Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series: Lights, Camera, Action!

Lou Sokolovskiy
Founder/CEO, Opus Connect

Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series
Article Ten: Lights, Camera, Action!

Over the past couple of months, I have been going through the steps that you should take in order to build your own Personal Business Development Plan:

  1. Perceive Yourself as a Business of One
  2. Create a Mission Statement
  3. Perform a SWOT Analysis
  4. Develop a Personal Brand Strategy
  5. Determine Action Items
  6. Create a Time Budget
  7. Track Your Progress

Step Five: Determine Action Items

Steps One-Four should have given you a pretty clear picture of what your goals are (short term and long term), as well as what your assets and deficits are. In Step Five, you need to synthesize that information into action items. In other words, what are some specific things that you can do in order to achieve the goals you’ve identified? Think about how you can use your strengths and opportunities, and possibly improve upon your weaknesses and threats. Consider what you need to accomplish in order to build your personal brand. Keep your mission statement in mind and ensure that your action items fall in line with that purpose.

You should begin by being overinclusive. Write down all action items that come to mind, regardless of how easy they will be to accomplish or whether they are reasonable right now. Be as clear and specific as possible and make sure your items are measurable by converting them into weekly or monthly deliverables. You should also include things like quantity or the specific type of audience you are trying to engage.

To illustrate this Step, let’s go back to our example of Jackie, the corporate lawyer who eventually wants to go in-house at a tech start-up. Please note: this is not a complete list of possible action items (that would simply take up too much space) but this should give you the idea of how to do this step. Here are some things we know about Jackie:

  • She works at one of the top firms in Los Angeles in corporate law
  • She is shy and has a hard time meeting new people
  • She has a good network of existing contacts from Cornell and UCLA.
  • She is a wine connoisseur.
  • She recently got into art and frequently visits the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Some of Jackie’s action items could include:

  • Join the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s tech division and attend two events or meetings per month.
  • Join the Young Professional Board of LACMA and attend monthly board meetings.
  • Create a monthly newsletter for best values on wines and send to a “club” of relevant contacts, including college and law school friends as well as business relations.
  • Create Business Development Real Estate™ in the form of a quarterly wine tasting event, hosted in one of the nicer conference rooms at the firm, and invite colleagues from the firm, law school friends and firm clients.
  • Sign up for a bi-weekly public speaking coach.

Step Six: Create a Time Budget

Step Five should produce a list of all possible action items you could take to achieve your goals, and in Step Six you need to create an executable plan by whittling down that list to those items that are reasonable and beneficial for you to engage in at present. In other words, just because you can do something doesn’t mean that right now you should. Your time is precious and limited, and a time budget will ensure that you are using it for the most impactful items on your list. You can always re-evaluate your list in the future, and should plan to do this at least annually, if not more often.

So how do you determine which items you should focus on now? You need to assess the cost-benefit ratio of each item. Think about things like monetary expense, opportunity cost, how much time you actually have to spend on business development and still complete your job, and your personal happiness. You should ideally be looking for the low hanging fruit – the action items that will cost you the least but yield the highest results.

Let’s say that Jackie decides to spend 10 hours per month on business development. While she could do all of the things on her action item list above, that’s quite a lot to perform all at once and frankly, would be difficult to accomplish with her 10-hour time budget. Perhaps she might start out with the two networking events per month and the monthly newsletter. The former is likely to yield relevant results quickly, whereas the latter is easy to accomplish, involves Jackie’s hobby, and is a great way to test the waters before jumping into creating Business Development Real Estate, which is a much larger time commitment and expense.

Another example of creating time budgets might include honing the number of leads you want to add to your sales pipeline or the number of networking events you want to attend. Jackie could attend two meetings of the LA County Bar Association’s Tech Division each month, with a goal of meeting at least ten new contacts at each of those events. If she sees that she is unable to meet twenty new contacts in the course of only two events, she could consider adding another event to her time budget or finding a different action item to make up the difference so that she still gets to twenty new contacts per month.

Spend some time creating your action item list and time budget. In the next article, we will discuss how you can track these action items so that you can ensure maximum success.

Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series: Building Your Personal Brand Strategy – Part Two

Lou Sokolovskiy
Founder/CEO, Opus Connect

Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series
Article Nine: Building Your Personal Brand Strategy – Part Two

Welcome back. We’ve recently been discussing the seven steps to creating your Personal Business Development Plan. Step Four is to develop your personal brand strategy, which is how you communicate to others in the marketplace who you are and what your value is. Today I am going to explore tips and strategies for building your own personal brand.

Be a Matchmaker
Of note, nearly everyone that I interviewed about this topic incorporates goodwill or helping others in some way into their personal brand. One of my colleagues and friends, Steve Sahara, is a Director at Stout who engages in a high volume of business development. When I asked Steve what he thinks his personal brand is, he explained that he is friendly and is always thinking about what others are trying to get out of the time they invest and how he can he be helpful to them. This quality leaves people with a favorable impression. One way you can generate goodwill is by matchmaking, or acting as a connector. If you can provide value to someone by connecting them with a potential client, referral source, or expert on something they need done, you are helping two people at once and ameliorating yourself to them. Perhaps in the future, one of them will refer you a client, or become clients themselves. To be a good matchmaker or connector, you should be constantly building and maintaining relationships. Organize get-togethers, attend events, and get involved with things that you care about and that are relevant to your career and industry.

Offer Brownies
Another way you can generate goodwill is by occasionally offering free advice. Steve Sahara, for example, is big on delivering results to prospects before they even hire him. Selwyn Gerber explained to me that he often waives fees on a bill or sponsors a presentation that he knows will not directly generate revenue, but that adds value to his clients and prospects. By offering people these “brownies” in the form of connections, free advice or other types of value- add, you will enhance your personal brand.

Be a Thought Leader or Expert
Another common and important component of personal brands is expertise, or thought leadership. Jeri Harman is a great example of someone who incorporates this into her personal brand: Jeri speaks on M&A and private equity panels around the country, and co-chairs conferences and boards. By highlighting herself as an expert in her field, she has built a reputation as a high level industry participant and influencer, as well as a subject matter expert in private credit and M&A. Indeed, taking on leadership roles in your field and becoming a spokesperson or authoring a content-rich publication (a monthly newsletter for example) can go a long way in helping to communicate your expertise to others.

Play to Your Strengths
Review your strengths from your SWOT analysis. Consider how you might highlight or develop them further. For instance, if one of your strengths is public speaking, you should incorporate that into your personal brand strategy.

Build Trust Through Authenticity
When people know they can trust you, they are much more likely to turn to you when they need something. A good way to build trust is by being open and authentic with people. Let them get to know you. For instance, Robert Derbabian shares his Instagram account with business contacts and allows them to see photos of his personal travels. And make sure that you are reliable by doing what you say you are going to do and following up with people appropriately.

How Do You Stand Out?
How are you different from the competition? Can you say it in one sentence? For instance, Selwyn Gerber’s CPA firm uses the motto “Beyond Bean Counting” and his wealth management firm uses the catchphrase “Providing Peace of Mind”. These short statements not only communicate what is different about these companies from other competitors, but they also directly tie into Selwyn’s own personal brand, which is someone who really cares about the people he works with and who listens to their specific needs.

Develop a Signature Style
I mentioned this in my last article, but Robert Derbabian is known for his big personality and he is always wearing a suit, tie and cufflinks. This “signature style” helps Robert stand out in a crowd and enables people to remember him more easily.

Be The Poster Child of Your Brand
To build a personal brand, you must be consistent in your message. You should apply your brand and message consistently through any text you put out there, your website, the way your office looks, and in the conversations you have with people.

Have an Attractive Digital Presence
Your professional profile should be impressive. You should also use social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, or even Instagram).

Be Great At Your Job
While building a strong personal brand is important, at the end of the day you need to deliver a product and back up your brand.

Hopefully these tips can get you started on developing a personal brand strategy that is consistent with your skills and identity. Next time we will delve into creating a plan of action to take advantage of this information.

Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series: Building Your Personal Brand Strategy – Part One

Lou Sokolovskiy
Founder/CEO, Opus Connect

Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series
Article Eight: Building Your Personal Brand Strategy – Part One

My recent articles have been focusing on how to create your own Personal Business Development Plan, and today we will be discussing Step Four of this process:

  1. Perceive Yourself as a Business of One
  2. Create a Mission Statement
  3. Perform a SWOT Analysis
  4. Develop a Personal Brand Strategy
  5. Determine Action Items
  6. Create a Time Budget
  7. Track Your Progress

There is a lot of debate about what the term “personal brand” means, especially in the context of business development. In order to clarify the concept, I reached out to a few colleagues whose personal brands are particularly strong and interviewed them on what “personal brand” means to them and how they use it in their business development strategy.

Interestingly, I got a diverse range of answers. There were, however, some common driving factors, and some great tips that I will share with you in Part Two of this article. But first, I want to explain how the concept of personal brand might be be applied differently depending on who you are and what your role is. For instance, the founder of a company sees things differently than an employee of a company. Likewise, someone who does business development in order to promote his own services views the concept of personal brand differently than someone whose primary role in a company is business development.

In my article about Step One of creating your personal business development plan, I quoted my friend and colleague Robert Derbabian, who often uses the example of a professional basketball player to explain business development. A professional basketball player wears a jersey with his team’s name on the front, but with his own name on the back. In some ways, the player is representing the team’s brand. But people are truly interested in the individual player. If he were to be traded, for example, the colors and the name on the front of his jersey would change, but the back of his jersey will always remain the same.

Robert is the Senior Director of Business Development at Marcum LLP and embodies this principle. There are several key aspects to his personal brand: People know him as a connector. He also has a reputation for being reliable and trustworthy. His personality is fairly gregarious and friendly, and he is always wearing a suit and tie. Robert hasn’t always worked for Marcum, but I can tell you that his personal brand was exactly the same in his previous positions. Like the basketball player, Robert’s job may be to represent the Marcum brand, but what he is known for in the market is his individual brand.

In contrast, another one of our interviewees felt very strongly that you must seek unification of your personal brand and your business’s brand. Selwyn Gerber is a CPA and founded both Gerber & Co., Inc., an accounting firm, as well as RVW Investing LLC, a wealth management firm. According to Selwyn, his personal brand conveys one, holistic, and consistent image: he is attentive to his clients’ needs and listens to them with genuine concern – so too, the brand of his companies communicates that same idea.

A middle perspective was offered by another one of these powerhouse interviewees, Jeri Harman. Jeri is the Founder & Chairman at Avante Mezzanine Partners, a lower middle market private credit investment fund. According to Jeri, your personal brand can help you build your own career as well as a firm. To her, personal brand is not just about promoting oneself, but about taking the brand one has developed and using it to the firm’s benefit. Jeri also differentiates between micro and macro personal brand: Your micro-brand refers to your reputation within your firm, whereas your macro brand deals with your broader, more global reputation.

As you can see, people view the concept of personal brand differently depending on factors such as what their role is (service provider vs. business development professional) and whether they have an ownership interest in the firm/ company. But still, there is some common ground in how these three professionals define the overarching concept: How people know you (Robert Derbabian), what reputation you have (Jeri Harman), or what image you convey (Selwyn Gerber). My synthesis of these interviews, along with my own opinion, leads me to posit the following definition: Your personal brand is how you communicate to others in the marketplace who you are and what your value is. Whether this ties in with the brand of the company you work for depends on what your job is and how closely tied you are to the company.

Now that we have a clearer idea of what I mean by personal brand, in Part Two I will share tips and strategies that will help you develop your own personal brand.

Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series: How To Perform A Personal SWOT Analysis

Lou Sokolovskiy
Founder/CEO, Opus Connect

Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series
Article Seven: How To Perform A Personal SWOT Analysis

Welcome back. We are working on creating our own personal business development plans, which includes the following seven steps:

  1. Perceive Yourself as a Business of One
  2. Create a Mission Statement
  3. Perform a SWOT Analysis
  4. Develop a Personal Brand Strategy
  5. Determine Action Items
  6. Create a Time Budget
  7. Track Your Progress

As a business of one, you can use the same tools as any other business to create a business development strategy, including the subject of today’s article: a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. As human beings, we all have qualities that fall into these four categories and the goal of a SWOT analysis is to develop a comprehensive list of these qualities. This list will then be used to help you develop a strong personal brand and create an action plan.

Let’s look at an example of a SWOT analysis together: Jackie is a junior associate at one of the top law firms in Los Angeles. Jackie makes a great salary at this firm while getting a good deal of experience working in corporate law. However, Jackie’s true passion lies in technology start-ups, and her long term goal is to become in-house counsel at such a company. Jackie went to Cornell undergraduate and UCLA law, and has significant debt from these two schools. She became a wine connoisseur while at Cornell, and belongs to several private wine clubs in addition to being a certified sommelier. She also recently got into art, and loves to visit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on the weekends. While Jackie had some good friends in college and law school, she describes herself as an introvert and can be quite shy among people she doesn’t know.

Here is an example of what Jackie’s SWOT analysis might look like:


●      Does excellent legal work

●      Diligent

●      Good at dealing with existing clients

●      Well-organized

●      Manages time effectively


●      Is shy and has social anxiety

●      Not very technologically savvy

●      No current system/plan for business development

●      More than $150K in student loans


●      Wine-connoisseur (Business Development Real Estate?)

●      Network of friends from college and law school

●      Could join the young leadership board of an art museum

●      Frequent contact with angel investors and venture capitalists through current job

●      Firm provides budget for client development



●      Competition from other associates

●      Difficult job market (few in-house positions available)

●      Instability of working for a less established company (start-up)






You should spend an hour or two performing your own SWOT analysis. Here is a list of guidelines and things to consider:

  1. What are you good at?  What are you bad at? List skills, personality traits, hobbies and passions. Examples: Time Management, public speaking, organization, social skills, etc.
  2. What are some of your past business development efforts? Were they successes or failures?
  3. What organizations are you involved with? What organizations or boards can you join?
  4. What resources do you have to help you with business development? Some firms will reimburse you for meals or give you tickets to sporting events. Some companies have events that you can invite clients to. Or perhaps your alumni or bar association has events that you can attend.
  5. How good are your contacts? Think about people you went to school with, friends, family, etc.
  6. Who can you ask to be introduced to?  Who can you introduce to each other?
  7. Can you create Business Development Real Estate™ or something unique?
  8. Are you engaging in some type of marketing? Examples are a monthly emails to friends, a blog, or posting content on your LinkedIn profile.
  9. How do you compare to other colleagues?
  10. How have others in your field been successful in business development? Can you find a role model/mentor? Set up an informational interview(s) and learn what worked for them.

By understanding your strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities, you will be able to build a personal plan that optimizes your potential. In the next few articles, we will be discussing how you can build a personal brand strategy based on your mission and SWOT analysis. Stay tuned.

Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series: Developing A Mission Statement

Lou Sokolovskiy
Founder/CEO, Opus Connect

Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series
Article Six: Developing A Mission Statement

In the last article I laid out the seven steps for creating a Personal Business Development Plan. We discussed the first step, which is simply to perceive yourself as any other business, which means that you have a clear strategy that includes things such as goals, action items, your brand, valuation, diversification, contingency plans, and much more. As a “business of one”, you can also leverage existing tools and techniques that are widely used by businesses when formulating their strategies and translate these to your individual needs. Step Two is one such tool.

Step Two is to create your own personal mission statement. Most businesses will have some kind of a mission statement and/or vision. As a business of one, a mission statement will help you focus your business development strategy. Most people immediately think of goals when they hear “mission statement,” but your mission statement is much more (and much less) than that. A good mission statement is a broad, global description that encompasses your identity, values and long-term goals. It should be no more than 1-2 sentences. It should be something that you can refer to in any situation or when making decisions, to evaluate whether you are acting in line with your true purpose.

Sounds easy right? That’s what I thought until I sat down to write my own mission statement. Suddenly, I found myself a bit lost. How could I boil down my entire career, and even more than that, my entire existence, to one or two sentences? It took a bit of soul searching and guidance, but ultimately this is what I came up with:

My mission is to create positive impact for people and causes that I am passionate about by leveraging my expertise and network, while building ethical, balanced and successful businesses.

This mission statement contains all of the key elements of a good mission statement. It is broad and global, short and to the point, and expresses my values and motivations. For example, my values tell me it is important to make an impact in the world. I am philanthropic by nature and get involved not just with charities, but also with my individual contacts and friends. I am a born networker and am good at not only building connections for myself, but for others (like a matchmaker). I know that I want a career that is lucrative enough to give me financial independence but that also includes some degree of balance, as I value health and family.

Perhaps you already know what your mission statement is. For those of you who don’t, here are some questions to ask yourself that can help you figure it out:

  • Who are you?
  • What are your personal and professional goals?
  • What do you enjoy doing?
  • What are you good at doing?
  • What are your core values?
  • What are you passionate about? What do you care about?
  • What motivates you?
  • When you retire, what do you want to have accomplished? (If this stumps you, consider writing yourself a letter from your 80-year old self to your present self).
  • What would you like your tombstone to say?

Take some time over the next couple of weeks to start thinking about these questions and crafting your mission statement. In my next article I will discuss Step Three, which will also help you define your mission.

Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series: Become A Business of One

Lou Sokolovskiy
Founder/CEO, Opus Connect


Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series
Article Five: Become A Business of One

We’ve recently been discussing how you can use business development to boost your success and improve your quality of life. I’ve given you several tips and tools, including suggesting that you develop “business development real estate™”. These tools are part of a larger strategy that will help you optimize your performance and results: A Personal Business Development Plan.

There are 7 Steps to creating your personal plan:

  1. Perceive Yourself as a Business of One
  2. Create a Mission Statement
  3. Perform a SWOT Analysis
  4. Develop a Personal Brand Strategy
  5. Determine Action Items
  6. Create a Time Budget
  7. Track Your Progress

Today we are going to discuss the first step, perceiving yourself as a business of one. Most companies have a business plan or strategy. This helps them set goals and targets, and creates a framework in which employees execute tasks in order to reach those goals and targets. Business plans contain comparisons to previous years and to other companies, strategies about branding, optionality and diversification, valuation, and track record. In addition, business plans usually contain contingencies, in case things don’t work out in the expected timeframe or order. Having a clear and well-thought-out business plan is crucial to a company’s success.

And yet, most individuals do not have a formal plan or strategy for their career. Some have not even given thought to the aforementioned elements, such as short and long-term goals or branding. This lack of insight, planning and organization can have a tangible impact on your success.  For instance, let’s say you are a service provider (such as a doctor, lawyer, or accountant). You might be able to eke out a living by following a predetermined path and simply working diligently, but if you want to maximize your potential or work for yourself, you really need to set yourself apart from the pack. Or let’s say you are an insurance agent who is unhappy with your current job, and you’d like to move into the fin-tech world. How are you going to make that move without having to start all over again from square one?

The answer is that you need to start acting like a business entity, or as I like to say, a business of one. Like any company or business, you can take certain actions to strategically plan and organize in order to optimize your profitability, brand recognition and other potential advantages. You can figure out what your goals are, and how you can use your personal strengths and assets to achieve them. What about your personality and strengths can translate into a brand? How can you position yourself in your industry as an expert? You can measure your success and determine how you should value yourself. You can figure out what your safeguards and contingency plans are so that if you are ever fired, quit, or change your mind about what you want to do with your life, you can do that much more easily.

For example, basketball players wear a jersey with their team name on the front and their personal name on the back. They might switch to another team, but their name is still going to be on the back of the jersey. In other words, the skills, capabilities, and fame of an individual player do not change even though the player is traded to a new team. (Source:  Robert Derbabian.) Just like the basketball player, you can move to different jobs while still maintaining your personal identity.  For example, a banker can work for Goldman Sachs, quit and move to UBS without losing her skills and abilities and in some cases, her clients. Or, that same banker could decide that she wants to change careers entirely and start her own private equity firm. She has the expertise and the connections in order to make that happen.

The first step to creating your personal plan is about setting the intention to treat your career and your success like a business. The following articles will help you take that intention and turn it into a clear, organized and effective strategy.



Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series: How To Build Your Own Business Development Real Estate

Real Estate Networking Events in Los Angeles

Lou Sokolovskiy
Founder/CEO, Opus Connect


Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series 
Article Four: How To Build Your Own Business Development Real Estate

In my last article, I discussed the importance of embracing business development and suggested incorporating your hobbies and passions into your strategy. Today, I am going to introduce you to a great tool that will help you do that: Business Development Real Estate™ (BDRE).

Years ago, I had just started working in the M&A industry at an investment firm and was looking for ways to build my network. I started hosting happy hours for other M&A professionals and colleagues in related fields, and within a year more than 200 people were attending regularly. At a certain point, the events became too large and I felt that I was spending more time as an event organizer than actually taking advantage of the networking opportunities at the events. I ended up rebranding this happy hour concept in the form of Opus Connect, which hosts smaller events (usually around 40 people) for professionals in specific industries. We also curate the attendees and speakers at our events in order to cater to more specific audiences. Opus was originally intended to simply be a personal networking opportunity for me, but eventually it grew into a national company with its own revenue stream.

The experience of rebranding my happy hours into Opus Connect is what led me to coin the term Business Development Real Estate™. BDRE is an activity or event that you host consistently, in the same format and that targets the same audience each time. While the individual attendees might change, they are always from the same target pool. Here are a few classic examples:

Luke is a wealth manager with a passion for art. Once a month, he hosts an exclusive scotch tasting event in a private art gallery that is limited to 12 individuals who have a net worth of at least $10,000,000.

Lauren is an associate at a large law firm specializing in mergers and acquisitions. Every quarter, she hosts a breakfast for 20 private equity executives, and facilitates a round-table discussion on a topic of interest.

The main thing that both examples have in common is that in each of them, Luke and Lauren own the event. They have control over the timing, content and who is invited to participate in the event. In addition, both events are consistent and follow the same format each time, so that people know what to expect.

The key difference between these two examples is in the quality of the event. Keeping with our real estate analogy, Luke’s BDRE is like a mansion, whereas Lauren’s (at least for the moment), is more like a starter house in an up-and-coming neighborhood. The price per square foot of Luke’s BDRE might be higher, but, just as I did when I rebranded my happy hours into Opus Connect, Lauren still has the ability to increase the price per square foot of her BDRE as she develops better connections and ameliorates her reputation. Word of mouth will drive interest and the more demand she has, the more exclusive and upscale Lauren’s BDRE can become.

BDRE is a great tool because it is easy to create and it is highly effective. It can help you gain new contacts and maintain existing connections by adding value to your attendees in the form of information and referrals. To get started, think about what you are interested in and passionate about, and think about who you need to engage. Then you just need to come up with an event that you can consistently offer to that audience. Starting out small and simple is ok, because as we saw, you can always make improvements to your BDRE and thereby increase your price per square foot.

This is just one concrete tool that you can start using right way, but in order to really become a Master of Business Development, you need a comprehensive strategy or plan. Next time, I will discuss what the outline of that plan looks like.

Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series: Going Outside of Your Comfort Zone with Business Development

Lou Sokolovskiy
Founder/CEO, Opus Connect


Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series 
Article Three: Going Outside of Your Comfort Zone with Business Development

Welcome back. Hopefully after my last two articles, you are already thinking about how you can use business development to improve your career and lifestyle. Today’s article will provide some tips for getting started. Whether you’re already using business development to help further your goals or you’re just beginning to implement this practice into your life, these tips will help you improve.

In my last article, I explained that despite the obvious benefits of business development, many people still aren’t doing it, or aren’t doing enough of it. The first reason was that some people just don’t understand the present value of doing business development, because results are not often immediately apparent. The second reason is that many people just don’t like doing business development and so they shy away from it. They feel they aren’t good at it, it goes outside of their comfort zone, and it feels like a chore. If you fall into this category, what should you do? Here are a few tips:

Acknowledge That You Have an Opportunity

Hidden inside every challenge is an opportunity. While sometimes you might dread going to networking events, talking to strangers, or taking a client out for dinner, try to focus on the positive – or the opportunity that these actions present. Business development is clearly a valuable tool that can yield powerful results. Simply acknowledging this will help you start to change the way that you feel, and in turn, the way that you are perceived.

Change Your Attitude

Forcing yourself to do business development or “faking it” will be apparent to others and negatively impact your success. To turn this around, you need to shift your attitude. Instead of dreading business development, try to embrace it. The best way to do that is to genuinely enjoy it. If you can incorporate activities that you actually enjoy into your business development strategy, it will be much easier to tolerate what you are doing. It should be easy to say yes!

Use Your Passions And Hobbies

One of the easiest ways to start enjoying business development is to turn your existing hobby or passion into a BD opportunity.  Let’s say you are are an art lover. You could join the Board of an art museum and meet other interesting and diverse professionals while simultaneously learning more about art and doing something you take pride in. Or let’s say you are into running. You could join a local running group. You might even have fun and make friends. When you incorporate your hobbies and passions into business development, your opportunity cost goes down and you can achieve multiple goals at the same time.

Treat Business Development Like A Game

Even if you are enjoying business development, it still might not be easy for you. Perhaps you are shy or feel uncomfortable bridging the gap between friendship and a professional relationship. If you feel like you aren’t a natural at business development, just treat it like a game: People can be naturally good at a game or bad at a game, but there is always room for improvement. For example, if someone isn’t naturally talented at tennis, they can still improve by taking lessons and practicing. Similarly, business development skills can be learned. Additionally, if you think of business development as a game, you can “keep score” and track your improvement. For instance, you can tally how many people you took to lunch in a certain month, or how many contacts you added to your funnel each quarter.

Practice Makes Perfect

Even if you are a natural when it comes to business development, you can always improve by practicing. Think about the sports analogy again: In many ways, training is just as important, if not more important than natural talent. Can you imagine Michael Phelps going to the Olympics without having practiced in 6 months? Without training and practice, even a natural athlete won’t be at their best.

At the end of the day, whether or not you are naturally good at business development, you can always improve. Embrace business development with the right attitude. Turn it into something you genuinely enjoy and practice it. Next time, I will explore the concept of Business Development Real Estate, which is a tool that will help you engage in business development in an effective and enjoyable way.

Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series: Why Is Business Development so Important?

Mergers and Acquisitions events

Lou Sokolovskiy
Founder/CEO, Opus Connect


Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series 
Article Two: Why Is Business Development so Important?

In my last article, I defined the term “business development” and provided some insight into the concept with an example. While the benefits of doing business development may be clear to some, many people ignore or minimize its value. There are two possible explanations for this: (1) They cannot see the present value of doing business development because results are often delayed, and/or (2) they feel that they are not good at business development, it is outside of their comfort zone, and therefore they shy away from it. Regarding the first explanation, while it may be a challenge to see the immediate benefits of doing business development, it is important to understand that there are real, tangible benefits and that business development can greatly impact your life. The goal of this article is to illuminate some of those benefits.

It is no secret that people who work hard and invest their time into a venture generally perform better than those who don’t. Want to get a good grade in school? Study more. Want to make more money or get promoted at your firm? Bill more hours. While there is no doubt that hard work and sweat is a necessary component of success, in many cases business development can help you achieve results sooner and enhance your results significantly.

Here is a list of 8 ways that engaging in business development can amplify your success:

1) Financial Benefit

This is the most obvious benefit. What separates a service partner from a rainmaker at a law firm? The ability to bring in clients which, in turn, generates more revenues for the firm. Business development can also help you directly generate leads that convert into clients for your own business. Whether you are feeding your funnel with new contacts, re-engaging your current clients, or getting referrals from your network, business development can pay off.

2) Better Lifestyle

Eventually, if you have a bigger book of business you can work less hours and hire people under you to service the clients that you bring in. You can also be more selective about the clients you take on, choosing only those that you genuinely enjoy working with and that produce higher margins.

3) Leverage/Last Out

If your company is laying people off and you have your own book of business and/or a significant network, you likely won’t be the first to go. Also, you will be in a good negotiating position because you will be more desirable to other companies and firms.

4) New Employment Options

If you need or want to find another job, having a network makes it much easier. Referrals from people who are familiar with your work ethic and experience can go a long way.

5) New Ventures

Having a network makes it easier to transition into a different career with your skills and academic background. For example, a successful M&A lawyer could become an investment banker, or a successful investment banker could start her own private equity firm.

6) Career Advancement

Employees who are bringing in business are more likely to make partner or get promoted earlier.

7) Serve Current Clients Better

In the last article, I talked about value-add or “brownies”. Business development is a tool to help you provide brownies to your network. For instance, if you have a large network, you can be an excellent resource for your clients by referring them to qualified professionals. An M&A lawyer could assemble an entire team to close a deal. She could get an accountant on board, or other needed experts. Or perhaps she isn’t sure that the transaction should close, but creates value for the client by bringing together experts to help the client consider other strategic options, such as dividend recap instead of a sale.

8) Expand Knowledge Base

If you become more knowledgeable about what other people do and what they need, then you can help them better or connect them to people who can help them.  For example, I attended a political conference in which I learned about ethanol production from coal in an optional panel.  Later on, I was speaking with a CEO who mentioned ethanol production from coal. I started a discourse with him based on my knowledge I gained at the conference, and he was shocked that I knew anything at all about the subject. Apparently there are a very limited number of people in the United States that have any sort of knowledge about ethanol production from coal.  He hired me on the spot to consult him for $500 an hour.

The bottom line is that business development can help you take your goals to the next level. You might be good at what you do and work hard, but in today’s world that simply isn’t enough. Whether you’d like to make more money, get promoted faster, add value to your network, or move to another career entirely, business development is an essential skill. In my next article, we will begin to discuss how you can improve your business development skills with some specific tips.

Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series: Business Development in a Nutshell

Lou Sokolovskiy
Founder/CEO, Opus Connect


Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series 
Article One: Business Development in a Nutshell

Welcome to Mastering the Art of Business Development, a series of articles based on my personal experience coaching friends and colleagues on business development strategy. My name is Lou Sokolovskiy and I am the Founder and CEO of Opus Connect and a business development professional with 20 years of experience. Opus Connect is a professional organization for M&A executives. We produce over a hundred M&A industry-focused events worldwide each year in order to facilitate deeper and more meaningful relationships among our members and prospects.

Everyone has heard of business development. Some of us practice it on a daily basis, while others shy away from it for a variety of reasons. Wherever you are on this spectrum, this series of articles will help you improve your skills and take your career and your life to the next level. In the coming months, we will explore tips and tools as well as create a personal strategy or plan that maximizes your potential.

I’d like to start out with a basic concept – the definition of business development. “Business development” is a loaded term in today’s day and age, and can mean different things depending on who you ask. Ask ten “VPs of Business Development” or similarly business card-ed folks what it is, and you’re likely to get just as many answers.  “Business development is sales,” some will say, concisely.  “Business development is networking,” others will say, vaguely.  “Business development is hustling,” the startup folks will say, evasively.[1]

To me, business development is much more than just sales or networking. Sales generally has a very narrow focus on the end-goal of getting customers to purchase a widget or service. It is transactional in nature and is essentially a one-way street, although in some cases, salespeople will try to create and/or maintain a good relationship so they can sell more widgets/services in the future. In contrast to sales, business development is a two-way street in which one builds relationship channels leading to mutually beneficial relationships with people who you can also do business with. Under this framework, closing a deal or making a sale is a byproduct, not the primary focus.

Another common misconception of business development is that it is equivalent to networking. Networking is a helpful tool to feed your funnel and spark new connections by doing activities, going to events and meeting people. Networking is an essential part of business development when you are starting out and need to build a solid base, but after years of doing it you may even reach a point where you truly no longer need to develop new contacts. Thus, networking is a possible component of business development but it is really just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other tools that make up business development.

My personal definition of business development is: The creation of long-term value by establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships.

The best way to understand this definition is through a real-life example. Joe is an Opus Connect Advisory Board Member who is consistently involved in our activities and events. Joe is in charge of business development in a middle market investment bank, and one of his goals is to engage clients for valuations. His target market is private equity firms, business owners and executives, and other M&A professionals. His role as an Advisory Board member at Opus Connect is a tool he uses to create a relevant value-add for his audience. A value-add is something that helps a person or organization pursue or improve their goals. For example, a lawyer who sends a referral to an accountant would be adding value to the accountant’s network, or offering him a “brownie”, as I like to say.

Returning to our example of Joe, let’s say that Joe picks up the phone to call Tom, a director of a private equity firm, to pitch him valuation services. Unless Tom needs those services at that moment and does not already have someone in mind for the job, he might not be inclined to engage with Joe at that time. On the other hand, if Joe calls Tom to offer him an opportunity to speak at an Opus Connect event, or to attend an event where he can learn something or meet new potential partners, Joe is adding value to Tom’s business. Tom will probably be much more interested in taking Joe’s call, and also will likely develop a sense of gratitude for Joe’s assistance. This ultimately has the potential to translate into a business transaction and/or referral.

Additionally, because Joe dedicates time and energy into helping Opus Connect, he has also established a long-term, now mutually beneficial relationship with me. I am always eager to help Joe out by making introductions, highlighting him at Opus Connect events, or setting up business dinners with valued contacts. Joe is creating long-term value (i.e. potential future revenue from clients, success and prestige for his firm, possibility of promotion or additional income) by offering relevant business opportunities to his network while simultaneously building and maintaining a variety of relationships.

So there you have it, business development in a nutshell. Next time, I will dive more deeply into the ways that business development can benefit your business and your lifestyle, such as increasing your income and advancing your career.

[1] What, Exactly, Is Business Development?, Scott Pollack, Forbes Online, March 21, 2012.