We’re already almost mid-way through September (can you believe it?) and this time of year can feel like a new beginning! Though January is typically the time for resolutions, September can also feel like a refresh as kids go back to school, and we jump back into the grind after our own summer holidays and a quieter period with our clients away for their holidays.

Bearing that in mind, it’s also a great time to refresh your goals and business development efforts. Yes, business development is an ongoing effort, but it doesn’t end simply because the calendar year is wrapping up.

There will likely be three groups of you reading this – those who started the year with business development plans and goals, who split them up throughout the year and made progress on them; those of you who had those plans, but who may have only made some inroads here and there; and those of you who had no plans or goals set at all. But no matter where you are, think of September as your do-over month, and the opportunity to plan for the remainder of the year. (Not sure about planning? Take a look at our recent guest post from Joanne Thorud for some help.)

Although we’re almost halfway through the month already, let’s look at what we can do over the next four weeks to get a handle on business development, to maximize the rest of 2018.

Week One: September 17th – 21st

The key to setting up business development goals and action plans, I’ve found, is to make sure it’s in manageable bites, so there’s never too much that you have to do – if you’ve got something without a firm deadline (even if you assign one, we know in the back of our minds that it’s not *really* a deadline) and it seems insurmountable, you’ll likely forego it in lieu of something more pressing or immediately lucrative.

So for the first week, if you’re in the camp of having no plan, I want you to take fifteen minutes to write down your goals, and two or three actions for each that can get you there. Your goals may be things like:

  • Get more work from current clients.
  • Bring in x new clients in a specific practice or industry area.
  • Develop relationships with media in a specific practice or industry area.

In order for these goals to be solid, you want to make them measurable – the goals above are purposefully vague, because it will depend on your area of expertise, what your individual goal is, and how much time you are willing and able to put in.

Once you have these goals, you’ll want to jot down a few action steps for each that will help you to get to that place:

  • Meet with my top ten clients for lunch before the end of the year (that may sound like a lot, but it’s really about one per week).
  • Shadow a client  or two for an afternoon, at no charge to them (less than one per month).
  • Identify one to two conferences in my practice or industry area where potential clients will be.
  • Start a LinkedIn group dedicated to an area of my practice or an industry I’m involved in.
  • Set up a Twitter list with the names of journalists that I’d like to get to know better.

There are many more, but set a timer for yourself so that you come up with some quick ideas in those fifteen minutes.

If you already have a plan, take those fifteen minutes to review it. Look at your goals and activities, and make a list of what’s worked – either from a successful point of view, or it has been an enjoyable activity for you – and make a list of what hasn’t (and why). When you identify what isn’t working for you, that helps to refine your plan, so that you’re less likely to waste time on the things that aren’t helping you meet your goals. Perhaps going to a large networking event is just incredibly painful, makes you super uncomfortable, and no matter how many times you do it, you still hate it…and end up with no new connections.

Instead, it would be better to spend your time doing something else – perhaps you connect more easily with people through social media, like LinkedIn, and you can get to know them a little online first before you invite them to lunch or out for coffee.  Reviewing your plan and goals will help you to learn what type of business developer you are, what you are most comfortable doing, and where you should be spending your time.

My advice is that however you control your to-do list, mark down this fifteen minutes (and the activities that will follow) in your calendar – I use a physical agenda (it’s my one non-tech holdout), and so I’ll write down, for example, that on Wednesday, I need to spend fifteen minutes focused on reviewing my networking plan. Do whatever you would normally do, and then once you’ve completed that fifteen minutes, check it off your list and pat yourself on the back. In fact, it was on my list today to review our annual plan for the upcoming quarter, and I was happy to see we are mostly on track, and I scheduled some check ins on the things I wanted to stay on goal for.

This would also be a good time to find someone to be accountable to – grab a partner you’re friendly with in the office, and tell him or her what you’re doing. Form a buddy system, and agree to meet for a break every Friday in September for a few minutes to check in. Or post your goals and action steps on a social network – you don’t have to be specific, but the idea that someone will be expecting to hear results from you is a great motivator! Alternatively, if you want to commit further, you can find a coach to work with you on this as well.

Weeks Two & Three: September 24th – October 5th 

In the second and third weeks, you want to flesh out your activities a little bit more with some research. I’m giving you two weeks on these, so you can divvy up your goals and action steps into shorter increments. You may want to give yourself thirty minutes per week to do this, or enlist your assistant to help you – a note here, if you’re going to enlist your assistant, I recommend walking through your plan with him or her first, so that they understand your motivation and goals. It isn’t busy work you’re looking to have them do, but targeted, specific research to help you in your business development and networking efforts.

Start by taking your goals and deciding how you will prioritize them – if you have one or two goals, it’s fairly easy, and I recommend keeping your list of goals down to no more than three. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here and because networking/business development IS an ongoing process, you can always revisit other goals next year or later once you’ve met your top three.

Take goal one, and assign yourself two days in the first week to do some research for your action steps.  Let’s say your goal is to get more work from current clients, and two of your action steps are to have lunch with your top ten clients, and to shadow one or two clients before the end of the year, at no charge.

Use the time you’ve assigned yourself to identify who those clients are, really. You may think you know them off the top of your head, but actually write them down, write down how much you currently bill them for, how much work you estimate you should be doing for them, and what a realistic goal might be for how much of that work you could get in the next few months. Keep this information to yourself – you’re not sharing this with your client; it’s just to know it for your own peace of mind.

Now you have your list of top clients – identify which of those clients are going to be the top priorities for shadowing. Ideally, they’d be in your same city, but if not, that will take some advanced planning (more on that in week four). They may be clients that you know enough about, but would like to know more. They may be clients that you feel you know pretty well on an interpersonal level, but you feel you should know better. They may be clients who just need that extra hand-holding and attention that a longer visit from you would provide.  There may be one or two clients who give you some work, but wouldn’t be considered a “top” client, and shadowing might help you to bring in more of their work. Make note of which one or two clients you would like to shadow, and give yourself one or two others as backup, in case one of the others bows out. Consider too whether there are clients that you could introduce other partners in your firm to (and vice versa) and coordinate with those partners during this period.

From the remainder of the list, group them by location – put those in your city in one group, and the rest in another group. For those outside of your city, identify which are driving distance, and which would require a flight. Take a look at your upcoming travel and see what might overlap well. You don’t have to schedule anything in weeks two and three, but have an idea of your schedule and the different players involved, so you can more easily lay out a sensible plan once you do start scheduling.

Repeat this with goal two for the second week, again blocking out time to dedicate to research and planning. Give yourself just a limited amount of time each day that you work on it, so that you are  taking incremental steps while not overwhelming yourself with the enormity of the task.  If you have three goals, you’ll have to juggle a bit to fit in all of them, and maybe devote a bit of extra time – but the mandatory scheduling here is key. If you leave all of your “business development” planning until Friday, or the end of the two weeks, it’s much more likely that you’ll just scrap the whole thing all together.

Week Four: October 8th – 12th 

Week four is all about scheduling. This is the week when you start setting up your various action steps.  If we continue with the example above of getting more work from current clients, with the two action steps we mentioned, this is the time you start reaching out to schedule your lunches and visits. If you’re introducing your clients to other members of your firm, include them in the scheduling process – involving them during weeks two and three makes the most sense, so that they have advance warning and preparation time, but then bring them in during the actual scheduling phase to finalize the details.

Start with the shadowing opportunities. From your research, you should have an idea of the amount of time you want to spend with those clients, and a rough idea of your schedule, so you know when the best time would be. Since this is a big ask, and there’s opportunity for miscommunication here, this is not the time to use email – instead, either pick up the phone and speak with them about it, or arrange for lunch, so that you can talk about it in person (obviously, this will depend on whether they’re in the same city as you). Don’t mention that you’re hoping to get more work; but focus on talking about wanting to get to know them better and checking in to see how they and their business are doing.

Once you’ve got your shadowing appointments set, start booking up lunches – and here, you want to set goals for yourself again.  None of us has time to have lunch out five days a week. If it’s realistic for you to have two lunches each week for the remainder of the year, great. Maybe it’s just one. No matter what your schedule looks like, start booking up those lunches.

Begin with those outside of your city – if there is an opportunity where you are already traveling, and you have firm dates, reach out to the client or clients in that city and see if you can meet for lunch or dinner. Next, arrange lunches for the local clients – you can even book these a month or six weeks in advance, so that they’re on your calendar (and harder to beg off from). If you have a long list, and it will take a while to meet with them all, schedule about half, and then make a calendar note to schedule the rest in about six weeks’ time. Again, the key here is to break this up into short, manageable chunks of time, so that before you know it, you’re blasting through your business development goals.

There are many more scenarios and plans, and each of them will be (and should be!) very individual. If you’re struggling with where you want to go, or how to get there, meet first with your marketing director and work with him or her to set up a plan and goals (and some accountability). There are also many coaches who work on this very thing, who are a worthwhile investment.

So rather than think “Oh well, business development is just something I’ll get to *next* year!” break down your tasks into measurable steps for September/October, and schedule them for the rest of 2018. You’ll be surprised by how much progress you make before the end of the calendar year!