[IMGCAP(1)]In my former life as a partner in a CPA firm, I struggled with wearing all the hats a typical partner needs to wear when trying to build a successful firm.

While client service was the foundation we built our firm upon, we also viewed the firm itself as a high-priority client.  This forced me to learn how to balance all my responsibilities, but I found it to be a constant struggle to do both really well.  How was I to focus on double-digit growth while still nurturing the needs and complexities of running an existing business?

In my new life working to help partners improve their business development skills, I’ve observed that my clients have the same difficulties, especially in regards to staying focused on business development. They go through periods of time when they are both focused and successful, but they also go through periods when they are neither. There are many obstacles that get in the way, including tax season, deadlines, client service, vacations and other responsibilities.

All these and many other challenges arise and partners get off track. This inconsistency is one of the major reasons for lack of success.

How do the top business developers stay focused through these same challenges? Organization and discipline.

Now, these skills cannot be achieved overnight.  You may be starting at the very beginning with little organization and a laissez-faire attitude to discipline.  Here are five proven steps to help set you on a path that borrow from some of the greatest business developers: 

1. Create a System
Create a system to keep track of your business development activities. Accountants work best with a plan and a tracking system to hold themselves accountable.  It’s a busy profession. If you don’t plan it, it’s too easy to push your sales efforts to the backburner. Also, it is well documented that when you track your activities your results improve dramatically.  Success perpetuates success.  When you are able to see the fruits of your labor, you’re more motivated to continue along.

2. Schedule Meetings
Schedule business development meetings in the same way you schedule client service (do it monthly). This is key to consistency and discipline. Once it is on your schedule, it is much more likely to occur, even if it needs to be rescheduled. Rate your referral sources, in terms of their ability and willingness to provide you with “A” and “B” clients and meet with your best referral sources face to face monthly, others less frequently. Consider meeting at their office, you may meet other potential referral sources and you get to understand their business better.

3. Plan Your Discussion Topics
The purpose of meeting with your referral sources is to discuss ways you can help one another. There are many ways you can help beyond prospect introductions, such as helping with their business challenges or introducing them to your network. If you are not clear on ways to help, just ask. In regards to them helping you, make sure they know your ideal client profile. Do not be afraid to repeat this at every meeting until you are absolutely sure they are clear about what an “A” client looks like to your firm. In your meetings, feature your firm’s top added-value services.

Make sure you can discuss the benefits of these services with clients and prospects. If you can, discuss real-life ways your firm has helped clients through the use of these value-added services. It may be beneficial to bring others with you to these meetings, if they can better explain the benefits. Lastly, record notes about each meeting so you can refer to those notes when you plan your next meeting. And there is no better time to schedule your next contact than at the meeting. Get it in your schedule. You can change it later, if need be.

4. Stay in Touch in a Meaningful Way
There are many ways to stay in touch beyond face-to-face meetings. Phone calls, invitations to firm events, social visits or relaying articles come to mind. All are good, but remember your best referral sources are busy, so make all contacts meaningful. And follow up. If you send them an important article, call and ask if it was helpful. If you invite them to an event, call and tell them why they should attend.

5. Ask for Referrals
Remember to ask if your referral sources have any prospects that could benefit from your firm’s service. Do not be shy or afraid. Many accountants stumble here, but this is crucial. If you don't ask, your referral sources will think you are too busy to handle a new client.

Using this system helped me during my career in public accounting in a very measurable way.  The vast majority of the clients I've worked with as a consultant have also found that an emphasis on organization and discipline has made business development a far more systematic activity. I so clearly remember one of my clients saying she was amazed how much less painful business development was, once she went about business development in the same way she serviced clients. Just remember the steps:

1. Create a system
2. Schedule meetings
3. Plan your discussion topics
4. Stay in touch in a meaningful way
5. Ask for referrals

Try the above five suggestions and see if your results improve. You may find that business development is more enjoyable when you can stay focused and consistent.

Burt Bierman, CPA, has been instrumental in growing a small CPA practice into a multi-office firm with revenue in excess of $20 million. His firm, The Videre Group, merged with J.H. Cohn in 2002 to become the largest regional accounting firm on the East Coast. Burt brings to The Rainmaker Consulting Group his unique experience combining technical and business consulting skills with his vast experience in marketing and selling accounting services.As a featured speaker and author, Burt addresses a wide range of topics, including “Partner Accountability,” “Anatomy of an Accounting Sale,” “Marketing and Selling Must Be A Process,” “Strategic Planning,” “Winning More Engagements by Improving Your Prospect Call and Proposal Letter” and “Creating a Smooth Firm Transition Between Generations.” Burt is a member of both the American Institute of CPAs and the New Jersey Society of CPAs.