insight magazine

Practice Perspectives | Fall 2022

3 Phases of Business Development for Long-Term Success

Forming positive business development habits early on can make the biggest impact—and profits—for your CPA firm.
Art Kuesel President, Kuesel Consulting

At most local, regional, and even national accounting and advisory firms, business development is a requirement for most partners, in part because partners are usually the best positioned people within firms to bring in new business. Partners generally have the most knowledge, expertise, relationships, and understanding of what businesses need to be successful. They also carry the most credibility within the firm.

But how many partners are really strong in business development? In my experience, it’s rarely more than 25% of the partner group. That leaves few partners good enough to teach it, and the rainmakers lack the time.

If business development is a requirement to make partner at so many firms, why do so few firms have an effective business development training program? It’s time to change that.

I believe the skills and ability to teach some business development lies somewhere within each firm—whether they’re possessed by a partner or not. Even though a partner may be willing to lead a discussion on client development or referral source development, it’s far from a complete curriculum. More often than not you’ll need to seek an external perspective from a known resource or consultant (subtle plug) who can help you not only create a curriculum and conduct the training but also help you architect success measures around the program to enhance its effectiveness. I’ve also known many marketing leaders within firms who step into this role to share their insights.

No matter how business development training comes into your firm, the main key for success is to start forming these habits. CPA firms that approach business development as an early- and mid-career core competency generally develop a stronger pipeline and have a better ratio of partners that we can consider rainmakers. More importantly, these firms also tend to see greater growth and profitability.

But remember, the perception of business development is a mirror image of the rainmaker, and that’s threatening for most young accountants. The last thing you want to tell a new hire is how business development or sales is a responsibility on day one.

Instead, I suggest breaking down the concept of business development into three career-level phases to help facilitate the long-term success of your staff and your firm.


In this phase, firms should focus on the early building blocks of business development. In fact, I recommend reframing the concept altogether. This may include improving communication; finding commonalities with others; and building relationships with peers, firm leadership, and clients. Train your people on when it’s appropriate to engage with clients and encourage them to build meaningful relationships with selected clients. Give them examples of how you might approach such activities, and task them with some basic and easy “to-dos,” such as learning more about a specific client, talking with a practice leader about their specialty area, updating their LinkedIn profile, reconnecting with alumni, or even taking a client to lunch.

At this level, business development is a very limited time investment. Perhaps it starts at 50 hours per year for newer staff and scales upward to 100 or 150 hours per year for supervisors. It’s important to set parameters and expectations like this for any early career professional.


Some firms start encouraging business development once an individual moves into a manager or similar mid-career role. But firms who start their staff early on, such as Phase 1, have an advantage: staff with real-world experience to draw upon that allows them to immediately take business development to the next level. By Phase 2 in someone’s career, it’s important for them to bring in new business of their own, cross-sell additional services to existing clients, develop meaningful referral sources, and develop a niche or specialty. It’s also a great time for them to fine-tune their networking skills and elevator pitch. Mid-career staff may even choose to start getting involved with a trade association or membership group that enables them to be surrounded by more of the right types of clients and targets.

At this mid-career level, business development does come with effort and investment. I generally suggest starting with a minimum of 150 hours per year and then scaling up to 250 hours per year or more. This phase is also where you’ll begin to identify the staff that are advancement motivated and eager to progress up the career ladder.


As I’ve previously stated, most firms require business development of their partners. But as you can imagine, the “congratulations” new partners receive that’s accompanied by the surprise of now being responsible for new business development isn’t always well received. That being said, your new partners can be primed for success in business development with the right building blocks (i.e., Phases 1 and 2). All that previous effort will already be paying dividends, and your new partners should be well on their way to achieving meaningful success in business development.

By Phase 3, there are a few additions to the types of activities needed for business development, but it mostly comes down to additional time needed for success. Some new activities may include writing or speaking in a specialty area to cement a personal brand and build the partner and firm’s reputation. At this professional level, partners may also be on a board of directors and should be very active in a professional organization. They’ll also be responsible for representing the firm in sales proposals and other opportunities.

I usually recommend that partners spend a minimum of 250 hours per year in business development, but often more than that, especially if they’re really strong at it. It’s not uncommon for partners to have new business targets of $50,000 to $150,000 in new clients and cross-selling services, and that takes some serious effort.

At each of these career levels, a professional has been through a prerequisite that sets them, and your firm, up for success. Can you imagine the impact of having a staff member coming up through the ranks with these kinds of business development experiences? And better yet, the growth and profitability that’s likely to accompany your firm? If you consider the short-, medium-, and long-term impacts of building positive business development habits early on in your firm, I think we can all agree that it’s a no-brainer to make the investment sooner rather than later.

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