Portfolio careers are a great way to monetise your skills, creating multiple revenue streams and allowing you to follow your passion while earning the income your experience deserves. A portfolio career can be a great lifestyle, but it can also quickly become quite a juggling act. As portfolio professionals, we need to ensure we manage our time well – balancing paid work, pro bono work, personal commitments, admin and finding new work – business development. That last part can be challenging and time consuming, so how do we make it a little easier?
How do we incorporate business development efficiently into our lives so that it becomes a daily habit? Well, let’s start with the foundations.
What is business development?
At The Portfolio Collective, we prefer to keep things simple because who needs more complexity, right? In line with that goal, here’s how we define business development:
Business development (BD) is essentially any activity that could grow your business over time.
The operative words here are ‘over time’, which means that business development offers long-term benefits that become more effective with consistency and longevity. Not just a ‘quick fix’ or a close, business development is a process of continuous improvement and effort. It is a mixture of many skills – networking, communication, sales, writing, and critical thinking. You’ll have a winning formula for a thriving business when each skill works with the other.
As a portfolio professional, you have to deliver work and find paying clients. To thrive, you’ll need a routine that enables you to do both without burning out. Think about this cardinal principle of BD, something that sales professionals call the 30/90 BD rule.
Your prospecting efforts in the next 30 days will pay off in 90 days.
That makes it critical to speak with your target customer every day to fill your pipeline. It might seem daunting at the start, which is fair. However, breaking down the steps will help shift our mindset around business development and pipeline planning. First, let’s address the concerns we often hear from our community and problems that might be jumping into your head right now.
Face your BD fears
It’s only natural to have reservations about business development. Consider the following statements and think about how strongly you agree or disagree with them:
- Business development feels too contrived – I don’t want to seem desperate.
- I find it challenging to be pushy.
- It takes a particular sales skill or a gift.
- I’ve tried – business development doesn’t work.
If you are nodding in agreement, you’re not alone. All of us have been through this journey, and it can be awkward (even downright painful!). However, with persistence and continual improvement, it’s also rewarding.
Starting conversations to promote your business when you are the business can be tricky. Self-promotion is a challenge for many of us and even more intimidating with the prospect of rejection.
Great BD doesn’t force a product or service on anyone and is not a transactional process. Instead, it showcases your unique passions, insights and skills, i.e. your value.
“In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible.”
Once people know about you and get in touch, you will want to have a process that helps you know about them. At this stage, you will use open-ended questions and active listening to bridge your solution, not push it. Yes, it is your job to prescribe a solution, but only once you diagnose a specific problem or opportunity. That’s how you earn trust and create rapport even before you work with a client.
When choosing a service or product provider, remember that customers always pick a person they trust. A reputation built intentionally will help your prospects feel more comfortable, knowing they’re working with a reliable expert who shows understanding and confidence, and that’s what BD enables you to do.
Like any skill, BD needs deliberate practice, which demands that you understand each step of the process before repeating it, refining your craft, and improving your confidence. Recognise that BD is critical to your business and that you can get better at it.
“We think, mistakenly, that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work, instead of the quality of time we put in.”
As a carefully planned (and ongoing) exercise of identifying prospects, understanding their concerns, nurturing leads, and easing them towards choosing your services, BD is a sustainable and fulfilling way to build your business.
Remember that nodding at the start of this section? Let’s change that. Take a moment and read the statements below out loud:
- BD is necessary to communicate my value to people who may need my help.
- BD sees me understand people’s opportunities and challenges, and points them to a practical solution.
- BD is a proven way to grow my business.
- BD takes training, practice, a schedule, and consistent evaluation.
You’ve got this.
The case for habit formation
Even if you’re sold on the idea of BD, I know it isn’t easy to make more time. We’re so busy completing projects, building influential personal brands, and improving our skills. Where do we find this time? You don’t. Instead, you start small, prioritise, and you form a habit.
"What we repeatedly do, each and every day, ultimately forms the results we enjoy and the goals we achieve. Change your habits, change your systems, and you'll transform your life, team and organization."
Finding the right balance between delivering work and finding new work is crucial for portfolio professionals; otherwise, we increase the risk of burnout. That’s why we need to be mindful of our energy and attention. It is here that habits are a great way to integrate effective BD practices into your day without leaving you drained.
There is a proven sequence to building habits – cue, craving, response, and reward.
The key to doing this with BD is to do little and often. If you don’t know where to start, start with relationships.
The Relationship Routine
Relationships are the bedrock of any business and are especially important for portfolio professionals. Don’t overcomplicate your relationship-building plan. Just think of some small tasks that you can execute daily. These always add up to a powerful routine.
Below are some common networking tactics for portfolio professionals and habits that help achieve them.
Researching and connecting with potential clients and collaborators on LinkedIn
Add three targeted connections on LinkedIn every day
Meet people in person
Schedule 2-3 weekly coffee or breakfast meetings each week
Nurture your prospects
Follow up with three valuable connections every week
Use your existing network
Reach out to at least two dormant ties in your network each week
Connect with peers and prospects in your field
Attend one virtual and one live networking event each month
Share experiences and knowledge while learning best practices
Find a community and be active on it at least once a week
When you break each goal into a simple task, it’s less intimidating. Remember, we are result-driven creatures, but the process behind the results really matters. Measure yourself on consistency and ensure you prioritise your routine.
"The key is not to prioritise what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities."
Instead of the temptation to look for a big win every day, when we take small, structured steps towards our goal, we can unlock the powerful results of effort compounding over time. A mentor of mine once told me to reach out to three strangers a week. It didn’t matter who they were; it didn’t need to be transactional. I have practised this for years, along with my other habit of referring at least three people weekly, and now my network is huge!
While this is just one approach, there are several BD techniques that you can incorporate into your routine to become a lean, mean, ultra-keen BD machine. And that’s where training comes in.
The winning formula for effective BD
There is no magic wand when it comes to business development, it requires efficient discipline and effective upskilling for it to be successful. Here is a summary of how to incorporate BD into your lifestyle, so that you can not just win the work you want but you grow the work you seek:
Skills through learning
Find a training course that doesn’t just give you the theory but offers you skills that you can use quickly. Gaining well-known and proven BD skills will provide you with a clear roadmap and the confidence to make progress.
Accountability through community
How often do you make elaborate plans, but then just sit on them? Remember those other times when you have breezed through a project, because you had a deadline? That’s the power of accountability. Find a program with a person or community that keeps you accountable, and you’ll have won half the battle. Sharing your wins and challenges with a community while encouraging others to do the same will make you comfortable with the squiggly path that progress often requires.
Efficiency through a proven process and clear measurement metrics
Finally, measurement. You can’t fix what you can’t measure, so it’s crucial to have a logical approach to track progress, evaluate and make improvements.
Find a course that does all this and you’ll be well on your way to BD success. Here’s where it gets really good. Are you ready?
Announcing TPC’s Business Development Partners’ Programme
The process is easy. All you have to do is register your interest. Then it’s on us. We’ll introduce you to the team and take you through a comprehensive BD training programme (which you can complete at your own pace) with templates, how-to guides and lead-tracking tools. Register your interest today or contact the TPC team if you have any questions.
Think this sounds like the right path for you? Come along to our monthly Get started event for new members to find out what a portfolio career could look like and how The Portfolio Collective can help you take those first steps towards professional success – and don’t forget to connect with our community!