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Business Development Lessons From Balinese Rice Farmers

During a yoga retreat in beautiful, vibrant Bali back in 2019, I had the opportunity to observe local rice farmers cultivating their land. Unlike the western world’s distinct planting and harvesting seasons, these rice farmers plant and harvest continuously throughout the year, rotating between plots.

Business development, much like the intricate dance of planting and harvesting, demands a delicate balance of time and money. It is critical to find the “sweet spot” when budgeting for business development amidst a constantly changing landscape, influenced by numerous factors such as the economy and market conditions.

Much like the rice farmers who never cease their cultivation, business professionals must adopt a mindset of perpetual growth, understanding the cyclical nature of success. In other words, you always have to be planting and watering seeds for the future, not just harvesting all the time. Your customer’s journey has many different stages, and in order to maximize your harvest, like the Balinese rice farmers, you must continuously plant, water and nurture each seed.

The Best Time to Invest in Planting is When the Deal Market is Slow

Contrary to conventional wisdom, economic downturns or slow deal flow aren’t signals to cut budgets for business development. In fact, they present the optimal time to plant and water seeds. With potentially less capital but ample free time, strategic planning becomes crucial. A tight budget merely necessitates a more thoughtful allocation, emphasizing the need to find the elusive “sweet spot.”

For example, when deal flow is slow, I have found that it is one of the best times to book meetings in various cities where Opus Connect hosts events. During these slower periods, people have more time to meet, which means I can book more meetings and also spend more time deepening my connection with each prospective partner. The recent pandemic serves as another example: where many events-based companies chose to postpone, others seized the opportunity to adapt. At Opus Connect, we embraced virtual events, planting seeds that not only sustained us during challenging times but also flourished into a key component of our business.

Things to Consider When Planting Seeds in a Volatile Economy

1. Long Term and Short Term Goals:

To effectively plant seeds for future success, you need to understand the ​​various stages and milestones throughout your customer’s journey. Start with your long term goals: visualize the growth of your seeds into flourishing trees. How wide are the branches? How far do they reach? What fruits do they bear? Then, work backwards to understand the various cycles and milestones that your customer needs to go through in order to reach their ultimate potential. Set goals at regular intervals (10 years, 5 years, 1 year, and 3-months.)

2. Personal Aspirations:

Every individual is a “business of one,” regardless of whether they work at a huge firm or are a sole proprietor. In other words, your business needs a strategy, but so do you. For example, if you know that you want to move to a different state or country at some point, you’ll need to plant seeds that will eventually bloom into a branch that can take you there. You might join a local chamber of commerce or attend a conference in a place that you are interested in, thus planting the seeds of future connection and establishment. Or if you know that eventually you want to pivot or change careers, you may want to plant some seeds now to ensure that your roots are in place by the time you are ready to make that transition, such as taking a professional course.

3. ROI and Cost Effectiveness:

When budgets are tight, it is the perfect time to start and develop meaningful relationships because people (including you) tend to have more time on their hands. And it doesn’t have to be expensive. Instead of traveling to every possible conference, selectively attend only those with high ROI potential, or those offering significant exposure, such as speaking opportunities. Throwing money at business development doesn’t always drive results. Take the time to really understand what value your prospects need. Get creative, and come up with thoughtful ways that you can provide value that your customer will truly appreciate. Reach out more often – even a phone call or text message can be quite effective. Spend additional time on personal touches, like handwritten thank you notes. Coffee, drinks, or a fun activity can be just as effective as a Michelin star restaurant when executed thoughtfully.

4. Opportunity Costs:

Consider the costs of not investing in business development during slower years and remember, you have to find the sweet spot. For example, a business development professional’s salary may cost somewhere around $200-300K, but investing an additional $25K in their business development budget could increase their productivity and yield by threefold. One way you can plan ahead for this is by creating a rollover fund during plentiful times so that you have a budget for business development in years where you don’t have as much cash flow, but have more time.

Remember, business development takes time. You reap what you sow. Without seeds you won’t have anything to water. Without crops to water and nurture you won’t have anything to harvest. By adopting the Balinese rice farmer’s cyclical strategy, you can ensure that you maximize that harvest.

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