Business development is a tricky business. Generating and vetting leads, building trust, selling solutions that don’t yet exist, balancing the desire for new and exciting work with the need for cold, hard cash…it’s a lot to think about, and a lot of work.

Different shops take different approaches. Some designate the company owner as the sole business breadwinner. Others incentivize project managers or anyone who brings in a lead that goes to close. Some have dedicated biz dev teams. Regardless of approach, there are some shared challenges…and opportunities. Joe Rinaldi, Owner of That was Clutch, joined us on The Bureau Briefing to speak to a few of these, and offer firsthand insights.

1. Strategic (vs. Survival) Staffing

It takes a huge leap of faith to get out in front of your business, and add another marketing or biz dev person because your goal is to grow by x amount. It’s not an easy decision to bring someone on when there isn’t an abundance of cash laying around. A lot of times, companies wait. They spread out responsibilities, then hire about six months after the need. By then, it’s too late.

The issue that arises when you wait too long is that people brought in as lifeboats have very little chance of success. The person will be overloaded from day one, with no time to get onboarded. If there are leads coming in, the person will be vetting and closing, vetting and closing, without a chance to spread time strategically across closing inbound leads, outbound business development, content marketing, social strategy, account management, partnerships, etc. If leads aren’t coming in, that’s a whole different set of challenges.

If you see the signs coming, and can make it work, bring on a person as soon as you can. Staff strategically to build up a team and capability.


Looking for more ideas to help bring in the work you want? Join us at Owner Camp.

2. Don’t PM Your Sales Process

You may have experienced this within your own shop: a desire to PM the sales process. “Let’s get organized, set some goals…” There’s a big difference between project management and sales. A PM is a partner to existing clients. PMs are order-givers, not order-receivers. They’re masters of their domain.

In biz dev, you don’t have a reliable week-to-week schedule or rapport where you can PM your biz dev partner. However hard you try to break apart a week into 10 hours for this, five hours for that and so on, it just doesn’t work out. Weeks are chaos, even more so when you throw travel into the mix. Your best bet is to commit to the point of just enough. Set goals and timeframes and open up flexibility on how goals are reached.

3. Nurture Your Network

Networks change as time passes. Principals tend to step back from the front lines and travel less…networking becomes a chore. Networks shrink and clients graduate out of places where they can help you. Put the effort in to cultivate your shop’s collective network constantly. You never know where new business will come from. Reinvest and reinvigorate your and your team members’ networks, and bring on new people to help amplify connections. Take advantage of opportunities to get outside your business, connect and collaborate.

4. Make (& Promote) Signature Projects

Happy Cog had Zappos…Teehan+Lax, Medium…MetaLab, Slack. A lot of inbound can be triggered by one client and the impression that client makes. Good work is the best business development, but it can't make an impact if no one knows who did it.

Help connect the dots to let people know it’s your work. Market it, apply for awards, write and speak about it. Be intentional, and make sure stories are told. There was a time where shops would add their logos to the sites they built. This fell out of fashion, but is making a comeback. Try it, if your client agrees, or package your work up in other ways to tell your story and have your clients tell it for you too.

If your client work becomes stale, team up with a nonprofit on a pro bono or discounted project, or build something to help your own business run better. 37signals built Basecamp and Campfire as internal tools. We Are Mammoth created DoneDone because they didn’t want to pay $200 for a bug tracker can see where this is going.

5. Ensure a Smooth Hand-Off

In a lot of ways, project managers and teams are left in the dark until a proposal closes and it lands on their desks. The handoff from sales to project team is vital to making the most of a first impression. To kick things off on the right foot, map out a transition plan and define best practices with your team.

Tried-&-True Tactics

What business practices or innovations have you seen help or hurt business development? Share your wins or battle stories, and weigh in on what tactics you believe are most effective.

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