Eight tips for making business development bearable

I’ve been doing a lot of business development recently. Sometimes, I love it, and get excited when I’m responding to proposals or pitching prospective clients. The ‘potential’ factor gets me going: will they like me? Will I like them? Will there be business chemistry? But, for all the excitement it brings, business development can also be a bit soul-destroying. At the drop of a hat, my confidence in my skills and knowledge can fly out the window and I can become paralysed with fear of rejection. And I can spend inordinate amounts of time worrying about how complete strangers will perceive me.

Business development is a lot like dating. To be successful, you have to put yourself out there. You need to be open and authentic about who you are in order to attract what you are looking for.  And you need to have a strategy if you want to be successful.

My dating days are over but the strategy I used then, tweaked a bit for business, continues to serve me well today. Hopefully it will help you too.

1. Commit to learning from everything:  if you submit a proposal and don’t win the job, ask for feedback. Better to know for real why you didn’t get selected than let your imagination create the reason.  But don’t forget to ask if you’re successful too: knowing why you were picked is just as valuable as knowing why you weren’t. You want to replicate the good stuff after all.

2. Be true to who you are and what you do: I recently started using a freelancer website to look for projects. It can be pretty depressing there, seeing how little some people are willing to pay for services (and how little people will work for). I didn’t win any bids for ages, and wrestled with whether or not to drop my rates and change my approach to work. But, I decided to remain true to myself and how I value the work I do and the way I do it. The good news? I have two new clients I connected with on the site, both of whom are exactly the kind of clients I want to have.

3. Remember it’s not all about you: I’ve finally learned to accept that no one else in my life thinks about me as much as I do.  You’re no different, and neither is the person sitting next to you. When we remember this, we can stop obsessing about people’s perceptions of us and focus on reality and what we need to do to achieve our goals.

4. Keep in touch: more often than not, business development is about being in the right place at the right time. So remind people you’re around and it may turn into new work. Part of my approach to building my business is to find my ideal clients – people with whom I want to build longer-term working relationships. That makes keeping in touch easier, because I build authentic relationships and I’m genuinely interested in maintaining them.

5. Find opportunities everywhere: we can get so caught up trying to develop new business, we forget to develop our existing relationships. Try to put time aside each month to look at what your past and current clients are up to, and give them a call. It’s also really important to listen to the conversations you have with them as you work on other projects; you’ll get ideas for more ways you can help from these discussions. And, don’t forget your network of connections and friends either. I just partnered with a family friend on a new website editing business project that started as a dinner conversation a few months ago. We don’t know where it will head, but we see potential and figure we have nothing to lose.

6. Never apologize for calling: how many of us start conversations with, “Sorry to bug you, but can I have a minute?” When we use this kind of language, it sends the message that we value our time (and maybe our tasks) less than other peoples’.  Be conscious not to begin your business development communication with apologies. I read somewhere that persistence is a differentiator, and in the past month alone, four different people have thanked me for continuing to follow up. So next time you’re feeling uncomfortable about making a call, remember that when you’re bugging someone, they will tell you. And until that point, you’re not.

7. Don’t be afraid to share your knowledge and skills openly: by this, I’m not suggesting you do work for free in order to prove yourself – that’s what portfolios and references are for. But be open to sharing ideas and information because it’s your chance to show off what you bring to the table. Kind of like we do in job interviews. If you’re willing to be open and share what you know, you send the positive message that you actually care about the client. I talked to a potential client for almost two hours a couple of months ago, sharing a lot of strategic advice I am typically paid to provide. I could have kept my thoughts and ideas to myself, but I used the call as an opportunity to share what I have to offer. I also found out a lot about this person’s business, and we started a business relationship; albeit one without a contract. This person is now a client.

8. Never be too busy for business development: most of us know the best time to do business development is when we’re really busy. And yet, most of us fail to do it. Always set aside time on  a weekly basis to do some sort of business development, even if it’s just an hour or two. Until six months ago, I was working non-stop. And while I had this nagging feeling complacency was going to bite me in the butt, I ignored it and kept on working. Not a good plan. Let’s just say, I’m never going to be too busy for business development again!

People laughed at me when I was dating, because of my strategic approach. I set out with clear, measurable goals and objectives; I used specific criteria to evaluate candidates (no responses to lewd proposals and naked pictures); and I remained open to all opportunities (and now have great stories about some of my more memorable dates).

Having a strategy worked. And I got a great result (he’s downstairs in his man cave as I type). And I’m finding the approach is working in my business too.

How do you stay motivated when you’re in business development mode? Post a comment and share your thoughts.

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