Three Business Development Lessons

We all know that the best way to advance in a professional firm is to make rain. So if you’re a successful professional business developer right now, I suspect you’re pretty satisfied. But soon you may be asked to do something that’s outside of your comfort zone: teach others how to develop business.

When you were starting out, did you ever tag along with a partner and watch how she dealt with clients? Ever take the extra seat at a gala table and observe the master-networkers in action as they mingled with their many contacts? Did you ever help a practice leader research a technical article that got published under her name? You might not have called it mentoring, but you learned by watching.

Now it’s your turn to teach. The newest generation is dying for opportunities to develop their skills. They’re hungry for advancement, and they want it now. If they don’t see a path to success, they’re likely to go somewhere else to find one. Don’t panic — it can be fun and very rewarding. Whether your firm has a defined mentoring program or you’ve simply identified someone with high potential you want to help, it’s important to define your goals, your roles, and how you will hold each other accountable. Start with a conversation about their personal goals, where they see their own development needs, and how they think you can help them. Here are three business development lessons to get you started.

Lesson 1: You Really Are Special

We’ve all heard the knock on the Millennials: They expect a trophy for showing up in the morning. But the idea that every one of your young professionals is special becomes an advantage as you teach them about networking. After all, if they consistently show up at events and all they have to say about themselves is “I’m an attorney,” nothing differentiates them from dozens of others saying the same thing.


Help your young professionals stand out from the crowd with these simple questions.

  • What’s interesting about you personally? Tell me how that started.
  • How would you describe our firm’s specialties? What really sets us apart?
  • What type of clients have you helped? Tell me a story about one.

If they don’t know the answers (or you don’t like their answers) send them home to work on better answers, with a deadline to return and share them.


Once their answers are ready, take them to a networking event. Direct them to bring up each of these things in at least one conversation. The next day, de-brief. Ask:

  • How did you feel?
  • What went well?
  • What could you have done differently?
  • When are you going to do it again?

Lesson 2: Generosity Has Rewards

They say some professionals have the magic touch — they’ve developed such a high level of credibility that when they come to the table selling, their new friends pull out their checkbooks. Ever seen that happen? Me neither.

“How can I help you?” resonates much better than “What can I sell you?” It’s a lot easier and more effective to be selfless. Relationships strengthen when you offer something that won’t generate revenue right now. The more generous you are, the better your reputation becomes. Suddenly, when the proverbial dog makes a mess on the proverbial white carpet, your firm is the carpet cleaner that leaps to mind. By helping them without expectation of a reward, you’ve earned their trust.


Ask your young professionals: How can we help a banker? Another lawyer? An accountant? An art dealer? The other parents on your kid’s soccer team? The first answers you’ll get will be wrong — they’ll list services you can sell. Shift them to generous things like:

  • A lead on a job for their spouse or child.
  • A seat on a board or at an event table.
  • A ticket to a game.
  • Experts who can help them with their back pain/renovation project/wedding planning.
  • An introduction to a friend for mutual benefit.


Direct your mentees to be consciously generous for a week, and take notes. The next week, de-brief. Ask them to show you what they gave away, who they gave it to, and how it felt.

Lesson 3: Your Smartphone Can Change Your Life

We’ve all become joined at the hip with our smartphones, not just the youngest among us. Many of us check our e-mail every five minutes,whether we’re on line at Starbucks, waiting for a hearing to start, or sitting at the dinner table with our in-laws. Instead of talking about disconnecting from their devices, help young colleagues increase business development productivity using their smartphones. After all, there’s an app for everything, isn’t there?


The key to successful business development is long-term nurturing of the right relationships. There are many ways to connect with people, but where most professionals fail is the most important step: following up.•

Discuss some options for connecting: sitting on a board, joining a country club, volunteering regularly for a cause, attending alumni events, becoming active in a church or temple, or participating in your kids’ activities. Ask for other ideas.

  • Discuss the challenges: researching who is worth getting to know better, making time in your schedule to do so, remembering details you’ve learned about someone, “promoting” a contact you know from an organization to someone you invite for coffee. Ask for other challenges.
  • Ask for ideas about how technology might be used to improve relationships, and to address the challenges above. What tools do they currently use to manage their time, contacts and relationships? Demonstrate your knowledge by sharing some tools you use, including LinkedIn, syncing Outlook to your smartphone, or other tools your firm endorses.


Direct your mentees to research the tools that successful professionals use to manage their contacts, their time, and their activities. Regroup in a week to share you what they’ve found. Identify tools to test, and a timeline to assess results.


These three lessons will get you started helping younger professionals gain comfort with the business development process. Their needs and your skills will define what happens next — whether you help them learn to handle media interviews, practice presentation skills, or teach them basic board leadership skills.


Janet Kyle Altman is marketing principal for Kaufman, Rossin & Co., one of the top accounting firms in the U.S. She serves as the vice chair of the Women’s Fund of Miami-Dade and as Chair of the Chairman’s Circle for Friends of WLRN. Janet can be reached at

Janet Altman is a Management Chief Marketing Officer at Kaufman Rossin, one of the Top 100 CPA and advisory firms in the U.S.