Business Development Articles

4 Ways Business Development Can Help M&A Professionals and Service Providers Survive a Recession


If you graduated before 2010, chances are you remember the Great Recession. Chris invested 3 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars into law school and graduated in 2008 at the top of his class with a job offer at one of the biggest firms in the city. But just months after starting his job as a junior associate, he, along with nearly everyone else in his class, was laid off. With little work experience and the competition of 2009 and 2010 grads, Chris couldn’t find another position. Melanie got her MBA in 2009 with a job offer to work at one of the largest investment banks in the country. But the offer came with a condition – that she start working in 2011. Again, with over a hundred thousand dollars invested in business school, it wasn’t the ROI she was expecting.

The majority of reputable financial news sources agree: a global recession is coming. While the world experienced a recession in the beginning of the pandemic, it only lasted about 2 months. The Great Recession of 2007-2009 was the last significant global recession, which means if you graduated after 2010 you probably haven’t truly experienced what it means to live (and hopefully work) through a recession. Unfortunately, if history teaches us anything, an impending recession will likely bring with it a decline in M&A activity, deal performance, lay-offs and fewer new employment opportunities, as well as budget cuts for L&D and business development activities. 

If your palms are starting to sweat, take a deep breath. You can survive a recession. But in order to do so, you must recognize that business development is now more important than ever. Business development can:

  1. Increase Your Revenue: The primary reason that people do business development is that it usually translates into revenue at some point. During a recession, where deal flow is slower, people with a bigger book of business and better relationships are more likely to continue to stay afloat, close deals, and/or be the go-to person when a deal is percolating. And while revenue might slow down during a recession, business development is all about creating long-term value. When the recession ends, those who stayed the course and continued to focus on business development efforts will reap the benefits.
  2. Provide You With Leverage/Last Out: Aside from direct financial gain, another important reason to ramp up your business development efforts now is that it will give you leverage at your current organization. If your company ends up laying people off and you have your own book of business and/or a significant network, you likely won’t be the first to go. You’ll also increase your optionality and put yourself in a good negotiating position because you will be more desirable to other companies and firms.
  3. Facilitate New Employment Options: If you need or want to find another job, having a network makes it much easier. Referrals from people who are familiar with your work ethic and experience can go a long way.
  4. Create New Ventures: When the pandemic hit, I was in the process of expanding Opus Connect to London. With the travel lockdown and budget cuts, I had to temporarily shutter my dreams of expanding Opus to another country. But as a result, I was able to focus on other ventures that still addressed the needs of my customers, but that did so in a virtual format and at a lower price point. Having a wide network was what enabled me to easily create and sell those new products.

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that business development can play a key role in helping you and your organization survive the storm that is approaching. If you are looking for tips on how to do business development, consider attending one of my upcoming seminars on Mastering the Art of Business Development on November 9th or 10th. During this live workshop we will:

  • Explore tips and tools
  • Learn how to create a personal business development plan
  • Take your career and your life to the next level

Register here: November 9; November 10

Tell us what you think on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter! @opusconnect.

By Lou Sokolovskiy, Founder & CEO at Opus Connect
October 2022

How To Be the Exception – Four Key Steps to Take in Growing Your Business Development Network

By Lou Sokolovskiy, Founder & CEO at Opus Connect
January 2021

How to Be the Exception: Four Key Steps to Take in Growing Your Business Development Network

Covid 19 negatively impacted many businesses in 2020, but we’ve seen some remarkable innovation in a variety of business sectors that have allowed companies to pivot and thrive despite a global economic slowdown. These success stories are more than hopeful tales or the product of wishful thinking – they demonstrate that it is possible to make the most of a market in turmoil. Agility is a quality that is frequently prized when discussing best practices, and 2020 proved to be a true test of a company’s ability to pivot quickly to digital and virtual resources when faced with a sudden shift in conducting business as we knew it. How can your business be one of these success stories? We have a few ideas to implement and lean into right now to make 2021 a year of innovation and growth.

Bite-Size Goals Instead of Huge Initiatives

Maintaining a new year’s resolution isn’t easy! Drastically changing your diet and exercise habits once January 1 hits usually doesn’t stick – but gradual change in one or two habits over time tends to produce greater success. The same approach can be applied to business development goals. Don’t spend hours networking every day or you’ll burn out. Instead, as Stuart Rose suggests, try contacting three new people in your industry per week. You can knock that out after your morning coffee! This can mean dropping a quick note on LinkedIn, shooting a friendly text to a contact you met over drinks at a conference in 2019, or picking up the phone to make plans for a Zoom meeting.

New Relationships Are Great – But Don’t Forget Your Existing Clients

We’ve heard from so many Opus Connect members about how grateful they are for their existing professional network. Cultivating business contacts and nurturing existing relationships over the course of years gave many middle-market M&A deal professionals a network to lean on during a slow and uncertain 2020. Jared Stitz told us that he’s seen the most growth from continuing to build his relationships with existing clients, a sentiment echoed by William Kemp, who is also inspired by the creativity that people demonstrated upon needing to stay home yet come up with new ways to stay connected. Repeatedly, our network touted the importance of consistency in communications and leveraging your existing contacts.

Embrace the Digital Reality

No doubt about it, 2020 was the year of Zoom. While we had surely sat in on many conference calls, Skype updates, and were using Slack channels and Teams in the past, the pandemic made these digital tools a necessity. Just like you might upgrade your phone to the latest model, the hardware and software we use to conduct business needs underwent an upgrade in the past year. Opus Mind member Brett Frantz is making tech a priority in 2021 to assist in marketing initiatives, and Carrie DiLauro, co-chair of our Women in M&A group, along with Bill Bymel note the importance of embracing this new digital environment and building a brand online to ensure successful business development.

Opus Mind is just one of the digital tools that Opus Connect offers, one that takes advantage of our remote work status to promote peer-to-peer connection in a post-Covid reality. The small, curated groups of deal professionals within our Opus Mind community are able to bounce ideas off one another, and one of our members describes it as “market intelligent,” with pre-designed agendas and topics that are relevant to the current market landscape. By hearing from different perspectives in an easy-to-use digital format, our members are making new network connections, sharing ideas, and forging new paths in a post-Covid reality.

Look To Untested Waters

What haven’t you tried before? Jim Downes told us that the best thing he did in 2020 was hiring a professional writer to improve his digital content and outreach. Others took the extra down time from a slow business landscape to improve their industry knowledge through reading and other forms of digital learning. Matt Somma stated that being open to new relationships alongside his current client roster led to positive connections and successful outcomes in 2020. With the proliferation of tools, virtual events, speed networking meetings, and more, there are surely several options available that you have yet to try.

What are you doing to counteract the effects of 2020? We’d love to hear your thoughts on all aspects of business development! Find us on LinkedIn and on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @opusconnect.

Business Development Strategies In Flux: How Deal Professionals Are Approaching A Post-Covid Landscape

By Lou Sokolovskiy, Founder & CEO at Opus Connect
October , 2020

There is no question that Covid-19 created a stark situation of before and after in nearly all industries. Things are different now, more digital, virtual, and slower to generate results. Expectations must of course be adjusted accordingly as we make our way into uncharted waters within modern business. As we begin to return to full speed, many will face an uphill battle as deal flow begins to normalize – making now an excellent time to take the temperature of middle-market M&A professionals at the beginning of Q4 2020.

Opus Connect sent out a business development survey in September 2020 to speak directly with deal professionals that have gone through the challenges that Covid-19 posed and are beginning to come out the other side – a bit battered, but still hanging in. The goal of this piece is to provide the findings of that survey and give our audience a quick yet thorough picture of the present deal flow landscape.

Obviously, the travel industry has been hit extremely hard and that is reflected in our survey results, as 79% of our respondents had yet to resume regular business travel at the time of this survey. In a similar vein, virtual settings are working well, as the industry adapts to Zoom life, to help connect with their peers and allow networking at virtual roundtables much like our Opus Connect events. A robust 95% of professionals told us that virtual settings are working for them, thankfully enabling some aspects of the deal flow process to continue.

However, that doesn’t mean that deals have returned to previous levels– just that professionals are adapting as best they can given the circumstances. Responses very clearly indicate that deal flow is not where it was, with more than half of the survey respondents (57%) telling us that while there is “a surge of activity on the sell side and many inquiries from buyers,” deal flow is not yet where it needs to be to constitute a recovery from what McKinsey and others have termed a “Great Reset” or a “Great Pause” during the Covid-19 lockdown. When expanding upon that query, many professionals rated their deals at around 50% of normal, with a few rating it 20% or lower. It is worth noting that our pool of responses come from professionals in a variety of industries, so some variation is to be expected, but the average response indicates that there is a long way to go before deal flow is as robust as it was in years prior.

Several of those surveyed mentioned that restructuring activity has picked up, which makes sense as companies faced with less revenue need to adapt, streamline, and shrink according to global economic activity. Middle market M&A professionals have closed deals, with slightly more than half (52%) of our professionals telling us that they closed deals since the start of the pandemic. The lack of deals closed demonstrates that this is a 50/50 endeavor – but everyone is facing those same odds. Meeting in person is still favored, but less important as the industry taps into what were likely underutilized methods of conducting business virtually, with one response noting that they had “launched several new deals and have a huge backlog to be launched in the next three to four months.”

Strategies for business development are at the heart of the middle market M&A industry, and it was illuminating to hear directly from professionals as they implement both tried-and-true methods for business development and also bring new ideas to this changing landscape. A few responses we’d like to highlight include the following:

  • A greater focus on liquidity and leverage
  • Organizing more webinars and publishing more research
  • A stronger interest in local companies that can be reached by a drive rather than a flight
  • Utilizing virtual meetings to reach groups and meet people that I probably would not have otherwise; utilizing virtual formats to stay top of mind with referral partners and potential clients
  • Focus on add-ons while being patient with new control platform opportunities; more junior capital/structured equity deals are appearing in this uncertain liquidity/financing environment
  • Focus on special situations (distressed) businesses; have leveraged webinars and direct emails to keep in contact with clients and prospects

Some excellent strategies from respondents that can be implemented by anyone in the middle market M&A industry include these five actionable suggestions:

  • Make more phone calls, send fewer emails. More humor, less dwelling on the depth of the current issues. More manners, less “onto the next Zoom/call.”
  • Increase your virtual, one-on-one coffees instead of the typical quick catch up phone calls to spend a little more time with the business contact and achieve a higher quality of connection
  • Mine existing networks to convert contacts into clients
  • Create a system of referrals to have on hand during calls to fill a potential client’s needs right away (greater reliance on word of mouth)
  • Focus more on understanding the non-business aspects of a client/partner’s circumstances to orient the stress levels, and challenges on timing

The last portion of our survey focused on harvesting, maintaining, and building relationships, which are the three phases of business development that Opus Connect targets as we strive to increase our members’ network of meaningful and long-lasting connections. We asked how M&A professionals were moving through these phases in 2020, with nearly every response in the “harvesting phase” mentioning more virtual and digital outreach, attending webinars and similar events, and focusing on one’s LinkedIn connections and creating new relationships. Many were more focused on the “maintaining” and “building” phases, with one respondent noting that it is:

“…more important than ever to boost communication levels with our current investors in order to maintain and continue to build those existing relationships. We have been successful in ramping up communications with our current investors with thorough transparent operating updates, consistent virtual meetings & timely updates regarding new opportunities.”

Other excellent thoughts focused on the realization that being a “resource for others whenever possible,” as well as “keeping connectivity with existing relationships and strategically targeting new ones” was proving the most valuable in the long-term as we collectively forge ahead in the aftermath of Covid-19. One respondent in particular shared that they are “executing on deals currently in process and building a deeper rolodex of financial sponsors across different geographies, industries, deal size, and deal structures,” which provides a good model across multiples industries going forward.

We encourage our network to use this information to remain proactive rather than reactive as the deal pipeline picks up, no matter the industry vertical. Of course middle-market M&A has been deeply affected by this period of turmoil, but the road ahead shows opportunity for greater connection through thoughtful business development strategies that aim to create more robust networks, stewardship of existing relationships, and a more agile approach to deal flows taking place in a digital future.

Guns v Butter: Understanding the Present Value of Business Development

“Many people have a hard time understanding the present value of business development because they see it as a nebulous concept that may or may not help them in the future.”

If you read our recently published series Mastering the Art of Business Development, then you know how important it is to prioritize business development in your career. And yet, despite this knowledge, many people still don’t spend enough (or any) time on business development. One of the reasons for this is that while people know that business development is important, they don’t understand the present value of doing it. This is a challenge even for those who enjoy doing business development because at the end of the day, we all still need to get our actual work done. This article will teach you how to find the “sweet spot” where you not only get your work done, but you enhance your career and income through an optimal amount of business development.

Many people have a hard time understanding the present value of business development because they see it as a nebulous concept that may or may not help them in the future. Therefore, they choose to focus their time on things that appear more concrete (like billing hours) despite evidence to the contrary. For example, the beneficial effects of meditation are now well-known and studied. Meditating even just five minutes a day can improve productivity and reduce stress, illness and fatigue. I know a few people who take this seriously and incorporate a meditation ritual into their daily routine, but for most (myself included), we make excuses like “I don’t have time today” or “I’ll get to it later.” There’s an old Buddhist saying: “You should meditate one hour a day, but if you don’t have an hour to meditate, you should meditate two hours a day!”

In contrast, there are many other choices that produce delayed and uncertain results that we as a society routinely accept as normal. For instance, most Americans will give up working at a full-time job for four years in order to attend college because they believe that the long-term payout is worth it. Many people will also give up income in order to start their own business because they believe that in the long run the benefit will be worthwhile. Hundreds of thousands of Americans visit a gym multiple times a week to achieve both long-term health and aesthetic results despite the opportunity cost and hard work involved.

So, what is the difference between someone who is willing to go to the gym five times a week for an hour, but who won’t spend five minutes meditating even though it’s proven to make him or her more effective and healthier? Why would someone give up four years of income and work experience to attend an expensive University when that same person years later won’t give up one billable hour a week to attend a networking event or grab drinks with a business contact? The answer is that the risk of not taking those five minutes to meditate, or not going to that networking event or grabbing a drink is not immediate and there is no guarantee that it will occur. In contrast, societal standards and the long-standing cultural norms associated with going to college and the gym give us more certainty that we will make more money in the future with a college degree and that we will reduce our risk of heart attack and look more attractive if we regularly exercise.

It’s that certainty or lack thereof that this article aims to address, because it is, in fact, certain that you will gain a whole host of benefits from spending some amount of time doing business development. By attempting to calculate the present value of doing business development, you can be more certain that you are spending your time in an optimal way.

One way you might contemplate this issue is by calculating your marginal utility. In classic economics, marginal utility, or the idea of opportunity cost, is demonstrated through a model of guns vs. butter. In a theoretical economy with only two goods, a choice must be made between how much of each good to produce. As an economy produces more guns (military spending) it must reduce its production of butter (food), and vice versa.[1]

In other words, there is a “sweet spot” where you will benefit the most from working x number of hours and doing business development for y number of hours. Doing more or less business development than this sweet spot will decrease your utility.  For example, the first hour(s) of business development may help you a lot, but at some point the utility of business development starts to drastically fall and you need to switch to work mode.

Using this model as a frame of reference, take a look at your investments and returns and make some estimates. Note: the following examples are oversimplified and in reality, there are likely many other factors to consider, but they illustrate the concept. Let’s say you are an attorney at a firm. The opportunity cost for doing business development is lost billable hours. But the opportunity cost for not doing business development is that you may not be able to make partner or eventually run your own business. Let’s say that you make about $200 an hour if you outsource and do work for other lawyers. If you were billing your own clients, you’d be able to charge $400 an hour. The question then becomes, how much time will you need to spend doing business development in order to get (and keep) a client?

In one scenario, the lawyer who bills 40 hours a week at $200 an hour makes $8,000 a week. If you were able to secure clients by doing 10 hours of business development a week and billing 30 hours at a rate of $400 an hour, that would be worth it because you would end up with $12,000 a week. If, on the other hand, you are just starting out and have no experience and no network, it might take you 30 hours a week to get enough clients just to bill 10 hours a week, which means you’d only be making $4,000 a month. Perhaps in that scenario, it would be better to build your experience and network working for other people before going out on your own.

Remember, more business development doesn’t necessarily equal more new clients! I, for example, have cut down on the number of networking conferences I go to per year because I found that I did not have enough time to follow up with each contact. Without follow up, the time spent on the conference is meaningless. This is a situation in which more networking decreases utility. You may also want to consider that not all clients are equal. Some clients may pay lower rates, but take up a lot more of your business development time to acquire and keep. In that situation you’d want to focus your business development efforts on fewer clients but those that are less of a headache and pay higher rates.

Some additional questions you might want to ask yourself in order to make this calculation might be:

  • What have you invested? (Ex:  tuition)
  • What has been your opportunity cost (Ex: not having a job while in grad school)
  • How much do you currently make? For what amount of work?
  • What is your current quality of life?
  • How much does someone in a comparable position to what you see yourself in in the future make? How many hours do they work?  What is their quality of life like?

Hopefully this helps you identify your own personal sweet spot so that you can optimize your utility. Stay tuned for more business development tips from myself and other experts in the Opus Connect community.



Lou Sokolovskiy
Founder/CEO, Opus Connect


Mergers and Acquisitions events

by Lou Sokolovskiy (12/12)

Accountability is another way to ensure that you are making the most out of your personal business development strategy. In this article, I discuss three different techniques that you can employ to create accountability.


Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series
Article 12: Accountability

In my recent series of articles, we’ve been working on developing our own Personal Business Development Plans.  A personal plan is like a roadmap, and having one makes it much easier to conduct business development in a way that is meaningful, enjoyable and ultimately, successful. As you may recall, the final step in creating a personal business development plan is to set up a system for tracking your progress and goals. However, there is an additional tool that can help ensure that you are able to get the best results out of your plan:  accountability.

A good analogy is a dieter. People go on diets all the time. Some go to a group like Jenny Craig, others see a private nutritionist, and others buy a book or read up online. In most cases, these people start out with a plan. So what is the difference between those who succeed and those who fail? Some of it is certainly about will-power, but another big factor is accountability. When dieters are held accountable for whether or not they stick to their plan, they tend to see better results. Accountability in this situation may take its form in having to report to other people, or to the motivation created by virtue of a financial investment.

Like a dieter, you might start out with a great Personal Business Development Plan.  But if you don’t stick to the action items and time budget that you’ve created, then it isn’t worth much. Additionally, sometimes these plans may need to be altered based on circumstances and also based on trial and error. If something isn’t working you likely need to adjust it.

So how do you create accountability in business development?  Here are three tools you can use:

  1. Hire a personal business development coach: Why do people use personal trainers instead of just going to the gym? Firstly, they get a more tailored approach to their personal needs. And secondly, it’s a lot harder to skip a session that you’ve paid for, whereas if you simply have a membership to a gym there is no penalty for deciding to stay in bed or head to happy hour instead of pumping some iron.  It’s the same with personal business development coaches.  A coach can help you create your personal plan, including identifying things that perhaps you wouldn’t see on your own. And because you are committed to paying for sessions (or at least to showing up since it is one on one), you will be more motivated to make progress between meetings.
  2. Establish a “chavrusa”: Chavrusa comes from a Hebrew word which means a learning partner. Your chavrusa should consist of you and one other person who is also working on improving his or her business development skills. Your partner should be a peer, but not a competitor. For example, a corporate lawyer and an accountant would make a good team because they both understand the subject matter of each other’s professions, but are not in direct competition. The most important thing is that you meet consistently and that you hold each other accountable. When you meet, in addition to discussing new action items or contacts that you might add to your personal plan, you must go over your existing goals and action items and explain your progress (or lack thereof) to your partner. Even though there is no punishment for failing to deliver on an action item, your chavrusa will psychologically motivate you to accomplish your goals because it creates a sense of accountability not just to yourself, but to another person.
  3. Joining a mastermind group: A concept created by Napoleon Hill 100 years ago in a book called “Think Big and Grow Rich”, a mastermind groups offer a combination of brainstorming, education, peer accountability and support in a group setting to sharpen your business and personal skills. It helps you and your mastermind group members achieve success. Participants challenge each other to set powerful goals, and more importantly, to accomplish them. You can create your own mastermind group, or you can reach out to us at Opus Connect and we can try to place you in one that is appropriate and meets your needs.

To sum this up, accountability is an important factor in the success of your ability to implement your Personal Business Development Plan and achieve maximum results. We’ve discussed three tools you can employ to create accountability. I would suggest that you use at least one of these, if not more.


Lou Sokolovskiy
Founder/CEO, Opus Connect


Tracking the Success of Your Business Development Plan

by Lou Sokolovskiy (11/12)

No good plan comes without a way to track success. By creating your own personalized matrix tracking system, you can ensure that you are optimizing your personal business development strategy.

Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series
Article 11: Tracking the Success of Your Business Development Plan

We’ve spent the last few months developing our Personal Business Development Plans, and by this point, you should have a clear mission, goals and a well-defined action plan. The seventh, and final step involves setting up a mechanism to track your progress. Why is this necessary? You might have an incredible plan, but you need a way to determine whether it is working, and how well it is working. Many people need to make adjustments along the way, but how will you decide what those adjustments should be? Step Seven is designed to address these issues by helping you create an easy-to-use and effective tracking system.

What are you tracking?

Before setting up your system, you need to define what it is that you are trying to track. There are many different aspects of your business development strategy that you can and should track, the specifics of which are unique in each case. Common things you might want to consider tracking include number of new contacts, number of new clients, number of returning clients, amount of income, number of publications, etc. If you need help figuring out what to track, start by looking at each of your action items as well as your overall goals and identify what would qualify as success in each case.

The Business Development Funnel

As I mentioned above, one of the most common things that people need to track in business development is your contacts and whether and how those contacts translate into revenue. In order to show you how to do this, I first need to define a key concept: the business development funnel. Many of you are probably familiar with the term “sales funnel”, which is a list of the steps that a salesperson takes from lead generation all the way down to a conversion or sale. The funnel is a tool you can use in order to determine how many leads you would need to generate in order to end up with a certain amount of sales, on average. For example, a salesperson might email 100 leads, out of which 50 will respond. Out of those 50, 25 will be interested in setting up a demo, and out of those 25, 10 will move forward with a free trial of the product. Perhaps 5 of the leads that use the free trial decide to sign up as paying clients. In this way, the salesperson can determine how many leads he or she must contact in order to get X number of paying customers, as well as determine the monetary value of a lead at each stage in the funnel.

The sales funnel is pretty straightforward, and therefore, salespeople are great at using it. Professionals who are trying to do business development, on the other hand, do not use funnels as frequently. Yet, it is an integral part of creating an action plan that can be tracked and adjusted for maximum success.

A classic example of a business development funnel looks something like this: Alex knows 1,000 people. Out of those 1,000 people, he is in touch with about 250, 100 of which he maintains a meaningful relationship with. Out of those 100, 50 attend one of Alex’s events each year. 20 of them end up being clients, and in addition, 10 more of them become referral sources which then leads to another 10 clients.

Here is another example that is slightly more complex. Let’s revisit Jackie again. While bringing clients into the firm is obviously great, her main long term goal as you will recall is to pivot into an in-house counsel position at a tech start-up company. In order to do that, she needs to make connections in the tech industry so that when she is ready to make the move, she has people to turn to who can connect her with job opportunities. Here, the funnel is not necessarily linear, but might look something like this: Jackie joins the Bar Association’s Tech Division and goes to 2 networking events each month. At each event, she talks to 10 people, and follows up with 8 of them. Of the 8, she sets up a coffee or lunch meeting with 5, and forms a close relationship with 1 of the 5 over time. This would mean that Jackie meets 2 people per month with whom she forms a close relationship over time who work in the tech industry. After one year, Jackie has 24 meaningful business contacts, approximately 10 of whom work at companies that Jackie would like to work at, and 5 of whom are at companies that are currently hiring.

How Do You Track These Things?

The tracking system I like best is a matrix in which you can follow your goals and/or action items over a period of time, and compare performance from month to month, and year to year.  You can use a program like Excel or Google Sheets for this purpose. There are also many professional tools out there to help with tracking, such as CRM systems like Salesforce.

How you set up your matrix will depend on what your specific goals and action items are, meaning that your matrix is unique and should be customized according to your personal business development plan. The matrix will appear different depending on what it is that you are trying to track. If you are tracking a business development funnel, each step of the funnel should appear in the tracking matrix:

Contact Follow-up Meeting Continue Followup Becomes Client
Mickey Mouse X X X X
Donald Duck X X X
Cinderella X X
Barack Obama X
Warren Buffett

You might also track something like finances: For example, if one of your goals was to increase your revenues by X% over the course of a year, each month you can actually see what the percentage of increase is. You might need to engage an accountant to help you track your finances, or you can use an accounting software with reporting tools.

This wraps up our series on creating your Personal Business Development Plan. You now have the tools you need in order to build your own. But your efforts shouldn’t stop there, as there are many other tricks and tools that you can use in order to optimize performance of your personal plan.  Next time, we will take a closer look at how other accountability systems can help you succeed in your business development efforts.


Lou Sokolovskiy
Founder/CEO, Opus Connect

Lights, Camera, Action!

by Lou Sokolovskiy (10/12)

Step five in creating your personal business development strategy is to create an over-inclusive list of all possible action items that can help you achieve your objectives. Then, in step six, you can whittle down those objectives to those that are reasonable and most efficient.


Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series
Article Ten: Lights, Camera, Action!

Over the past couple of months, I have been going through the steps that you should take in order to build your own Personal Business Development Plan:

  1. Perceive Yourself as a Business of One
  2. Create a Mission Statement
  3. Perform a SWOT Analysis
  4. Develop a Personal Brand Strategy
  5. Determine Action Items
  6. Create a Time Budget
  7. Track Your Progress

Step Five: Determine Action Items

Steps One-Four should have given you a pretty clear picture of what your goals are (short term and long term), as well as what your assets and deficits are. In Step Five, you need to synthesize that information into action items. In other words, what are some specific things that you can do in order to achieve the goals you’ve identified? Think about how you can use your strengths and opportunities, and possibly improve upon your weaknesses and threats. Consider what you need to accomplish in order to build your personal brand. Keep your mission statement in mind and ensure that your action items fall in line with that purpose.

You should begin by being overinclusive. Write down all action items that come to mind, regardless of how easy they will be to accomplish or whether they are reasonable right now. Be as clear and specific as possible and make sure your items are measurable by converting them into weekly or monthly deliverables. You should also include things like quantity or the specific type of audience you are trying to engage.

To illustrate this Step, let’s go back to our example of Jackie, the corporate lawyer who eventually wants to go in-house at a tech start-up. Please note: this is not a complete list of possible action items (that would simply take up too much space) but this should give you the idea of how to do this step. Here are some things we know about Jackie:

  • She works at one of the top firms in Los Angeles in corporate law
  • She is shy and has a hard time meeting new people
  • She has a good network of existing contacts from Cornell and UCLA.
  • She is a wine connoisseur.
  • She recently got into art and frequently visits the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Some of Jackie’s action items could include:

  • Join the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s tech division and attend two events or meetings per month.
  • Join the Young Professional Board of LACMA and attend monthly board meetings.
  • Create a monthly newsletter for best values on wines and send to a “club” of relevant contacts, including college and law school friends as well as business relations.
  • Create Business Development Real Estate™ in the form of a quarterly wine tasting event, hosted in one of the nicer conference rooms at the firm, and invite colleagues from the firm, law school friends and firm clients.
  • Sign up for a bi-weekly public speaking coach.

Step Six: Create a Time Budget

Step Five should produce a list of all possible action items you could take to achieve your goals, and in Step Six you need to create an executable plan by whittling down that list to those items that are reasonable and beneficial for you to engage in at present. In other words, just because you can do something doesn’t mean that right now you should. Your time is precious and limited, and a time budget will ensure that you are using it for the most impactful items on your list. You can always re-evaluate your list in the future, and should plan to do this at least annually, if not more often.

So how do you determine which items you should focus on now? You need to assess the cost-benefit ratio of each item. Think about things like monetary expense, opportunity cost, how much time you actually have to spend on business development and still complete your job, and your personal happiness. You should ideally be looking for the low hanging fruit – the action items that will cost you the least but yield the highest results.

Let’s say that Jackie decides to spend 10 hours per month on business development. While she could do all of the things on her action item list above, that’s quite a lot to perform all at once and frankly, would be difficult to accomplish with her 10-hour time budget. Perhaps she might start out with the two networking events per month and the monthly newsletter. The former is likely to yield relevant results quickly, whereas the latter is easy to accomplish, involves Jackie’s hobby, and is a great way to test the waters before jumping into creating Business Development Real Estate, which is a much larger time commitment and expense.

Another example of creating time budgets might include honing the number of leads you want to add to your sales pipeline or the number of networking events you want to attend. Jackie could attend two meetings of the LA County Bar Association’s Tech Division each month, with a goal of meeting at least ten new contacts at each of those events. If she sees that she is unable to meet twenty new contacts in the course of only two events, she could consider adding another event to her time budget or finding a different action item to make up the difference so that she still gets to twenty new contacts per month.

Spend some time creating your action item list and time budget. In the next article, we will discuss how you can track these action items so that you can ensure maximum success.

Lou Sokolovskiy
Founder/CEO, Opus Connect

Building Your Personal Brand Strategy – Part Two

by Lou Sokolovskiy (9/12)

Your personal brand is a key component of your personal business development strategy. Some tips for building your brand include being a thought leader, acting as a “matchmaker” for your contacts, and developing a signature style, among others.


Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series
Article Nine: Building Your Personal Brand Strategy – Part Two

Welcome back. We’ve recently been discussing the seven steps to creating your Personal Business Development Plan. Step Four is to develop your personal brand strategy, which is how you communicate to others in the marketplace who you are and what your value is. Today I am going to explore tips and strategies for building your own personal brand.

Be a Matchmaker
Of note, nearly everyone that I interviewed about this topic incorporates goodwill or helping others in some way into their personal brand. One of my colleagues and friends, Steve Sahara, is a Director at Stout who engages in a high volume of business development. When I asked Steve what he thinks his personal brand is, he explained that he is friendly and is always thinking about what others are trying to get out of the time they invest and how he can he be helpful to them. This quality leaves people with a favorable impression. One way you can generate goodwill is by matchmaking, or acting as a connector. If you can provide value to someone by connecting them with a potential client, referral source, or expert on something they need done, you are helping two people at once and ameliorating yourself to them. Perhaps in the future, one of them will refer you a client, or become clients themselves. To be a good matchmaker or connector, you should be constantly building and maintaining relationships. Organize get-togethers, attend events, and get involved with things that you care about and that are relevant to your career and industry.

Offer Brownies
Another way you can generate goodwill is by occasionally offering free advice. Steve Sahara, for example, is big on delivering results to prospects before they even hire him. Selwyn Gerber explained to me that he often waives fees on a bill or sponsors a presentation that he knows will not directly generate revenue, but that adds value to his clients and prospects. By offering people these “brownies” in the form of connections, free advice or other types of value- add, you will enhance your personal brand.

Be a Thought Leader or Expert
Another common and important component of personal brands is expertise, or thought leadership. Jeri Harman is a great example of someone who incorporates this into her personal brand: Jeri speaks on M&A and private equity panels around the country, and co-chairs conferences and boards. By highlighting herself as an expert in her field, she has built a reputation as a high level industry participant and influencer, as well as a subject matter expert in private credit and M&A. Indeed, taking on leadership roles in your field and becoming a spokesperson or authoring a content-rich publication (a monthly newsletter for example) can go a long way in helping to communicate your expertise to others.

Play to Your Strengths
Review your strengths from your SWOT analysis. Consider how you might highlight or develop them further. For instance, if one of your strengths is public speaking, you should incorporate that into your personal brand strategy.

Build Trust Through Authenticity
When people know they can trust you, they are much more likely to turn to you when they need something. A good way to build trust is by being open and authentic with people. Let them get to know you. For instance, Robert Derbabian shares his Instagram account with business contacts and allows them to see photos of his personal travels. And make sure that you are reliable by doing what you say you are going to do and following up with people appropriately.

How Do You Stand Out?
How are you different from the competition? Can you say it in one sentence? For instance, Selwyn Gerber’s CPA firm uses the motto “Beyond Bean Counting” and his wealth management firm uses the catchphrase “Providing Peace of Mind”. These short statements not only communicate what is different about these companies from other competitors, but they also directly tie into Selwyn’s own personal brand, which is someone who really cares about the people he works with and who listens to their specific needs.

Develop a Signature Style
I mentioned this in my last article, but Robert Derbabian is known for his big personality and he is always wearing a suit, tie and cufflinks. This “signature style” helps Robert stand out in a crowd and enables people to remember him more easily.

Be The Poster Child of Your Brand
To build a personal brand, you must be consistent in your message. You should apply your brand and message consistently through any text you put out there, your website, the way your office looks, and in the conversations you have with people.

Have an Attractive Digital Presence
Your professional profile should be impressive. You should also use social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, or even Instagram).

Be Great At Your Job
While building a strong personal brand is important, at the end of the day you need to deliver a product and back up your brand.

Hopefully these tips can get you started on developing a personal brand strategy that is consistent with your skills and identity. Next time we will delve into creating a plan of action to take advantage of this information.


Lou Sokolovskiy
Founder/CEO, Opus Connect

Building Your Personal Brand Strategy – Part One

by Lou Sokolovskiy (8/12)

Developing a personal brand is the next step to creating a successful personal business development strategy. Your personal brand is how you communicate to others in the marketplace who you are and what your value is.


Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series
Article Eight: Building Your Personal Brand Strategy – Part One

My recent articles have been focusing on how to create your own Personal Business Development Plan, and today we will be discussing Step Four of this process:

  1. Perceive Yourself as a Business of One
  2. Create a Mission Statement
  3. Perform a SWOT Analysis
  4. Develop a Personal Brand Strategy
  5. Determine Action Items
  6. Create a Time Budget
  7. Track Your Progress

There is a lot of debate about what the term “personal brand” means, especially in the context of business development. In order to clarify the concept, I reached out to a few colleagues whose personal brands are particularly strong and interviewed them on what “personal brand” means to them and how they use it in their business development strategy.

Interestingly, I got a diverse range of answers. There were, however, some common driving factors, and some great tips that I will share with you in Part Two of this article. But first, I want to explain how the concept of personal brand might be be applied differently depending on who you are and what your role is. For instance, the founder of a company sees things differently than an employee of a company. Likewise, someone who does business development in order to promote his own services views the concept of personal brand differently than someone whose primary role in a company is business development.

In my article about Step One of creating your personal business development plan, I quoted my friend and colleague Robert Derbabian, who often uses the example of a professional basketball player to explain business development. A professional basketball player wears a jersey with his team’s name on the front, but with his own name on the back. In some ways, the player is representing the team’s brand. But people are truly interested in the individual player. If he were to be traded, for example, the colors and the name on the front of his jersey would change, but the back of his jersey will always remain the same.

Robert is the Senior Director of Business Development at Marcum LLP and embodies this principle. There are several key aspects to his personal brand: People know him as a connector. He also has a reputation for being reliable and trustworthy. His personality is fairly gregarious and friendly, and he is always wearing a suit and tie. Robert hasn’t always worked for Marcum, but I can tell you that his personal brand was exactly the same in his previous positions. Like the basketball player, Robert’s job may be to represent the Marcum brand, but what he is known for in the market is his individual brand.

In contrast, another one of our interviewees felt very strongly that you must seek unification of your personal brand and your business’s brand. Selwyn Gerber is a CPA and founded both Gerber & Co., Inc., an accounting firm, as well as RVW Investing LLC, a wealth management firm. According to Selwyn, his personal brand conveys one, holistic, and consistent image: he is attentive to his clients’ needs and listens to them with genuine concern – so too, the brand of his companies communicates that same idea.

A middle perspective was offered by another one of these powerhouse interviewees, Jeri Harman. Jeri is the Founder & Chairman at Avante Mezzanine Partners, a lower middle market private credit investment fund. According to Jeri, your personal brand can help you build your own career as well as a firm. To her, personal brand is not just about promoting oneself, but about taking the brand one has developed and using it to the firm’s benefit. Jeri also differentiates between micro and macro personal brand: Your micro-brand refers to your reputation within your firm, whereas your macro brand deals with your broader, more global reputation.

As you can see, people view the concept of personal brand differently depending on factors such as what their role is (service provider vs. business development professional) and whether they have an ownership interest in the firm/ company. But still, there is some common ground in how these three professionals define the overarching concept: How people know you (Robert Derbabian), what reputation you have (Jeri Harman), or what image you convey (Selwyn Gerber). My synthesis of these interviews, along with my own opinion, leads me to posit the following definition: Your personal brand is how you communicate to others in the marketplace who you are and what your value is. Whether this ties in with the brand of the company you work for depends on what your job is and how closely tied you are to the company.

Now that we have a clearer idea of what I mean by personal brand, in Part Two I will share tips and strategies that will help you develop your own personal brand.


Lou Sokolovskiy
Founder/CEO, Opus Connect

How To Perform A Personal SWOT Analysis

by Lou Sokolovskiy (7/12)

Performing a SWOT analysis on yourself is step 3 in your process to create a personal business development plan. A SWOT analysis will help you identify traits and situations that you should take into account when crafting your personal brand and action items.


Mastering the Art of Business Development Blog Series
Article Seven: How To Perform A Personal SWOT Analysis

Welcome back. We are working on creating our own personal business development plans, which includes the following seven steps:

  1. Perceive Yourself as a Business of One
  2. Create a Mission Statement
  3. Perform a SWOT Analysis
  4. Develop a Personal Brand Strategy
  5. Determine Action Items
  6. Create a Time Budget
  7. Track Your Progress

As a business of one, you can use the same tools as any other business to create a business development strategy, including the subject of today’s article: a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. As human beings, we all have qualities that fall into these four categories and the goal of a SWOT analysis is to develop a comprehensive list of these qualities. This list will then be used to help you develop a strong personal brand and create an action plan.

Let’s look at an example of a SWOT analysis together: Jackie is a junior associate at one of the top law firms in Los Angeles. Jackie makes a great salary at this firm while getting a good deal of experience working in corporate law. However, Jackie’s true passion lies in technology start-ups, and her long term goal is to become in-house counsel at such a company. Jackie went to Cornell undergraduate and UCLA law, and has significant debt from these two schools. She became a wine connoisseur while at Cornell, and belongs to several private wine clubs in addition to being a certified sommelier. She also recently got into art, and loves to visit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on the weekends. While Jackie had some good friends in college and law school, she describes herself as an introvert and can be quite shy among people she doesn’t know.

Here is an example of what Jackie’s SWOT analysis might look like:


●      Does excellent legal work

●      Diligent

●      Good at dealing with existing clients

●      Well-organized

●      Manages time effectively


●      Is shy and has social anxiety

●      Not very technologically savvy

●      No current system/plan for business development

●      More than $150K in student loans


●      Wine-connoisseur (Business Development Real Estate?)

●      Network of friends from college and law school

●      Could join the young leadership board of an art museum

●      Frequent contact with angel investors and venture capitalists through current job

●      Firm provides budget for client development



●      Competition from other associates

●      Difficult job market (few in-house positions available)

●      Instability of working for a less established company (start-up)






You should spend an hour or two performing your own SWOT analysis. Here is a list of guidelines and things to consider:

  1. What are you good at?  What are you bad at? List skills, personality traits, hobbies and passions. Examples: Time Management, public speaking, organization, social skills, etc.
  2. What are some of your past business development efforts? Were they successes or failures?
  3. What organizations are you involved with? What organizations or boards can you join?
  4. What resources do you have to help you with business development? Some firms will reimburse you for meals or give you tickets to sporting events. Some companies have events that you can invite clients to. Or perhaps your alumni or bar association has events that you can attend.
  5. How good are your contacts? Think about people you went to school with, friends, family, etc.
  6. Who can you ask to be introduced to?  Who can you introduce to each other?
  7. Can you create Business Development Real Estate™ or something unique?
  8. Are you engaging in some type of marketing? Examples are a monthly emails to friends, a blog, or posting content on your LinkedIn profile.
  9. How do you compare to other colleagues?
  10. How have others in your field been successful in business development? Can you find a role model/mentor? Set up an informational interview(s) and learn what worked for them.

By understanding your strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities, you will be able to build a personal plan that optimizes your potential. In the next few articles, we will be discussing how you can build a personal brand strategy based on your mission and SWOT analysis. Stay tuned.


Lou Sokolovskiy
Founder/CEO, Opus Connect