral source and see if there’s anything you can do to help them, take a colleague out for a coffee, think about one client and do some research on their business, spend a moment on your linkedin profile or explore your client’s social media pages.

Most importantly, dedicate 30 minutes every a day to doing this.

To borrow another metaphor about eating animals, Mark Twain once said that if you eat a live frog every morning, nothing worse will happen to you all day. So to make it really effective, do your BD first thing each day.

2. Keep workflow away from business development

A lot of firms I’ve seen have fallen into the trap of blurring the lines between business development with workflow management. Sure, if you’re going to bring in new work you need to be certain that you’ll have the capacity to do it. But if you sit around waiting until there’s a gap in your workflow before you look to bring in business, it will already be too late.

So try to keep workflow discussions away from business development ones. Don’t be tempted to bring up new business in your team huddles where you talk about what you’re working on. Instead, schedule in a separate meeting where you update your sales pipeline and talk about irons in the fire. You could do this in a 30 minute session every fortnight or 60 minutes every month.

Then, once every three months, I’d suggest setting aside a good chunk of time - say three hours - where you get out of office and think long and hard about your business plan. Is it really working? If not, why not?  What will you start, stop or continue doing?

3. But don’t keep it away from other client activities

Well, I’ve just given you permission to separate BD from the routine of workflow. But, at the same, time I don’t want you to double up and make life too hard for yourself. (This is about making BD easy after all.)

So consider putting your BD together with your other client activities and make marketing and BD become a natural part of every client engagement.

For instance, whenever you’re working with client ask them about their world. What do they read? What associations do they rate? How did they find you? What’s happening in their business?  What does their value chain look like? Which suppliers do they use?

The answers to these questions will provide valuable business intelligence and will often give you some triggers for following up in one of your daily 30 minute BD frenzies.

4. Outsource what you can

A lot of professionals have the mindset that no one can do it like they can. That can be a great thing and it’s probably part of what’s made you so successful; but it also has its limitations… There are only 24 hours in a day.

So start outsourcing those parts of your business development and marketing that you don’t really need to do or those that someone else can do better. For instance, if you’re struggling to write articles or newsletters get someone else to do it.

While you’re at it, empower others to make appointments for you. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to deal with a personal assistant who’s impotent when it comes to their boss’s diary. If you’re finding it hard to let go, train your PA in the business so they know who your A-listers are and who gets priority in your available time.

5. Empower others to market for you

For most of us it’s much easier to sell someone else’s services rather than our own. So what better way to market yourself than to leave it to others - at least to your clients, colleagues, friends, alumni and employees.

Empower others to talk about you by telling them about the practice you are building and the type of work you’re enjoying. Share your business story with others, seek their views and give them your pitch so they can pitch to the world on your behalf.

6. Help someone else build their practice

Perhaps the ultimate business development activity is to share your experience with early career professionals and become a mentor to others in your firm or in your network. Not only will it give you the chance to let others in on your expertise, you’ll also builds trusted relationships and create a community who are willing to return the favour - especially when they’re further along in their career.

And finally…

We’ve covered six ways to make BD easier, no matter how busy your practice gets. But there’s one shortcut no professional should ever take - and that’s to outsource or delegate your client relationship management.

You need to be the one who stays close to your clients; the one who keeps their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in their business and what they’re thinking. So use some of those 30 minute morning time slots to catch up with your clients and referrers and make sure you’re the one who knows them best.

After all, for any professional, the most important business development tool at our disposal is our personal relationships.