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Business Development

For the past while, I've been doing some research into business development. I find it amazing that there are SOOO many books, websites, and other resources that cover the topic, yet so few that are really useful. There are some gems out there of course, but I'm finding that what I consider a gem, you might consider tripe - the topic is rather subjective.

The problem is this. Everyone who has a business wants to keep doing the business. For that to happen, the business will eventually need to grow and/or mature. The process of growing or maturing is "business development". And just like Design Patterns in the software industry, there are a number of common elements that have been recognized that help grow a business. But notice I did not say "WILL" grow the business. Each business is different, the personalities involved are different, the local culture and traditions are different, etc. So while one of these elements may be the silver bullet for one particular company, a similar company in the same locale may have a completely different experience using that element.

In short, my observations is that everyone is making things up as they go along, given the information they have at that moment. While some are better at this than others, my main take-away from this observation is that my opinion is just as right as others, for me. This was a liberating thing - instead of worrying about if I'm "good enough" to do business development, my focus could shift to just doing it. That doesn't mean I can relax at all, it just means that I have more confidence in my decisions as I do my research and planning.

Almost all the resources out there ask you to visualize where you want to be and then make plans to get there. In a lot of ways, this is good advice. If you know you want 3 development teams working on their own projects, then you can begin to see what kind of infrastructure you need in place to support their efforts. Each team member will need a desk, computer, and network connection. The network has to be provisioned accordingly. Each team will likely need some graphics work, but may not need a dedicated graphics artist, so a single graphics person will likely be fine. etc. Knowing what you want and the impacts that has, means steps can be taken NOW to make that happen.

But what is missing from all of this is HOW to do that planning, and more importantly how to get the customers to support the planning. Marketing and/or Sales. There is an assumption in all these resources that if you build the systems to support that work, then the work will come naturally. Some of the resources out there face the marketing/sales issue head on and some over-inflate things. Some of this disparity is due to differences in philosophy. While I may be focused on writing code, another company may be focused on the money, while another may be focused on the quantity of customers. This means some folks see that "sales is everything", while others see that "sales is meaningless without the product". The answer of course is to balance the work with the sales. But that balance is again highly subjective and determined by each businesses specific needs.

So it turns out that all the advice out there is more or less "right". You get to decide how right for your specific needs. And what may not be the most right for you today may become more right for you tomorrow as the business grows.

The approach I've taken for my business is this:

  • Define what I personally want out of life
  • Define a business that leads to my personal wants.
  • Create business objectives that serve the business's best interests AND lend themselves to meeting my personal goals.
  • Define the structure of the business - how many mangers, who does the work, who do they need to work with inside the company, etc.
  • Define a budget. Make some reasonable estimates on how much each position costs (payroll). What kind of network resources will be needed to support them (hardware costs), how many desks are needed, how large of a workspace is needed, etc. Convert all this to hard numbers (even if they are pure guesses at this point).
  • With the budget numbers, define sales and marketing expectations.
  • Define the responsibilities for each role, and begin writing a standard operating procedure for the roles
  • Document everything

In other words, treat the business as the product! Treat the business as a system to achieve it's goals, and then design and modify that system as needed.

Because we are small with limited resources, we need to handle the business planning part AND do the actual work of the business at the same time. But recognizing there is a difference and shifting focus to the business planning part over time will pay off in the long run. I hope.