Have you ever found that your business development suddenly stalls? Understanding some of the business development problems and signals showing things are about to stall can save you trouble and improve your portfolio. So, here are 9 red flags that signal  business development problems are on the way.

Business development problems and red flags

1. You’ve just finished a big deal/project/assignment

Yes, you know the sort of big deal, it’s taken up all of your attention for at least a month and a gap in your pipeline opens up.

A gap in your pipeline may happen because you get really busy for 2-3 weeks ahead of a two-week summer break. You might take your summer break and because all your key contacts are away on their summer breaks, before you know it you’ve not done any meaningful marketing activity for 6-8 weeks.
There is a reason why your new business pipeline is called a ‘pipeline’ and the ‘sales and marketing’ funnel is called a funnel. The more you put in the top of the funnel, the more work will pop out at the bottom of the funnel. It’s the same with your pipeline of work. New business rarely turns up out of the blue and is converted during the first phone call. Hence, the phrase ‘pipeline of new work’.
However, if you stop putting stuff in at the top of the ‘sales and marketing’ funnel, stuff stops popping out at the bottom. Your pipeline of new work then dries up rapidly. The larger and riskier the type of service you sell, the longer the sales process. So if your average client takes 3-6 months to convert from a lead to a paid up client, if you have no live and warm leads then it will take on average 3-6 months to gain new work.

2. Large assignments are coming to an end

It sounds good, a truly big assignment can feed you for months and potentially years. However major contracts and assignments can be all encompassing. You’re tired and can be forgiven for getting stuck in and neglecting your long-term pipeline of new work.
If you are in this situation you always need to have one eye upstream on what will be coming to fill the gap after this assignment has finished. You may have seen this happening with contractors and interim managers. They do a full-on 6-month assignment and then have a 3-6 month forced layoff whilst they wait for their next contract to appear.

3. Your clients and introducers are not taking your call

The best way to win work in the short term is to talk with your existing clients and introducers. However, if they are not returning your call (or email) then this is a very worrying sign and suggests that there are major problems with the relationships you have with your key contacts.

4. You have an unfocused network

Whether you realise it or not, you are always networking. Every time you have a conversation with someone, you are networking. You have a network at your disposal. However, if you’ve never focused your network-building on the people you want and need in your network, there is a likelihood that you will struggle to get the right results from your network.

5. You are known as a good generalist

Have you noticed that good generalists are never really in demand? That’s because clients rarely want a generalist, unless it is for a very easy and small piece of work. Good generalists rarely stand out enough in their network to get a steady stream of high quality and profitable referrals

6. Your network rarely, if at all, sends you any referrals

Referrals are the lifeblood of any fee earner. Most lawyers, accountants and consultants get 90%+ of all their new work from referrals. This could be from existing clients, your internal firm network or external firm networks. If you are not getting at least some good quality introductions from your network, then this is real cause for concern.

7. Everyone else is busy but you are not

It could be a temporary blip, but if there is lots of work going around and you are doing all the right things business development wise, then you should be getting a decent share of the work. If not, then you need to take a long hard look at why not.

8. Best clients are taking cost cutting measures

Companies nowadays are often lookign to cut costs, ‘reforecasts’, ‘recruitment freezes’, ‘travel bans’, and ‘lay offs’ are signs of cost cutting. These easily identifiable signs often then lead onto projects getting delayed or cancelled. Suddenly you find your main sources of billable work disappear.

9. Inconsistent profile building

You need to be consistently building your profile and reputation with the right people. Consistent results from business development activities are reliant on a consistent level of business development activity. Stopping and starting your business development activities is the best way of reducing your ability to reliably win work.

If you start to spot these red flags to business development problems, you can start to act early or change your approach.


Written by Heather Townsend. I help professionals become the 'Go To Expert'. I am the co-author of 'How to make partner and still have a life', 'The Go-To Expert' and the author of the award-winning and bestselling book on Networking, 'The FT Guide To Business Networking'. To find out whether I can help you read 'is this you' Connect with me on ,  LinkedIn and Twitter 


Photo used under creative commons licence. For more information, click here.