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How not to win business: a guide for professionals

20 January 14

No 12 in the tongue-in-cheek series: fail to plan. Stick to those new year resolutions!

by Stephen Gold

12 Fail to plan

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” (The Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland)

I have never understood why people find it so hard to keep New Year resolutions. Why, some of mine have lasted until 5 January. There is no logical reason why the start of a new year should be especially good for making plans, but always we see it as a time alive with possibility. Often though, possibility remains just that. January is also Robert Burns month, and his advice to the mouse is legendary.

The equally legendary Roy Keane is a man whose dudgeon rarely puts its feet up with a box of Hobnobs. You may remember him walking out on the Irish national football team at the 2002 World Cup, incensed at the public park standard of training facilities, which he took as yet another personal affront. Concluding with Benjamin Franklin’s advice: “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail!”, his executive summary made a number of other recommendations to management, which are neither pertinent here, nor anatomically feasible. But the core of his approach was spot on. Opportunity may knock unannounced, but most of the time it comes from careful planning, and paradoxically, the better our preparation, the easier it is to be spontaneous. In our hearts we know this, yet the road to hell is littered with discarded business plans. Our lives are full of clamour. Constantly, we juggle and react to the unexpected. How, in the midst of this, do we keep on track?

The key is to have clear goals – beacons in the confusion which light the path ahead – and an uncomplicated method of sticking to them. This month, I suggest you set one big business development target for the year – something that will be truly significant if you achieve it. Be realistic, but bold. Write it down, and beneath it, preferably in 500 words or fewer, list the subsidiary goals which will be milestones along the way and what you will need to do to reach them.

Doing this is the easy bit, but it will help you enormously to implement if you keep this plan in an unmissable place, and be disciplined in taking these simple, but effective, steps:

Every morning, ask yourself, “Will what I plan to do today help me achieve my goals?” I have seen it suggested in the excellent book Rainmaking Conversations that you say this out loud, and would not discourage you, though perhaps not in the middle of an open-plan office, lest one morning your plans are disrupted by the arrival of a discreet van and two burly paramedics with “sympathetic” expressions.

At the end of every week, month and quarter, review what you have done, measure it candidly against the targets you have set, and make any necessary adjustments. Use colleagues you trust as sounding boards to help you navigate the roadblocks and hazards that are bound to arise. If you make public commitments to them about what you are going to do, it will help you remain disciplined and resolute when the going gets tough. Do the same for them. The best business development is collaborative.

Spookily, as I write these final lines, Paul McCartney’s Long and Winding Road is on the radio. I wish you great success this year, as you set out on yours.

Stephen Gold was the founder and senior partner of Golds Solicitors, which grew from a sole practice to UK leader in its sectors. He is now a consultant, non-exec and adviser to firms nationwide.
e: stephen@stephengold.co.uk; t: 07968 484232; w: www.stephengold.co.uk; twitter: @thewordofgold

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