insight magazine

Practice Perspectives | Fall 2019

Is Busy Season Killing Your Prospect Pipeline?

If you’re the type to put business development on the back burner during busy season, you run the risk of never being busy again.
Art Kuesel President, Kuesel Consulting

Ah, the second busy season. That time of year when nothing else matters except shaking any summertime slowdown and getting your clients’ extended tax returns out the door by their October deadline. But what about the other things that demand attention at your firm, even during your one or two busy seasons?

I’m here to warn you that you can’t totally ignore all other aspects of your business during your busy seasons! Consider this: Without solid technology, everything falls apart. So, I guess you’ll have to find time to maintain your IT infrastructure. Without cash, you won’t be able to make payroll. So, I guess you’ll have to find time to keep billing and managing WIP and AR so cash doesn’t dry up, work doesn’t become unbillable, or old AR becomes uncollectable. Without staff, you can’t serve your clients and meet deadlines. So, I guess you’ll have to find time for recruiting and retention, staff development, and all the other people issues that come with running a business.

I’m sure you can think of several other business-critical functions that must be managed, as well. Now, what about business development?

For many firm leaders, business development is a second thought. But a lot happens if you neglect business development for your entire busy season. You miss valuable opportunities for the development of goodwill and cross-selling to current clients. You allow referral relationships to cool off to the point where they become unproductive or unresponsive. You create a significant lapse of activity for promotion of your personal and professional brands. And your prospects that are no longer actively managed eventually cool off and die.

For any firm leader aspiring to grow the business, even at just a modest rate to keep up with rising costs, allowing your business development initiatives to take a back seat during any busy season is a flawed strategy. But I see it happening almost every day.

Take this example of a tax partner that I know who traditionally has brought in well over $100,000 worth of new client work per year. He had an extremely challenging spring and summer, leading him to put business development on the back burner—unless of course he had a prospective client screaming in his ear, “Please take me on!” Essentially, he vanished with respect to business development.

After about six months of neglect, nearly everything he’d worked for in the previous two years was wiped out. Most of the referral source goodwill he’d built had evaporated. His client cross-selling opportunities were way down. His pipeline had shriveled up, and the market forgot who he was and what his expertise and capabilities were. This year, he will be lucky to close $60,000 worth of new business. His lack of executing on a small list of daily business development tasks that were discounted as “one more thing to do” mushroomed into a costly 40 percent decline in new business.

So, how do you avoid such a fate? Treat your business development activities with the same priority as you do technology, people management, or billing. In other words, find time to make it happen— despite the season.

Thinking about your busy tax seasons as separate seasons altogether allows you to pass on business development activities when you’re busy bulldozing through tax returns.

Like the tax partner previously mentioned, your business development results will certainly suffer with neglect. The reality is that some weeks of the year simply won’t allow for you to focus beyond the immediate tasks at hand, such as meeting major compliance deadlines. But if you give yourself a pass on business development too often during your busy seasons, you risk missing out on some major opportunities.

So, perhaps it’s time to rebrand busy season as “opportunity” season. Thinking this way should get you motivated to keep business development top of mind.

Now, consider if your firm generally has two major busy seasons leading up to the April and October tax deadlines. Your tax-time clients are ripe for business development, particularly if you focus on the individual client and home in on the opportunities for appropriate goodwill, relationship building, and cross selling. With just a slight change in mindset, you can keep your business development time and busy season work momentum balanced.

So, as you wrap up one busy (opportunity) season and prepare to head into the next, I encourage you to consider how your lack of business development activity could be unintentionally killing your prospect pipeline and then rethink what you can do to revive it.

Hint: March is traditionally the biggest month for discovering and capitalizing on cross-selling opportunities!

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