Business Development For Leaders

Lawyers with whom I speak are often uncomfortable in rainmaking, especially in moving from a general conversation to one in which the lawyer might ask for a potential client’s business. No one wants to appear pushy or desperate, and most lawyers have a natural aversion to selling themselves. A lawyer who’s always self-promoting and trying to get business is not appealing. Nobody wants to talk with that kind of lawyer, and most of us don’t want to be him or her.

It seems to me that there’s a parallel here with political fundraising. After all, what’s less appealing than a lawyer who sees everyone he or she meets as potential stepping-stone to wealth? Must be a political candidate who always has a hand out and puts on the hard sell.

President Obama’s campaign received more donations and more money than any other in the country’s history. Accusations of fraud are certainly a serious concern, and how those charges have been answered presents another leadership lesson, but there’s something more subtle here. How did Obama’s campaign generate so much money? He offered something that donors found to be of value, and they literally bought into it. A visit to Obama’s website even now starts with a “landing page” that offers readers the opportunity to donate or to go into the main website. There is (and, as pre-election, was) no pressure to donate, but the opportunity is apparent. No one could charge that the Obama campaign neglected to let its supporters know – smoothly and tactfully – that financial support would be welcome.

Obama outlined his vision and millions decided to come along for the ride because they saw what was in his vision for them. They believed that his vision was about him. Yes, he might get the glory and the big salary, but they believed he was doing it for the people he would be representing. Though reasonable people may hold different interpretations of his authenticity or his ability to deliver the promised beneficial changes, the people who donated and who voted for him believed that by choosing him, they were choosing a better future for themselves.

Let’s look back for a moment to see how Obama came to his political career and candidacy. He received a strong education from well-regarded schools, and most people who read The Audacity of Hope seem to agree that he is a deep and critical thinker. Do you suppose he sprang straight from his education and legal career into political leadership? Certainly not.

Though Obama presumably had his ideas about what was going well and poorly with our government, he started by talking with the people he sought to represent. I suspect that he had thousands of conversations, probably starting one-on-one and eventually expanding to town hall meetings, where he listened to what was worrying those who would one day be his constituency, and where he eventually offered his solutions to see how they might land. Those conversations shaped his thoughts and ideas, and his political career was born. But that isn’t unusual: I suspect that most successful politicians have followed a similar developmental path.

Do you see the parallel with legal rainmaking yet? The best rainmakers, and the best leaders, strive to put the focus and attention on those they seek to serve. They begin with determining the potential client’s areas of concern, and they seek to understand before trying to get the client to understand them. A lawyer may storm into a meeting with a potential client eager to tell stories of triumphs obtained through great legal skill and savvy strategy developed through years of experience and study. How do you suppose the potential clients will react? My bet is that while they might be impressed by skill and experience, they’d find those qualifications relevant only to the degree that the lawyer understands their needs.

So, let’s return to lawyers’ fears of being pushy or appearing desperate. The easiest and most effective way to avoid those is to focus on the potential client. But there’s another critical step: offering to meet the client’s needs once thoroughly understood. That’s where the fear of sounding like a sleazy or pushy used car salesman usually arises. Here’s a surprising truth: it is selfish to have a solution to a problem and to be unwilling to share it, and failing to ask for the potential client’s business represents exactly the same selfishness. If a lawyer has the skill and knowledge to assist a client but doesn’t offer it, the client goes without that help (or is forced to look elsewhere), all because the lawyer was too fearful of being pushy. That’s a lose/lose proposition.

Obama’s campaign and election teach us two leadership lessons in this context: first, listen. Understand. Then, and only then, offer solutions. And second, ask for the business. It’s a short but critical step from, “Yes, I understand what you need, I’ve done that work before, let me tell you about other clients I represented in similar situations and how they fared” to “May I help you with this matter?” When the first step is firmly in place, the second is a natural and gracious extension.

Web Business Development – The Rewards and Pitfalls of Going Online

Introduction

If you have never considered a web site for your business, ask yourself how much business you would have without your telephone. For centuries, businesses worked just fine without them, but now it’s hard to imagine operating a business without one. At some point, every organization had to make a choice to install a phone line or risk going belly-up. A similar make-or-break point is quickly approaching for businesses without a web site. What debatably is a luxury now will soon become a necessity. But as scary as this scenario may seem, there are steps you can take to make sure your business enterprise makes the transition successfully and, in the process, capitalize on the new avenues to the customer that a web site creates.

So, What is It and What Can It Do? To get us started by using the simplest of terms, the internet can be considered a network of computers around the world sharing information. An individual personal computer that requests the information is called a “client” and the numerous computers that store and dish out the information are called “servers.” A web site is simply a collection of related web pages served from a single server. Pages can be “static” (displaying predetermined pictures and text, also known as “content”) or “dynamic” (interactive pages that can be changed by the visitor). Most web sites for small businesses are stored and operated by a server maintained by an internet service provider, or “host.” Before a web site can be exposed to the world, a host must be chosen. Common considerations in choosing a host are cost, storage space, reliability, security, programming languages supported, and speed (if you’ve ever wondered why some web pages take so long to download to your browser, the speed of the host server is one limiting factor).

The name of the web site (www.getsolidblue.com for example) is called the “domain name.” A master list of domain names is maintained that tells a client which server to contact when a page from a given domain is requested by a browser. Before a web site can be opened, a domain name must be purchased (these can be cheap — mine was $5 per year — or expensive, if the domain name has already been purchased by a “broker,” who holds the domain name hostage until it is sold to the highest bidder). A fancy, expensive domain name is not necessary for most small businesses (all of the common variations on solidblue.com were already taken, for example, so I simply named my site getsolidblue.com instead).

Things to Consider Before Staking Your E-Claim The most important consideration before you jump into the online business world is what your site will be used to do and how complex you want it to be, as this will greatly influence your ultimate cost. If you simply want to tell people what products or services you sell, a small static site will do. If you want potential customers to take an action on your site, like purchase your products (“e-commerce”) or request a catalog, you will need a developer to write the instructions for your application (also known as “code”). Brainstorming possible things to put on a site is one of the real joys of owning one. A distinction must be made at this point between “design” and “development.” While the terms are often used interchangeably, they can in fact require very different skills. For the purpose of this conversation, “design” refers to the attractive placement of graphics and text on a page and “development” refers to the creation of a full application which could include forms for the user to fill out, buttons for ordering and paying for products, and so forth. The complexity of the site is usually determined by its purpose. Advertising by itself requires the sound use of design elements, while e-commerce or another functional purpose also requires proper development, including efficient access to product information, secure order processing, and an intelligent storage scheme for customer account information.

Keep in mind that advertising online is completely different than advertising in a newspaper or on television. The latter are passive media, requiring nothing of the consumer other than looking at the message. The web is an interactive medium, requiring the consumer to actively seek you out. A good way to attract potential customers to your site is by offering them something just for visiting. For example, a carpet retailer might offer a tutorial on the best way to install carpet, which might in turn cause the customer to choose that particular carpet retailer when he or she is ready to purchase.

Another major consideration is whether your site will require a “database.” A database is a storage place for information, organized to store information (or “data”) in a logical and efficient manner. The many uses and inherent power of databases can make a dynamic web site a critical business tool. They can be used to store product information (including pictures), customer purchases and preferences, and even the text and graphics that will appear on your web pages.

That last item is called “content management” and is quickly becoming an expected feature of a well-designed web site. It allows the web site owner to make changes to his or her site by simply changing the data in the database, without requiring a call to the web site developer or designer. It can be used to change the price or description of a product, or to promote weekly or monthly specials or promotions.

Jumping In: What to Look For and what to Avoid Finding the right designer is key to the success of your web project. Do a quick search online and count the number of web designers offering “Three pages for $999!” or similarly vague promises. Purchasing a web site for your business should not be treated like a trip to the local strip mall to buy sneakers. It will be the face of your business for every potential customer that visits it, and the first impression it gives will stick in the visitor’s mind, for better or worse. As such a flexible opportunity to express the merits and values of your business, it makes little sense to adopt a generic, one-size-fits-all strategy.

Designers operating such budget shops depend on high volume to turn a profit. You are unlikely to get any kind of individualized attention, and if you want the technical aspects explained to you in even general terms, you’ll probably be directed to a vanilla “frequently asked questions” list. In addition, changes to your initial design may be prohibitively expensive (this is where budget operations make the bulk of their money), the code may well be insecure and shoddy, and proprietary language in the contract may even prohibit you from allowing a third-party to alter the code.

Likewise, designers that charge flat hourly rates for work performed may be a poor bet as well. You may be charged for things that you could easily do yourself, like registering a domain name, or regularly changing content (provided a robust content management feature is not included in the original design). The open-ended nature of the hourly pricing model leaves you open to cost overruns, as well, and you can bet the designer will try to take as long as possible to get the most money out of you.

A much better option is using a local, flat-fee consultant to create your web site. Your project will be given individual attention, and you will actually be able to meet the person to whom you are entrusting the online aspect of your business. A flat-fee model also ensures that you will know exactly what you are getting and exactly what it will cost. Think about it: don’t you feel better taking your car in to a trusted mechanic and securing an estimate before the work is actually performed? Why would your business deserve any less?

Other things to be wary of are promises to submit your site to 10,000 search engines or something similar. In fact, there are only a handful of search engine providers (like Yahoo!, Google, Ask.com, and MSN) and the others use these mega-indexes to return their results. Also, submitting your URL to search engines is often free and very easy to do; don’t pay someone to do it for you unless you just don’t have a few minutes to do it yourself. If you think search engine positioning is critical to the success of your business, find an advertising agency that specializes in it. Similarly, if you expect the content of your site to change periodically, insist on (and be prepared to pay for) a good conent management system.

Conclusion There is no business that can’t benefit from a well-conceived and well-designed web site. From providing a convenient contact point and advertising space to delivering an easy and secure way to order your products to granting others a way to view internal information that might otherwise be delivered by paper, a proper web site can make or break a business in the 21st century. Key to success is knowing exactly what you want your web site to be and finding the right designer to create it. That would be someone who truly is a “consultant” and not simply someone who will throw things together for the lowest price.

With intelligent planning and a little creative thinking, you will find owning and running a web site to be an incredibly rewarding aspect of doing business.

Family Business – Developing Key Personnel

Good business performance depends on skilled and capable people in the team and this is no less the case for family businesses. Where the future depends on new generations of the family to maintain the health and growth of the business, the challenge is to provide relevant career development that will get them to a place of credibility and experience to lead the business forward.

Many family businesses are astute enough in their existing team to have the vision necessary to embrace the family members as they become ready for the challenge. In those cases, strategic career planning, using both the expertise of existing senior managers (either family or non-family) and the full involvement of the new family member will be crucial to ensure full engagement in the process.

There may be times where a family member becomes impatient for progress. There may be the challenging circumstances where an individual does not seem to be quite the right fit for future hopes. There is a vital need for ensuring that the path to potential is set correctly and that carefully considered, objective decisions are made, or the future of the whole business may be put in jeopardy.

In order to ensure that processes are in place to protect and even enhance a family business in the future when developing individuals, it may be necessary to seek expert career development support. It could be valuable to have a key member of the senior team gain expertise in both how family businesses are best managed or an HR manager trained in how best to ensure that the best decisions for both the individual family member and the business are taken.

As the individual climbs the path, there will be successes as well as challenges for them to face. Here it will be valuable for them to have a mentor to support their growth and nurture them through the tough times.

The mentor could be an existing family member at senior level or it might be of value to utilise non-family members of the team so that a balanced view of the business can be gained, without the skew of rose-tinted glasses that might be less than objective and might be the challenge of a family member is chosen for this role.

Time is of the essence in structuring the development path. Whilst it will be important that an individual coming into the family business receives the minimum of special attention (and indeed it could be argued that everyone with significant development potential receives the same support, for the broader good of the business), planning the future is important from the start of their experience.

This will enable them to understand the bigger picture, whilst learning the business ‘from the bottom up’.

With good timing; demanding experiences and a focus on the future, there will be every opportunity for the business to make the leap from one generation to the next with every possibility for success.

Business Development Isn’t For Cowards

Being a Prospecting trainer and coach I get all kinds of excuses why Prospecting in the field isn’t practical. You probably know most of them.

So what is an alternative? Simple, but it isn’t for cowards.

The most under utilized Marketing/Prospecting tool around is public speaking.

You are an expert on some aspect of your product or service. Find audiences that use your type of product or service and tell them something that will help them use it more efficiently.

Association chapters, Chambers of Commerce all sorts of organizations have meetings that need speakers.

All you need to do is put together a 20 minute speech on one aspect of your produt or service that will benefit the audience. Now this can’t be a sales presentation. It has to be of benefit to the audience regardless of their future relationship to you or your company.

The benefits are two fold. First, you will establish yourself as an expert on this particular aspect of your product or service, and you will get free stuff.

Once you have hit the circuit in your territory, you will find that you become the “go to person” for information.

A couple of things to remember. Always bring a lot of business cards. Also, be sure to invite people to contact you anytime with questions that you will be glad to answer without any obligation.

If someone comes up after your talk with specific needs at that moment, you may want to ask for their card and find a time to meet with them. You don’t want to pre-empt others from talking to you by devoting all your time to one person.

Now, there are two things that can make this a difficult process.

Preparing the speech and getting the dates.

First, preparing the speech. You have to be a good speaker. I teach public speaking so I know that most people can be good speakers. It requires time, preparation, and rehearsal. If you aren’t willing to do all three, you won’t get far.

Second, you will have to Prospect for opportunities. That is contact organizations to get on their schedule. This isn’t too difficult but requires time some selling.

You know these things, so just do them. It is actually fun once you get the ball rolling. You get to meet and talk to a lot of friendly people; you get a lot of free stuff like pens, clocks, note pads and just about always a meal.

So if you don’t like straight out field Prospecting, give public speaking a try. I know it is Marketing not Prospecting, but it is a good step.

If you have any questions about this, send me an e-mail and I will be glad to help – no obligation.

Sell Well and Often,

Bill Truax

[email protected]