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Inside the Mind of a Business Developer

Nancy Appleby is an attorney. She developed her successful practice almost entirely from scratch, so she knows a thing or two about bringing in clients. In response to my last newsletter, Nancy shared her insights and her humor:

“Much of client development is a combination of developing a strategy and implementing it. Often lawyers are not the best client developers because generally lawyers are not very imaginative or entrepreneurial and because implementing a marketing strategy often is drudgery. Most of all, though, it is work. Hard, extra work. Goes like this:

  1. Identify the market you want to reach. (I am imaginative!)
  2. Develop the expertise and experience to make yourself an attractive hire. (I'm brilliant!)
  3. Identify opportunities to make yourself known. (What should I choose? What if I make a poor choice? Whose lame-brained idea was it to do this, anyway?)
  4. Grab the opportunities. (I got invited! Good for me!)
  5. Work like a fiend to LOOK and to BE GREAT during the opportunities. Get published in a magazine, newsletter, journal; give a talk at a valuable venue - whatever best identifies you as an attractive hire. (I have no idea what I am talking about. Everyone must know exactly what I am going to say. My God, I'm not brilliant - I'm a moron!)
  6. Talk to a zillion people (all in a meaningful way, of course) at every opportunity. (So many people. Who should I talk to? What should I say?)
  7. Make sure that you don't come home from an opportunity with your own business cards burning a hole in your pocket. I feel stupid and tacky handing someone my card when he/she has not asked for it. Easy solution: exchange cards.
  8. Make sure you have contact information for the people with whom you talk. Fill your pockets (and I do mean pockets - there's nothing worse than a woman fumbling through her purse looking for cards, etc.) with others' cards. (Note to self: pockets -- good; hands in pockets -- bad.)
  9. Jot down on each new contact's business card what you learned about that person. Does he/she want an extra copy of your materials?
    Whatkind of business does he/she do? How might you develop a client relationship with this person? (How the heck can I write and listen at the same time? What am I a magician?) Now really the hard part . . .
  10. FOLLOW UP. Write a letter. Send an email. Call (or is that just too old fashioned?). Do SOMETHING to tell your contact that it was a pleasure to meet him/her, that you have common interests/goals, that you would like the opportunity to meet or talk again, etc. Use the information that you jotted on the card to help you personalize your message. (Oh, no. Not this part. Who has time for this anyway? I'm already behind because I grabbed that last darn opportunity.)
  11. Don't take it personally if your communications go unanswered - at least some of the time. (Another note to self: toughen up. This isn't REALLY rejection . . .) What makes the follow up really, really hard is that after working so hard at the opportunity, follow up feels anti-climatic, it takes time (a lot of it if you've really talked to the zillion people that are necessary to result in business coming your way) and you cannot have your secretary do it.

This is tough work, from concept to implementation - even for those of us who enjoy (most of the time) doing it. It takes time. It involves lots of false starts. It often feels unrewarded and unappreciated. It is, however, as critical to each professional as excellent work and client retention.

© Melinda Guillemette 2009