Business Development Strategies That Work

In the almost 30 years that I’ve worked as a CPA, I’ve had the opportunity to see businesses go on to achieve amazing results in the marketplace and for their community and for the owners. And I’ve seen many more businesses founder and fail.

One of the biggest challenges for small business is figuring out how to grow your business, especially in the beginning. The problem is that the desire to grow your business can turn into “grow at any cost” and that’s a dangerous position. Growth can be deadly to your business if you don’t first weigh the cost of that growth.

That cost can come in two forms:

  1. The expense of the development strategy itself, and
  2. The cost of ramping up your business with inventory and/or personnel to meet the demands of increased business.

In this article, we’re going to look at the expense of the development strategy itself. It really is the second thing you should consider, though. Fast growth can cripple a small business if there isn’t enough cash flow to fulfill on the sales. First determine how much growth your business really can stand.

Assuming that your business is able to handle new clients and/or sales, now let’s take a look at the business development strategy itself. A good rule of thumb is that you should expect to receive 5 times gross income (in other words, sales) for the amount you spend for promotion, marketing and advertising. In other words, if you spend $10,000 in total to put a new business development strategy in place, you should expect to receive $50,000 in new sales.

If you’re the typical small business starting, growing or even just surviving in a tough economic market with little or no credit, you also need business development strategies that don’t eat up your cash flow. There are plenty of people happy to sell you tens of thousands of advertising space, but can your business afford that? And what if the campaign doesn’t work? You’ve just used up some hard-won cash from your small business.

The best business development strategies are ones that take little or no cash flow.

Here are nine high impact, low-costs for your business:

  1. Get noticed. Small business often start with an entrepreneurial urge to do something better than anyone else has done it before. That’s working in the business. And to a certain extent, you need that. But, in today’s world, it’s highly unlikely that the world will beat a pathway to your door based on something great you’ve done that no one else knows about. Some ideas to get you started: Write articles, post a blog, build a social media platform or press releases. It’s possible to get noticed in today’s world for little money. The trick is to stand out above all the other noise. The best way to do that is to provide solid content. Each product and product line must stand on its own merit. There is no room for dogs in a bootstrapping company. Unless, of course, you have a pet grooming business.
  2. Have a good accounting system in place so you can quickly make business management decisions. If something is working, then put more money into promoting that item. If something isn’t, cut it quick.
  3. Create a sales funnel. The sales process resembles a funnel. At the top end, the widest part, are the people who are just finding you, checking out their options, considering using your services or buying your product. If you can adapt your product or service to match the funnel, you can often pick up sales. For example, at the top, where the funnel is widest, you may want to offer an entry-level product or a special report at a reduced price. This may help you to capture some of those people who otherwise may not have gone past the looking point.
  4. Can you create some kind of recurring business model, where you receive automatic monthly payments? This is a great way to generate steady cash for your business and is often easier to sell then one big product. For example, our tax firm has a monthly billing service. Clients get unlimited consulting during the year and the cost covers the preparation of their business and personal returns. The benefit to them is that they have a budget and know exactly what it’s going to cost. The benefit for our firm is that we have steady cash flow. One of our clients sells equipment. They offer a monthly fee to provide ongoing maintenance. The benefit to the customer is that they have someone checking on the equipment. All costs of repair are covered as part of the ongoing monthly fee. So there are no big cost surprises down the road. Our client picked up extra revenue, a steady stream of cash flow and a happy client. Is there a way to create something like that for your business?
  5. Create different service levels. Not all clients want the same thing. Can you create a premium service level that allows you to charge a higher rate for some of your current clients? What are the things that would make your service more valuable? Increased access to you personally? Front of the line option? Our firm has 3 levels of service available. Ironically, it’s the most expensive option, with ‘front of the line’ service and unlimited consulting with partners in the firm that sells the most. Because of the nature, though, it’s limited and so there is a waiting list. That helps sell the other levels of service.
  6. As you create a product or a service, think about what other products or services could be offered to complement and augment it. What else do your clients or customers need? What other services can you give them to create additional streams of income for your business? For example, a chiropractic office may offer therapeutic massages, yoga classes or nutritional supplements. These services and products aren’t chiropractic services but they are related to health and something that chiropractic patients might be interested in.
  7. Form strategic relationships. When you focus on a niche, you often find that there are things you can’t do, but are things that augment your service perfectly. By affiliating with other service providers, you can create a bigger, higher-value product that benefits everyone. A website designer/programmer builds websites for business owners. He finds that his clients also often need quality writers. If he refers services, he may make a referral fee. To be honest and ethical, that relationship and possible payment should be disclosed to the client as well.
  8. Create a high-end and low-end solution. One of our new passions is talking about the bi-modal graph. Imagine a two-hump camel. One hump represents the people who want hands-on, concierge service. The other hump represents people who want the lowest-cost solution. The depression in the middle is what used to be our target market: people who wanted a little of both. Today, that market is largely gone.
  9. Bill and collect in advance. It’s much easier to collect money up front then it is afterwards. It might be a little harder with the first sale, because your customer doesn’t have any experience with you, but after that, you’ve actually got to question why they don’t pay you in advance. If you are willing to extend credit, make sure you bill at a premium. There is a cost to carrying debt, especially in a tight credit market like now.

Business development strategies that double as cash flow development strategies are vital for every business, but especially if you’re going through your own business recession.

The 5 Phases of Business Development

The Business Development (BD) process in Government Contracting relates to the identification of suitable contracts and preparation of proposals in response to Government solicitations for these contracts. It typically consists of five separate and distinct phases:

  1. The PositioningPhase (tied to the company’s Business and Strategic Plans), where the company decides on the direction they want to take to increase market share. The PursuitPhase, where the overall Marketing Plan is developed and then separated into the accounts that will identify individual targets to pursue
  2. The ProposalPhase, where the response to the RFP is prepared
  3. The Post SubmissionPhase, where clarifications, proposal modifications and negotiations (if any) are prepared
  4. The OperationsPhase, where the contract is mobilized for Phase-in, if won – or lessons learned from the Government’s debrief is collected, if lost

One important aspect of the BD process is that it is most effective as a closed-loop system, in which the Operations Phase information feeds into the Positioning Phase for an ever-changing system that quickly reacts to changing conditions in the marketplace. This is often referred to as the BD Lifecycle.

Many separate workgroups or business units support the BD process, from corporate management to the operations staff to production personnel and administrative staff inside the company, to third party Subject Matter Experts (SME) or professional proposal preparation personnel like those provided by third party consulting firms.

Positioning PhaseSome of the tasks performed during the major phases of the BD process include:

  • Defining the company’s direction
  • Using data from the Marketing Plan, establish target selection criteria and prioritize targets
  • Forming strategic alliances with other companies that can make good teaming partners that will lead to expanding the company’s resume in new markets
  • Analyze the gaps between where the company is today, and where the company needs to be, what it needs to have, etc to meet the projected goals
  • Establish the various Lines of Business (LOB) and develop the account plans (by customer, region, etc) to support the LOBs
  • Establish the necessary overall Bid and Proposal (B&P) budgets to support the accounts

Pursuit Phase

  • Establish and develop the Capture Plans for targets identified within the Account Plans
  • Develop an understanding of each individual customers’ needs and articulate these in each Capture Plan
  • Establish a customer Call Plan and meet with them to discover gaps and present solutions
  • Locate Key Personnel suitable for the job
  • Locate required subcontractors to fill niche task requirements or small business subcontracting goals
  • Locate and commit one or more “guy on the ground” that understands details that may not be disclosed during the procurement cycle (make sure he does not have a conflict of interest!) Redact all of the information into a Bid/No Bid document for analysis

Proposal Phase

  • Hold strategy sessions and discuss all known information, and discover any final gaps
  • Develop the Concept of Operation (CONOPS)
  • Refine and finalize the B&P budget
  • Mobilize the Proposal and Cost Teams
  • Attend the Site Visit/Pre-proposal conference
  • Conduct Final Bid/No Bid for Management
  • Prepare, refine, produce, and deliver proposal

Post Submission Phase

  • Follow up to client
  • Orals Presentation if required
  • Archive working proposal documents into library
  • Respond to Questions/clarifications from customer
  • Revise proposal as needed

Operations Phase

  • Mobilize for Contract Phase-in
  • Negotiate contract modification as needed
  • Develop lessons learned (entire team)
  • Collect and archive contract performance data for future proposals

This is just a simple list of some of the major tasks performed during the process, there are many other sub-tasks that must be performed to accomplish these, and there are many opportunities to do them incorrectly. This is often frustrating for companies, as they are unable to understand why they’re not experiencing the success they believe they should have, or that their competition has, because they are dutifully performing each step of the process.

What’s important here is that merely performing the step is not the same as performing it correctly. Another dynamic of this is that it can be difficult to admit that sometimes we need help, or it could be that upper management would take a dim view of our abilities if we asked for outside help with our internal processes.

Additionally, many large (and some small) companies need help, but don’t know they need it (or in extreme cases, are too arrogant to admit it). This is normally characterized by a high turnover of business development personnel as they struggle in vain to be successful using a broken process.

E-Business Development – Crowdsourcing Business Strategy

E Business Development: Internet Rich Crowdsourcing

E business is constantly evolving. The crowdsourcing model with its internet rich community of volunteers and followers has proven to be a platform that will enhance e business development. As defined by wikipedia.org, “Crowdsourcing is the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to a large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open call”.

An example of this; Wikipedia.org itself. Wikipedia.org is an online free encyclopedia where anyone and everyone is invited to participate. In doing so, the “crowd” has become the author of the largest encyclopedia to date. At the time of this writing, there exists 3,384,039 articles in English alone. This is just since 2001, when Wikipedia was first launched by its founders Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger.

Wikipedia.org paved the way for many other peer to peer sites and opening the ebusiness world up to a multitude of possibilities. Crowdsourcing has developed a new opportunity for ebusiness owners who want to showcase their expertise.WikiHow for example, a How-to encyclopedia created for and by the crowd allows you to learn about different techniques and articles. The site ranges from, How to win big in Vegas to how to knit your baby’s first sweater. eBay created ebaywiki where it educates its members on “buying and selling photography” (find another example)

What is fascinating about this particular business model is the drive so many have to contribute. Volunteerism is driven my a sense of purpose and community involvement. Wikipedia and many others, which use crowdsourcing as their model for growth have grown exponentially in the last few years and many believe the trend is here to stay.

Crowdsourcing, sustains itself on trust and purpose, making this a true paradigm shift for the economic belief that people are driven by monetary compensation. The community “trusts” its members because they know those who contribute (for the most part) are driven by passion and not monetary gain. BitTorrent, for example is a social site which helps people share music from one another. Music unites people and having the ability to tap into music experts in order to discover new artists and music genres is a luxury even the most deaf tone person can appreciate because through the wisdom of crowds comes the increased wisdom of each individual community member.

Epinions consists solely of reviews and ratings. This allows for people to search reviews they trust and who share similar interests. Therefore, introducing them to new products or experiences. Epinions now goes a step further…You can even review the Reviewer!

Forums and reviews have become popular because of two main reasons: people seek experts for advice, and people want to be seen as experts themselves.

No longer must you feel like you do not have an area of expertise because you can turn your hobby into your Niche specialty and allow others to seek your advice.

Consumers shop differently now. They no longer shop at a bricks and mortar, they shop online. Not just online, but from one another. Non-affiliated private consumers as in the case of ebay.com.

We now live in the age of Transparency. Buyers are more educated because their knowledge base has increased through the interaction of online communities writing reviews, answering questions for one another. Consumers are now more apt to research forums to get the inside “scoop” on products and their developments. Companies have become more savvy to this trend and have now begun interacting with their customers online. Developers are beginning to interact with their “fans” online and involving them in the production process.

This is genius! Can you imagine being part of the process of creating your favorite music video? This is where the trend is going….it is you who decides…the crowd. And when the crowd feels heard acknowledged and looked after… the lines start forming. Buyers are literally waiting in line or should I say “on-line” for products to come out of production. Production they have been in the trenches with, with products they have helped develop. Along the way building loyalty for the companies’ brand and product line. Crowdsourcing is the perfect integration of online and offline merging together in the development of e business.