insight magazine

Practice Perspectives | Winter 2019

Why Small Changes Yield Big Results

Big resolutions might not be the answer to your hopes for a new year of new business development.
Art Kuesel President, Kuesel Consulting

I recently had the pleasure of learning about habits—more specifically, how to create positive habits. It seems the successful creation of positive habits involves making many small increments of changes. For example, if you resolve to become more active for health reasons, you wouldn’t want to start by setting a goal of running 10 miles per day starting January 1. Your likelihood of failure is probably 99.5 percent in this scenario. However, if you set a goal to walk around the block once a week, your chance of success would be significantly higher. Once you can demonstrate success in your weekly walk, you are ready—and likely—to increase your commitment.

How exactly does this relate to business development? In my mind, it’s all about identifying the small, incremental changes that you can make which can achieve outsized impacts on your business development results. Consider that the small, consistent actions you execute on a weekly basis can make a difference on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis and can lead to forming habits that last a lifetime.

For example, the simple, common business development activity of going out to lunch with a client can ultimately be measured in goodwill, stronger relationships, additional revenue via cross-serving, referrals, and more. But when was the last time you thought to account for how valuable these lunches can be for your firm? When was the last time you thought to make the act of client lunches a regular business development process? The act itself is so approachable that all but the most inexperienced staff could say, “I can do that!” And, when you give yourself a wide berth in terms of execution, like all 12 months of a new year, you will have fewer excuses and obstacles in the way. If we assume that you didn’t partake in any client lunches this year as part of your business development efforts, I contend that even a small incremental change of committing to four client lunches per year could yield measurable business development results.

Taken a step further, you could resolve to engage with your referral sources on a more intentional basis to harness the power of those relationships. Your referral sources obviously trust in your expertise enough to send their clients your way, so why has it been months—or maybe even years—since you saw them last? Rekindling cooling referral relationships and more deliberately maintaining the ones with high potential is a good use of business development time. Let’s assume that you struggled to keep promising referral relationships warm in the past. A small, incremental change you can resolve to make is to get in touch with all previous referral sources twice in the coming year. Assuming you have two or three of these types of relationships, that commits you to just four to six outreaches in the new year.

Again, it is very easy to visualize success with this level of commitment and then expand upon it once it becomes a habit.

Now, how about the other business development opportunities that often lie undiscovered in your professional membership associations, like your membership with the Illinois CPA Society? While being a member of a trade association often gets your name listed in a directory, it does nothing for building meaningful relationships with prospective referral sources, clients, or even existing contacts without intentional effort. To extract value from your membership, conventional wisdom calls for you to be engaged, to volunteer on a committee, to contribute to its publications, to attend networking events and participate in or speak at educational conferences where you will build relationships with peers and other influencers and thought leaders in your profession. If you commit enough to write your dues check, why not commit to engage in six or eight activities in the coming year as a means for doubling down on your investment?

If you adopted all these recommendations, you would have committed to maybe 14 to 18 additional activities over the span of a year. Most people would assign you a high likelihood of success in being able to add these potentially very valuable business development activities to your calendar. For some of you, resolving to this level of additional commitment makes you uneasy. I’ll suggest taking the small, incremental steps down to just baby steps if it means you will start down the path to better business development. Make a single selective commitment if you must, because whatever your commitment, the ongoing implementation of it is surely to lead to a positive business development habit.

As one of my business development resolutions for the new year, I’m following my own advice and have committed to another year of writing this column. I’d love to use it to help you create positive habits and start down a path to better business development. Nothing brings me more satisfaction than seeing someone I have worked with become more successful. So, feel free to send me an email with your new year’s business development resolutions (or the ones you failed to meet this year). I will do my best to craft columns that are relevant and inspirational and, most importantly, that remind you to be accountable for making your small, incremental changes that will yield big business development results.

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  1. Sue Zisko | Dec 18, 2019
    Art, This is good material and so true! I have been using the book Atomic Habits by James Cleary with clients.  One person's desire to exercise started with simply leaving her gym shoes by the front door every night, and she ended up keeping to her workout routine all throughout tax season!

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