Have you ever complained about business development activity because you just don’t have the time? Might as well admit it: this is one of the top objections I hear and observe. I’ve even had this complaint myself.
But here’s the sad truth: it doesn’t matter. You know that already. If you don’t have time to develop business, it hurts no one but you. And make no mistake: it will hurt you.
Sometimes a lack of time is a legitimate objection. If you’re working on a discovery deadline or deep in negotiations to close a deal—in other words, if your lack of time has a clear horizon—then your complaint probably has both validity and an end in sight. What do you have in place to carry you through the busy period? While far short of full activity, having a newsletter (remember, you can recycle evergreen content) or even sending email check-ins to keep in touch with high-priority contacts can get you through until you can resume your normal business development work.
But what if you’re always busy? On the one hand, it’s a good problem to have if your busyness is due to billable work. You (or someone else who’s feeding you work) are busy serving clients, which is the goal. However, without a reliable pipeline of new work, your busy period might lead you into the feast/famine cycle.
Ask first whether you’re genuinely busy or whether something else is going on. I don’t like balancing my checkbook, and it’s amazing how often I find that I’m “too busy” to do it. Do you dislike business development activity? Do you resent that you can’t just focus your time on practicing? If so, you may find that you’re not as busy as you think, but that you’re great at rationalizing why other tasks take priority. And check out this “oldie but goodie” blog post to help you determine whether the tasks that keep cropping up are urgent or important.
If you’re truly always busy, check out this article to figure out how to find your minimum effective business development activity.
If it feels like you can’t even hit the minimum you identify, it’s time for more drastic action. Try one of these pattern-interrupts.
- Drop something that isn’t a high priority. Take a critical look at your schedule and see where you might eliminate a time suck or how you might be more effective. If you tend to record your time on a weekly or monthly basis rather than daily, that’s a good place to start. Reconstructing your time is far slower (and less accurate, leading to potential financial loss and even ethical problems) than recording it as you work.
- Consider how you might combine activities. This isn’t a slam-dunk answer, but check to see if you could combine non-billables in some way. For example, could you do the necessary reading while you’re on the treadmill? Could you create your task list while you’re commuting?
- Look for pockets of time. Yes, you might be more effective with big chunks of time. You might prefer to work a task to completion. If that isn’t happening, though, it’s time to look for an alternative. Find and use pockets of time, leaving trails so that you know where to pick up next time. If you can find 5 or 10 minutes a day and you use that time both consistently and effectively, you’ll make more headway than you will if you wait until conditions are ideal.
- Not as in “retreat from your objectives,” but plan your own business development retreat. If you’re always busy, you may need to take massive action to get tasks done. Try taking one day (or even a half-day) a month to make real progress on your biz dev work, and you may be surprised what you can accomplish. This may mean giving up something else that’s valuable to you, so it might be a quarterly action rather than weekly or monthly.
Finally, check your goals. In a very (very) few instances, you may not need to focus on business development after all. If you’re the beneficiary of a rainmaker’s new work, and if you’re willing to accept the gamble that nothing will change, so be it. If you decide that you want to leave practice, it may not make sense to spend your time building a book of business. Just be careful as you make this evaluation since things can change on a dime and deciding not to build your own practice could come back to bite you. Hard.