For a lawyer or an accountant what exactly is business development?

29 Jul 2020

A lot of solicitors, accountants, patent and trade mark attorneys and barristers are asked to ‘do’ business development.  The only problem is this instruction often comes without any real explanation of what business development is.

The main reason for this is the partners/directors/clerks doing the asking have their own views on what business development is.  These views will undoubtedly vary from person to person but they’ll probably boil down to the same thing – what’s always worked for them.

However, BD is a personal thing and if a lawyer, accountant, attorney or barrister is going to become an effective business developer, they need to find out what works for them.

And then get better at it.

As someone once said every great journey starts with a single step so let’s start right at the beginning and give all this some context.  The acknowledged definition of business development is:

“Business development is the creation of long-term value for an organization from clients, markets, and relationships.”

Sound like marketing waffle?  Maybe!   But let’s break that down into its constituent elements.

1. Long-Term Value

It doesn’t matter if your day job is patent prosecution, commercial property law or audit/advisory for the mid-market; your clients want your input to be valuable to them. 

Part of that is of course doing the technical law/accounting/IP bit well but good BD is about much more than that.  It’s about adding value over and above the instruction at every turn –

From a service perspective how can you make everything easier and more efficient to work with you?

What ‘latent’ knowledge do you have that would help your client’s understanding and operations?  And what’s the best way to deliver that extra knowledge?

Who can you introduce your clients to?   How can you help them create new opportunities and potential partnerships?

What do you need to make your service proactive rather than reactive?  Those really are terms straight off the marketing bulls**t bingo card but that switch is usually the one thing that will increase both your client retention (and development) and the number of your referrals you generate.

Have a think about what your clients want from you … better still ask them how you can do more. 

Added value is the beating heart of business development but far too many professional services organisations still concentrate on the ‘added’ but rather than the value and keep churning out the same old newsletters and breakfast seminars they think meet their clients demands. 

They don’t.

And, they may soon start looking elsewhere to get what they want.   

2. Clients

We can split this into two. 

Firstly there are your existing clients.  It’s easy to think BD is all about new client acquisition but the best (and fastest) source of new work will always be your current clients.  Every business development plan - firm, department or personal - should start with client development:

What do you need to do to keep your clients?

What do you need to do to grow your clients’ spend? 

How can you encourage your clients to introduce you to their networks?

How can your clients increase your knowledge of their business and the markets they work in?

Then there are your target clients:

Who are they?

How do you get visible to them?

What do you need to talk about when you meet them?

How do you position your practice as the right choice when you progress to the second and third meeting with those targets?

3. Markets

Whether you define your market by geography or by industry sector, you need to understand your market.  More crucially, you need to know exactly how what you do benefits your market.

It is always worth reviewing your most productive relationships from time to time so you can see what you did, why it worked and how it helped your clients.

However – and sorry but we’re back to reactive vs proactive – you also need to know what’s happening in your markets.  Keep an eye on the headlines in the local or trade press and if you spot something that is likely to affect particular clients or groups of clients adopt this simple 4-step plan:

1. Alert them to it

2. Explain how it’ll affect them

3. Offer a suggestion as to how they can either minimise the effects or maximise the opportunity

4. Arrange a time to chat in more detail

Even if it doesn’t lead to new work immediately (and it almost always does!) the fact you’ve recognised the threat or opportunity and acted on it without being promoted will work its own BD magic in terms of:

- Strengthening your relationship

- Making you look on the ball and, by extension, more credible

- Positioning you as the client’s first port of call in the future

- Making it more likely that they’ll refer you to their personal and professional networks

 And knowing what’s going on in your markets will also help you with your new client acquisition. 

 If you understand the issues your clients are facing and the trends that are influencing their markets, you will have what you need to create more relevant new content for your website and/or the publications your clients read and more engaging presentations for your seminars or for speaking slots at the events your clients go to.

It doesn’t matter if you’re using your market insight for client development or client acquisition; people want advisers they can see are specialists rather than generalists.  This means you that if your BD is going to be as successfully as you want it to be, you need to be able to fuse your technical knowledge with a demonstrable (and up to date) understanding of your markets.    

4. Relationships

If added value is the beating heart of business development, relationships are the blood.  After all, you can have all the added value in the world but if there’s no one to share it with … 

When you talk to your colleagues about business development some will say it’s about marketing.  It isn’t, they’re related but exclusive and that’s a topic for another day!

Some will say it’s selling and that definitely plays a part. 

Some will say it’s about CRM and that is also a part although I’d argue it’s not about client management (which to me says ‘standing still’) but client development (which to me says ‘growth’).

Some will say it’s about boosting your profile so meet new people.  That too plays a part.

It’s actually about all of those things but whether you’re looking at increasing market awareness, selling, growing clients or meeting new people surely they all really boil down to forming, building and leveraging our professional relationships?

Instead of counting instructions and fees, concentrate on how you can add value to the relationships you have with your clients, your professional contacts and the people you’d like to be your clients and you will win new work. 

And that’s what business development is.

 If you would like to discuss how you can make your, your department or your firm’s approach to business development more effective please email douglas@tenandahalf.co.uk and we can arrange a time to talk.


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